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Afterlife: African Concepts

AFTERLIFE: AFRICAN CONCEPTS

Discussing African notions of afterlife necessitates several preliminary and pertinent observations.

First, Africa is characterized by a tremendous ethnic and cultural diversity. There are about three thousand African ethnic groups, each boasting a distinctive common history, culture, language, and recognizable belief system. Thus, it is possible to speak of the Yoruba notions of afterlife and compare these, say, to the Igbo or Zulu concepts, noting distinctions and similarities. This article will factor in this palpable ethnic diversity in order to avoid sweeping generalizations.

Across the many ethnic groupings and cultural expressions, however, one can discern commonalities in worldviews that make it possible to speak of an "African" worldview as compared, say, to a "Hindu" one. Summarizing distinctive markers of this African worldview, Sambuli Mosha isolates four key ideas, namely: (1) the centrality of belief in God, (2) an acknowledgment of the intrinsic unity between individuals and communities, (3) viewing the universe as an interconnected, interdependent whole, (4) embracing life as a process of spiritual formation and transformation (Mosha, 2000). All these markers shape the way Africans conceptualize both this life and the hereafter. These commonalities in worldview despite cultural ethnic differences will be assumed in this article.

Secondly, African beliefs are dynamic rather than static. They are shaped and influenced by other belief systems that they encounter in history. While this dynamism is manifest in all aspects of belief, here we focus on concepts of the hereafter. In this regard, we note for example that ancient Egyptians held very clear eschatological ideas featuring notions of heaven and hell and a final judgment. Thus, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a text designed to be a guide for the soul as it journeyed on beyond physical death, Osiris determines the destiny of the dead. Having measured their moral worth against the feather of Maat (symbolizing truth and justice), he sends them "west," to the "abode of the righteous," or to "hell." Today, the pyramids where the pharaohs, ancient Egyptian kings believed to be immortal, were entombed remain an enduring testimony of the ancient Egyptians' preoccupation with life after death.

Two thousand years later, these Egyptian ideas of the hereafter were part of the repertoire of beliefs in circulation in the Mediterranean world as Christianity was taking shape. Later still, in the nineteenth century, through Christian missionaries these ideas found their way into sub-Saharan Africa. Here, they reinforced prior indigenous concepts of the afterlife where these already incorporated notions of a final judgment, as in the case of the Yoruba of Nigeria and LoDagaa of Ghana (Ray, 1976, pp. 143ff). Elsewhere, for example among the Agikuyu of Kenya, ideas of heaven and hell were introduced de novo, since this community's prior concepts of the hereafter had no such notions. Among the Gikuyu, as was typical in most indigenous African communities, though one's moral misconduct could provoke divine anger and punishment, such punishment was this-worldly rather than delayed and otherworldly. The impact of historical encounters between cultures, and the ensuing dynamism, transformation, and fluidity of ideas will be recognized and factored in this analysis.

Against this background then, and drawing examples from the vast pool of diverse African cultures, this article discusses the topic under several interrelated headings, namely:

  • Afro-theism, Cosmogonies, and African Notions of Afterlife
  • Concepts of the Human Person and Implications for Life After Death
  • Notions of Afterlife: Clues from Mortuary and Funerary Rituals
  • The Living-Dead: Corporate Identity and the Destiny of the Individual
  • The Living and the Dead: The Status and Role of Ancestors
  • Change, Continuity, and Contestation: The Impact of Christianity and Other Religions

