Monday, August 17, 2009

Confront Your Fears.Discover Traditional Ghanaian Religion




This weekend, I had an intense personal experience with African traditional religion. Before you freak out, get some perspective.

Though I hold some views that would be considered radical in Ghana, in general, i’m a regular Ghanaian. I work. I take tro-tro. I dream of a better life. I look forward to teaching my children fante. Sometimes I go to church. But unlike many Ghanaians, when it comes to religion, I consider myself a truth seeker so I am open to learning about religions. I tend to think favourably of the Christian faith perhaps, because I was raised Christian and live in a society that largely favors that religion. But I know that I don’t know so I keep myself open to learning. What is ironic is that even though I claim to be exploring different religions, until this weekend, I wanted nothing to do with african traditional religion. Nothing to do with shrines, mmotia, abosom, and libation, and african spirits...I considered them evil.

So when a new acquaintance invited me to the meeting of traditional believers this weekend, this is what went through my mind... I cannot say for sure that African traditional religion is evil. I cannot say for sure that it is good. I know that I have been preconditioned to consider it evil. I also know that I do not know. I would like to find out, but I’m scared of the whole affair. My fear is an irrational fear. It is a fear of the unknown. I wanted to confront that fear. Because every time I confront my fears, I grow. Plus I was curious.
So I went.

The meeting was held at the Accra Cultural centre. Fitting, right? The first thing I noticed was a calabash filled with water, with leaves floating atop. My friend dipped his forefinger into it and touched the middle of his forehead. I refrained from the act. The sound of my heartbeat was deafening. Gboom Gboom Gboom Gboom. Crap. What had I gotten myself into? But it was too late to turn back. I found a seat, and took in my environment. There was a fetish priestess sitting at the back. People sat in a circle, on plastic chairs. There were about 20 people. There was a table, behind which the two men steering the program sat. Spread on the table was a crumpled, dirty-looking Afrikania mission cloth. On top of the cloth sat a Gye Gyame symbol. Appropriate, right? There was also a “I love Ghana” cloth hanging from that same table. And there was a cow switch on the table. In the corner sat another calabash. Oh Greaat! I wondered if i’d pushed things a little too far this time.

It was a truly interactive event. Everyone there seemed to have a role, whether it was translating the message into Ga, twi, or Ewe, drumming, clapping, or dancing. It was similar to a church service in some respects. For example there were readings from the same text which were then translated. The readings were followed by drumming and dancing. But it was also different from regular church. Many of the people took of their shoes. And when they danced, it was not free-style like we do in a church...these dances were traditional Ghanaian dances. Like adowa and agbadza. At one point, we were all encouraged to dance, and I looked so odd...I thought i’d look silly pretending to dance adowa or agbadza so I stuck to my usual church dance. I made a mental note to learn a traditional Ghanaian dance. I’d never had use for it, but now I was found wanting.

Another thing that was different was the instruments. They were all traditional instruments. Drums, rattles, and the gong gong. Then there was the singing. All the songs were indigenous Ghanaian songs. Sometimes they sounded like ebibindwom...other times they sang what I’d consider secular songs like the the fante warrior song:

Oburumankoma ee!, Oburumankoma ee! Oburumankoma Odapagyan ee! Oburumankoma Odapagyan ee! Oson! Oson akyi nyi aboa.

The readings explained some of their faith.They did not believe in the trinity...God as father, son and holy spirit. But they believe in a supreme being who created the earth, and who is both male and female. They believe ancestors, and in calling to their spirits through libation. They see fetishes like the Akonedi and Tigari as a connection between humans and God. Spirits act like angels. They are good spirits, sent to help us by God. God uses them more than he uses us because humans are jealous, deceitful, and belligerent. To learn more about the beliefs, check out the Afrikania Mission website.

The Afrikania Mission was founded by Osɔfo Okɔmfo Damuah who came from Asankragua in the Western region, got a Phd from Howard University, was a catholic priest for many years, and later became an African traditional believer, hence his dual title of Osɔfo and Okɔmfo. He died in 1992. You can read more about him on Wikipedia.

I did not stay till the end of the program.I left after only about an hour to have a lunch of omo tuo made from ebibimo (brown rice) and groundnut soup from a nearby vegetarian restaurant, (Yes, there are vegetarian restaurants in Ghana) called Assase Pa. I also had bissap with ginger in it. And later that evening, I went to watch Ghana's Most Beautiful, a pageant that seeks to educate us on Ghanaian culture. So yesterday was an packed day. Much of it was fun. But questions I had from my religious meeting kept gnawing at me. And I couldn't sleep when I got home. I was spooked. I live alone, you see, and whenever the wind rattled my front gate , I wondered if the spirits were coming for me. Don't laugh:) I hid under the covers.

