Last week I started a series of blogs on what it would mean to define my primary identity as Africanism. This week I look at the phobia associated with such an identity.
Just mention any African traditional religion to anyone and the first imagery that come to their minds include ritual human sacrifice, witchcraft, sorcery, secret cults, spells, and all the other scary stuff. It’s followers are commonly branded Satanists, and they are distanced from in public. Unfortunately, these appalling practices are not uncommon.
This obviously explains the phobia towards it. However, the biggest problem is that the enlightened Africans, instead of challenging the perpetrators of these practices by exposing their uselessness, actually empower them either by their acute fear of them or by secretly believing that their methods work and therefore consulting them on occasions. I belief it is high time the enlightened Africans got back Africanism from ignoramuses and illiterates.
The first thing we need to understand is that all religions with no exception have passed through the stages of distructive superstitious beliefs. This belief has been responsible for the burning of witches, the inquisition, the crusades, jihad, burnt sacrifices, gay persecutions, discrimination against left-handed people, and many other weird practices all over the world. Fortunately, through enlightenment many of these practice have not only been abandoned but have also been outlawed. As you can observe, it is the practices that got abandoned in most cases and not the identity.
The rushed abandonment of African traditional religions came with the arrival of western education. Conversion to Christianity was often a prerequisite. Only very few people were able and free to embrace both. What encouraged mass conversion was some of the unpleasant indigenous practices such as the caste system, the killing of twins, as well as access to power in the new colonial system that came along Christianity.
In addition, Christianity together with western education brought a new approach to life such as formal education and healthcare. In most cases, the adherents of the traditional religions were just ignored and ridiculed as heathens, and that was the beginning of this great divide. These result is that the stereotype of an Africanist is old illiterate man or woman somewhere in the village and unable to articulate his/her belief system of the philosophy of his world views. Very little has been documented, and even where they are, reading any such books is frowned upon.
The funny thing about this phobia is that the new Christian groups spend a huge amount of their time not discussing Christian virtues based on the Bible, but by fighting real and imagined forces in traditional religion portrayed as witchcraft or ritual worship. Worship has become all about delivering people from the influence of ancestral spirits, witchcraft and all other unknown forces.
Anyone suffering from any mental illness or displays any form of weirdness is called a witch or is said to be possessed. Anyone familiar with the psychology of phobia knows that it is often all about fighting what is deeply engraved inside but wish to be distanced from. The reason for this phobia therefore that somewhere deep inside, some of the adherents of the new faith believe in the powers of the Africanists, and their open and hidden fear of them tend to empower then, which in turn attract more people to them.
In some cases, anyone suspected of any practice that might be associated with Africanism gets persecuted by the law enforcement agencies. The recent case of the Nigerian woman who got arrested by the police for apparently turning from a bird to a human being is both pathetic and hilarious. Unfortunately, it is common to be harassed by the police for being a witch and some other wild allegations.
In another news, the Swaziland civil aviation authority last year passed a law banning witches from flying above 150m. You wonder why anyone intellectual enough to run the civil aviation authority or pass a national law would bother with such things. In order disturbing cases, the law enforcement agencies look the other way while children and older women are abused or even killed just in the name of being witches.
The cases whereby a pastor publicly slaps a little girl for saying that she is “a witch for Jesus” or the “prophetess” Helen Ukpabio encouraging parents to dump their children on flimsy symptoms of being witches are all manifestations of this phobia.
As I have already said, what needs to happen is for intellectuals to challenge these horrendous practices from both sides. Past ignorant practices, such as human sacrifices, that do not benefit the society should be abandoned, not secretly believed and feared. The basis of the challenge is not just that it is devilish or that it’s perpetrators will end up in hell; the basis is that it doesn’t work and the perpetrators will be handed long-term jail sentences.
We should fight against people being persecuted for being witches or for not adhering to one of the popular religions views. It is only when we rid Africanism of all these negative connotations and phobia, can we properly embrace it as a world view with its own metaphor for explaining the purpose of life. It will make Africans reconcile with an identity with which they can feel comfortable without the internal infighting. I am very pleased that so many African intellectuals brand themselves as traditionalists. They include Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Fela Kuti, Jacob Zuma, and so on.