Afro-theism, Cosmogonies, and African Notions of Afterlife

The African worldview is decidedly theistic. God (named differently by various ethnic groups) is the creative force behind the origins of the universe and human beings within it, a belief that appears in many African cosmogonic myths. These myths also indicate that in God's original intentions, the world was orderly, and human beings led a happy life in a state of immortality as long as they were close to God, their creator. Somehow, this state was interrupted, and death entered the world. Ray (1976, p. 24) reports that according to a myth of original "paradise lost" held by the Tutsi of Rwanda, in the beginning, Imana, God, created two worlds, the one above and the one below. The world below was the opposite of the world above, since it lacked in beauty and prosperity. Initially, human beings lived close to the sky and were therefore near enough to the world above to enjoy its benefits without struggle and labor. Sickness was not known, and when people died, Imana brought them back to life after three days. Perhaps because of human disobedience or greed, this relationship was lost. The promise of happiness brought by proximity to God was severed and remains only a vague future possibility. According to the myth, humans continue to suffer hardships in this world, until one day when, their expiation over, they will return to the sky. It seems from this myth that the Tutsi understand happiness and immortality to be dependent on how well they maintain the link between themselves and God.

Quite different to the Tutsi myth with its promise of at least a rudimentary eschatological hope, the Nuer myth of paradise lost stipulates that in the beginning all was happiness, since the heavens, God's abode, and earth were linked by a rope, the pathway to access divine favors and bounty. According to this myth, upon death people ascended to the sky via the rope for a short period and came back rejuvenated to earth. When the rope was severed, death became a permanent feature of the human condition. The myth suggests that this group believes that immortality is gone forever and only life and death within this world remain (Ray, 1976).

Concepts of the Human Person and Implications for Life After Death

More clues regarding African notions of afterlife can be gleaned from an examination of African concepts of the person. Now, in some belief systems, say Hinduism, the person is defined as the soul that is contained or even imprisoned in the body. Indeed, within Hinduism, one goal of religious activity is to facilitate the ultimate separation or liberation (moksha ) of the soul (ātman ) breaking out of once and for all the unending and tragic cycle of reimbodiment (sasāra ).

In general, within the African context, such a rigid dualism between body and soul is not found. Instead of conceiving the person as a soul that is contained in a body, Africans define the person as an integral whole constituting the "outer person" (the body) and the "inner self." The Yoruba call this inner person ori-inu (Idowu, 1994, p. 170). Symbolized by the physical head, ori is also connected with God, Olódùmarè, who is the source of all being and before whom one's ori kneels to receive one's destiny prior to being born into this world. One's ori, therefore, is the essence of one's personality as it controls and guides one's life according to the destiny received prior to birth. At the end of one's physical life, one will give an account of one's earthly conduct before Olódùmarè (God) who will determine one's postmortem existence either in the "Orun rere " (Paradise or good orun) or "Orun apadi " (hell or Orun of the Potsherds), where one suffers a wretched afterlife. According to Bolaji Idowu, life in the "good Orun " is but a larger and freer copy of this worldly life, minus earthly pains and tribulations. The best postmortem reward is a reunion with one's relatives who have died before, particularly ancestors, the Ara Orun (Idowu, 1994, p. 177). Although Idowu presented this idea of afterlife in the context of traditional Yoruba society, it is important to note that some scholars have questioned this apparently theological explication of the Yoruba notion of afterlife. The notion may be due to the strong influence of Islam and Christianity on Yoruba culture at the time Idowu collected his materials.

That a person is considered a composite and integral whole is also evident in that often, when people claim to encounter the dead through visions and dreams or when they communicate with them through ritual, they claim to have met or spoken with "so and so," a person identifiable by name, rather than the "ghost" of so and so. Given this integral relationship between the outer and inner person, then, it would seem that at death it is the person that dies rather than "the soul" leaving the body and flying away, as some Christian popular hymns indicate.

Notions of Afterlife: Clues from Mortuary and Funerary Rituals

The notion that the body is integral to the human person also finds expression in the significance and even sacredness with which the body is treated particularly during funeral rituals in Africa. Such rituals and related "oratures" (myths, stories, and songs) constitute a commentary by humans on their experiences in this world and its beyond and offer significant clues regarding concepts of the afterlife.