The experience has left me with many feelings. Many thoughts. Many questions.

For example, what exactly is it about African traditional religion that makes us steer clear of it? What scares us? How is it that I know more about Eastern religions than I know about Ghanaian traditional religion. Even from a purely academic standpoint, whatever happened to intellectual curiosity, to open-mindedness? How had I closed off myself completely from understanding such an important pillar of our tradition and culture? Am I ready to find out?

I told my boss about my experience, and I guess he got to the heart of the issue when he said. "You may not know what it is that scares you, but do you really want to find out?" In addition to that, I’d like to add, am I willing to deal with the consequences, if there are any?

Thoughts, questions, insights? If you're reading this, I'd like to ask you, what experience, if any, do you have with African religion. Should we be exploring these questions, critically examining who we are, or is this a no-go area, better left unexplored? Should I take the next step to visit a shrine? Would you? Why or why not?

40 comments:

  1. You are one of a kind! Anyway kudos to your courage.
    Most blacks or people of African ancestry have taken bits of African religion into the church today unaware. Just take a look at the dancing and prancing about at church; compare this to a fetish priest who is high in the spirit. Any difference?)))..

    The fear you describe is very real and its because of our upbringing. "Yiikokoi"/demons are associated with Afro religion-together with illiteracy,wickedness (as seen in Naija movies).
    No religion is perfect, there are +ves as well as -ves.

    We have to take a good look at Afro religion again- in disposing of it- we are doing away with a part of our lives/history etc.

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  2. The question Africans should be asking themselves is:if the "missionaries" and the arabs never came to Africa, what religion would they be practising? It breaks my heart when I see African movies portray our traditional religion as evil. We've brainwashed ourselves to think that our religion is evil.

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  3. @Anonymous: my sentiments exactly.

    I am as for/against african traditional religion as i am for/against all religion.

    I understand why some people need religion so I tolerate all religion to a certain extent but I recognize how corrupt religion is and always has been.

    It has always been used to scare us into doing what the kings/elite wanted us to do.

    Everyone is scared of the devil and mmotia and the spirits because they are out to get you if you do bad.. and you KNOW you do bad (as prescribed by the religions)

    Lucklily for me, I managed to get rid of this irrational fear at an early stage. Growing up in Accra, I was one of a few that would take the money that had been offered to the gods during homowo and other cleansing rites.

    Most other wouldnt because fear was that the that bad luck will follow you. Well if there is some bad luck following me, it has to hurry to catch up cos I'm not slowing down.

    @Esi, It's alright to be apprehensive about these sort of things - for instance I would love to be at these sort of ceremonies for the tradition but I wont be touching any water to my forehead. You dont know what is in it. For all you know it's a chemical that makes you more suggestible

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  4. @Faf, so you just don't believe in anything? Practice no religion? You think your life is to be lived, and at some point, it will end and that's that? No afterlife, no heaven, hell, nothing? You believe in God?

    @Anonymous, if you're african, what religion do you practice?

    @Nii Ayi, i'm curious. if you don't mind, can you share with us what religion you personally practice and why?

    @all: someone said that the reason our traditional religion is scary is because communicating with the spirits sometimes requires animal sacrifices and sometimes even humans have to be sacrificed, and clearly if you have to kill someone to enable you communicate with a spirit, then it's something to stay away from. But i wonder if this is really true. Maybe there are good traditional worshipers who don't kill people and do any of the shady stuff and bad ones as Nii said and we somehow lump them all together?

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  5. Interesting article ... I am actually surprised that there is so much fear surrounding our traditional religions. Maybe growing up in a household - outside of Ghana allowed us to ask questions about religion without fear. It allowed me to be proud of people like my aunt who is a priestess.

    This is an eye opener for me that my fellow Ghanaians, eye our own traditional religion with suspicion. That is for the west to do, not us to ourselves!

    @Esi It is a pity that more of us know more about Budism or Zen than we know about Vodou. I believe religion was one of the tools used to colonize us as a people and what better way to alienate us from leaders who would have steered us away, question the motives of those original European traders, than to vilify the religion. Also a lot of our original traditional religions are Matriarchal – today look at how Christianity centers on the male and how patriacal Ghanaian society is – but I digress.

