I subscribed to this yahoo group firstname.lastname@example.org, and I never really went back to it until today (1/23/06) Upon reading one of the emails from the group, one of the members posted this essay. It’s a LONG read, but worth the Discussion points that are bolded. Before reading this, I feel as though this is the type of literature that needs to be put out on the Yourba faith. It’s a bold and stark look at how things are in Africa, but the effects can been seen in bothe the caribbean AND in the United States:
by Professor Wande Abimbola*, 7 June 2005
Embargoed against delivery
Over the past 25 years, the major religions of the world have been concernedwith dialogue amongst themselves. The Christian missions both Catholic and Protestants have been in the forefront of this idea, and the Vatican even saddled a Cardinal with their relationship with other faiths. In the following short pages, I intend to assess the impact of inter-religious dialogue on the world religions, especially as far as the African continent is concerned, and to make proposals and suggestions for the future. Before I go any further, let me introduce myself to my audience. My name is Wande Abimbola. I am a Nigerian Professor who has taught African languages, literatures, religions and thought systems in various Nigerian Universities over the past forty years. I have also taught the same subjects at several United States Universities – including Amherst College, Massachusetts, Harvard and Boston Universities, to mention only a few. I am a practitioner of an African indigenous religion – the religion of the Yorùbá people, which is a religion of West Africa practiced also in several countries of the African Diaspora, including Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago (where the Yorùbá Religion was raised to the status of an official religion by an Act of Parliament in 1981). I am also a High Priest of Yorùbá Religion, having been initiated as a Babalawo in 1971. A babalawo is at the same time a diviner, a story teller, a counselor, and a medicine man. In 1981, I was installed by all the Babalawos of West Africa as Awise Agbaye (Spokesperson of Ifá and Yorùbá Religion in the World).
I am not a Christian, and I am not a Muslim. I am one of the millions of Yorùbá people who have decided that rather than convert to Christianity or Islam, we will pitch our tent with the religion of our ancestors. In June 1981, I founded a World Congress of Yorùbá Religion which has becomevery popular and successful. Three congresses have been held in Africa; one in the United States; one in Trinidad and Tobago; and two in Brazil. The next congress, which is the 9th in the series, is coming up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from the 1st to the 6th of August 2005. You are all cordially invited to the Rio Congress. The dialogues which the Christian missions have staged so far have been half-hearted and insincere. To start with, the dialogues have been held onlywith Islam and Judaism for the most part. Sometimes, these dialogues have included the Buddhist and the Hindu religions, and some other religions of the Far East. But rarely have these dialogues included the primal religions of the world such as the indigenous religions of Africa and the Americas. When African indigenous religions are included at all, they are often represented by Christian evangelists masquerading as scholars or practitioners of so-called traditional African religions (ATR). These past dialogues can be likened to an attempt by a person who wants to hold consultations with members of his household, but who deliberately neglects some members of that household either because he does not like them, or perhaps because he wished they were dead or lost. Needless to say, that person deceives himself but no other.
It is pertinent, at this juncture, to speculate as to why inter-religious dialogues have often excluded the indigenous religions of Africa and the African Diaspora. One reason is that the Christian missions do not accept the indigenous religions of Africa as religions in the first instance. As a matter of fact, the Christian missionaries have for so many centuries laboured to wipe out these religions from the face of the earth. Some western evangelists and scholars characterize African indigenous religions as animist or pagan. As far as the Christian missionaries are concerned, there are only two religions in Africa, viz. Christianity and Islam. There is another school of thought in the Christian faith who calls the indigenous religions of Africa Traditional African Religions (ATR) probably to be able to label them as primitive or archaic. Such scholars and evangelists also claim that the population of Africa is 50% Christian, 45% Muslim, and only 5% or less ATR. The possible inference is that as Africa becomes more christianized or westernized or islamized or arabized, the remaining 5% belonging to ATR will disappear. The real truth, however, is that the overwhelming majority of Africans are still very much involved in the indigenous religions and way of life of their ancestors, even though some of them may go to church on Sundays or they may go to Jumat prayers on Fridays.
I ask the question, what strange logic permits the Christians to count people who go to church as Christians,and the Muslims to count those who go to Jumat prayers as Muslims, but does not permit me to count the same people as practitioners of my own Yorùbá Religion, even though the same persons come to me to perform divinations andsacrifices many more days every month and every year? When we bring out the ancestor masquerades of egungun, or when we celebrate the annual Osun festival in Osogbo, or the Ogun festival in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, from where do the hundreds of thousands who attend these festivals come? Are they not the same people who attended the churches last Sunday, or who attended the Jumatprayers last Friday? It is not a secret that many Africans practice Christianity and Islam at thesame time as the practice indigenous religions of Africa. What the Christianand Islamic evangelists need to know is that in spite of billions of dollarsspent to make African convert to Christianity and Islam, in actual fact, there are really very few wholehearted and complete conversions to Christianity and Islam in Africa.