In the oratures, the fact of dying is often described using the metaphor of a journey. Death is depicted as "saying goodbye" to the living or "saying yes" (gwitika in Gikuyu) to a summons by God. Many people describe death as "a going home" (in Gikuyu, kuinuka ) or simply, a departure (Gikuyu, guthie ). Death is also described as "sleeping" or "resting."

This use of the metaphor of a journey is related to the fact that in general, as indicated earlier, Africans view life itself as a journey. Life is an unfolding, a process of "formation and transformation" that starts before birth and does not end at physical death. During crucial moments of this life journey, special rituals (rites of passage) designed to mark, celebrate, and help the individual successfully negotiate the key turning points, including death, are performed. Thus, for example, among the Swazi, burial of the dead is only done after three days. It is said that going through the physical death process is exhausting to the sojourner and therefore the deceased needs a few days to recuperate before continuing in the next phase of the life journey. The Swazi also bury their dead with all their vital earthly belongings, thus equipping them for the next phase of their life journey, beyond physical death. (M'passou in Cox, 1998, p. 28). Furthermore, during the period between death and burial, the Swazi, as do other communities, observe a vigil both to console the bereaved and to keep the deceased person company as they transit between this world and the next (M'passou in Cox, 1998).

Rituals are also performed to prepare and equip the deceased for the journey ahead and also to "inform" those on the other side that the deceased is on the way and they should expect him or her. The Chagga of Tanzania believe that this journey to the world of ancestors takes nine days. To make the journey easier, the corpse is anointed with fat, fed with milk, and covered with a hide to protect it from the elements. A bull is also killed specifically for the deceased's grandfather to alert him so that he can await the deceased (Mbiti, 1969, p. 155).

Mortuary rituals also emphasize the integral connection between the "inner and outer person." Since the body is integral to the person, a deceased's body is treated with utmost respect. Appropriate burial and "disposal" of the body is therefore important; otherwise, the person cannot make the transition into the other world. For this reason, even when a wild beast devours a body, leaving only a few shreds or pieces, these are carefully collected and accorded a full and respectful burial. In situations where a corpse is not retrievable, say because of drowning, a burial must still be performed, and so in some societies, a surrogate is used. The Luo of Kenya, for example, use the yago fruit, which is several feet in length and is laid in the grave to represent the dead. It is also for this reason that cremation is not a preferred method of disposal of the dead in the African context.

Failure to perform burial rites properly makes the deceased unable to negotiate the postmortem phase of the life journey successfully. Such frustrated persons may have to "come back," looking for help or for some vital equipment necessary of the journey. The Luo call such restless, deceased persons jochiende, while the Shona call them mashave. Such restless and wondering spirits are said to haunt and afflict the living as they try to gain their attention.

The Living Dead: Corporate Identity and the Destiny of the Individual

Mortuary rituals also reveal that Africans consider death a paradox. On the one hand, death and burial signifies an end to one's physical life. Meticulous and proper burial signifies that Africans understand the finality of death as a marker of the end of physical life. Death is therefore frustrating because it takes way a loved one and robs people of the companionship and other gifts that such a relationship brings. This frustration is expressed though funeral dirges. For this reason, too, death is also vigorously, collectively, and publicly mourned.

Simultaneously, however, death is not an annihilation of the person. Though the deceased may be physically gone, they are still here as persons and the living can still communicate with them. Paradoxically, then, the dead are not dead, a paradox that led Mbiti to coin the phrase "the Living-Dead" (1969, p. 81).

The belief that the dead are not dead is expressed and dramatized through rituals designed to welcome and install the deceased back into the world of the living. The Luo of Kenya call this ritual Duogo (Ongonga in Cox, 1998, p. 236), while the Xhosa of South Africa call it Ukubuyisa (Pato, in Oosthuizen and Irving, 1992, p. 134). For the Shona of Zimbabwe, the ritual is called Kurova Guva and is performed by every member of the family, who must explicitly through ritual offerings and libations indicate willingness to welcome the deceased as a continuing member of the family despite physical death. The deceased is also ritually consulted to indicate his or her acceptance thus to be reintegrated into the family (Gundani in Cox, 1998, p. 201).

