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"The third thing that unifies African religions is respect for hierarchy, not only for the hierarchy that we can see in a community, but also for the hierarchy of the Cosmos. Thus, there are two fundamental elements with respect to the hierarchy that must always be considered: the community and the Cosmos"


 


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Home » Features » A Dialogue with Boubacar Traore

Religion and Spirituality in Africa
by Juan Carlos Benegas and Dolly Basch
Translated by Bill Poehner and Michael Danciger




Traditional religions must be those which have been practiced in certain places for a long time but which do not have a revelation book.

Yes, evidently they are of an oral nature, and although they have theoretical components, they are transmitted orally. These traditional religions believe in two worlds: the world that we are in at the present moment, which is the world of the living, and the world of the dead. There is a duality, but what is interesting is that the two worlds are complementary. The complementary relationship is so important, so essential, that each act carried out in this life requires the blessing of the other world in order to unfold fully. This underscores the interdependence of these two worlds.

The third thing that unifies African religions is respect for hierarchy, not only for the hierarchy that we can see in a community, but also for the hierarchy of the Cosmos. Thus, there are two fundamental elements with respect to the hierarchy that must always be considered: the community and the Cosmos. There is a certain order which must govern the whole mechanism and which must be respected in order to avoid the risk of disequilibrium. This is why this hierarchy is fundamental.

Later we can discuss the presence of the cult or the ritual in African religions. All these religions have a ritual aspect. This is because ritual is the definitive means by which the human enlivens, refreshes, revives and revitalizes life, but always passing through the original point, the original beginning. This would be the way of giving more energy, more strength, and more vitality to life.

What is this original point?

The original point is the original creation. When we make reference to it through ritual, what we are searching for is precisely to re-energize ourselves, to draw energy from that original force of creation.

This leads me to believe that we are aware of the danger of empty ritual if it is not in contact with that original force. Empty ritual could become a form bereft of meaning.

That depends on the way one thinks about ritual. In traditional African religions, ritual always is related to that force. This is because every aspect of the ritual is taken from the characteristics of that force. Because this original force is manifested in the ritual, there can be no ritual that does not have its characteristics. Therefore, there is little risk that the ritual will become empty. Now, if our intention is to give ourselves energy and strength through ritual, then surely we are aware of the interdependence of the two worlds. It follows that we cannot solve problems alone. Hence, the fundamental idea of the two worlds being complementary arises.

One is the world of the living, and the other is the world of the dead. Does the latter in some way encompass all that has been until the present?

We could say that the world of the living is the present world and that the world of the dead is the world of the past. This leads us to the interesting subject of the concept of time in these religions. First of all, there is a concept of circularity within which ritual makes sense and has a place. For example, when performing a ritual, the idea is to get to the origin, i.e., to depart from a point along a path that leads back to the same point. The circle symbolizes this. It is interesting to note that within the concept of circularity the past is very long, and the present and future are virtually non-existent.

Why is there virtually no future?

We will come back to this point later. What is interesting here is that the past is very long, and the present is short in comparison. This allows us to deduce the importance of the past as a cemetery, as a time of myth. In these religions, myth has the definite function of serving as an ontological base, the foundation of all that takes place in life.

The place from which everything arises.

Everything, it is the time of the end. This is important in the perspective of traditional religions for this present is a part of the past. Also, this same present becomes the past.

It becomes the past instantly.

It becomes the past instantly, but at the same time it has the possibility to be the present because the function of ritual is precisely to bring the past to the present. There is an overlap between the present and the past; hence this circularity. In this sense it is clear that one who leaves returns, and therefore nothing is lost. This is not the linear time that leads us to believe that what goes never returns. There is virtually no future.

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