Jun 11

African Religious Sources

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Jun 11

Names of God in Africa

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The following list of the names of God in Africa

KANGORO

Gwaza

Was compiled by the scholar and author Dr.

INDEM

Osowwo

Emeka Nwadiora of Temple University. These

JAW

Egbesii

Names are

Collected from personal knowledge, lit-

JUKUM

Chido

Erary references, and oral narratives. While quite

KATAB

Gwaza

Extensive, this list is not exhaustive since there are

IYALA

Owwo

Names for the supreme deity in every African eth-

Nic or linguistic community and there are more

Than 2,000 such groups on the continent. The

Names of God Among Some

Reader should find this list impressive in its reach

Ghanaian Ethnicities

Across the

: continent of Africa from north to

Ethnicity

Name of God

South, east to west.

BIRIFOR

Nawe

EWE

Mawu

Names of God Among Some

FANTI

Nyame

Nigerian Ethnicities

GA

Zemawon

Ethnicity

Name/Names of God

GRUNSHI

We

KOKOMBA

Ombo

IGBO

Chi, Chiukwu, Chineke, Olisa

AKAN

Oyame

IDOMA

Owoico

ASANTE

Onyankopon

IGBTRRA

Ihinegba

TWI

Onyankopon

IBIBIO

Abasii

GWARI

Shekwo

BASSA

Agwatana

Names of God Among Some

BIRNAWA

Kashiri

Kenyan Ethnicities

DUNGI EDO

Kashiri Osanobua

Ethnicity

Name of God

EGEDE

Ohei

POKOT

Toronit

ITSEKIRI

Oritse

DIGO

Mulungu

KADARA

Onum

DURUMA

Mulungu

UROBO

Oghene

EMBU

Ngai

TIV

Aoundo

GLKUYU

Murungu

YORUBA

Oluwa, Olodumare, Oloun

GIRYAMA

Mulungu



Erioba Asees Ngolo Asiis

Mutuangi Murungu Nyakolaga Ngai

Chebonamuni Muungu Wele Mulungu

Loba Nyuy Nyuy

GUSI

KAMASIA

KIPSIGI

KONI

AKAMBA

MERU

LUO

MASAI

NANDI

POKOMO

VUGUSU

TEITA

Names of God Among Some Ugandan Ethnicities

Ethnicity

Name of God

BAKENE

AMBA

ACHOLI

ALUR

ANKORE

GANDA

GWERE

BASOGA

JIE

KARAMOJA

KIGA

LANGO

KONJO

MADI

TEUSO

TORO

Gasani Nyakara Jok Jok

Ruhanga

Katonda

Kipumba

Lubanga

Akuj

Akuj

Sebahanga Jok

Nyamahanga Rabanga Didikwari Nyamuhanga

Names of God Among Some Cameroonian Ethnicities

Ethnicity

Name of God

BAMILEKE

BAMUN

BANEM

BULU

DUALA

EKOI

FANG

Si

Njinyi

Kolo

Mebee

Loba

Nsi

Nzeme

KPE NSO TIKAR

Names of God Among Some Ethiopian Ethnicities

Ethnicity

Name of God

BORAN

Waka

BURJI

Bambele

GELABA

Yer

GOFA

Tsuosa

GUMUZ

Roboka

HADIA

Waa

INGASANA

Tel

KAFA

Yaro

KEMANT

Sanbat

KOMA

Waal

KONSO

Adota

KUKA

Tosso

MALE

Sosi

MAO

Yeretsi

MASONGO

Wakwayio

MEKAN

Tuma

MURLE

Tummu

OROMO

Wakwa

SIDAMO

Magano

SURISUMA

Tumma

UDUK

Arumgimis

WALAMO

Tosa

ZALA

Taoso

Names of God Among Some

Sudanese Ethnicities

Ethnicity

Name of God

ANUAK

Juuok

AZANDE

Mboli

BARI

Ngun

BEER

Tuumu

BONGO

Loma

DIDINGA

Tamukujeen

DILIN

Abradi

DINKA

Achek


FAJULU

Ngun

Names of God Among Some

DOOALA

Owasi

South African Ethnicities

JUMJUM KAKWA

Dyon Nguleso

Ethnicity

Name of God

KUKU

LOKOIYA

LOTUKO

MARAKA

MEBAN

MONDARI

MORU

NDONGO

NUBA

NUER

SHILUK

TOPOSA

Nguletet

Oichok

Naijok

Mboli

Juong

Ngun

Lu

Mviri

Masala

Kwoth

Juok

Nakwuge

VENDA

XAM

XHOSA

ZULU

TEMBU

TONGS

TSWANA

PONDO

Nawli

Huwwe

Kwamata

Unkulunkulu

Uticzo

Hosi

Modibo

Udali

LUVEDU

Kuzwane

FINGO Kwamata BAVENDA Raluvimba

Names of God Among Some

Names of God Among Some

Congo Ethnicities

Tanzanian Ethnicities

Ethnicity

Name of God

Ethnicity

Name of God

BACHWA

Jakomba

ZINZA

Isewahanga

BALESE

Londi

TURU

Matunda

BALUBA

Lesawaba

SUKUMA

Mulungu

RAMBUTI

Arebati

SONJO

Mugwe

KONJO

Nyamahanga

SAFWA

Nguruvi

KUBA

Njambe

PARE

Kiumbi

LELE

Njambi

NYAKIUSA Mperi

LENDU

Gindiri

LUGURU

Mulungu

LOGO

Juka

HEHE

Nguluvi

LUGBARA

Adro

HAYA

Ishwanga

NGOMBE

Ebangala

GOGO

Mulungu

NKUNDO

Jakomba

CHAGA

Ruwa

SUNATA

Nja

BONDET

Mulungu

VILI

Zambiupungu

ARUSHA

Engai


Jun 11

Zulu

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The Zulu (amaZulu) are a Nguni people who live mainly in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, with smaller numbers in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. They form the largest South African ethnic population, estimated at 9 million. They have close cultural, ethnic-linguistic affinities with the Xhosa, Swazi, Basotho, and Matabele. Their language, isiZulu, belongs to the Bantu language stock. In the early 19th century, Chief Shaka (c. 1787-1828) united various Nguni peoples through new techniques of warfare and expansive conquest, thus forming a powerful Zulu nation. The Zulu kingdom has played a significant role in forming and shaping South African history. Today, the Zulu are one of the major players in South African politics.

