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12.04.2010 Religion

Discovering traditional religion: the Afrikania experience

By Esi Woarabae Cleland
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Let me provide some context.
I'm a regular Ghanaian--a writer--one who takes tro-tros and dreams of a better life. I look forward to teaching my children Fanti. Sometimes I go to church. I consider myself a truth seeker. I am open to learning new truths. I tend to think favorably of the Christian faith because I was raised in it and probably because of where I live. But I know that I don't know everything.

What is odd is that even though I claim to be exploring different religions, I wanted nothing to do with traditional African religions. Shrines, mbowatia, abosom, libation, and spirits--I considered them all evil.

So when a friend invited me to the meeting of traditional believers, this is what went through my mind: I cannot say for sure that traditional African 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; fear of the unknown.

I wanted to confront that fear. Every time I confront my fears, I grow. And I was curious, so I went.

The meeting was fittingly held at the Accra Cultural Centre. When I entered the meeting place, the first thing I noticed was a calabash filled with water, and leaves floating on the water. My friend dipped his forefinger into it and touched the middle of his forehead. I refrained from the act. Already, the sound of my heartbeat was deafening. Gboom! Gboom! Gboom! Gboom! M'awu o! What had I gotten myself into? But it was too late to turn back so I found a seat, and looked around.

There was a fetish priestess sitting at the back. The worshipers sat in a circle, on plastic chairs. There were about 20 people in all. There was a table, behind which the two men leading worship sat. Spread on the table was a crumpled, dirty-looking Afrikania mission cloth. On top of the cloth sat a "Gye Nyame" symbol. There was also a “I love Ghana” cloth hanging from that same table. On top of it was a cow switch. In the corner sat another calabash. It was all a bit too unsettling.

The service 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 off their shoes. And when they danced, it was not free-style like we do in a Christian church ; these dances were traditional Ghanaian dances. Like adowa and agbadza. At one point, we were all encouraged to dance. I thought I'd look silly pretending to dance adowa or agbadza so I stuck to my usual church dance. At the same time 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 abibindwom. Other times they sang what I'd consider secular songs like the the Fanti warrior song:

Oburumankoma ee!,
Oburumankoma ee!
Oburumankoma nye Odapagyan ee!
Oburumankoma nye Odapagyan ee!
Ɔson!
Ɔson akyi nyi aboa.
The readings explained their faith a bit. They do not believe in the Christian Trinity, that is, God as father, son and holy spirit. But they believe that a supreme being created the earth, and that this being is both male and female. They believe in this supreme being. They also believe in 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 supposedly good spirits, sent to help us by God. God uses them more than he uses humans because humans are jealous, deceitful, and belligerent.

I did not stay till the end of the program. I left after only about an hour but the questions I had before the meeting kept gnawing at me. And I couldn't sleep later that night when I got home. I was spooked. I live alone, you see, and whenever the wind rattled my front gate , I wondered if the bad spirits were coming for me. Seriously.

The experience left me with many feelings. Many thoughts. Many questions. For example, what exactly is it about traditional religion that we fear? What scares us? How is it that I knew more about Eastern religions than I knew about Ghanaian traditional religion? Even from a purely academic standpoint, whatever happened to intellectual curiosity given that no less than 9% of my fellow citizens practice some traditional religion? How had I closed off myself completely from understanding such an important source of our tradition and culture?

"You may not know what it is that scares you, but do you really want to find out?", asked my boss.

I have chosen fear with knowledge over fearful ignorance.

Notes
The Afrikania Mission was founded by Ɔsɔfo Ɔkɔmfo Damoa who came from Asankragua in the Western region, got a PhD from Howard University, USA, was a catholic priest for many years, and later became an African traditional believer, hence his dual title of Ɔsɔfo and Ɔkɔmfo. He died in 1992.

To learn more about the beliefs, check out the Afrikania Mission website.

Discovering traditional religion: the Afrikania experience. Opinion. By Esi Cleland. Retrieved 06:07 AM April 12th, 2010, from http://times.fienipa.com/node/6.

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