African’s believe in many Divinities and how it can blend with external religions.
I know you might have wondered and pondered the influence and impact of the African belief in the divinities upon the whole of traditional African life.
African traditional religions in some parts of Africa have had an enormous pantheon of divinities. Still, there are exceptions to this obvious observation, especially in Southern Africa and some parts of West Africa. Some African ethnic groups do not seem to have divinities though, while some were known to have no unique worship places designated to Divinities of the Supreme Being.
However, the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, The Igbo tribe of Nigeria, and so many traditions in West Africa are known for having several hundreds of divinities.
For the past three decades of research, African scholars have changed certain perspectives, and they have also changed the definition of African divinities. They no longer accept the term polytheism—worship of many gods. They prefer the term “divinities” or “deities” to “gods.”
The debate on whether the African “divinities” are being worshipped as “gods” or whether they were just “intermediaries” or “mediators” is inconclusive.
Africans, actually after so many arguments and observations was concluded that they do not worship their divinities nor their ancestors, but God. In this argument, it’s being held that sacrifices, offerings, and prayers offered, are not directed to the divinities or the ancestors, as ends in themselves, but are directed as a means to an end, which is God. We have no intention of discussing this debate here, but to mention it in passing.
African divinities are many, and each has a specific area of influence and control. Some of these divinities were originally mythological figures in some African legends and primordial histories and cosmologies, while some were tribal heroes or heroines, like Shango.
Divinities covering different aspects of life, society, and community were usually established, such as divinities of the sea or the waters, rain, thunder, fertility, health or sickness, planting or harvest, tribal, clan, or family deities.
African divinities took the forms of mountains, rivers, forests, the mother earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and ancestors. The plurality of the divinities with their varying powers, influence, hierarchy, territoriality, even within one ethnic group or community, says a lot about the African religions, worship, beliefs, and practices. This leaves an open door for religious accommodation, tolerance, assimilation, and adaptation within the traditional religious thought.
The traditional African understanding that the interpretation of Christianity has deep roots in these fundamental beliefs of the African traditional religions. This belief, just as in the previous one, has a theological basis – the plurality of divinities (polytheism).
With the introduction of Christianity or other external religions, such as Islam, this belief with its worldview may have an added feature. It is henotheism—the worship of one God without denying the existence of other gods. There is a possibility that this external Gods from each external religion who has been introduced, can be worshipped along with other gods. This traditional belief’s theological basis allows it to take place without creating any severe theological crisis in the traditional religion. The plurality of gods or divinities permits a plurality of beliefs, practices, feelings, and behavior in one religion.
This belief also gives room for accommodation, adaptation, and domestication of new gods or divinities into the old religion. Other gods or divinities and divergent views and practices can be tolerated without confusion. All these are possible because of the theological foundation of this belief in many gods and in the hierarchy of gods or divinities.