    @Faf I don't think you should be scared of any water or oil that may be laid on you. View it the same way as you would view anointment oils or baptismal water during a Christian service. God is God, how we choose to worship, is our own. I doubt if such a high and all benevolent being would be rigid in how we choose to worship.
    Perhaps the fear comes from the fact that the west calls traditional African priests and priestesses Witch Doctors from lack of ignorance and contempt for what was different. It is sad that we are now the ones vilifying the beliefs of our ancestors.

    And @ Esi - I promise I'm not picking on you - perhaps rather than being scared of a visit from your ancestors, embrace them. I doubt if they will do you harm - they are after all your family. Unless you did something to one of them that would upset them ... just kidding :)

    Dzifa ...

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  6. hehehe...Esi.... May be I will tell you some of my experience in the traditional religion sometime. I am quite blessed to have experienced a lot of religions and thus understand life. See if you can decode who this is.
    dufredke

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  7. Esi its surprising but African Traditional Religion has so much in common with the Western Religion.

    For instance whats the difference between the Father of a Catholic Church who sprinkles holy water around a wood carved cross mentioning the names of its holy dead(saints) like st.john,st Mary etc and a traditional priest(Okomfo) who sprinkles water mixed with corn flour around a giant oak tree mentioning the names of great ancestors like Okomfo Anokye and his likes.

    the difference is very little;whiles the Okomfo uses life(tree) and natural(Corn flour mixture) the Father uses some water and wood(cross) carved from a tree.

    They all believe in the Almighty God but they just worship him through different means.

    The Europeans realizing the Africans fear of God came to us with the bible,telling us our way of worship was evil.This made us abandon our God.

    At any rate when we are been oppressed by the 'Whites',will the white God save us from white man's oppression?

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  8. What a fascinating subject, Esi. We often fear something because we don't understand it. In my travels I've been exposed to many different people with different religions. I've come to believe that our religion is the one that was "given" to us by geography, culture, and/or the armies/Crusades/colonists, that conquered us, given like the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the type of houses we live in.

    I'm white, European and grew up protestant/Christian. I often questioned my religion, wondering why Christians think it is the only true religion, but so do the Muslims, and so on. I started reading all kinds of books about different ways to live a spiritual life, but I was scared about "loosing" my Christian believes, because then what?

    But what happened is that I became more open and understanding, I learned so much. I don't believe that any one religion is the one and only one. I don't believe God is a Catholic or a Buddhist or a Jew. God is bigger than any of us can imagine and we all have to find our own way to live a spiritual life. It cannot be prescribed by other humans.

    The problem is, I think, that so much of what we call religion or faith (any one) is someone else's interpretation that we have taken on. This someone else could be anyone, and as we all know religions (any) have been used for evil as well as for good -- by men.

    I understand why you are scared. Why not do a more "academic" search and research, rather than get involved personally and practically. Read, ask questions. Maybe that will help to give you a better understanding.

    In the end, I think, our spiritual life, our connection with the universe, God, spirit, is a very personal relationship, something that we have come to ourselves, not taken on because of our environment, parents, culture. Enough

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  9. @ Esi re:
    Faf, so you just don't believe in anything?
    I do believe is something... just not religion

    Practice no religion?
    Yes

    You think your life is to be lived, and at some point, it will end and that's that?
    I dont know, but I dont believe any of these things religion ask me to do to go to heaven is relevant

    No afterlife, no heaven, hell, nothing?
    I dont know.. doesnt matter to me. From the descriptions we are given of them, they arent places I'd wanna be anyway. Heaven, Hell, afterlife, purgatory etc

    You believe in God?
    Yes... just not that god wants me to do some specific things to make him/her happy or to make myself worthy of going to one of his/her special places

    I believe in the Akan saying "Obi nkyirɛ akwadaa nyame" which translates to "no one teaches a child a child the existence of god"

    You just feel the existence of a higher being. The bit you need to work out is whether the prayers either through sacrifice or rosaries or prostrating oneself facing east is going to get you the intervention from these beings that you want.

    I'm just fine being as good as I can be without making my life more complicated with silly rules man has created to control us

    @Abdul: please dont blame europeans for controlling us with religion. Before they came we had mmotia and kaakaamotobi to scare us into submission.

    @Bonita: I have to be scared of the water or powder or whatever else they may ask you to ingest because I know it can contain some sort of poisons that medical science will find a bit hard to identify

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  10. Bissap!! I didn't know they have that in Gh! I should def check out that restau even tho i'm not vegetarian. Interesting read. Def applaud you on your courage. We condemn that which we do not understand. It is interesting to note tho that elements of traditional religion are always inherent in Ghanaian society, no matter how Muslim or Christian we may be. You live alone? Sweet. I'm still tryna convince my mum why I will be living alone (or with my lil sis) when I finally come home. Lol, you should give me tips.

