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African Traditional

African Traditional

Africa, the cradle of mankind, is home to many cultures across its varied geographic regions that practice a wealth of spiritual and religious belief systems.

Many of the sacred environments which are believed to be the abodes of nature spirits or which are sacred places of learning about traditional healing, divination and rites to connect with the ancestors have been polluted or destroyed by mining, deforestation, dams and commercial cash crops.

After a successful initiation in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, the Tshwane Traditional & Faith Healers Forum welcomes new sangomas (including a white thwasa). © Wikimedia.

Nature as a gift from God to be used in harmony with the web of life

In traditional African societies, nature was regarded as a gift by a supreme Creator God for the benefit of humanity who believed that mankind was created at the centre of the universe. A host of nature spirits associated with specific animal and tree species and sacred forests, rivers, lakes, and mountains remind local communities of their need to respect the environment and to use it sustainably.

Water as a source of life and spirituality is another core African value. Traditionally, water was recognised as both an essential life force and a source of strong spiritual power. Skills in healing, sacred knowledge, psychic abilities, and medicinal plants are some of the gifts imparted to those chosen by the water spirits. These healers are the custodians of traditional knowledge. Healers and diviners who follow the calling become important mediators between the spirit world and their communities. This, however, requires access to and the preservation of sacred rivers, wetlands and the sea as to conduct rituals to aid communication with the spirit world.

Environmental conservation is not a recent phenomenon in indigenous African communities. Past generations knew about the sustainable use of natural resources. The traditional healers of the past collected bark or roots in a way that did not damage the plants, or if the entire plant was needed, they would not to harvest all the plants, but leave some for the future.

A re-visitation of the principles of traditional African religious practices would provide modern conservation programmes in Africa and globally with an insight into the activities of communities that managed to live alongside the rivers and forests and use them sustainably. We could do well to borrow a leaf from traditional African spiritual beliefs to further environmental conservation for the wellbeing of humanity and out of respect for God’s gift of creation.

This article is a synthesis of the material in the resources below.

Using traditional Chagga society in Tanzania as an illustration, when the weather was good people felt they were in harmony with nature, their ancestors and God. If there was drought, famine or floods then the Chagga believed their good relationship with nature, ancestors, God and others had been disturbed.

Bakanja Mkenda

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