According to Mbiti (1969, p. 158), this continued remembrance of the Living-Dead and their sustained interaction with the living constitutes the individual's "personal immortality." One enjoys this status so long as there are people left behind to remember him or her. As a Living-Dead one continues to be involved in matters of the corporate group of family and clan and retains one's personal name and corporate identity in this context. Thus, this is a status clearly linked or even dependent on one's place in and relationship to the corporate group, particularly the family. When after a long time such individuals are no longer remembered by name, they enter a state of what Mbiti calls collective immortality as they blend into the general world of those who have gone before (Mbiti, 1969). The Swahili call this community of the dead Mizimu, while their abode is referred to as Kuzimu.

The Living and the Dead: The Status and Role of Ancestors

The installation of the deceased back into family simultaneously marks the induction of the deceased into the world of ancestors. Henceforth, the deceased person can be honored in family rituals alongside other ancestors and enjoy a privileged position both among the living and the dead. This status, however, is not automatic. Rather, it depends on how well one conducted oneself in this life as a member of the corporate group. Those who have fulfilled their corporate duties and obligations as the community defines them are honored as "ancestors," a status analogous to but not identical to that of sainthood in Christianity. Being moral exemplars, the ancestors are also considered custodians and enforcers of justice and morality among the living, and because they are considered ontologically closer to God, they function as intermediaries between God and the people. Thus, petitionary prayer is often said through them.

Ancestorhood is therefore a status of honor reserved for the exemplary dead. The Gikuyu refer to such a persons as mwendwo ni iri (the people's beloved). Conversely, those who fail in their worldly obligations, or those whose actions are subversive to rather than nurturing of life, are quickly forgotten and "excommunicated" after death. The Gikuyu call such persons muimwo ni iri (rejected by the people). To be thus rejected, excommunicated and forgotten, is truly to die in the African understanding.

Change, Continuity, and Contestation: The Impact of Christianity and Other Religions

Historically, Africa is heir to a triple heritage of religion and culture: namely African traditional religions, Islam, and Christianity. As early as the first century ce, most of North Africa was part of the Roman Empire and therefore part of Christendom. Later on, the region came under Islamic influence, and today much of North Africa is Islamic and culturally Arabic. Meanwhile, communities like those of the Swahili of East Africa present a religio-cultural hybridity a result of years of blending indigenous African cultures with Islamic ones. Needless to say, Africans who have come into contact with Islam and Christianity have been influenced by the rather sharply defined eschatological notions featuring a final judgment, heaven and hell, and final resurrection as destinies of the soul. Muslims, for example, are encouraged to persevere through earthly tribulations in view of the "day of the Resurrection" when a judgment will be made in their favor, assuming they live a righteous this-worldly life (see Qurʾān, sūrah III:185).

African belief systems have been most palpably influenced and shaped by the encounter with nineteenth-century missionary Christianity. This Christianity was articulated in terms of Western culture, and its introduction coincided with the colonization of Africa. Moreover, for the most part assuming a radical difference between themselves and their worldviews and the Africans and their worldviews, and convinced of the need to convert Africans from their allegedly "primitive" and therefore "inadequate" or even "wrong" beliefs, missionaries deliberately tried to erase African beliefs and practices and to replace these with ostensibly Christian ones. This process had a tremendous impact on all aspects of African beliefs, including notions of the afterlife, our immediate concern here.

