The Afropolitan Fear of Traditional Religion

by Ololade Siyonbola

Available for sale in certain parts of Lagos are chopped human body parts. They may be sold from the back of a car or in more remote parts of neighboring towns. They are used most often for rituals requiring human sacrifice for gaining riches. The demand for these body parts is so high that Nigeria especially remains besieged by an undeclared state of emergency in which people are randomly kidnapped and “sacrificed”. The origins of these particular rituals are somewhat mysterious. Traditional religions have always involved some kind of ritual sacrifice–a pre-church tithing–and supernatural results. There are records in the religious texts–and tombs–of cultures across the world showing this is a millennia-old tradition.

Afropolitans who grew up in Africa often have recollections of medicine men with herbs around the neck, to which their mother took them when they suffered some incurable ailment. Some have seen ghosts, witnessed children die and come back, men raised from the dead, poisoned food turn into worms, and the list goes on. Some have experienced magical seduction, enchantments or trances. Some have even seen those they loved go mad or die at the hands of enemies who used incantations and herbs.

In the Americas, the experience with traditional religion is often drastically different. The African descendants of enslaved persons see traditional religions as their most reliable contact with a fatherland that eludes them. The practice is less likely to result in the desperate measures employed by those in hopelessly plundered “developing” countries. We hear less frequently of human sacrifice in Brazil or Cuba, where the practice of African traditional religions is so prevalent. But it does happen.

For many of those who go to such extremes as human sacrifice, it actually achieves the intended end. But as Nollywood continues to show us, the richies last only until you’ve been exposed. Then you go mad and end up homeless…until your family performs another ritual that may or may not save your life.

For many practitioners, traditional worship is a way to better their lives and heal “incurable” ailments, reverse the irreversible with just the right balance of prayer and sacrifice. Lesser told are the stories of traditionalists who stop at meditation and prayer, who wish to use these traditions only for good.

At the meeting ground of these two populations—Afropolitans and the Black Diaspora—is the urgent desire to connect with the African continent.

But the Afropolitan is terrified of these traditions, because of the disproportionate evil they have seen it accomplish; which often translates into a fear or distance from those in the Diaspora who practice African traditional spirituality. The traditionalists berate the Afropolitans for not adhering to their native cultures, for being overly colonized. Afropolitans berate the traditionalists for seeking Africa misguidedly; for adhering to an African way of life that “no longer exists”. “We are beyond that now,” is the common response, “most of us are Muslim or Christian now.” The Afropolitan wears this exclamation as a proud shield, a badge of “arrival” into the modern, global metropolis, in which traditional religions are looked down upon.

But confusion seems to arise around the fact that neither side fully acknowledges the ancient origins of the African traditions and religions that traveled into the Americas during the slave trade. The argument over which religion is ideal for Africans centers around traditions practiced over the last 600 years. Jesus is seen as a recent import of European colonizers, Prophet Muhammad an Arab deity—both imposed on Africans through ruthless violence from foreigners. But, a growing list of historians insists that neither were non-African. In his book, The Early Church in Africa, Dr. John Mbiti establishes that the gospel of Jesus advanced in Africa before spreading to Europe. Nontraditional Islamic scholars also agree that Prophet Muhammad was recorded to have dark brown skin.

The expense of rituals and blood sacrifice seems to be a great length to go to for beings who’s Ancestors believed they could simply speak change into existence. As religious violence continues on the continent, and Blacks throughout the world continue to suffer the symptoms of self-hatred, the key—as with most divisive issues on the African continent—is not what we believe, but what we do with that indoctrinated fear.

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