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April 2019
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Speeches

V.S. Akpati: Potential Contributions of African Religions

Essay published in the journal Dialogue & Alliance, Winter 2010 issue


The call for an interreligious council at the UN is the right thing, I think. In fact, this should have been done a long time ago. Looking around the world, it is evident that most conflicts are caused by religious and ethnic intolerance. It is time for mankind to wake up and move to the next level of evolution and realize that all life is one. There are many religious paradigms in the world. Sadly, the major ones founded with love as the directing influence are the major cause of conflicts; e.g., Islam and Christianity.

I personally am a leader in the African traditional religion. In our religion we embrace Iwa Pele, which means good and gentle character, and Iwa Ife, which means a loving disposition. As long as love is the foundation principle of any religion, then all is well. An interreligious council will help unite the various religions in promoting religious acceptance. The religious leaders have more power over their people than the political ones, so using religious leaders on conflict resolution teams will work like magic.

The African traditional religion is the oldest religious paradigm in the history of the human race. It is a scientific fact that human life started in Africa. From the early stages of civilization, people have been looking into ways of communicating with his creator. The traditional religion of the African people recognizes the fact that there is a supreme being that supersedes all other beings in creation. In different languages, God is called by different names, e.g., Olodumare, Chukwu, etc. Thus, the religion recognizes the presence of the elemental forces of creation: the forces of the earth, water, land, and air. And according to homogeneous manifestation, there are names for the guardian forces of the elements.

The African traditional religion is a religion of love and truth. Priesthood is a very sacred calling. To qualify for the position of a high priest, you must be naturally called through dreams and visions, and the elders of your people investigate through the oracles to find out if you are truly called to be a high priest. Thus, initiation and elevation comes before installation. Priests are men and women who lead pure lives and are dedicated to the service of their people.

All the tribes and nations have their own pattern of worship and communication, but when studied closely they have a lot of similarities. The traditional religion installs all the kings and chiefs. The high priests perform the ceremonies of coronation and install leaders. It is their duty to spiritually administer the kingdoms and pray for the land and the people. Their task is not an easy one, for it is a continuous exercise. In a community there are various priests of different types: natural clairvoyants, diviners, traditional healers, traditional midwives, etc. All these people are under the leadership of a high priest, who is the chosen of the Gods at the highest temple or shrine of the land. The people fear and respect their Gods and Goddesses. If you have a dispute with someone and you need validation, you swear an oath in a shrine and say if you are innocent of accusation. May you live free, but if you are not may you die. Of course the validation comes quickly.

However, the law of motion states that there must be progress. And I would like the present leaders to be brave enough to move forward and beautify the noble traditional religion of our forebears. Animistic sacrifice is a path of worship; gifts of fruits and edibles are frequently given to appease the deities. In my opinion, this is okay because it emphasizes the process of giving love and receiving love.

There is so much crime in the cities all over the world, but if you go down to the villages where religion is strong, it is rare to see armed robberies or major crimes. The Ten Commandments of the Bible exist in the traditional religion. In the villages you see people who are honest and God-fearing. Since others have written at length about the traditional religion of the African people, I am here to explore the ways the African traditional religious leaders can assist in bringing peace to our troubled world.

Our elders say that charity begins at home. There are ways of solving conflicts in the system at the grassroots since the religion has traditional courts. The traditional rulers are part of the religion, for it is the foundation of the kingdoms and chiefdoms. The elders meet in council. The chiefs in council deliberate on matters concerning the welfare of the people and the land; disputes are settled with truth and honesty.

The rule of law abides in the villages more than the cities. The people obey their leaders. Therefore, bringing in traditional leaders into an interreligious council will help greatly in the search of peace. I urge the traditional religion to unite; all the traditional leaders from throughout the continent should unite and form a centralized union to interconnect the people.

In a conflict situation, for example the political situation in Cote d'Ivoire where the president refuses to step down after losing an election, if the traditional rulers and religious leaders of the country are united and can meet and resolve the issue through dialogue, the president will listen to them for he is also a son of the leaders. And they are the ones who empowered him to be where he is. If he proves stubborn, they can deal with him spiritually, applying the natural spiritual laws of the land.

I am originally from the Delta state of Nigeria. Peace can and will come to the Niger Delta if the government summons a meeting of the traditional rulers and chiefs. The traditional leaders are the backbone of the resistance, providing charms and spiritual protection for them. If they come to an agreement with the ruling government, peace would come for the government does not dare deceive the traditional royalty, and the militants will obey their own leaders for they are their fathers.

Now let us also realize that traditional religion exists not only in Africa but also in other parts of the world. All the nations have a rich cultural heritage, which is the duty of the traditional religion to protect. The cultural heritage cannot exist without the traditional religion. Nations protect and honor this, for a nation without culture is a nation without identity. Traditional religions have been relegated to the background and have been grossly misinterpreted by the outside world; yet, they are the most peaceful religions in the world. They do not blow up people in the name of God. They go about their activities quietly.

Traditional festivals are organized annually to bring the people together; e.g., Osun Oshogbo in Nigeria, the Igue festival in Benin, the Eyo Masquerade festival in Lagos state, and the New Yam festival in Ibo land. All these are peaceful festivals; they do not involve public preaching against any religion. The churches preach against the traditional religion, fabricating all sorts of lies against them and inciting the people against their homogenous ways.

The modern way is freedom of worship and association. Nobody should be forced to worship God in a way in which he or she is not comfortable. With the variety of religious paradigms comes a beautiful manifestation of love. Everyone should accept one another’s differences, for all the religions are founded by love. Love is the Creator of humankind and indeed all life. All the peoples of the earth are from one Father/Mother.

I think that setting up an interreligious council in forums such as the United Nations will truly bring peace to the world, for the religious leaders are the real leaders of the people. Yes, it is time for the earth to become one family—an extended, beautiful family. Then we can focus on development through interconnected loving, continuous loving. Positive competition can continue through sports and positive inventions, etc.

Finally, the words of the elders are words of wisdom. The traditional religious leaders will bring wisdom, gentle leadership, and the peaceful ways of the ancestors—something fresh and real. They promote respect, dignity, and honor to complement the other religions. There is much to learn from each other. In sitting together to talk, we become friends and brothers, which will manifest in new bonding.

Ah yes, the golden age of awareness will arrive, for a broom cannot sweep the floor unless all the stalks are brought together and tied firmly. Such images can send peaceful thoughts to all the peoples. When all the religions come together then peace will come to stay—peace, love, and light.