The Zulu religious worldview is complex; it is tied to social, cultural, political, and economic life. Ritual is central to Zulu religious life and helps to maintain relationships to the powers of life. Three elements that are capable of exerting amandla (power) are the God of the Sky, the ancestors, and medicine. The Zulu trace their ancestry to an act of creation by inkosi yezulu (Sky God), who lives up above along with inkosazana yezulu (Sky Goddess). The Zulu have a relationship to the sky as well as to the Earth, the abode of the ancestors. The ancestors live down below; hence, they are often referred to as abaphansi. The God of the Sky is a male father figure while that of the Earth is a female mother. Both are believed to have brought Abantu (the "people") into being. In Zulu tradition, myths connect the human and natural cosmos. The cre­ation myth, for example, relates the gods to the birth of the first humans. The first human who existed was uNkulunkulu; he was believed to have creative power.

The world below is divided into three levels: the level of the unborn spirits, the recently deceased spirits, and the ancestors. The amalozi/amakhosi/amathonga (ancestors) are of central significance for the Zulu. Their religious life, which revolves around ancestral veneration, attracts extensive ritual obligations. The relation­ship between the living and the Dead is one of mutuality that excludes non-kin and reflects the major emphases of Zulu kinship. Zulu society is patrilineal; authority and inheritance proceed through the male line from father to son. Although Zulu society is patrilineal, women nev­ertheless occupy a significant space for religious Action. The ritual role of women is further exem­plified in the relationship between women and inkosazana yezulu, whose features contribute to the overall complexity of the Zulu religious system. She is associated with virginity and fertility of all creatures. Apart from acting as a mediator between the people and the God of the Sky, she is also capable of instituting rules of behavior and ritual actions that are distinct from those of both the God of the Sky and the ancestors. The location for the revelation and veneration of the Sky God and Goddess are specific hills or mountains.

Some significant roles in Zulu religious praxis are those of the headman/priest, diviner, medicine man, heaven herd, sorcerers, and witches. Political, social, and religious functions overlap and interact with each other. The headman of each Zulu kraal is the chief custodian and leads communal rites, especially those connected with ancestors. Divination is an important activity, and the role of the isangoma (diviners) is widespread. The isangoma represents a pivotal force for order and rapprochement between humans and the spirit world. This vocation is most often assumed by women and involves special training under an experienced diviner. Diviners are consulted when­ever illness, misfortune, or unusual events occur. They diagnose the problem and recommend paths of reparation in the case of ancestral anger and, in the event of sorcery, may point out abathakathi (the sorcerer) or suggest countermeasures. The herbalists or medicine men also play a similar role by diagnosing illnesses, prescribing cures, and providing protective medicines. Specialists in med­icine with a wide range of medical knowledge are known as izinyanga zemithi (a specialist in medi­cine) or izinyanga zokwelapha (a specialist in healing). The diviners are mostly women, whereas the herbalists are men. They are approached with much awe and respect.

The Zulu make distinctions between three aspects of being, which are important for their religious thinking. They distinguish among inyama/umzimba (the physical body that decomposes after death), umoya/umphefumulo (the vital force that keeps humans alive), and isithunzi (literally "a shadow," personality). Once the umoya leaves the inyama, the person is dead and the body is buried and rots. The isithunzi lives on as an ancestral spirit; it goes to uya kwabaphansi (those underneath), the ancestors who live in the netherworld. The importance of the isithunzi in Zulu thought and in human affairs is that it can be removed by means of medicine and kept captive. Umoya is also human instinct. A human can have a good and bad spirit. This spirit, which is a vital force, also gives strength. The pursuit of health, fertility, and a balance between humans and with nature constitute some of the basic concerns of tradi­tional Zulu religion. Rites of passage are a common feature of Zulu religious life. All cycles of life, includ­ing birth, puberty, initiation, marriage, and death, are celebrated with rituals. The Kraal (homestead) is the primary locus for ritual action, although hills or mountains also play an important role. It is in these religious spaces that crucial religious performances occur. Each rondavel in the village is characterized by the umsamo, a special space set aside for various objects with ritual significance. It is a ritual space for communing with family ancestors.

