African Traditional Beliefs Support
Most Holistic Perspectives
African traditional beliefs are said to be animist and polytheist, and this is one way to read the actions of people who are very involved, to the point of obsession with pun intended, in their practices. Another way to understand these beliefs is to decide they are sincere and leave them alone. We are not God. Are You? The majority Western viewpoint of how people are in the world, especially Africans of ancient heritage, is unfortunately, quite skewed and infects everyone who sankofas (goes back "to fetch" the truth or lesson; an Akan ideal).
The history of Africans in the West as slaves or descendants of slaves is too bereft of appreciation for African contributions: laying the foundation for and participating in building the technology and materially-rich world leader that is tottering but was in full glory up until "yesterday." The election of President Barack Hussein Obama, son of an African Muslim and European Christian, certainly signifies something in the trajectory of the Euro-African equation (some say downfall, others, dawn of a new day).
For African traditional religious practices and approaches to healing to be brushed aside as animist is derogatory and elitist, but the best word is "ignorant." The West must be educated to the key notions of African healing that are rooted in the spirituality of African people. This will then facilitate making the connection between the Sudanic, Western, Central and Southern [black] African ways of thinking and healing, and that of Egypt and Nubia.
There are 1000s of examples but I will only provide three for now to demonstrate something of the depth of the healing and holistic health concepts that are the core, no matter what the professed African religion.
Dr. K. Bunseki Fu Kiau published Self-Healing Power and Therapy in 1991, and this book profoundly changed my worldview. I will provide a full review elsewhere on this site. For now, I want to give the overview of the book's message: Each person is a sun, you have your own power that radiates from you and can be drawn from to heal what ails you within, and what ails others around you. When Stevie Wonder sings, "you are the sunshine of my life" this is a healing assertion of mammoth proportion and effect.
In the Kongolese traditional African view, each human being can help any other human being with as little as a glance or touch. The West and the skeptical focus on the reverse of this, that the evil eye or bad vibratory touch can also destroy a person. Such a use of human power will abase your soul, in Dr. Fu Kiau's view, and you would remain forever displaced and unconnected to the ancestors and the yet unborn. No one who knows herself as a sun would want to do this. It would be stupid.
The holistic perspective is therefore evident in this system, where mind-body-spirit are seen as one's Being, rather than separate and interrelated aspects. As always in African thought, the whole or sum is much greater than the parts.
When I read Of Water and The Spirit by Malidoma Some', I was flabbergasted. The author lived in two worlds and traversed them both in a way that had him ascend to his position of leadership of a traditional healing movement. I will discuss the book later. For now, his site, malidoma.com, provides information that I will reprint here, since his own words tell the story of what the Dagara system is about.
First, I want to share a major contribution of his people, the Dagara Medicine Wheel, which categorizes people based on the last digit of their birth year. The Christian calender being the basis for this used to concerned me. Then I realized no matter what system you use, it is a guide for accepting or rejecting what is true about oneself. Since my birth year ends in 3, I am a Nature person. No clearer description have I ever read of myself than that provided by this Dagara system. Here is the symbol, gleaned from one of his sites:
This image details the five elements in the Dagara (Burkina Faso) cosmology. People are born into clans defined by these elements. Match the last number in your birth year to the lement to find out which clan you belong to, says one of Malidoma's original websites (I paraphrase.) "I am a proud Water Clan member born in 1966. Asana sana," -- Malidoma Some'.
Here is a description of an upcoming Intensive:
“The time for a vigorous act of devotion to, and embracing of the wisdom of indigenous Africa has come. After centuries of silence and in hiding, the powers and wisdom of the ancestors are rising up to lead the world into the next level of consciousness and spirituality. As we know, the continent is not just the birthplace of mankind, it is also the repository of profound unseen powers and technologies on standby to contribute to a radical healing change much needed in the world today. This calls for some militant initiative on the part of those in whose heart ancient Africa speaks, to check in for this exciting and compelling journey home where they can expect to find how much of the old in them has been waiting to burst in service of the world’s need to heal and to transform. This training is offered in response to that call.
"Designed for those raised in cultures with a high dose of militancy who want to serve the purpose of this new era, this multi-part program is being created to lay the groundwork, deeply and personally, for a leap into the magical and spiritual technological legacies of our ancestors. Grounded in radical exploration of the elements of cosmology, Fire, Water, Earth, Nature, and Mineral, this program aims at enriching our working relationships with them in order to anchor ourselves more fully in this world and to be of greater service to all living beings. We will create, experience and learn to provide for others, ritual involving each element and its healing properties, thus fostering healing for ourselves, others, and our communities.