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  11. ha! You were scared?... lol... in biblical times people practiced Idol worshipping too. Remember when Moses was given the ten commandents? By the time he got back from te top of the mountain, the people had fashioned a golden calf and started worshipping it. Our traditional religion is incorporated in our worship style to an extent too. The beating of drums and dancing is all very traditional.

    I think the reason why people shun traditional African religion is because the shrines tend to be gross and I do not think a chicken/goat/cow I can eat can purge me of my sins as against the blood of someone who's death caused a curtain in a synagogue to split(history can prove it too!)

    This is just my opinion here: religion has always distracted from what I perceive to be a relationship with God. With religion comes so many rules and regulations which do not focus on basic truths but tend to embellish trivial issues. Yes, I am Christian and you would say that's my religion but to me, my focus is not on that.

    I don't see my God as a killjoy who is sitting somewhere on a cloud and telling me don't do this or that.I see my Savior as someone who wants the very best for me and who loves me so much so that what I consider my sins, He has atoned for them and is happy to call me His own even if I tend to forget.

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  12. I am mostly indifferent ... i believe its because my paternal grandfather was a royal from the Ga Sempe stool family, and was the right-hand man to the Ga chief ... as is now my father (but in less traditional ways) ... hence, every Ga ceremony, whether royal or annual festivity, I saw part of it going on in our family house ... the water, leaves, powdered faces, drums, killing of animals ... all went on like a normal act in that house

    We used to drink that water all the time ...
    I never thought extraordinarily about it till i read this post.

    I guess, for those familiar with it like myself, it is just another way for people to adore and worship their spiritual beings and the relationship shared between.

    And for those unfamiliar with it ... it is a frightening experience, one that makes you highly cautious for yourself ...
    But it IS part of the African, and not eaily dispensed with ... or ignored. Though one can always and easily distance oneself from it ...

    I did enjoy reading this. Chapeau.

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  13. What a great post! Comments are fantastic too - I especially agree with Faf and I am always relieved to read from other Ghanaians who have done away with the constraints of religion in their own lives; I myself find it hard to explain to others, and so while my goal is not to convince anyone of anything (I know I don't appreciate it when others do it to me), I prefer to keep mum about this sort of thing.

    I'm not sure if I would want to experience traditional African religion, "feeli-feeli", in order to understand it better. What I will do, though, is read earlier accounts (mainly from Europeans, unfortunately, but not all of them are horribly biased) about the sorts of religious practices they observed in Ghana in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, before Christianity gained the foothold it has now. I agree with commenter Miss Footloose - there is a lot to be gained from academic research which will allow you to keep a good objective distance without being spooked out. I think Legon should have many books, I recommend as a starting point Rattray's Religion and Art in Ashanti, and really a lot of good research has been done into "witchcraft" and the like that is worth looking into.

    Finally I will say that while I do not subscribe to any one religion, there is something that happens when a lot of people agree to believe something, thereby imbuing that thing - real or imagined - with powers that it does not inherently have. This is what happens with all religions. In the presence of many people who are earnestly directing their energies towards any one thing, you cannot help but subconsciously imbibe that belief as well, as a fellow human being, thus feeling "spooked out" in such a meeting (I am similarly spooked out by church, quite frankly). So while it does make for good storytelling, if you are disturbed by it don't make yourself go through it... interview someone else who practices instead :)

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  14. Hiya!!!

    I beleive when all is said and done there is a general theme here which is a higher being, supreme being,gods, God whatever which most people can identify with whether one believes in the religion or not and i agree with Maxine that it more a personal relationship regardless of how one channels thier communition to him, it whatever.

    The fear of the unknow is definately not a bad thing!! I personally acknowlegde all types of religion and practices and think as Africans we should be aware of traditional practices, respect it and even be a bit informed but doesnt necessarily mean one needs to go out of thier way to go to a shrine so to speak just to find out. Personally speaking to people would be enough to satisfy my curiosity but I am almost certain taking a bit of everything from everywhere is helpful in making an informed decision about how one wants to channel thier relationship with our creator!!

    Have a lovely day everyonexxx

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  15. @ Esi --
    As someone mentioned our religion is influenced by the "lottery of birth". If a ‘’chrife’’ in Ghana had been born in Saudi Arabia there is an absolute certainty that the "chrife" would be a moslem and might even be leading a jihad in Afghanistan by now!

    I believe in God certainly and in his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit-(though I find it hard to believe that 3 Gods make 1 God as in trinity etc. etc) I read the bible as often as I can with an open mind hoping to make decisions on my own and not what is popularly accepted.