Afe Adogame

See also Xhosa

Further Readings

Berglund, A. (1976). Zulu Thought-Patterns and

Symbolism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Hexham, I. (1987). Texts on Zulu Religion: Traditional Zulu Ideas About God. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.

Lawson, E. T. (1984). Religions of Africa: Religious Traditions in Transformation. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Vilakazi, A. (1962). Zulu Transformations: A Study of the Dynamics of Social Change. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of Natal Press.


Jun 11

Zarma

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Regarding African religions, the Zarma represent the complex intersect between the retentions of traditional African spiritual systems and the (forced) adoption of one or another of the major orthodox religions. In the case of the Zarma, the adopted religion is Islam. Understanding the com­plexity of this intersect is further exacerbated by the hegemonic technique of either omitting any detailed and respectful discussion of the traditional African spiritual beliefs or, in the discussion, codi­fying the traditional beliefs in denigrating or demonic terms and interpretations.

It is believed that the Zarma originated from the country of Mali. (Zarma is also spelled Djerma, Dyerma, Zaberma, and Zerma.) The Zarma people are descended from the great Songhai Kingdom that flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries. Since that time, they have migrated from Mali to live in the southwestern parts of Niger and Nigeria along the Niger River. The language of the Zarma is a dialect of the Nilo-Saharan language family. Traditionally, the Zarma and Songhai people view themselves as one family. The Zarma should more accurately be called the Zarma-Songhai. They have, in general, a less strict attachment to Islam and have in many ways resisted the full and com­plete conversion experience.

Although it is estimated that 75% to 80% of the Zarma profess to be Muslim and 1% to 2% to be Christian, traditional African spiritual systems serve as the unrecognized grounding belief for all

Zarma-Songhai. In general, the Islamic beliefs of the Zarma-Songhai have been by way of syn­cretism blended with traditional spiritual beliefs.

Among the Zarma, the Islamic rituals and ceremonies are centered on the observance of Ramadan, which involves fasting and the paying of alms for the poor, Tabaski, which is also called the Festival of Sacrifice, and the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The syncretism is obvious in the ritual of the naming day ceremony of children that is prevalent throughout much of Africa, where prayers are bestowed on the new­born after 7 days of life. This ritual seems to be an ongoing traditional African ritual without regard to Islam or Christianity. The practice of taking more than one wife also preceded the advent of Islam. Although the Zarma practice of polygamy, as in the past, is mostly associated with older and wealthy men, its pre-Islamic root meaning remains associated with spiritual evolution, cul­tural maturation, and family enhancement.

The Zarma-Songhai believe, as is true with most African peoples, that all living things have a knowable and knowing spirit and that as human spirits people can directly and deeply communi­cate with the spirit realm. Spirit work and reunions (often misunderstood as spirit posses­sion) are common practices that are believed to have healing powers. The Zarma, like other African peoples, know that humans live among the diverse forces of the environment and the energy of the earth completes human society. In effect, the traditional beliefs of the Zarma utilize and channel the collective life force to recognize that these "forces and waves" are God in motion. The Zarma-Songhai believe that the different con­centrations of spiritual energy have different pur­poses and effects. There are, for instance, "cold" spirits that control the forces of nature and there are spirits that control illness.

The Zarma are a people who are proud of their heritage and resist the changes that are occurring around them. Their choice to follow the religion of their ancestors is not respected as the efforts to proselytize them are being stepped up by the Christian missionaries. The Zarma-Songhai are literally under attack by Christian evangelists. It is assumed by the evangelists that the Zarma are a Godless people. Although the Niger government allows freedom of worship, the Zarma have been earmarked for conversion to Christianity. The free­dom of Christian missionaries to preach the word of God overrides the freedom of religious expres­sion on the part of the Zarma people. Not more than 2% of the Zarma people have embraced Christianity. Of these, many are embracing Christianity after feeling the effects of famine. The Zarma are willing to hear the message of Jesus in response to the Christians, who in their "condi­tional" generosity have delivered famine relief to them in exchange for Bible worship.

Vera DeMoultrie Nobles

See also Bamana Further Readings

Fu-Kiau, K., & Bunseki, K. (1980). The African Book Without Title. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Katz, R. (1982). Boiling Energy: Community Healing Among the Kalahari Kung. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. McNaughton, P. (1993). The Mande Blacksmiths: Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

ZLN

Zin are generally known as Niger River deities, which are part of the Songhai mythology, as well as the myths of other peoples on the Niger River banks like the Djerma, Hauka, Sorko, and Hole, who are mainly connected to fishing populations in small towns and villages.

