Written by Isidore Noel
At some point in one’s awakening towards black consciousness, one will be confronted with the question of religion. When I first started to occupy myself with the effect of colonialism and conquest, I still prayed to white Jesus to help me put it all in perspective. I eventually realized that the servitude and bondage to a white savior was a part of the subjugation. At first I tried to justify my beliefs with a color-blind, all-loving God who is there for everybody regardless of what color himself and his son are. (Patriarchy is also a topic I am still learning to confront.) Thereafter it became just plain embarrassing. How could I speak on issues of people of color if I did not even want to entertain the possibility that a white savior is an inferiority complex that we were inoculated with in an attempt to justify all actions by perpetrators against victims? Just ask yourself why former “terrorists” like Nelson Mandela are now hailed for their amazing ability to forgive white people for the atrocities committed against them and their people. It is for the same reasons that Martin Luther King is more acceptable than Malcolm X in liberal white communities.
Chris Rock once said that if you are black and a Christian, you have a short memory. In addition Claude Maredza stated that “Whoever is conned by whatever means to abandon his own religion for other people’s religions, has transgressed his ancestors and God as he has exposed his mind to manipulation and no longer has a mentality of his own and has become anybody’s vessel.” I could join black ways of life like Rastafari or religious organizations like the Nation of Islam that took what they got from the colonizers and made it their own. With little adjustments here and there, the black race became the superior race and the holy land was placed in Afrika. The Holy Scriptures could now be interpreted to prove that the savior is a person of color. The Queen of Sheba lay with King Solomon and started the royal linage from which the Emperor Haile Selassie sprung forth as the Conquering Lion of Judah and God-elect for people of Afrikan descent. This is how you eliminate white Jesus. And just in case his name is too difficult to eliminate you prove he is black with Revelation that talks of a man with hair like wool and bronze feet which surely indicates that he must be a man of color. So even when Christianity has done such a number on you that you do not want Haile Selassie or the Honourable Elijah Mohammed, you can still have Black Jesus and trace him back all the way to Afrika.
In no way am I mocking anybody’s way of life, especially not that of my brothers and sisters who at least have removed the yoke of white superiority. I can understand where the need for a savior arises from. It also makes complete sense to me that if I do need a savior that he or she should be someone I can relate to and who understands the plight of my people because he is one of ours. A friend of mine believes that “the real awake are those who fully identify with themselves and understand that there is no savior.” But I am not there yet. Maybe I never will be.
After a long time of thinking and re-arranging my thoughts, I concluded that for me to be able to make up my mind on anything is to go back in history and discover what exactly my people may have believed before colonialism. Sankofa! This is the the Akan word from the Ghanaian language which means to return and fetch it. Most people familiar with it will know of the Adinkra symbol of a bird that reaches backwards to take an egg from its back. It emphasizes the need to learn from the past as one moves towards the future.
The identity of an Afrikan used to be inextricably linked to the community. Hence it should not surprise that one of Afrika’s greatest philosophies Ubuntu states that we are people through other people. Tie that up with ancestral veneration and you have a complex web of how to function in an Afrikan society. Ancestral worship is based on the belief that it is the duty of the living to ensure their ancestors’ continued wellbeing. In return, descendants can ask special favors and assistance from their forefathers- and mothers. The ancestors having been human can relate to the living and being now spirit are seen as interceding between the people and the gods who are often too distant to be approached directly. As with most things that are meant to control, ancestral worship can also be used as a religion of fear. Depending on ones’ actions, ancestors may not just bestow blessings but also curses. Perhaps the best known of venerations of the dead is Egyptian burying their pharaohs with things they enjoyed in this life so that they may be satisfied in the afterlife. For many the worst fate an ancestor could encounter is that of being forgotten. That would be seen as dying again.
The other belief system that may run parallel to ancestral worship is witchcraft. It is often used to explain occurrences regarded as evil or detrimental. An example given by Heidi Holland in her book “African magic” is being burned by fire. “Everyone knows fire is meant to burn, but it is not supposed to burn you.” So, when that happens it means that somebody is harming you because they envy you. Witchcraft is used as a theory of causation. Witches are thought to cause havoc because of excess emotions such as jealousy. My people believe in both evil and good powers co-existing. Traditional healers are thus seen as good powers received through ones good actions or the actions of the ancestors. In other words, evilness and extreme goodness can be inherited or deserved. They also believe that destiny is linked to actions. This can be understood in terms of karma acting as the principle of causation. You reap what you sow or what has been sown for you by the ancestors.
I have not yet gone far on my path towards spiritual enlightenment but I know that the least form of justice I can do for my ancestors (and myself) is to find out as much as I can about their way of life. From there I will take out the positives and incorporate them into my being. There will be things that may be irrelevant to me, but I definitely recognize that I can only complete my identity in the sense of the community in both the present and the past. I am a person through other people and I will go back to fetch from my people’s history what I need to be a better being in my present existence. Sankofa!