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:: About B. Traore

Boubacar Traore has a degree in cultural anthropology. He is originally from Senegal, but now lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The inteview reprinted with permission from Vuelos, published by Fundación Cafh, Buenos Aires, Argentina: Spring 1999.


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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

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 place.

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?

Of course.


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