Songhai culture as well as other Western African cultures has been greatly influenced by the Islamic religion, which means that traditional reli­gions have incorporated some of these Islamic influences. Several influences concur in the reli­gious manifestations of the Niger River peoples, so it is often not clear what exactly is traditionally African. For example, it is clear that there are Islamic influences in the Songhai people. Apparently many of the current religious manifes­tations of the Songhai and other peoples of the Niger valley are Islamized. Allegedly, the African zin are often considered interchangeable with the Islamic djinn. Among those of the Islamic tradition, the djinn are more than human: A djinn represents a genius that never leaves the place it masters. The djinn are much more powerful than normal humans, in that they can fly and choose to become completely invisible or change into the shape of an animal, as well as have a great command of mag­ical arts and power to create illusions, an ability learned originally from being part of the desert. In this sense, they used to be worshiped as gods or demigods. Of course, these ideas seem to corre­spond to certain mystical ideas among traditional African cultures.

Oral tradition narratives, however, tell us about an extremely rich mythological influence of the Mandingo religion built around the traditional and original concept of an all-governing sun. According to the Songhai system of beliefs, the sun was the central force of creation, and every­thing on Earth was influenced by deities that gov­erned natural resources. Some of these deities mastered different places or natural elements. They were masters of the rivers, trees, and valleys, and they were called Zin. According to the Songhai people, everything on Earth is governed by a particular Zin, the deity of one particularly remarkable place or natural resource. They are invisible, but their essences live in special places.

Although we must undoubtedly realize that there is an extremely intricate pattern of religious fusions of African and Arab traditions by virtue of Islam’s influence on the Songhai people, it is possi­ble to acknowledge that the Songhai tradition is Anchored in a common African spiritual heritage that can be traced back to the Kemetic religious and philosophical thought. Indeed, the idea of Ra, the almighty deity that was represented by the power of the sun, is an old, ancestral idea among Africans. Ancestral spirits who watch over daily activities, pro­mote social harmony, and create a sense of account­ability among a community’s members to preserve a balanced and harmonious order of creation where spirit and matter are inseparable are anterior to any other influences among West Africans.

Therefore, human beings must pay tribute to these deities, honor them with rituals, and feed them with various symbols of veneration. Further­more, humans cannot make use of any place pro­tected by a Zin without asking permission by means of rituals performed by the local peoples. For a Zin will die for lack of honor, and praise is to a Zin is very much as it is to every human being.

Although they live much longer than people, they do not live forever; they get old and die. They have human names like Ibrahima, Zin of the Hombori mountains, or Ka, Zin of the Hombori fields. They get married, they have children, and sometimes they leave their place of origin either to raise a family somewhere else or by being defeated in a local war among rivals. Ibrahima, for instance, is said to have entered the Hombori mountains through the great western canyon, where he settled with his wife and children after being chased from Gao.

Zin may take many different shapes, but they are commonly described as serpents, and their power may even take over further regions if they make alliances among themselves. For instance, the Zin of Tondi Tyirey mountain in Anzourou may well ask the Zin of the wind to blow away the rain from the Anzourou people if they fail to perform the proper rituals.

There are many different traditions concerning these deities, many different narratives varying with the places and the peoples who must respect them, about their struggle with more powerful deities like the Holey or their alliances with Yumban, the mas­ter of the Yumban sea near Yatakala in Niger, or Farka Bera, the master of the forest in Ossolo.

Ana Monteiro-Ferreira

See also Divinities

Further Readings

Parrinder, G. (1967). African Mythology. New York: Bedrick.

Rouch, J. (1960). La Rйligion et la Magie Songhay [Religion and Songhai Magic]. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

ZOSER

King Zoser was the founder of the Old Kingdom that started with the 3rd dynasty, better known as the Pyramid Age. His name was mentioned on the Palermo Stone the same way as other founders of dynasties, in red ink. The number of years he actu­ally ruled was never confirmed; some say that it was 19 years while others suggest that it was close to 29 years. He was the son of the last ruler of the 2nd dynasty, Khasekhemwy, whose identity has sparked a sort of debate among scholars due to the existence of two similar names from the same period: The first was Khasekhem (the shining power) and the other Khasekhemwy (the two shining powers). Most scholars have suggested that these were two names for the same person, but before and after the unification of Egypt. King Zoser was the hereditary heir to the throne, much influenced by the policies of his father as well as the new innovation in architecture, which was the use of stone instead of mud brick. The reign of Zoser is characterized by two major themes; the first was the famine, and the second was the con­struction of the first huge stone building in the his­tory of the world around 2700 BC. During his reign, a striking famine took place in Egypt as a result of the low flow of the Nile for 7 years. The details of this critical period in the history of Egypt are recorded on a stela, known as "the famine stela" erected at Aswan during the Ptolemaic period. It narrates the story and the advice given by Zoser’s wise architect and vizier, Imhotep, who suggested that the king should go to Upper Egypt, to the first cataract, the residence of the god Khnum, to pray to him and give offerings so the god would start the annual inundation. King Zoser followed the advice, and directly afterward the Nile flooded and Egypt was saved after a long period of suffering. People remained faithful and loyal to both Zoser and Imhotep for saving their lives and their land. The second major event of this period was the building of Zoser’s funerary complex at Sakkara, designed by his architect Imhotep. The funerary complex comprises all the funerary monuments, including the tomb of the king in the form of a step pyramid, which was the first introduction to a complete pyramid; an open court; the serdab (a small closed building with a life-size statue of king Zoser seated in his throne currently exhibited in the Cairo Museum and replaced by a replica); and the house of the north and the house of the south, which acted as residences for visitors from all over Egypt com­ing to the capital (Memphis) during the celebra­tion of the renewal of the king’s royal power, Heb Sed, supposed to be celebrated every 39 years to ensure that the king was still capable to rule the country for another 30 years. This event was to be witnessed by delegations from all over Egypt.