    I read the bible- often and other works of religion-Zen, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. I also believe that the bible is the word of God but it was written by human beings and the selection of the various books making the bible was influenced by man/woman hence there could be errors.

    Last but not the least I believe there is a heaven but no hell. It’s a fact that hell is never mentioned in the old testament (closest is in the Psalms “sheol” approximates to grave) until the 100’s of years later in the new testament when Greek culture was on the ascendancy in Judea.

    By the way if not obvious from the above, I am a Christian who worships with the Methodist church.

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  16. Great piece again Esi.You tackle the thorny issues with amazing ease.To me, religion merely reflects a facet of our human nature.Religion has been used and abused by man and perhaps animals too since the beginning of eternity.

    The western world used religion very effectly during the renaissance to rally their people to build nations.The same religion was used to cow Africans into submiting to slavery and later pave way for the looting of our continent.

    Western religion which eventually got propagted as far as Africa also started with similar fetish behaviours and rituals.The prepondarent themes of Human sacrifice,ritualistic behaviour and the codification of morality transcend Christianity,Islam,African traditional religion and the Esatern relgious block too.

    African traditional religion has failed to evolve with the times.This situaion leaves it with the bestial,non-progressive and barbaric image.

    To me,there is nothing behind that huge facade.

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  17. I think it's great that you are open minded about different belief systems. I am also of the opinion that because I don't know, I try not to judge but try to understand. It sounds corny, but if more people had your kind of attitude this world would be a better place. Great article.

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  18. I have actually been to Akonedi Shrine; did an interview with the elders. Wish I had the chance to do it again. The cosmology and philosophy of ATR is logically closer to universal natural laws and justice than any other modern religion. Modern religion has alienated nature from man by putting (wo)man at the apex of creation instead of as a link in a continous web and cycle of animated beings. This contradiction is critical in analysing the failures of modern religions.

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  19. I personally would like us to explore more and question traditional religion's role in development of society. How does it open the doors to the youth of its society and enables mind to share wisdom and enable productivity. Provide an inspirational environment not only for tourism and culture, but educational and in an entrepreneurial sense such that generations to come will also learn from it and expand where we left off.

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  20. Great post Esi.

    @ Anonymous 1:22 PM EDT, I agree with you.

    And I also I agree with whoever said "Religion is influenced by the lottery of birth" hence all the ethnocentricism attached the various religious groups.

    I was born in into a Catholic (nuclear)family but have many aunts and uncles married to buddhists, muslims, SDA, African traditionalists, you name it. And for that reason we all had to respect each other at family reunions etc.

    But also as an individual, I have never really cared much about 'religion' or strictly following a particular belief system. I'm more drawn to spirituality and what lies within and I love to learn about other religions.

    A long time ago in Cultural/Social Studies class during my primary education I concluded that Traditional African religion was more about your personal relationship with the gods and nature. The gods are personified in the earth, skies, water , trees, air created by a supreme being/ energy/ higher intelligence and you needed to respect them because they nourish life itself. You give bad energy you get bad energy back and vice versa. I do wonder what ATR would be now sans slavery

    Naturally, all religions have flaws and 'outsiders' will always disagree on some practises but history has proven that with time and interaction with other cultures evolution occurs naturally to change what is deemed 'undesireable' & 'radical'/'extremist' at any given time.

    But I don't think one is better than the other. Some have certainly evolved more than others in ATR's case, it's stuck in time and can be blamed primarily on slavery and colonialism.

    I would love to learn more about ATR when I visit Ghana, though. Esi, I hope you won't mind a second visit? :-)

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  21. Great post and so many interesting comments!! I agree with AB and Faf, and am pleasantly surprised to see that there are Ghanaians who aren't afraid to ask questions of religion, and refuse to be tied to one. I personally have been in Ghana 13 years and have never met a non-religious person - that is someone who does not identify strongly with Christianity or Islam.

    Jemila - if you like bisap but are not a vegetarian, there is a great restaurant in Labone near Metro TV called Tante Marie that serves excellent bisap!!! Check it out!

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  22. Bless you for gathering the courage for the personal experience. It is ok that you were a little shaken by it. That will pass.
    Were you at any point mistaken for one of the fetish priestesses? You know, bcos of your locks. Just teasing.

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  23. Great insight. I think many of us feel about religion this way. I was raised christian but as time has gone on, coupled with experience, life has allowed me to have an open mind and look at other religion without any judgment.

