AFRICAN CONCEPT OF GOD, SPIRITS AND ANCESTORS
Africans believed in existence of a supreme being who lived in mountains, clouds and the sky. God was the creator of the universe. In African traditions, religion was integrated in every aspect of life and daily activities. For example, farming activities involved God, spirits and ancestors. People would pray to God, spirits ancestors so as to ask for blessings in order to have a good harvest. Livestock keepers believed that fertility of their animals is a result of the blessings of God.
If God was appeased, animals would increase. Natural phenomena such as thunder, lightning, rain; good harvest, and birth were linked to the Supreme Being and the invisible world. If there were calamities such as drought, disease, famine, and death, it was an indication that God, spirits and ancestors were displeased with humankind. Many communities have invocations uttered throughout the day Nature or Attributes of god God is described with many names, which are God’s attributes.
These are among others:
- a) God is good
– Nearly all-African communities describe God as being good to all people and things.
He gives rain, sunshine and life among many other gifts.
- b) God is merciful.
The Akamba refer to God as “God of pity”, the ‘merciful one’.
God shows mercy in times of danger, illness, difficulty or anxiety.
- c) God is holy.
He is pure, holy and does not make mistakes. Yoruba call him God who is pure, without blemish.
The Kikuyu say God is “Possessor of whiteness” and the Bukusu – ‘master whitewash’. African traditions all approach God with reverence, fear, respect and honor.
For example when offering sacrifices, they would offer a one-colour animal either white, black, or brown and not a spotted animal.
- d) God is powerful i.e.
Omnipotent. God is described as almighty. His power is expressed in natural occurrences like thunder, lighting, earthquakes, rains, and floods.
- e) God is all knowing (Omniscient).
God knew all things; nothing can be hidden from him. He discerns hearts.
- f) God is all present (Omnipresent).
He is present everywhere in the universe.
- g) God is limitless.
God has no limit. He is both very far and very near, beyond and within.
- h) God is transcendent.
God cannot be exhausted by human imagination. He is unexplainable, beyond human experience and understanding.
- i) God is all understanding
- j) God is self existent
.He made all things but he himself is not made. He exists on his own. Zulu explain that God is ‘he who is of himself.
- k) God is a spirit He is invisible, and everlasting.
. Shilluk of Sudan refer to him as ‘great spirit’ ‘the formless spirit.
- l) God is everlasting.
God is eternal, never changes, and never dies. The Yoruba call him ”the mighty immovable rock that never dies.
- m) God is God created the creator .
The world Kikuyu call him “Mumbi”
- n) God is just.Kikuyu refer to God as “Mugai” meaning “divider”. ‘One who shares out’.
God judges fairly, punishes those who do wrong and rewards the good with blessings.
- o) God is the provider.
All communities acknowledge that God provides them with everything they have.
Africans built representation of the power of God.
They identified sites, places and things that represented the presence and power of God. For example things like big trees, thick forest, high mountains, unique rock formations and large rivers and animals. In these places they built sites, and shrines. Shrines were regarded as holy and people approached them with reverence Spirits. They were believed to exist between God and human beings in the universe.
Spirits were diverse and created by God. Some spirits were dead human beings. Spirits were divided into nature, sky, earth and human spirits that were either long dead (ghosts) or recently dead (ancestors).
There were different types of spirits. These were:
These are spirits created by God. They are close to God and act as his agents.
They are in charge of natural phenomena like the sun, moon and stars. They are intermediaries between God and ancestral spirits, human beings and other creatures.
They reveal God’s plans through diviners and mediums.
- Human spirits / common spirits.
These are inferior to divinities but higher than human kind.
They are remains of human beings after their death. These spirits monitor human activities.
Human spirits have lost their names and are not longer remembered by the living.
They are believed to live in the under world, undergrounds, in thick bushes, forests, rivers, mountains, lakes, skies, and caves among other places. These spirits can bring harm to the living if disrespected. They appear to people in dreams or in form of shadows. They can also enter or possess a person and cause abnormalities.
- Ancestors / living dead
These are spirits of the recently dead. They are remembered by the living when children are named after them.
They are actively involved in the lives and activities of the living. Their offerings (food or drink) are poured on the ground for them to receive. Ancestors are in a period of transition between the living and the higher categories. They are believed to know the problems of the living and therefore consulted constantly. They are also associated with evil such as revenge for burying them without honor, or not following the instructions they gave before they died or failing to pour them libations. When they are happy with the living, they are a source of blessings. Ancestors who did evil things or committed suicide are forgotten and ignored.
Hierarchy of beings.
Hierarchy means the order or ranking from the highest to the lowest of created beings.
At the top is Divinities
- Human Beings
- Animals and Plants
- Non-living Things