For one thing, there seems in Christian discourse and practice, a literal demotion or even demonization of ancestors. Whereas in indigenous African thought ancestors were moral exemplars, enjoying a status of honor to which the living could aspire, today, ancestors are in Christian discourse depicted as evil forces of the same character with the devil. Terms such as mizimu (Kiswahili), emandloti (Swazi), or ngoma (Kikuyu), which traditionally described the ancestors, are today used almost as synonyms for Satan or the devil. Furthermore, the deliberate invocation of ngoma or mizimu and fellowship with them through libations and prayer (Gikuyu, kurongoreria ) is in official Christian teaching outlawed because it is considered a breach of the First Commandment. Ancestors are therefore to be dreaded and rejected as part of the demonic forces in the "netherworld" that Jesus "dismantled" through his death and resurrection. Instead of celebrating their exemplary dead, then, many Christianized Africans have seemingly adopted the Christian afterlife discourse and now celebrate angels and saints that are said to populate the heavenly sphere and with whom those who die in good standing with God will live happily after death. Thus, for example, one Gikuyu Christian funeral song bids the deceased farewell and expresses the hope that the person will be met at the gates of heaven by "multitudes of God's angels" (Kikuyu Catholic Hymnal, 1992, hymn 101). Whereas in the past the hope was to attain personal immortality as a Living-Dead and to enjoy a status of honor among the ancestors, Christianized Africans look forward instead to joining an otherworldly/heavenly community of God and angels as defined in the Christian discourse.

A redefinition of the human person also seems to be indicated in the Christian discourse. While traditionally one's body was considered integral to one's person and was therefore considered important even after death, today Christian funeral songs depict the body as incidental if not detrimental to one's positive destiny after death. One such song exhorts the listeners to remember that "our bodies are like flowers that wither and die" and that "We shall leave our bodies right here on earth and go to heaven in/with our souls/spirits" (mioyo ) (Kikuyu Catholic Hymnal, 1992, hymn 108). People are therefore encouraged to treat the body with suspicion because fleshly desires might derail their souls from the journey to heaven. The denigration of the body implicit in these songs is quite alien to indigenous understandings of the human person and the person's destiny after death.

The songs also indicate that Christianized Africans have embraced Christian eschatological ideas of heaven and hell and even a postmortem judgment. Thus, while Africans continue to see death as a "saying yes" to God's summons, this summons is a prelude to God's judgment, which determines one's final postmortem destiny in heaven or hell. Thus, as another song reminds the listener, the issue that one should worry about is not death itself, since death is inevitable. The issue of concern is whether at death one will be in a state of readiness to meet God in the final judgment (Kikuyu Catholic Hymnal, 1992, hymn 100).

Simultaneously, however, while many seem to have embraced these Christianized notions of the afterlife, there is evidence, even among Christianized Africans, of a marked resistance to the seeming demonization of African beliefs, particularly beliefs in ancestors. Many Christians, albeit in camouflaged or covert ways, continue to honor and remember their dead through ritual in spite of the formal doctrinal ban. The traditional rituals of reinstating the dead into the world of the living, for example, seem to reappear camouflaged in the quite prevalent Christian rituals of "unveiling the tombstone" or "unveiling the cross." Such rituals, usually performed a year after death and burial, are reminiscent of Kurova Guva, Ukubuyisa, or Duogo rituals mentioned earlier. In Catholic circles, Christianized Africans also ritually connect with deceased family members through requesting a Mass for the dead, a doctrinally legitimate practice. This is reminiscent of rituals of communion with the deceased through shared meals and libations. Such Masses for the dead are routinely "bought," particularly around November 2, the Feast of All Souls in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Recently, recognizing that rituals to honor the dead are carried out despite the ban, and conceding that ancestors hold a key position in African traditional religions the Catholic Synod of African Bishops recommended that attempts be made to harmonize African beliefs in ancestors with Christian beliefs regarding saints (Schotte, 1992, p. 55). This recommendation finds significant support in the thought of a growing number of African theologians such as Jean Marc Ela, a Cameroonian priest, who find the demotion and demonization of African beliefs problematic. Such theologians assert the compatibility of African beliefs with Christian ones if only the latter can shed their Western garb and be clothed afresh in terms of African culture, a process called "inculturation." In this discourse of "inculturation theology" ancestors still emerge as moral exemplars, and instead of Jesus dismantling the ancestors, he is portrayed in this theology as the "ancestor par excellence."

