(Please note this is not an attack on older forms of Christianity such as the Early Gnostic Christianity or Coptic Ethiopian Christianity both of which entered Africa long before European colonialism. It is an analysis on the Eurocentric Christianity brought by European missionaries & colonialist to Africa & the Christianity indoctrinated into the people taken from the continent)
The colonial period from the standpoint of African slaves may be defined as a time of perseverance. Their world quickly changed. Tribal kings and their families, politicians, business and community leaders all were enslaved and taken to a foreign region of the world. Religious leaders, their relatives and their followers were now slaves. Colonial laws criminalized their religion forbid them to speak their language. They were forced to become baptized and worship a god their ancestors had not known who was surrounded by a pantheon of saints. The early concerns during this period seem to have necessitated a need for individual survival under harsh plantation conditions. A sense of hope was sustaining the internal essence of what today is called Santería, a misnomer (and former pejorative) for the indigenous religion of the Lukumi people of Nigeria. In the heart of their homeland, they had a complex political and social order. They were a sedentary hoe farming cultural group with specialized labor. Their religion, based on the worship of nature, was renamed and documented by their masters. Santería, a pejorative term that characterizes deviant Catholic forms of worshiping saints, has become a common name for the religion. The term santero(a) is used to describe a priest or priestess replacing the traditional term Olorisha as an extension of the deities. The orishas became known as the saints in image of the Catholic pantheon.
—Ernesto Pichardo, CLBA, Santería in Contemporary Cuba: The individual life and condition of the priesthood
Africans back home.
Here the religion was attacked on three fronts. Yorubaland was largely structured in the form of City-States much as ancient Greece used to be. To regard the Yoruba as a single nation is as naive as saying all Europeans are the same, where there are language and cultural differences between the diverse range of countries. The religion was practiced slightly differently from region to region and in different areas the orishas that were worshipped were different. Even in Ifá, which is arguably the most homogenous of the religious practices in Yorubaland, the very order of the divination signs or Odu are different between Ile Ife and Oyo. These City-States were invaded by successive waves of Fulani tribes who spread the religion of Islam by sword throughout much of the area. There were the effects of the slave trade itself where prisoners captured by warring City-States were sold to the Portuguese, Spanish and English who traded in human lives for a living. This decimated many of the religious groups and partially explains why some orishas much worshipped in Cuba and Brazil are virtually non-existent in modern day Nigeria. Then there was the effect of Colonialism itself. The Colonialists regarded the Yoruba peoples as little more than ignorant savages, children who were in great need of being ‘civilized’ by the superior Western Europeans who found the Slave Trade and the horrendous Middle Passage a morally acceptable practice. The Yorubas in Nigeria were forced to speak the language of their oppressors and were encouraged to give up their own language. Missionaries taught many of them to practice Christianity and to forget their own ways and religion and the populace were drawn towards the relative wealth of the larger cities where ‘civilization’ took a particularly harsh toll on the religion.
By the mid twentieth century, the Traditional Yoruba Religion was only practiced by an estimated 10% of the population, the rest had become either Christians or Islamic. Many of the Igbo Orisha had fallen into disuse and decay and many sacred posts were left unfilled due to lack of interest on the part of the young who were more interested in finding their fortunes in the cities and the ‘modern world’. The practice of reading the merindilogun or cowrey shell divination had almost ceased to be practiced in Nigeria, with people frequenting Ifá priests or Babalawos almost exclusively.And the religion itself was having to adapt itself to a rapidly changing world, much as what had happened in Cuba and Brazil.
In recent times there has been a great resurgence of the religion, not only in Cuba and Africa, but in all corners of the world. In the sixties, the Austrian artist Suzanne Wenger married a traditional drummer in Oshogbo and became a priestess of Obatalá. She then set about renewing the ancient Orisha Groves there, creating and recreating great beauty where decay had set in. The religion as practiced in Cuba as well as Africa sparked the imaginations, the hearts and the souls of many, particularly in the United States. Pilgrimages particularly to Nigeria had a huge effect on the traditional religion. Where some Yorubas once saw only an embarassing past, they became proud. A renewed interest in the religion caused a massive movement to study and to document the religion in its original home. The groves became the beautiful receptacles of awe and mystery they once were and the worship of the orishas became respectable to the point of being included in the course of study in the major Nigerian Universities. The religion has become popular the world over, with the religion being featured in a recent edition of Vogue magazine. A recent conference on Orisha worship brought people from such diverse places as the Netherlands, France and Germany as well as Cuba, Puerto, Rico, the United States, Brazil, Trinidad and Nigeria. Here, due to the diversity of languages spoken, the main language spoken at the conference was Yoruba!