    Keep up the lovely work :)
    ciao

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  24. @Dzifa, aka Bonita, your aunt is a priestess? Do you think she would grant an interview? I'd love to talk to one sometime.

    dufredke, thanks for the clue...the first Ghanaian male vegetarian i ever met:) I just met another a few weeks ago but he eats fish:) Didn't know you read this blog:)

    @abdul, the similarities you mention are exactly why i think i should not fear the practises but though my head tells me i should not be scared, my heart is filled with fear. asem o! But i'm sure as i learn more, i'll come to understand, and hopefully fear less.

    wow, Ms. Footloose,AB-P thanks for your comments and suggestion. On one hand i think that is exactly what I should do. On the other hand, how can you research religion impartially? Shouldn't whatever you find influence your own choices? And if so, then by deciding ahead of time not to get involved,haven't i already concluded that that is not the religion for me? Isn't that to conclude before you've even begun?

    @The pale observer. I feel the same about the comments. I think sometimes they're even better than the main blog entry. Which is great because we can learn from so many smart people. See my comments at the top about how I too am pleasantly surprised by the comments.

    @Faf, the way you explain it, it makes sense and i want to join you. But then someone else explains their religion and that makes sense too. I guess that's why we all have to find our own way...and not just take what others have told us.

    @Jemila, I'm happy to share tips. Come find me when you come to Ghana. And as for bissap, they serve it at Tante Marie as the pale observer said. They even sell the leaves in the market so you could prepare your own too!


    @Max, thanks for sharing. I def was scared. But not so much now. Sometimes i wish i had a God that i could run to in such times...You know what i mean? But then it's also nearly impossible to have God, and extricate yourself from all the other practices that come with it...once u join a church, u're expected to be regular. The fellowship can be nice...but it can also be pressure. What works for you?

    @Golda! you shd tell me more about this. sounds interesting. our meeting is long overdue anyway. maybe this weekend?

    @AB-P, thanks for the book recommendation. will check it out. what are you reading currently? I'm 4 pages into Harmattan Rain. Halfway into 2nd reading of Anna Karenina, and 1 chapter into the audacity of hope. lol. I think I shd do a blog post about good books or books that change lives, books about the black experience...something like that. And can you believe i have gone a whole year without a single mention of hair on this blog? I surprise myself. shocking fans:)

    @MerryMary,Nii,Kofi,yny, anonymous and Papi, Pale Observer:
    I've been so surprised at the responses and how open minded the Ghanaians who have commented have been. Somehow I expected most of the comments to tell me stay away. How wrong I was!
    @Pale observer...13 years and not a single non-religious person? i guess you need to meet some of the Ghanaians on this blog.

    @Ifeoma-Fobi, sure let's do a 2nd trip:)It can only get better. Haven't heard from you in a while on this blog. Happy to hear from veterans like you:)

    @Mike, hehehe. That actually made me laugh. My colleagues at work said if i'd just painted my face, i'd have been right at home:) Which is kind of nice, right? I mean once in church, one woman who claimed to be a deaconess told me that she senses that God wants to use me but that as for my hair...something needs to be done about it. As if to say God can't use people with my kind of hair. So it's refreshing to find a religion where God uses exactly the people with my kind of hair. ha!

    @Sankofapictures, now i see that i did not just stumble on your website as i said in my email to you, but that i actually followed the link from my blog. hehe. Great to hear from you. Welcome to the blog, and let's collab soon.

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  25. I think in Ghana, we're very extreme about most things, its always one or the other, we don't encourage middle grounds or open thinking. Its either you believe in God or you don't. Its either you are a Christian or you're not. To be intellectually curious about religions is almost like saying you don't believe in God, its like you're questioning whether He exists or not. But I agree, what about knowing for knowing sake? Why must one thing always cross out the other?
    For instance, I believe in or lets say I am open to the possibility of telepathy, psychic abilities, ghosts, aliens (hehehe), and a whole bunch of other stuff. We can never fully comprehend who and what God is, and what life is, or any of that, so how can we definitely say God's hand is not in any of this other spiritual stuff?
    and I think people should understand that, being curious about things or believing certain things are possible, doesnt mean you 'practice' those things.
    I think its very possible to have an unyielding faith in Christ and still believe someone can move objects with the power of their minds - like Okomfo Anokye. Who says all that wasn't God?

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  26. I digress, but whatever happened to the post on your new job? I've been dying to know since july (or mebbe june!) Now it's August.....spill!!!!

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  27. God wants to use you but as for this your hair... that is hilarious! I haven't talked about hair much the past couple of years either, it's gotten to the point where other people's perceptions of it is a non-issue (at least here, where I don't really have acquaintances of African descent), and my only regret is that I don't have the time/ inclination to pamper and style it as I once did.

