Ethnic African Religions


Sydney Stevens, Beverly Lo, Lea Balcerzak

Furnish 7

Geographic Distribution

How Religion Diffused
  • People brought religion with them as expanded across Africa.
  • The Hamar’s animist beliefs diffused throughout all of Ethiopia.
  • The Daasanach tribe belief in animism diffused to Sudan, Kenya and Southern Ethiopia.

Holy Places
  • Man made - altars, shrines, temples, tombs
  • These are usually made in caves, mountains, etc. because nature is greatly valued.

Where it’s Practiced Today
  • It is practiced in various places of the world especially in Malaysia and Africa

Number of Followers
  • 40% of the world (hard to estimate)
  • 600,000-800,000 in US


Origin of the religion
  • Animism has no specific origin, but rather based on their need to control the uncontrollable.

Basic religious beliefs
  • Animists believe that inanimate objects (rocks, stones, etc) or natural events (hurricanes, tornadoes, etc) have spirits and conscious life.
  • Animists believe that the spiritual and physical world have no separation
  • One of the main beliefs of Animism is that souls and spirits exist.
    • The spirit is thought to be universal (meaning it exists during life and the afterlife).
  • Instead of worshiping the Creator, Animists worship the creation.

Classification of religion
  • “Animism cannot be strictly classified as a world religion because there is no connected rule, but in practice, it gives rise to the polytheistic practices and idolatrous superstitions of many of the mainstream religions.”

Branches or divisions of the religion

  • Animism it is an ethnic religion which does not break down officially. However, some African animism tribes are divided into clans.

Impact on Social and Family Structures

A man greatly repected, a Daasanach man with much cattle.

Unique Features

Key figures and important people
  • The most important figure in the animistic religion is the Supreme Being who is told to be the creator. Although the creation stories vary from tribe to tribe, it is upheld that the connection between humans and the Supreme Being was made through the creation event. He is not and never was a human being though.
  • Followers of the animist religion also believe in nature spirits, lesser god, and community ancestors who are all a necessary component in contacting the Supreme Being.
  • A Griot is an important member of an animist society because with the lack of holy books, he uphold and makes sure the traditions and practices of the religion are upheld.

Holy Texts
  • Animist beliefs are rarely written down instead they are usually passed down generation to generation through oral stories, dances, and rituals.
  • Stories which are used for teachings are kept by a man called a Griot. His job is to learn, memorize, retell the stories to the community in order for the community to uphold the values of their ancestors.

Religious Symbols
  • Animism is a religion that is not distinguished by any particular physical symbol. However, if considered, it is possible to say that the spirits which followers of animism believe lie in almost every object, human, and idea, could be considered a less tangible symbol of the religion.

Place of Worship

  • There is not one official place of worship, instead many shrines are present in places such as:
    • Rivers
    • Mountains
    • Waterfalls
    • Special rock formations

Impact on Social and Family Structures

  • During the bull jumping ceremony (Hamar tribe), women encourage the men to whip them on their bare backs. This symbolizes that the women are below the men because they do not respect themselves.
  • The Daasanach tribe, which herd cattle, are losing their ancestral lands and livestock because of disease and drought. In order to survive, they are being forced to hunt for fish and crocodiles. However, they are cattle herders and the cattle is more than just food for them - it is a key status symbol. The people without cattle are looked down on.

Impact on Cultural Beliefs and Expectations

  • In the Haman tribe, bracelets and beads are worn in hair and around waists and arms to ward off evil spirits.
  • Numerous women wear circular wedge necklace as a sign that they are married.
  • Men paint themselves with white chalk for religious cermonies and gatherings.
  • Both genders in the tribe practice body modification by cutting their sick and packing the wounds with ash and charcoal.
  • The people of the Daasanach tribe also wear multicolored beads and they dress very extravagantly.
  • They are most known for their very unique headpieces of modern trash such as old watches or bottle caps.

Impact on Cultural Beliefs and Expectations

Daasanach woman with a headpiece of modern waste of forgotten spirits.

Holy "Texts"

Form of transmitting beliefs and traditions - dance of griots.
African Griots Live


"Animism." 1902 Encyclopedia (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th and 10th Editions). N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <>.

"Animism in Today’s World | MarketFaith Ministries." Radical Disciple Training and Understanding the Christian Worldview | MarketFaith Ministries. Market Faith Ministries, n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <>.

"Animism." The Latter Rain Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. < >. napturaldiva904. "African Griots Live - YouTube." YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2012.<>.

"Channeling Spirits - National Geographic Photo Contest 2011 - National Geographic." National Geographic Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <>.

"Go Social Studies Go!." Go Social Studies Go!. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <!__african-animism>.

Hefner, Alan G.. "Animism." the MYSTICA.ORG. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. <>.

"The Hamar or Hamer Tribe is best known for bull jumping in Ethiopia's Omo Valley." Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia, Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2012. <>.

"Tribe: The wandering Daasanach of East Africa." Afritorial. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2012. <>.

Essential Question

How does the need to control one’s surroundings affect the beliefs and traditions of Animism?