African Religions in the Americas

African Religions

December 4, 2002

World History 2

Various factors contribute to religion practices and preferences. These factors can be demographic, economical, social or even lack thereof. It can be found that traditional West African religion has undergone much subtraction and addition in its making of a religion. It can also be found that it went through this process as it assembled in Latin and North America. Traditional West African religion was an essential part of life to every person from West Africa. Religion was a way of life. In other words life revolved around religion. It tied into every aspect of their lives. West African people believed that nothing is left up to chance, everything happens for a reason. So if a child becomes sick West African people want to know why that child out of all the children living is sick. Religion is a way to find that reason.

When a traditional West African religion is taken apart by order of their Gods, etc., the Creator is first, which is another name for God. Second in line are the Demi-Gods, which control the affairs of human beings and things that humans come in contact with. Third on the list are the ancestors, that have the ability to intervene in human life. Each God plays an important part within traditional West African Religion, either in the past or present. The living also had special parts in traditional West African religion. The priests kept the lines of communication open between the spirit world and human beings. The doctors or witch doctors acted as physicians that not only healed your illness but also told you where it came from. They brought healing both physically and psychologically. The wizards and witches had powers for social purposes that could be used for bad or good. The individuals called diviners had the job of being sin detectives. Lastly, the conjurer that was usually a woman held a combination of the jobs possesses by the others. The conjurer had skills of the priest, doctor, and diviner.

In Latin America, the primary religion was Catholicism. "African Gods were syncretized with Catholic saints…" (Raboteau, pp. 77). This syncretization was called voodoo. The Gods of both Catholicism and traditional West African religion were parallel. The creator in traditional West African religion was like God in Catholicism. Demi-Gods from traditional West African religion was like Jesus Christ to the Catholics. In the sense that they had the same role, which was interaction with the living. The ancestors possess the same role as the saints. They both were living at some point and their memories are preserved in oral narration. Lastly, the living were the living in every sense in both religions.

In North America, the primary religion was Protestantism. Before the people from West Africa were brought to North America "they were seasoned" in the West Indies because raw Africans were hard to control. This process involved doing away with as much as possible of the traditional West African religion of the newly imported slaves. Once imported to North America they were washed, shaven to disguise gray hair oiled up and were baptized by the priest into Christianity. "Like all aspects of West African culture brought by the slaves to the Americas it was profoundly modified both by their ordeal and the encounter with European culture" (Small, pp. 29). After this process, the priest taught the slaves about the mission of the church and how they were to go out and spread the word of Christianity. However, in North America it was common action of a slave to practice religion and his or her slave owner not to practice any form of religion. In this case, the slaves knew nothing about religion after the auction block because the slave master did not allow it. Furthermore, early practicing Protestants did not believe that West Africans had souls and were able to be saved. In other words, early practicing Protestants did not believe that West Africans were their brothers in the religious sense. In addition to the slaves being considered as property they were also seen as not truly people. Thus, they were treated inhumane.

There are similarities and differences between that of the syncretized religion voodoo, of West Africans in