These theologians also argue that beyond the question of the status of ancestors in the hereafter, the ban on African beliefs in ancestors has far reaching implications in the here and now. As Ela, for example, argues in his book My Faith as An African (1990), ancestral veneration is simultaneously an affirmation about life after death but also an affirmation of African notions of family, which includes the living, the dead, as well as the not yet born. Doctrinally, to ban ancestral veneration, then, is to demand that Africans abandon this quite viable notion of family (Ela, 1990, p. 17). Furthermore, the ban is seemingly based on Christian notions of afterlife that define salvation as a matter of the individual's disembodied soul getting to an "otherworldly heaven." These individualistic, otherworldly, and disembodied notions of salvation seem contrary to the indigenous sensibilities that focus on "embodied" and "corporate" destiny of the person both in this life and beyond.

For this reason, and in view of the many negative social ramifications of radical individualism in Africa, Ela claims that a reclamation of African beliefs in ancestors is simultaneously a reclamation of the more viable African notion of human destiny, which focus on interconnectedness and interdependence between the individual and the community. For Ela, such a reclamation is not only doctrinally valid and acceptable but would serve as one possible antidote to "this worldly" problems that thrive on radical individualism (Ela, 1990, pp. 24ff).

It would seem, then, that contemporary debates about the afterlife in Africa are simultaneously discussions about this world and this life. It would seem also that the emphasis by Africans on a this-worldly and corporate approach to salvation resonates significantly with the prior key affirmations about God and the world in the African worldview. As we recall, Africans believe that the destiny of the individual and the community are interdependent, interconnected, and intertwined. Africans also believe in a universe that is in process of formation and transformation, and therefore life means being involved in a process of becoming, together. Moreover, in the African view, to be is to participate in an ongoing dance of life propelled by God's creative and sustaining power. This dance is only interrupted, not ended, by physical death. In the African worldview, then, notions about the "afterlife" and notions of "this life" complement and flow into one another.

Bibliography

Cox, James, ed. Rites of Passage in Contemporary Africa: Interaction Between Christian and African Traditional Religions. Cardiff, 1998. The essays discuss the contested interface between African religions and Christianity regarding rites of passage. Dennis M'passou writes on "The Continuing Tension Between Christianity and Rites of Passage in Swaziland," Paul Gundani explores "The Roman Catholic Church and the Kurova Guva Ritual in Zimbabwe," and Jude Ongonga writes on "The River-Lake Luo Phenomenon of Death." All these essays challenge the view that African beliefs including those regarding the afterlife are incompatible with Christianity. Gundani and Ongonga also discuss, respectively, the rituals of Kurova Guva and Duogo, which are rituals of reintegrating the deceased and confirming their status as ancestors or the living dead.

Ela, Jean Marc. My Faith as An African. Maryknoll, N.Y., 1990. Drawing largely on his experiences as an African Catholic priest, Ela asserts the compatibility of African beliefs with Christianity and argues for their reclamation as both doctrinally viable and socially relevant for Africans' quest for beliefs and practices that enhance and nurture life in the here and now.

Idowu, Bolaji. Olódùmarè: God in Yoruba Belief. Wazobia, N.Y., 1994. This is primarily an account of Yoruba notions of God. In chapters 13 and 14 Idowu discusses Yoruba notions of human nature and definition of the person. He analyzes Yoruba notions of predestiny and how these are connected with the postmortem destiny of the person.

Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya. New York, 1965. A monograph on the beliefs and cultural system of the Agikuyu of Kenya. Chapter 10 focuses on Gikuyu religious beliefs and highlights the place of ancestors (ngoma ) in this system. Kenyatta distinguishes between the worship of Ngai (God) and the veneration of ancestors who he portrays as mediators between God and the living.

