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African Traditional & African Diasporic Religions

Posted by on Feb. 20, 2010 at 6:37 PM
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African Traditional & African Diasporic Religions: It may seem incongruous to distinguish African primal (traditional) religions from the general primal-indigenous category. But the "primal-indigenous" religions are primarily tribal and composed of pre-technological peoples. While there is certainly overlap between this category and non-African primal-indigenous religious adherents, there are reasons for separating the two, best illustrated by focusing specifically on Yoruba, which is probably the largest African traditional religious/tribal complex. Yoruba was the religion of the vast Yoruba nation states which existed before European colonialism and its practitioners today -- certainly those in the Caribbean, South America and the U.S.-- are integrated into a technological, industrial society, yet still proclaim affiliation to this African-based religious system. Cohesive rituals, beliefs and organization were spread throughout the world of Yoruba (and other major African religious/tribal groups such as Fon), to an extent characteristic of nations and many organized religions, not simply tribes. Historians might point to Shinto and even Judaism as the modern manifestations of what originally began as the religions of tribal groups who then became nations. Just as Yoruba may legitimately be distinguished from the general "primal-indigenous" classification, valid arguments could be made that other religious traditions such as Native American religion (less than 100,000 self-identified U.S. adherents) and Siberian shamanism should also be separate. But African traditional religion has been singled out because of its much larger size, its considerable spread far beyond its region of origin and the remarkable degree to which it remains an influential, identifiable religion even today.




by on Feb. 20, 2010 at 6:37 PM
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glitterteaz
by on Feb. 20, 2010 at 6:37 PM

African Diasporic Religions are those which have arisen, typically in the Western hemisphere, among Africans who retained much of their traditional culture and beliefs but adapted to new environments. These include Santeria, Candomble, Vodoun, Shango, etc. In many areas or subgroups the African elements exist alongside an overlay of European-based elements borrowed from the economically dominant culture, from influences such as Catholicism and Kardecian spiritism. The fact that these religions exist within technologically advanced cultures alongside "classical" organized religions (such as Christianity) is one of the reasons for grouping these adherents separately from the general "primal-indigenous" category. Adherents of African diasporic religions typically have no real tribal affiliation, may be converts to African-based religion, and are not necessarily African or black in their race and ethnicity. Regarding Santeria alone: It is difficult to determine worldwide numbers of Santerians, as the religion is syncretistic, goes by different names (including Lukumi, and Camdomble in Brazil) and has been actively suppressed by the Communist government in the country where it is perhaps the largest: Cuba. Estimates of Santerians include 800,000 in the U.S. and one million in Brazil, plus 3 million in Cuba (although many Cuban practitioners identify themselves officially as Catholics or Communists/atheists). A worldwide number of people who at least sometimes self-identify as adherents of this loosely-organized religious category might be 3 million, but this is just an estimate. Regarding Vodoun: For the most part, Voodoo (or "Vodoun") is not an organized religion, but a form of African traditional religion practiced primarily in Haiti, Cuba and Benin. Often blended with Catholicism. Other methods of counting adherents could count practitioners as general primal-indigenous religionists (tribal) and/or Christians. Vodoun is typically classified as an Afro-Caribbean and/or Afro-Brazilian syncretistic religion, along with Santeria (Lukumi) and Candomble. Some sources refer to Vodoun as the Haitian form of Santeria; other sources refer to Santeria as a form of Vodoun. From a worldwide and historical perspective, Vodoun is properly classified as a branch of African diasporic religion, in the same way that Lutheranism is a subset of Christianity. Regarding the number of practitioners, the ReligiousTolerance.org web page about Vodoun states: "50 million. Estimates of the number of adherents are hopelessly unreliable. Some sources give numbers in the range of 2.8 to 3.2 million." A figure of 50 million is doubtful because this is primarily a Caribbean religious movement and there are only 30 million people in the Caribbean, the majority of whom are clearly self-identified Christians. In the Americas (especially the Caribbean, Brazil and the United States), there is a large number of people who practice some form of Yoruba diasporan religion, especially forms of Santeria and Vodoun. But it should be noted that many practitioners of Voodoo would name something else, i.e. Catholicism, as their religion. Even those who practice Santeria or Voodoo more often then they practice Catholicism mostly identify themselves as Catholic. We asked an expert for feedback about our comments on Yoruba religion. Osunmilaya, a practitioner and scholar on the subject wrote: I would make only a few changes. Instead of the term "Santerian" perhaps the term "ab'orisha," which refers to both initiated and uninitiated devotees, would be more acceptable. Some practitioners don't like the term Santeria at all because it implies that the tradition is a minor, heretical sect of Catholicism. Vodoun is more properly classified as Dahomean and Fon in origin, not Yoruba. It does not appear in Brazil in the Haitian form, to my admittedly limited knowledge of this tradition. However, some Candomble houses may identify as Dahomean nation. A critical component of the spiritist influence upon the Yoruba traditions as practiced in the Western hemisphere is the pervasive influence of the BaKongo tradition, known as Palo Monte and Umbanda. What I have seen in practice has a lot of Kardecian influence, but I expect to see what I observed with the Santeria tradition: that as one becomes more immersed into the actual tradition, that the outer layer of Catholicism peels away to reveal a tradition that, in reality, is very much unsyncretized. (See Wande Abimbola's discussion in Ifa Will Mend Our Broken World.) Osunmilaya's comments are very helpful. The only comment we might add is that there are knowledgeable historians of Yoruba religion in the West who believe Yoruba, in addition to the Dahomean and Fon traditions, played a major role in the development of modern Africa-Haitian religion. The point about use of the term "Santerian" is an important one to keep in mind. Although "Santeria" is commonly used in comparative religion/academic literature, and it is becoming increasingly accepted among practitioners of the Western Yoruba/Orisha religious tradition, it is a term imposed by outsiders and its etymological roots have meaning that many in the tradition find offensive or at least inaccurate.




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