Imhotep was not only an architect and vizier but also a wise man with well-known proverbs and an engineer. Later on he was identified with Asclepolis, the Greek god of medicine.

Shaza Gamal Ismail

See also Akhenaten Further Readings

Aldred, C. (1998). The Egyptians. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Grimal, N. (1992). A History of Ancient Egypt (I. Shaw,

Trans.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Hornung, E., Krauss, R., & Warburton, R. (2006). Ancient Egyptian Chronology. Leiden, Netherlands: IDC Publishers. Shaw, I. (2000). The Oxford Dictionary of Ancient

Egypt. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Watterson, B. (1997). The Egyptians. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Jun 11

Z

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Jun 11

Yoruba

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The Yoruba are among the largest ethnolinguistic groups in Africa, numbering between 25 million and 40 million. The Yoruba are a nationality. Today, they are to be found mainly in southwestern Nigeria, West Africa. They constitute the majority ethnic group in about a third of Nigeria’s federal republic of 36 states. Their current homeland is also known among the Yoruba people as Ile Yooba, or Yorubaland. The Yoruba at home share borders and are culturally contiguous with other Nigerian ethnic groups such as the Nupe, Ibariba, Igbirra, and Igala in Kwara State (northeast of Yorubaland); and the Itsekiri, Esan, and Edo in the Niger Delta area. To the northwest of Yorubaland are related groups such as the Egun, Fon, Mahi (Benin Republic), and Ewe, as well as other Gbe-speaking people in Togo and Benin, and the Ga in Ghana.

Outside of Yorubaland, there are sizable commu­nities that collectively form a Yoruba diaspora. Historically, the European slave trade has been the main contributor to the emergence of that diaspora because a great percentage of Africans taken into slavery from the western coast of Africa were of Yoruba stock. It is estimated by scholars that more than 50% of captured Africans came from or through southwestern Nigeria, home of the Yoruba. This area formed part of the region known as the "Slave Coast," from the early 16th century to the 19th century. It used to be and still is one of the most densely populated parts of the African conti­nent. It became a major export center of African men, women, and children. For example, a third of Africans enslaved in Cuba were reported to be Yoruba. Also, in the precolonial period, towns such as Porto Novo, Badagry, and Lagos were important ports for this infamous trade, and control of the trade routes into the interior was a major issue in

Yoruba Kingdoms’ politics. Today, Brazil has the largest number of Yoruba and Yoruba-descended people outside of Africa (with an estimated popula­tion of about 5 million), Cuba has about 1 million, and Puerto Rico, Trinidad, and the rest of the Caribbean have about half a million. In the United States and Canada, there are an estimated 3 million Yoruba, while there are equal numbers in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. In Asia, it is esti­mated that there are several hundreds of thousands of Yoruba residing in various parts of the region. The Yoruba are reputed travelers: There is virtually no country in the world without a Yoruba commu­nity, no matter how small.

The origins of the Yoruba people are shrouded in mystery. However, three clear narratives are dis­cernible from several contending versions. The first is from the Yoruba oral tradition and creation myth. God (Olorun, or Sky God) let down a chain at Ilй – Ife, by which Oduduwa the progenitor of the Yoruba people, and indeed, of all men, descended, carrying a rooster, some earth, and a palm kernel. Oduduwa threw the earth into the waters and the rooster scratched it to become land, out of which grew the palm tree with 16 branches, representing the 16 orig­inal kingdoms. There are several versions of this myth. Also, every Yoruba town, lineage, and deity has its own myth of origin. Yet in all of them, Ilй-Ife is regarded as the spiritual center from which all Yoruba dispersed to their present abodes. The sec­ond narrative of origin has it that the Yoruba are descended from the offspring of Lamurudu, or Nimrod of Biblical and Near Eastern legend, who had been banished and finally settled in present-day Yorubaland. Thus, some trace the origins of the Yoruba all the way back to ancient Mesopotamian Uruk or Babylon (modern-day Iraq). A final narra­tive of origin has the Yoruba present in their modern homeland from as early as 10,000 BC. According to Robert S. Smith in his Kingdoms of the Yoruba, archaeological digs have confirmed the existence of a human population in the Idanre area of Yorubaland since prehistoric times.

In the African diaspora, Yoruba culture seems to have been better preserved than other African traditions. Almost all the African Caribbean and African Brazilian religions derive their essential features, rituals, and practices from the Yoruba religious tradition, which is centered on orisha worship and ancestral veneration.

