Roles Of Gods And Ancestors In African Religion

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Roles of Gods and Ancestors in African Religion

Religion does not appear as a separate word in Africa. In fact, there are no words in African languages that refer to religion as a specific activity. To a large extent, this is a borrowed concept in African culture coming from the influences of Europeans and Arabs with the religions of Christianity and Islam. In Africa, what one calls religion is simply the way that a particular people live their lives (Parrinder, 31).

God in African Religion

All Africans believe in the ancestors, as ever-living and watchful. There is a great controversy as to whether African practices may be called "ancestor-worship", and as such properly religious, or whether Africans revere their dead fathers as they respect a living chief. But no one denies that the ancestors are regarded as having powers which are useful to men, and the dilemma concerning worship may be resolved by the philosophy of forces. The ancestors were human, but they have acquired additional powers and men seek to obtain their blessing or avert their anger by due offerings (Parrinder, 32).

Above all is the Supreme Being. There is a much more general belief in him than has been thought in the past. Often he is considered to be so remote that men do not pray to him regularly. But in time of great distress many Africans turn to God in desperation. He is the final resort, the last court of appeal, and he may be approached directly without intermediary. The power of God is supreme; all flows from him and inheres in him. Godlings and ancestors are intermediaries; prayers and offerings made to them may be passed on to the source of all (Parrinder, 33).

There have been writers on African society who have maintained that belief in a Supreme God is due to the influence of a hierarchical society, and that God is nothing more than a glorified chief or ancestor. This is a very ancient notion. The Greek philosopher Euhemeros of Macedonia (320-260 B.C.) said that the gods were departed chiefs and warriors, who had been venerated before their death and deified afterwards. From this he deduced that all the gods came from human ancestors, and that the myths concerning them enshrined memories of historical events (Parrinder, 34). In the nineteenth century of our era Herbert Spencer, a voluminous but sometimes inexact writer, upheld a similar opinion. "Using the phrase ancestor-worship", he said, "in its broadest sense as comprehending all worship of the dead, be they of the same blood or not, we reach the conclusion that ancestor-worship is the root of every religion".

As such ancestor he deserves to be worshipped, and is worshipped in the visible head, the good chief of the community". Other writers on the Akan, however, deny this assertion and say that there is no trace of the identification of God with the first father of the tribe (Parrinder, 35).

The question as to how far God is worshipped is important. One of the clearest examples ...
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