African traditional religion facts for kids

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Igbo medicine man
An early 20th century Igbo 'medicine man' in Nigeria, West Africa.

Traditional African religions are the traditions of the religious groups in Africa. After Christianity and Islam, they are the third-biggest religious group in Africa. These religions still stick to their traditions. They are folk religions, and combine different beliefs.

In general, people in the cities confess to either Christianity or Islam. The people outside the cities confess to the traditional religions. These religions are present in everyday life. All that happens has a supernatural cause, rooted in religion. People are born with a certain religion. Normally conversions from one belief system to another do not take place.

There is a central belief in a life force which links everyday life with the metaphysical. Generally, such religions are full of life, and have a low esteem for an ascetic lifestyle. There is also the fear of spirits, the dead, and of magic, which influence everyday life.

Practitioners of traditional religions in Sub-Saharan Africa are distributed among 43 countries, and were estimated to number over 100 million, although the largest religions in Africa are Christianity and Islam.

Practices and rituals

Masques BaKongo
Bakongo masks from the Kongo Central

There are more similarities than differences in all traditional African religions. The gods and spirits are honored through libation, sacrifice (of animals, vegetables, cooked food, flowers, semi-precious stones, precious metals, etc).

In many traditional African religions, there is a belief in a cyclical nature of reality. The living stand between their ancestors and the unborn. Traditional African religions embrace natural phenomena – ebb and tide, waxing and waning moon, rain and drought – and the rhythmic pattern of agriculture.

For example, in the Serer religion, one of the most sacred stars in the cosmos is called Yoonir the (Star of Sirius). With a long farming tradition, the Serer high priests and priestesses (Saltigue) deliver yearly sermons at the Xoy Ceremony (divination ceremony) in Fatick before Yoonir's phase in order to predict winter months and enable farmers to start planting.

Divination

Early 20th century Yoruba divination board
Early 20th century Yoruba divination board

Since Africa is a large continent with many ethnic groups and cultures, there is not one single technique of casting divination. The practice of casting may be done with small objects, such as bones, cowrie shells, stones, strips of leather, or flat pieces of wood.

Some castings are done using sacred divination plates made of wood or performed on the ground, often within a circle.

In traditional African societies, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are generally no prohibitions against the practice. Those who divine for a living are also sought for their wisdom as counselors in life and for their knowledge of herbal medicine.

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