The Yoruba, like all Africans, are deeply religious people. For them, everything is imbued with the sacred. Their pantheon of deities rivals any of the world’s great civilizations. Indeed, comparisons have been made between Yoruba traditional religion and that of pharaonic Egypt. Two parts are dis­cernible in Yoruba traditional religion, both rooted in Ifa sacred poetry—which is available in a tran­scription of 256 odus, or chapters. The first is right action through ritual and sacrifice as sanctioned by the Ifa oracular and divinatory corpus. The Yoruba are encouraged to consult Ifa before any of life’s major undertakings. Ifa, through the babalawo, or shaman, then prescribes the appropriate rituals and sacrifices to the appropriate deities for the achieve­ment of the right results.

The second part of Yoruba spirituality is also guided by Ifa sacred poetry. It is ethical conduct for a purposeful existence. For example, chapter 219 of the Ifa corpus stresses the power of Truth. This odu counsels the necessity of living truthfully and doing justice as the only way to live well among the Yoruba people.

BioDun J. Ogundayo

See also Ile-Ife; Olorun Further Readings

Adekunle, J. O. (2005). Politics and Society in Nigeria’s

Middle Belt. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. Adeleke, A. A. (2007). Introduction to Yoruba:

Language, Culture, Literature and Religious Beliefs Part I. Victoria, BC: Trafford. Adeoye, C. L. (1979). Asa ati Ise Yoruba. Ibadan,

Nigeria: Oxford University Press. Bamgbose, A. (1965). Yoruba Orthography. Ibadan,

Nigeria: Ibadan University Press. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2007). Yoruba. Retrieved

May 14, 2007, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Fagborun, J. G. (1994). The Yoruba Koine—Its History and Linguistic Innovations (LINCOM Linguistic Edition, vol. 6). Munich: LINCOM Europe. Hair, P. E. H. (1967). The Early Study of Nigerian

Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Johnson, S. (1997). The History of the Yorubas. Lagos,

Nigeria: CSS Ltd. Ladele, T. A., et al. (1986). Akojopo Iwadii Ijinle Asa

Yoruba. Lagos: Macmillan Nigeria. Smith, R. S. (1987). Kingdoms of the Yoruba (3rd ed.). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


Jun 11

Yorka

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Yorka appears to be derived from a combination of Native American words, possibly from Surinen, Arawak, or Carib, and it is used by Africans who were brought to Suriname as enslaved people to refer to ancestors. The word may have come from an old Native American word, Yoroka, meaning "ghosts."

The Dutch traders imported many Africans into the area to work on the plantations; however, because the Africans were unaccustomed to slavery, many of them ran away to the forest and became maroons. Others had to succumb to the violent and brutal authority of the slavemasters. The runaways created their own African communities. The Dutch referred to these Africans as "Bosnegers" or Bush Negroes because they refused to submit to the authority of any whites in Suriname. They orga­nized themselves into communities and identified several large families that might be considered clans. They were the Saramaka, Aukan, Paramaka, Kwinti, Aluku, and Matawai. All of these clans used the word yorka to refer to their ancestors. Thus, yorka became a commonly used term throughout Suriname.

Suriname, with a population that is nearly 65% of African descent, is quite African in many cultural forms. When the maroon population developed, there were still other Africans in the territory who were not free. The descendants of those Africans form a large part of the society. However, all of the people refer to the yorka and believe in some aspect of the cultural form.

Thus, yorka is literally one’s ancestor. There is the belief that if you are not paying attention to the needs of the yorka, you will have misfortune. Consequently, people seek to honor their ances­tors so as to ensure their good fortune. Yorka may create havoc, chaos in one’s home, poverty, and personal distress. It is also possible that a person’s relationships with others could be affected by not respecting the yorka of the family. Thus, there are elaborate ways that people seek to ritualize the yorka, honor their name, and create a community of kindness toward them. Remembering is far more important than forgetting in the Surinamese sense of ritual and ceremony surrounding respect for the yorka.

There are numerous African ethnic groups who exercise similar attitudes toward the Dead of the community. Inasmuch as this practice of appeasing yorka is deeply embedded in the cul­ture of the Surinamese people, it has correspon­dences with the same practices that are found in Africa. Of course, the idea of spirits, ghosts, yorka, is ancient in Africa and goes back to the ancient Egyptian concept of the ka and the ba and the ability of the ka to move from place to place through false doors.

Molefi Kete Asante

See also Obeah

Further Readings

Beatty, N. (1997). Suriname. New York: Chelsea House. Dark, P. J. C. (1970). Bush Negro Art: An African Art in

The Americas. London: Tiranti. Hoogbergen, W. (1990). The Boni Maroon Wars in

Suriname. New York: Brill. Smith, N. (1941). Bush Master: Into the Jungles of Dutch Guiana. New York: Bobbs-Merrill.

Jun 11

Yemonja

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Within the Yoruba spiritual pantheon, Yemonja is celebrated as the giver of life and as the meta­physical "Mother of Orisa."