    I know, right, Holly should meet some non-religious Ghanaians. Can't say I know any besides myself, though (good to meet you virtually, Faf), just as I don't know any other Ghanaian vegans. Which was why I was excited to discover Asase Pa when I was home in 2007!!! A Ghanaian vegan restaurant, and with 2 branches (one near the Arts Center/Mausoleum, another at Bus Stop). I've had their tofu kebabs, fried rice, pizza... all excellent. Not the bissap, though, not yet :(

    What else - ah, books. Haven't really started anything since I finished Half of a Yellow Sun (about which I wrote my last blog post). I'm waiting for Amazon to deliver Purple Hibiscus, and in the meantime I'm half-heartedly rereading Cry the Beloved Country.

    As for researching and reading - sure, it does end up influencing your eventual choice; or, in my case, your choice to stay out of the fray altogether. But I read about traditional religion not so much to convince me of its authenticity, but merely to understand why things are the way they are, why things are done a certain way in certain places, why some things mean so much to other people. There is a strange beauty in the way a belief system was forged out of so many seemingly random natural elements, and a convincing backstory created to support those beliefs. But religion itself is inherently about controlling others, and I'd rather be free to fumble about. Why be so certain about anything? No one knows anyway, and uncertainty is so much more liberating and interesting.

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  28. @AB: Nice to meet you too. The truth is that there are many Ghanaians that think like we do. The only obstacle is making the final break from religion which is the unwritten rule of not speaking ill about the religion most people around you believe in.

    I remember when I tried to make the break at about 10/11 years old from religion... there were threats of "if you dont go to church you wont eat" but that largely did not work.

    I still went every now and then cos that's where all of my age-group hang out especially when there was a big event on, but it wasn't till I went to boarding school between the ages of 14 and 17 that I was really able to speak my mind about what I thought of religion... with almost everyone there being my age-group an' all.

    @Esi: The problem with religion is the controls and constantly being told you're bad. The more people that can move away from it the better. You wont find me trying to recruit anyone though :p it's also that bit about religion that pisses me off the most.

    Like someone randomly stopping me on the street and assuming I'm a "sinner needing to be saved"

    It's the cluelessness and the lack of tact that only work because everyone is "scared" of speaking against it that nourishes these religions

    I do love their festivals though Christmas, Ramadan, Homowo for the food. And all the local Ghanaian festivals for the culture.

    That and fact that they propagate morality (even though using fear as the medium) are the few reasons why I tolerate religion unlike my other Ghanaian friend who will not even step in a church, shrine or mosque. To the point of sounding rude he'd walk away from the group if anyone wants to "start with a prayer"

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  29. Firstly, I am a Christian (not according to religion--forms, laws and practices--but because I follow Jesus Christ, A PERSON) and so my views stem from this background.
    Secondly, I view "religion" as man's way of trying to serve/please God from his perspective, instead of from God's. If things were seen from God's perspective, there would be way less rot in our spiritual world today, and we wouldn't see God as a task master. In that regard, I agree with earlier posts about religion being controlling, manipulative, etc.

    I find the discussion amusing on two fronts. Firstly, I sense some confusion? between ATR being part of our identity/heritage as Africans versus just a part of our history? Personally, I acknowledge it as being part of our history but I do not think we lose anything by giving it up.
    Secondly, there's the intellectual aspect and while religion (for lack of a better word) and intellectualism aren't mutually exclusive, not every thing can be explained/proved logically/neatly to 'fit' our limited understanding. There is a basic element of faith which soars far above 'brain' power. I think that's why the Bible itself advises against such arguments of 'knowledge' as they eventually lead one away from (the) faith.
    All the commentators on here sound pretty smart, educated but I hope that isn't the only basis/comfort used to justify your beliefs, comments. Faith is THE KEY. It is good to ask questions or be open-minded but not all such endeavor is profitable.

    Personally, I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus Christ is the only person who died for my sins, who by accepting as my Lord and Savior, I am forgiven of my sins and free from eternal damnation. Heaven and hell do exist...some things are and don't change whether they're believed or not. I am also brought into a personal relationshhip with Him to love Him and grow in Him as He lives through me. I dont see any other person in that category, or capable of giving me salvation, so I dont suscribe to them or their religions. Whether the missionaries came to Africa or not, I believe God in all His wisdom would have still found a way to bring us the light of the gospel of His Son. Remember the Ethiopian eunuch in the Bible reading ? He's African, no? So the gospel was in Africa before the missionaries. I have also seen Moslems, or people who did not know Christ from birth give their lives to Him in their adult age. So I believe that any one can be a Christian irrespective of where one was born.

