Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More on Traditional African Religions

The online edition of the Tanzanian daily newspaper This Day currently has a fascinating Special Report on their front page: Tanzanians go to church, the mosque, and the witch-doctor. The This Day article refers to the new Pew Forum study on religion in Sub-Saharan Africa, but contains additional material not found in the Pew report. Below are two excerpts:

1. In his cramped hut at the end of an alleyway in the coastal Tanzanian town of Bagamoyo, traditional healer Dr Msilo treats patients with a variety of mental and physical problems.

To locals, he is known as a witch doctor, and his treatments involve casting out evil spirits, as well as administering traditional potions.

People are keen to seek out his services, regardless of their religious affiliation.

"God provides medicine for all people - Muslims, Christians and pagans," he says.
"They all know that the trees were given by God, and He gave some people the power to heal."

2. Islam and Christianity dominate as the most popular religions in the region -- a stark reversal from a century ago when Muslims and Christians were outnumbered by followers of traditional indigenous religions.

But for the past 100 years, indigenous spirituality has been diluted as missionaries carried Islam and Christianity throughout the African continent.

The study [that is, the new Pew Forum study on religion in Africa] reports that the number of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa grew faster than the number of Muslims, from 7 million in 1900 to 470 million in 2010. One in five of the world's Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa.

While a majority of African Muslims are from the northern region of the continent, nearly 234 million live below the Sahara Desert.

Indigenous African beliefs have not disappeared, but are often incorporated into Islam and Christianity, the report found. A number of sub-Saharan Africans believe in witchcraft, evil spirits, reincarnation and other elements of African spirituality. More than half of the people surveyed in Tanzania, Mali, Senegal and South Africa believe that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits can protect them from harm.

Mary Dhavale, a native of Tanzania who now lives in Atlanta, describes herself as a "righteous child of Jehovah God" and drives two hours every Sunday to worship at a Pentecostal church. She also said her grandfather was a traditional healer.

"You may call him a witch doctor, but he did good things for the people," Dhavale said.

Dhavale's grandfather attended Catholic services for most of his life, even as he concocted herbal drinks and crafted charms to ward off evil spirits or expose petty crimes in the neighbourhood.

"If your child is sick or if your car is spoiled, people would go to my grandfather and find out who did it," Dhavale said.

[This is a follow-up to yesterday's post on Traditional African Religions Continue To Thrive.]

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