Yemonja’s name is derived from the Yoruba words Yeye or Iya ("mother"), omo ("child/ children"), and eja ("fish") and thus literally means "Mother whose children are the fish." According to the itans (stories) of the Yoruba, the Orisa Yemonja was a primordial spiritual entity who was charged by Olofi/Olodumare (God) to assist the Orisa Obatala with the formation of humans in Olofi’s creation of the Earth. She descended to the Earth on a rope with 16 other Orisa from Orun, the abode of Olofi, and traveled throughout the world engaging with other Orisa in preparing the world for humankind. She is the owner of the Ogun River, the largest river within the territory of Yorubaland, and is the counterpart of Olookun, who represents the unknowable bot­tom of the sea.

In Yorubaland, each town maintained its own deity based on the myths of its founders. Tapa (Iganna) in the Oke Ogun area is where Yemonja originated. However, the worship of Yemonja began in Shaki. Among her "roads" or different personae are Aganna, Ako, and Banyarinor, who are from Tapa/Iganna, and Asaba, Akute, Ayaba, Asesu, Mojelewi, Okoto, Ogunte, Opa Lado, and Afodo. Abeokuta, the current capital of Ogun state, is the site of her principle shrine, where she is espe­cially celebrated in the Ibara quarter of that city.

Yemonja is frequently portrayed as the wife of various male personified Orisa, such as o. batala, okere, Orisa Oko, and Erinle. She is also said to be the mother of Ogun, Sango, O. ya, O. sun, O. ba, Orisa Oko, Babaluaiye, and Osoosi. Many other itans describe her as having never given birth, but as having raised many children, in particular, Sango, Dada, and the Ibeji (twins). The itans also describe her as having long breasts as a result of the many children she nursed. Her sensitivity and embarrassment about her long breasts are consis­tent throughout the stories, and several tell of her turning herself into a river in response to insults about this by other Orisa.

Although also attributed to the Orisa O. sun, stories refer to Yemonja as having been given (or as having stolen) the ability to interpret the oral scripture verses of the 16 Odu Ifa through the div­ination process called merindilogun. It is said that Yemonja taught other Orisa this alternative method of accessing the Odu through the "throw­ing" of dilogun cowry shells, thereby granting every initiated priest the ability to divine. Yemonja speaks in many of the verses of the Odu, but she is substantially represented in the Odu Odi, the elements of which include tradition, the mainte­nance of civilization, protection, and nationalism (who is inside and who is outside).

Yemonja has been likened to amniotic fluid because this water base protects her children against a predatory world. She is temperamental and can be soothing or unpredictably violent. She is the Orisa of fertility and has under her protection


Wooden sculpture of the female Yoruba Orisha Yemonja.

Source: Pamela Reed.


Dockworkers, boatwrights, fishermen and – women, sailors, swimmers, and others who work, live, or travel around water. She is the patron of the Gelede Society ("Society of Mothers"), and her road of Akute is the Mother of the Ogboni Society of elders. She is associated with the fish gill facial markings worn by the Iyawo (initiate into the priesthood) and is said to have assisted Sango in ending the practice of twin infanticide in Nigeria. Her animal totems are duck, vulture, snake, and small snail; her sacrificial animals are ram, lamb, duck, rooster, goat, fish, and pigeons. She is repre­sented in her various shrines in Africa by sacred stones (ota) placed in river water in a calabash.

The statures of Yemonja and Olookun increased in prominence in the Americas and the Caribbean as the enslaved survivors of the Middle Passage propitiated Olookun to bless their lost kinsmen and petitioned Yemonja for an alleviation of their suffering. Yemonja’s omnipresence surrounding the islands and coastal areas of Cuba, Trinidad, and Brazil served as a continuous reminder of her ability to comfort and nurture hope. Attempts to annihilate African traditional cultural practices were resisted through the establishment of ethnic social organizations in Brazil and Cuba, as well as through the masquerading of the Orisa with the saints of Catholicism.

In Cuba, Yemonja was creolized as Yemaya. Enslaved and free Africans who spoke Yoruba became identified as Lucumi, and their religious practice became known as Regla Lucumi.

In Brazilian Candomble, Xemanja has been celebrated since the 1930s on New Year’s Eve, as followers of Candomble and the Amerindian Umbanda systems construct miniature altars on the beaches and send small paper boats into the sea with inscribed prayers.

In New York City, Yemonja is venerated annu­ally by a beachfront celebration (bembe), held on or close to her feast day of September 7. At this event, hundreds of oluwo, olorisa (priests), and alejos (guests) pay homage to her. Yemonja’s dance mimics the roll of the ocean; initially soft and measured, it increases in intensity to tumul­tuous waves, as the circles become more expansive and devotees are touched and mounted by spirit.

In Cuban, Brazilian, Trinidadian, Puerto Rican, and U. S. homes, Yemonja’s altars are often deco­rated with fountains and other symbols of the sea, such as fish nets, miniature boats, shells, live fish, peacock feathers, fans, and a blue or blue and white crockery vessel that houses her sacred stones in ocean or river water. The number 7 belongs to her, representing the seven seas; her devotees wear 7 silver bracelets, and she is often seen wearing full skirts with 7 blue and white layers. Her necklace (ileke) is made of crystal or crystal and blue beads, sometimes with red coral. She is summoned with a gourd rattle.