Magesa, Laurenti. African Religions: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life. Maryknoll, N.Y., 1997. Discusses indigenous African religions as ethical systems and links belief in and veneration of ancestors to these systems. Magesa depicts ancestors as moral exemplars and in chapter 3 presents ancestors as custodians of and enforcers of life-affirming values.

Mbiti, John. African Religions and Philosophy. Portsmouth, N.H., 1969. Drawing examples from across the continent, Mbiti offers a systematic account of African beliefs. In chapter 8 he discusses the African notions of personal immortality and the status of the living dead, while in chapter 14 he discusses African ideas of death and the hereafter and offers an exegesis of sample funeral rituals. In chapter 3, Mbiti proposes the controversial idea that African eschatological notions are insufficiently developed because Africans lack a future dimension of time, a gap which he suggests is appropriately filled by Christianity with its eschatalogy of heaven, hell, a resurrection, and a final judgement at the end of time.

Mosha, Sambuli. The Heartbeat of Indigenous Africa. New York, 2000. A study of indigenous education system of the Chagga from Tanzania. Mosha contextualizes this education within the African theistic worldview with its emphasis on wholeness and interconnectedness of life as well its unfolding nature. Given this worldview, Africans see the hereafter as intimately linked with the here and now.

Mugambi, Jesse, and J. B. Ojwang, eds. The SM Otieno Case: Death and Burial in Modern Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya, 1989. This anthology of essays discusses and contextualizes the famous 1987 controversial case regarding the burial of SM Otieno, a Kenyan Luo. The essays analyze the legal ramifications of the case as well as religio-cultural and historical roots of the controversy and suggest that the controversy was symptomatic of the seeming clash between Western and indigenous African (specifically Luo) views regarding life, death, and the hereafter.

Murphy, Joseph. Santería: An African Religion in America. Boston, 1988. Murphy discusses the continuity of Yoruba religion in America, specifically in Cuba, discussing, inter alia, Yoruba notions about God and how these are linked with concepts of the person. He also contextualizes Santería culturally and historically and suggests that Santeria is both a reconstruction of Yoruba beliefs as well as a creative response of accommodation and resistance to mental enslavement. Santería emerges as a thinly veiled reconstruction of Yoruba ancestor veneration as well as the devotion to the Yoruba divinities (orisha ) who are now referred to with names of saints from the Christian repertoire of the memorable dead (hence the name Santería ).

P'bitek, Okot'. Religion of the Central Luo. Nairobi, Kenya, 1971. Discusses in detail the belief system of the Acholi of Uganda. P'bitek notes that the Acholi approach the dead as identifiable persons rather than mere disembodied spirits (cwiny ) or shadows (tipo ).

Oosthuizen, G. C., and Irving Hexham, eds. Empirical Studies of African Independent/Indigenous Churches. Lewiston, N.Y., 1992. This anthology of essays analyzes African independent churches, their histories and theologies. One pertinent essay by D. M. Hostetter is entitled "Disarming the Emandloti: the Ancestors," and notes how, in Christian discourse, the ancestors are subordinated to Jesus who is said to disempower them. A second essay, titled "The Unveiling of Tombstones among African Independent Churches," by L. L. Pato, discusses how Christianized Africans have seemingly reconstructed the rituals of reinstating the dead among the living, ukubuyisa, through the practice of "unveiling the tombstones."

Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual and Community. New York, 1976. This is a monograph on African belief systems. Ray discusses inter alia myths of "paradise lost" and the loss of "immortality."

Schotte, Jan P., ed. African Synod: Instrumentum Laboris. Nairobi, Kenya, 1992. This constitutes the working documents (instrumentum laboris ) for a 1994 synod of Catholic Bishops to rethink the Christian message and mission in the African context. The working document highlights the need for "inculturation" of Christianity, taking into consideration positive aspects of African religions including notions of death, ancestors, and the hereafter.

Teresia Mbari Hinga (2005)

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