How should we begin a discussion
of the subject of spirituality in Africa?
We can begin by attempting to define "religion" and "spirituality."
I believe it is very important to recognize that, when
we are talking about religion, we are not always talking
about spirituality. It seems to me that human beings have
always had the need to commit themselves to an inner work
that not only gives them equilibrium, but also helps them
relate to the world around them. By "the world around
them," I mean not only other human beings; I include those
beings that are not human that also form a part of the
Whole. This is important-humans should not be considered
the determining or fundamental element of the Cosmos.
Rather, humankind can be seen as one element among all
that make up the Whole. Therefore, all of humankind may
participate in the building of the Cosmos according to
its place and possibilities. I think that many times only
the work of those who are religious or who are members
of a religion is considered "spiritual"; from my point
of view this is incorrect. It would be interesting to
extend the use of the term spiritual to all groups that
are not part of a religion (in the sense that we use this
term today), but that work in their own way for harmony,
good relationships and equilibrium. These groups and beings,
then, are doing a religious work based on the true meaning
of the word religious.
How is this work related to
the true meaning of the word religious?
It is related because we humans are religious beings,
and that has a lot to do with discovering that we have
a need. It is precisely through spirituality that this
need expresses itself when we become conscious that we
are not complete. In this way, inner work allows us to
search for what we are missing, which in some way has
to do with our dissatisfaction.
So this quest for spirituality
enables us to look at our feeling of incompleteness and
dissatisfaction with life as it is and causes us to look
for something more?
Absolutely. Perhaps to sum it up, we can say it is the
need to give meaning to life.
Can we refer generally to
spirituality in Africa or is that too broad a subject?
Must we be more specific?
Most of us from the western world know about Africa only
through what we have heard or read or seen in the movies.
Therefore, many of the ideas we have about Africa would
change if we actually had first-hand experience of the
I believe that the question is an important one in that
it helps us to begin to see Africa more realistically.
Africa is frequently seen as a homogeneous continent,
and of course, this is far from the truth. There is a
diversity of religions throughout the continent. They
differ according to their location, be it in the savanna,
the rain forest, or along the coast.
This is to say that it is
not a homogeneous continent but rather that, in the whole
of Africa, there is great diversity.
Yes, there is a lot of diversity, but you could also say
that there is unity in that diversity, a common ground.
It is worthwhile to enumerate the common points that all
the religions share in order to demonstrate this unity.
All traditional African religions share a belief in a
Supreme Being, God, and each group has a word for this
Supreme Being. The Bambara (an ethnic group from Mali),
for example, use the word "Mannala"; the Wolof
(from Senegal) call the Supreme Being "Yala";
the Serer (also from Senegal) refer to God as "Roxet";
etc. Therefore, we can say that the traditional African
religions have a concept of God in spite of the widespread
belief that this is not so. This is one thing all traditional
religions have in common.
They share a belief in a Supreme
Being to whom they assign different names according to
where they live and, surely, to whom they attribute different
characteristics also depending upon where they live
No, the characteristic is the same-the God who created
the world; it is the Supreme Being, unbegotten. This perception
is shared by all the religions. A second characteristic
is that all traditional religions believe in two worlds.
Could you explain what you
mean by "traditional" religions?
Without a doubt the traditional religion is a way of life;
it is a response to concrete situations, and therefore
it is not a religion based on revelation. I believe there
is a fundamental difference between what we know as religions
based on revelation and traditional African religions.
The religions based on revelations
would be religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity?