Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden

Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden

Author:Richard Dowden [Dowden, Richard]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi, azw3
ISBN: 9781846273148
Publisher: Granta Publications
Published: 2014-01-01T16:00:00+00:00

Laye talks of yesterday, but such beliefs are prevalent today and are now being absorbed by the evangelical Churches who find plenty of stories from the Old and New Testaments to match these beliefs. So laying on hands, casting out devils, speaking in tongues and hearing the voice of God talking directly to people are used to subdue or placate the traditional spirits that still possess people and cause pain and suffering. Nowadays this is done in the name of Christ, and some pastors demand substantial fees for their ministry.

In many cases such ‘pastors’ are crooks exploiting the vulnerability of societies under great strain. Seeking answers from the spiritual world sometimes results in terrible consequences. In Angola and Congo there has been a spate of ‘child witches’: difficult children or children who have been brought into a new family from a previous relationship. They are often accused of witchcraft or of being possessed by devils that bring evil on the family. Unscrupulous ‘pastors’ charge fees to drive the devils out, often by stigmatizing the child or inflicting horrifically painful treatment. In South Africa witch doctors are believed to be able to smell out witches, and there has been a number of witch burnings as a result.

Given the prevalence of traditional religion, it is strange that few prominent Africans identify with it in public. How different from Japan where Shintoism – in many ways similar to aspects of African religions – is widely practised. In Japan respect for the ancestors is expressed by millions of Japanese visitors to ancient temples to salute the ancestors. Many Japanese proudly display in their homes the souvenirs of the holy shrines they have visited. Tourism? Partly. Busloads of Japanese descend on the famous shrines and take photographs of each other. But they also come to stand before the temple gate and bow and clap their hands together, and make an offering of a few coins as tradition demands. In Africa religion may be central to beliefs but its leaders and rituals still remain in the background. Only in South Africa are there shops in the high streets selling Muti, traditional medicine, and only in South Africa does a traditional Sangoma – priest – take his place at state functions along with Christian archbishops, Islamic mullahs and the Chief Rabbi.

Africa’s spiritual feel for the world gives it great strength – the feeling that the ancestors will always be with you, their spirit reborn with each new child in the family. It helps people to live in harmony with the world around them, welcome visitors and strangers. It makes the individual part of a universal spirit. That numinous feel for the world has given us the extraordinary writings of authors like Wole Soyinka and Ben Okri. But a belief that the power of spirits is greater than physical reality can be used for all sorts of ends. While it creates a majestic acceptance of fate, it can also mean that people do not have to take personal responsibility for their actions.


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