"In addition, through the rituals of Ancestralizaton, we will manifest a response to our own desire for a deeper understanding of and more intimate daily interaction with the ancestors, those who have left the visible earth plane and now carry the responsibility to monitor our growth from the spirit world as we meet our duties in this world.
"In our gatherings we will learn the basic skills of cowry shelldivination, in the style designed by Malidoma for individuals in the western world.
"We will create our individual divination kits and begin to discern the Messages being sent through the interaction among shells, stones, bones and Other significant symbols.
"We will explore the art and science of talisman making and thePractical applications of these ancient representations of hidden power and protection. We will learn to apply these creative skills in our work with others who seek deeper meaning in their lives.
"We will create ritual experiences which will address the particular Needs of our expanding community, embracing such issues as health, abundance, grief, growth.”
The African traditional religion of the Dogon people who inhabit what is now Mali and the Sudanic and Saharan regions of Africa, is well known for its focus on Sirius B, a star that is normally invisible to the naked eye. European and African scholars rage over whether the information espoused by the Dogon, captured by Marcel Griaule, came from the West or the Africans of the Nile Valley.
Of his book Conversations with Ogotemmeli, reviewers had this to say:
"Thoroughly recommended as one of the most important studies of West African traditional religion."
--Geoffrey Parrinder, West Africa
"Will prove of interest and enlightenment to those still inclined to underestimate African subtlety and sophistication."
--Times Literary Supplement
"Dogon religion (Sudan) is seen through the eyes of...an elder of exceptional intellectual attainments.... It is good to have this material now in English."
The Dogon are famous for their astronomical knowledge taught through oral tradition, dating back thousands of years, referencing the Sirius sstar system. Sirius is the Dog Star that is linked with the Egyptian female deity or principal, Isis. The astronomical information known by the Dogon since that time, was not discovered and verified until the 19th and 20th centuries, making one wonder how the Dogon came by this knowledge. Their oral traditions say it was given to them by the Nommo. The source of their information may date back to the time of the ancient Egyptian priests.
The site, Non-European Components of European Patrimony, has a brief article on the Dogon that describes its trinitarian worship of Amma, the sky god, Nommo, the water god and Lewwe/Lebbe, the earth god. Problem is, this condensation of their philosophy is simplistic. Copy and paste the following URL to reach the article:
The last paragraph reads: "Dogon culture is accumulative, new elements are easily incorporated and combined with existing customs. This is true also for religious ideas: variations in religious concepts between villages frequently result from the selective incorporation of outside ideas, often from Islamic and Christian sources. In some villages these external influences have replaced traditional religious beliefs completely or partially, in other villages they are incorporated only in certain rituals."
On another page of the same site, the following is provided: "The Dogon are subsistence farmers in an unfavourable arid environment and the restricted arable ground is intensively worked. Millet, maize, and onions are major agricultural products, and some domestic animals are kept for meat supply. The extended family is the basis of Dogon social organisation, the Dogon are patrilineal, patrilocal and exogamous; some speciality groups exist, such as blacksmiths, leatherworkers and griots (Imperato 1978; for a general introduction to the Dogon see Palau-Marti 1957)."
What is not said on this site that gets accolades for the quality of research is that there is a dispute about where the Dogon got their astronomical information. Most European writers point to their contacts with Europeans as the source of the information, while the Dogon themselves insist they came from the East, from what is now known as Kmet (land of the Blacks) or Egypt (Greek for land of burnt faces).
Islam has not overruled the people's original beliefs. It has even corroborated their scientific notions, such as the human's origin from water and from outer space. It is very easy to understand why Dogon now mostly practice Islam, however much their traditional beliefs do not coincide with popular notions of the muslim religion.
What is much more important is that these people used their belief system to maintain their well-being for 100s if not 1000s of years. This survival defies categorization just like the miraculous successes of African descendants around the globe.
African religions sustain the people in many ways. It's not what you do (ritual, ancestralization, work), but how you do a thing that counts the most. I have tried to distance myself from my African origin but found my life drawn back to it, curiously, like some magnet covering my inner truth and reality (the heart of the matter).
Despite castigation by those who cannot release the slave image of Africans from their minds, African descendants and other descendants of maligned people, like the Dravidians of India, the so-called Untouchables, still rise and must stay committed to growing and improving their lot.
The persistence of African traditional and indigenous approaches to spirit-mind-body healing metaphysically confirms the people's ability to holistically, by any means necessary, heal themselves.