As A descedent of Yoruba returnees & Yoruba who stayed on the continent, Who has lived in and out of the Continent all I say is think for yourself understand the history and come to your Own conclusions. If Africa is where Humanity started & the oldest aspects of spirituality started in Africa. How come every year we are wasting Mental & physical energy on Religious systems based outside of Africa no longer properly revering the ones who came before us (Our ancestors) or the fertile environment we came from? Why aren’t we putting that energy to properly to use on ourselves & the capabilities of our continent. We are being exploited by a inaccurate system.
Every year more than 5000 Africans die as they try to escape internally & externally induced poverty & enter the borders of Europe when Africa is home to 80% of world resources.
The potential of Africans and the continent is limitless but we must rekindle our connection that was forcibly removed from us & remember who we are (I know Africa was not a Utopia when things happened) but it is our home. In the Yoruba creation story we are told that God gave us divination as a way to read & understand Nature.
Image.1 Negroid types according to Meyers Blitz-Lexicon, published in 1932. Images like this still propagate Racism, If you compare it to its European counterparts & Asian counterparts the people are wearing cloths.
The following is taken entirely from Cheikh anta diops book African Origins of Civilization - Myth or Reality .
The Origin of the Negro Myth:To answer the above query it is necessary to go back to Egypt at the time that it fell under the yoke of the foreigner. The distribution of blacks on the African continent probably went through two principle phases:
It is generally believed that by 7000 B.C., the Sahara had dried up. Equatorial Africa was probably still too dense to attract people. Consequently the last black who lived in the Sahara now presumably left left it to migrate toward the upper Nile, with the exception of a few small isolated groups on the rest of the continent who either had migrated toward the south or had headed north. Perhaps the first group found an indigenous Black population in the region of the upper Nile. Whatever the case, it was from the gradual adaptation to the new living conditions which nature assigned to these various black populations that oldest phenomenon of civilization, came about.
This civilisation called Egyptian in our period, developed for a long time in it’s early cradle: then it slowly descended the Nile valley spread out around the Mediterranean basin. This cycle of civilization, the longest in history, presumably lasted about 10,000 years. This is a reasonable compromise between the long chronology (Based on data provided by Egyptian priest, Herodotus and Manetho who place the beginning at 17,000 B.C.) and the short chronology of moderns – for the latter are obliged to admit that by 4245 B.C. The Egyptians had already invented the calender (which necessarily requires the passage of thousands of years.) Obviously, during that long period, the blacks could have penetrated deeper and deeper into the interior of the continental civilization analyzed in Chapter VIII. These African civilisations would be cut off from the rest of the world. They would tend to live in isolation as a result of the enormous distance separating them from access routes to the Mediterranean. When Egypt lost its independence, their isolation was complete.
From then on, separated from the mother country which was invaded by the foreigner, and withdrawn in a geographical setting requiring a minimum effort of adjustment, the blacks were orientated toward the development of their social, political, and moral organization, rather than toward speculative scientific research that their circumstances failed to justify, and even rendered impossible. Adaptation to the narrow, fertile Nile valley required expert technique in irrigation and dams, precise calculations to foresee the inundations of the Nile and to deduce their economical and social consequences. It also required the inventions of geometry to delimit property after the floods obliterated boundary lines. By the same token, the terrain in long flat ships required the transformation of the paleo-Negretic hoe into a plow, first drawn by men, subsequently by animals,. Indispensable as all that was for the Negro’s material existence in the Nile valley, it became equally superfluous in the new living conditions in the interior.
Since history had disrupted his former equilibrium with the environment, the black now found new equilibrium with the environment, differing from the first in the absence of a technique no longer vital to the social, political, and moral organization. With economic resources assured by means that did not require perpetual inventions, the Negro became progressively indifferent to material progress.
Image 5. Don Alvaro King of Kongo giving Audience to the Dutch in 1642
It was under these new conditions that the encounter with Europe to place. In the 15th century , when the first Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, Danes, and Brandenburgers began to set up trading post on the west African Coast, the potential organization of the African States was equal, and often superior, to that of their own respective states. Monarchies were Already Constitutional, with a People’s Council on which the various social Strata were represented. Contrary to the Legend, the Negro king was not, and had never been, a despot with unlimited powers. In some places, he was invested by the people, with the prime minister an intermediary representing the free men. His Mission was to serve the people wisely and his authority depended on his respect for the established constitution.