For many Africans, to be a christian is like belonging to a modern club to which some of their friends and family belong, and which they too need to frequent to fulfill certain societal requirements. If you do not believe the above, I invite you to listen to a famous song of Yorùbá Christians which goes as follows:
A wa o soro ile wa o,
A wa o soro ile wa o.
Esin kan o pe ….O yee,
Esin kan o pe,
Ka wa ma soro.
A wa o soro ile wa o.
Eni to ba fe,
Ko ki wa.
Eeyan ti o si fe,
Ko yan wa lodi!
A wa o soro ile wa o.
(We are going to worship our ancestral religions.
We are going to worship our ancestral religions.
No religion can say …O yes,
No religion can say,
That we should not worship our ancestral gods.
Anyone who likes,Can continue greet us.
Anyone who dislikes,May greet us no more!
We will worship the gods of our ancestors.)
It is therefore unrealistic and probably a mark of self delusion for any oneto think that the practitioners of the indigenous religions of Africa are so small in number that they are on the verge of extinction, and as a result, there is no need to dialogue with them. Perhaps, part of the problem is that the leaders of the indigenous African religions are not so easy for westerners to identify, since many of them do not speak European languages, and since their places of worship are not so easily identifiable like the big churches and mosques which can be seen everywhere in Africa today.
For most indigenous Africans, religious worship is such a personal thing that it does not necessarily have to take place in a temple. In Yorùbá land for example, temples and shrines of the divinities are very few, and when thieves started to steal our icons, most people movedtheir own images into the innermost areas of their homes. As a matter of fact, a person’s handbag, the pocket of his clothes, the necklaces or bracelets that he wears, or the insignia of his office which he carries, maywell be all that he needs to worship his divinities at any given time. Apart from those African who people who practice the three religions as mentioned above, in Yorùbá land there is still a hard core of millions of people who are neither Christian nor Muslim and who live totally according to the tenets of the indigenous beliefs of their ancestors. It may be true that all parts of Africa are like that, but it is certainly also true that the population of the practitioners of the indigenous of Africa is not 5% ofthe total population of Africa.
I would like to propose the following suggestions for the future of inter-religious dialogue. For dialogue to be real, sincere, and worthy of the time and resources put into it, it must fulfill the following conditions:
Dialogue must be all-inclusive and all-embracing. The indigenous religions of the world, including the indigenous religions of Africa and the Americas must be included. No religion practiced in any remote corner of our planet must be left out. All religions must be accepted to the table on an equal basis, and we must do away with derogatory terms such as ATR, animism or paganism, when we refer to the primal religions of the world.
The destruction of shrines, temples, icons, images, and places of worship of the indigenous religions of Africa and the rest of the world must stop forthwith. The World Council of Churches must issue a proclamation to all its members worldwide stating that they must have an attitude of tolerance for the way of life and religions of their neighbours; just as Jesus Christ said in the Holy Bible that his followers must love their neighbours as themselves. Jesus did not say love your neighbours as yourself only if they are christian, or only if they practice your religion.We on our own part, as practitioners of the ways of our ancestors, will continue to have an attitude of tolerance, love, and respect for all the religions of the world, in spite of the fact that we are mindful of the persecutions which we have suffered, and are still suffering in the hands ofour Christian and Islamic brothers, who had in the past enslaved and colonized us for centuries. We believe that love, rather than hatred, respect and humility, rather than arrogance, are the virtues which will endure. These virtues together with honesty are the values which we are inculcating in words and deeds to our own children. Our religion is not based on a hierarchical order of wealthy leaders or institutions. We prefer that the religion remains simple and respectful of all, including the animals, vegetation and all the other creatures and objects of nature without which we humans cannot survive on this planet. In spite of the non-proselytizing nature of our religion, it is one of the fastest growing religions of the world today.
We are powerless today, but if, by the special grace of Olódùmarè (our High Divinity), and Ifá (the all-knowing divinity of knowledge and wisdom), we become powerful tomorrow, we will forever live by the same values. Dialogue. Yes. Dialogue. Dialogue between the religions of humankind to solve pressing problems of the world. To compare notes, take a common stand,and have a powerful voice for the religious communities of the world. Dialogue to empower women, and provide the best education, and the best environment for the children and young people of the world. Dialogue, to eradicate hunger, thirst and needless suffering in the world. Dialogue to end wars, terrorism, greed, hatred, religious conflict, ethnic cleansing andracial bigotry. But dialogue on an equal basis, in an atmosphere of respect,and equality. If dialogue can be staged on these terms, INCLUDE US. If not, LEAVE US OUT. But we love you nevertheless, and we will continue to remember all of you in our daily prayers.
* Dr Wande ABIMBOLA PhD is a chief of African religion from Nigeria who occupies the position of Awise Awo Ni Agbaye (“spokesperson and ambassador for the Ifá and Yorùbá religion and culture in the world”).
Dr Abimbola is aspecial adviser to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on cultural affairs and traditional matters Yoruba: Iwa Rere Ni Eso EniyanEnglish: Humility is the cardinal principle of human beingsIre o.Olugbemiga “Toyin” OladokunPresidentAfrican Broadcasting CorporationP. O. Box 67351Los Angeles, CA 90067United States of America