    I see ATR as a form of idol worship cos for one, they go throught okomfo, spirits, ancestors, etc to get to 'God.' We know from the Bible, which is the Word of God given inspirationally to early prophets, that Jesus is the only way to God the Father. So why should we worshihp creation instead The Creator, the gift instead of The Giver? Two, I dont see God being glorified in that way so I stay away from it. And really, if there were a true power to it, wouldn't its god have found a way to defend it from the mere mortal colonialists?

    Definitely, the BIG God is definitely interested in how we serve and worship Him...in sincerity and in truth. I think many times, we assume what God would/wouldnt do and will be pleasantly surprised when He manifests Himself.

    So Esi, while you explore and experiment, just be careful of what you open yourself up to in the name of the pursuing knowledge or overcoming your fears. Some things are actually meant to be feared.

    I'll leave it here folks!

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  30. I think man (or woman) needs to believe in something. Be it karma, god, destiny, mermaids or something!! Without a belief we are nobody!

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  31. Maame Esi FolesonAugust 25, 2009 1:01 PM

    Hi Esi,

    Great post as usual. I am of the view that whilst it is ok for one to be curious about whatever options interms of reigion there are (trust me,...ignorance is never bliss eventually)eventually it would be up to God to decide which way was the one true way to access him/ her- could be yours, could be mine, could be theirs and in fact it could be all of ours!!!

    Its about time human beings left that for the Big Man/ Woman to figure that out and deal with it. Imagine how much peace there would be on earth if we learnt to just "let go and Let GOD."

    Maame Esi

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  32. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Susan

    http://dclottery.info

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  33. Really nice piece.

    It's really sad that there is soo much misconception about or indiginous religion. I'm christian and all but I definitlely would not discount the impact our ancestors have made in defining who we are and sustaining our culture/livelihood.

    Most of this fear stems from indoctrinations from the past.... vis a vis some of the set backs as a result of colonialism... To be continued after work.

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  34. Religion is gay

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  35. We steer clear of traditional religion because that is exactly what the European missionaries instructed us to do. Christianity isn't one of those religions that takes kindly to competition. As a result our society was bleached of any aspects of our culture that might prove contradictory to Christian theology (of that time period).

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  36. What an amazing story. I am an American of European descent. The "traditional" religions of the Western world were destroyed centuries ago by the Christians. There are still scattered remnants here and there, but the physical manifestations of the traditions: the practices, the dances, the songs, the prayers, these are almost completely ground into the dust.

    Just like people in Africa, Westerners of European descent are taught to disrespect our non-Christian ancestors. But if we think about this for a minute we realize that is crazy. All of the great writers and philosophers of our past were "Pagans".

    I think people should have the freedom to investigate many different religions. I hope that many more Africans will investigate your own traditional religions. Humanity has already lost too much. But the most important thing is for people to cultivate our freedom and our open-mindedness.

    In your post, Esi, you say "I know that I don't know". This is the famous saying of Socrates, who was a "traditionalist" (he worshipped Apollo and Zeus and Athena and all of those old Goddesses and Gods). I really loved that you said this! When something wise comes from one particular tradition, whether it is Greek or African or whatever, if it is truly wise then it will be of use to people everywhere.

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  37. ONE LIGHT, DIFFERENT LAMPS!!! did a little research on the 'Afrikania' guys, to me, it looks like they practise more of Ancient Egyptian religion (mythology) with their Amon Ra, Osiris etc than traditional african religion which is centred around 1supreme being, coupla small or demi-gods and loads of ancestors rather than dudes with heads of jackals.

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  38. Sounds very similar to Ifa, Orunmila, the Orishas and the Ancesters. I say go for it my friend. It is part of your legacy. Forget what you have been taught by philosophies that are external to you. Let the learning begin.

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  39. I would love to know this place , I'm ready to join and link myself to the spirit of My ancestors, mini gods and the Almight Amon-Ra The God of Afrikkan.

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  40. I really enjoyed your piece, kudos.
    If only the media would stop portraying the traditional religion as evil, i don't think we might be having this conversation.
    I also experienced Tigari in Oda some years ago out of curiosity. I remember my friends warnig me not to go because a christian is not to be seen with traditionalists. I must say, i never regretted the experience.
    Although i'm not so much of a religious person, i would like to open my mind to learn about other religions especially the traditional religion.
    so if any one has any info, please send it to nanasirius@gmail.com.
    Anyway, i'm in the OIL CITY.

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