Image 6. [The City of Lovango.] (1670) Angola.
The social and moral order was on the same level of perfection. Nowhere did any pre-logical mentality reign, in the sense that Levy-Bruhl understood it, but there is no need to refute here an idea that it’s author rejected before his death. On the other hand, for all the reasons cited above, technical development was less stressed than in Europe. Although the Negro had been the first to discovery iron, he had built no cannon; the secret of gunpowder was known only to the Egyptian priest, who used it solely for the religious purpose at rites such as the Mysteries of Osiris (cf. Cornelius de Pauw’s Recherches sur les Egyptiens et les Chinois).
Africa was therefor quite vulnerable from the technical standpoint. It became tempting, irresistible prey for the West, provided with firearms and far-ranging navies. So the economic progress of the Renaissance Europe spurred on the conquest of Africa, which was rapidly accomplished. It passed from the stage of coastal trading posts to that of annexation by Western international agreements, followed by armed Conquest called “pacification”.
At the beginning of this period America was discovered Christopher Columbus and the overflow of the old continent was dumped on the new world. The development of the Virgin Islands required cheap labour. Defenceless Africa then became the readymade reservoir from which to draw that labour force with the minimum of expense & risk. The modern Negro slave trade was considered economic necessity prior to the advent of the machine. This would last until the mid-nineteenth century.
Such a reversal of roles, the result of the new technical relations, brought with it the master-slave relationships between whites and blacks on a social level. Already in the middle ages, the memory of a Negro Egypt that had civilized the world had been blurred by ignorance of the antique tradition hidden in libraries or buried under ruins. It would become even more obscure during those four centuries of slavery.
Inflated by their recent technical superiority, the Europeans looked down on the black world and condescended to touch nothing but it’s riches. Ignorance of the Black’s ancient history, differences of morals and customs, ethnic prejudices between two races that believed themselves to be facing each other for the first time, combined with the economic necessity to exploit-so many factors predisposed the mind of the European to distort the moral personality of the Blacks and their intellectual aptitudes.
Image 8. Cecil Rhodes & the Scramble for African.
Henceforth “Negro” became a synonym for primitive being. “inferior” endowed with a pre-logical mentality. As the human being is always eager to justify his conduct, they went even further. The desire to legitimize colonization and the slave trade- in other words, the social condition of the Negro in the modern world engendered an entire literature to describe the so called inferior traits of the black. The mind of several generations of Europeans would thus be gradually indoctrinated, western opinion would crystallize and instinctively accept as the revealed truth the equation: Negro=inferior humanity. To crown this cynicism, colonization would be depicted as a duty to humanity. They invoked “the civilizing mission” of the West charged with the responsibility to raise the African to the level of the other men [Known to us as “the white man’s burden”]. From then on capitalism had clear sailing to practice the most ferocious exploitation under the cloak of moral pretexts.
Reference: Diop, C.A., African Origins of Civilization - Myth or Reality: Chicago, Ill, Lawrence Hill Books 1974.
- On a side note you can tell the period of the book based on the language used, language such as Negro. The term Negroid has no anthropological or genetic meaning. As the term only came into use in 1859. Even the term Negro land was made up, Yes thats what they called a proportion of west Africa. The term Negro only came into use in the mid 15th century with first contact with the Portuguese.
- Furthermore apparently definitively African groups such as the Ethiopians, Somali, Beja & some central African groups etc. are classified as Caucasoid. That Statement alone that East Africans are an OFFSHOOT of Caucasoid smacks of the “Hamitic origin theory in the face. Although these groups in their own right are phylogentically unique as some of these groups are a admixture of much older Ancient African and Arab ancestry.
- Basically racial terminology is based on phenotypical differences not genotypical differences. Showing errors in current racial classification models
However if you notice now to a much lesser extent in popular culture that term has been replaced with African. With the reclassification of the north Africa as the middle east. For socioeconomic reasons this makes sense. Given the fact that many North Africans are descendants of Arab settlers mixed with a smaller admixture of African with a definitively Arab culture Unique to each country.
Irrespective of where we go outside Africa as a Black African we still face prejudice (even in north Africa). To a similar extent Arabs are now being demonized & face prejudice.
In essence the terminology African is better fitting & links Africans to a historical origin as they are the most racially diverse group given the constant in-flux and out of people to & from the continent which is still happening today.