Patricia E. Canson

See also Shango Further Readings

Edwards, G., & Mason, J. (1985). Black Gods: Orisa Studies in the New World. Brooklyn, NY: Yoruba Theological Archministry. Mason, J. (1996). Olookun: Owner of Rivers and Seas.

Brooklyn, NY: Yoruba Theological Archministry. Mason, J. (2002). Adura Orisa Prayers for Selected Heads. Brooklyn, NY: Yoruba Theological Archministry.

Matibag, E. (1996). Afro-Cuban Religious Experience: Cultural Reflections in Narrative. Gainsville: University Press of Florida. Thompson, R. (1993). Face of the Gods: Art and Alters of Africa and the African Americas. New York: Museum for African Art. Weaver, L., & Egbelade, O. (1999). Yemonja: Tranquil Sea Turbulent Tides. Brooklyn, NY: Athelia Henrietta Press.

Jun 11

Yao

Posted in ->Religion
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The Yao are a major African people in the south­eastern part of the continent. Their population spans southern Malawi, portions of Mozambique, and parts of Tanzania and Zambia. According to their oral traditions, the Yao are descended from people who left an area around a mountain that was called Yao, located east of Lake Malawi, in the 9th century because of famine and moved westward to the shores of Lake Malawi. By 2008, there were nearly 3 million Yao living in southern Africa.

The Yao’s philosophy and culture have become intertwined with the extremely bountiful area in which they live. Lake Malawi is in the Great Rift Valley, and in some places it is one of the deepest lakes in Africa. The lake is the third largest lake in the continent and has more species of fish than any inland body of water anywhere in the world. More than 500 types of fish live in Lake Malawi. Given the fact that the Shire River flows from the lake and joins the mighty Zambezi River, the Yao people are often said to be the heartbeat of Africa. The magnificent landscape surrounding the lake creates rich proverbs, poetry, and rituals.

Although the Yao are mainly farmers, many are also fishermen, and some are called negociantes, that is, traveling salespersons, by the Mozambicans. This is because historically the Yao also traveled to the Indian Ocean coast to negotiate with Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, and Arab traders.

Years of interaction with the outside world have influenced the culture of the Yao to some extent, yet they retain the core values of their ancestors. For example, although many Yao are now Muslims, the Yao tradition tends to be matri­lineal as opposed to patrilineal. Thus, a group of sisters and their families may live with an elder brother or uncle and consider him their leader. Loyalty to the matrilineal family is greater in these cases than any loyalty to the "nuclear" family. It follows, therefore, that marriage would also be matrilocal, that is, a husband must live in the wife’s town. This means that the husbands are considered strangers until their children grow to maturity and the people accept them as a part of the new family. Of course, due to the practice of Islam, many of the Yao men have more than one wife. This obviously makes life quite complex.

A leader serves over the matrilineal group. Sometimes a leader might exercise power over many matrilineages. Of course, someone who exer­cises authority over a number of leaders is a king. The king is the traditional authority over a limited area identified with the matrilineages he serves.

The Yao celebrate two important holidays. The first is called Unyago, which involves children ages 7 to 12, where the boys are circumcised, and the boys and girls are taught by gender what it means to be Yao. During the entire ceremony, where people are dressed up to enjoy themselves, the initiated children are not to smile. Their family members may sing, dance, laugh, and enjoy drinks and food, but the initiated must remain in control of their wants and desires. Although the initiated children remain unsmiling and somber, other children and adults bring them money and gifts.

A second important celebration among the Yao is called the Siala and relates to the birthday of Mohammed. According to the oral historians, this holiday came into existence during the Arab Slave Trade in Mozambique and Malawi and gained its greatest adherents during the 19th century. As negociantes, the Yao had traded with the Arabs in ivory, gunpowder, tobacco, and even human beings. When there was a backlash against these practices by Yao traditionalists and some Christians, the Yao elite who had profited from the trade with the Arabs converted to Islam in an Effort to maintain their powerful role as traders. Thus, the celebration of Siala is often commemo­rated by warlike dances. The Yao often mix their traditional beliefs with Islam and now even Christianity. Yet the ancestral beliefs, linking them to ancestors and to the continuity of their com­munity, are central facts of ordinary life.

Among the Yao, one finds the contradictions that often appear when a people have been domi­nated commercially, physically, or intellectually by another people; yet remarkably one finds the kind of resilience among the Yao today that their leader, King Machemba, discovered in 1890, when he issued a declaration to the German Commander von Wissman which stated that the Yao were willing to trade, but not willing to sub­mit to the Germans. After many years of struggle on physical and political levels, the people of this area of Malawi and southern Africa gained their independence.

Molefi Kete Asante

See also Shona Further Readings

Asante, M. K. (2007). The History of Africa. London: Routledge.

Mitchell, J. C. (1971). The Yao Village. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

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