In this unit you will be studying about the core of the African Traditional Religion which is the worship and the sacrificial system. Worship plays a significant role in the social life of the Africans.
Worship is seen as a total response to God and it is expressed in words and action in the forms of rites and ceremonies. In this unit, you will be studying the various forms of worship and what are used in the worship as well as the various forms of sacrifices in African religion.
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
- define worship
- discuss the various forms of worship
- define sacrifice
- explain the various types of sacrifice
- analyze the role of worship in African religion
- analyze the role of sacrifice in African religion.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
According to Microsoft Encarta Premium, worship means to treat somebody or something as deity: to treat somebody or something as divine and show respect by engaging in acts of prayer and devotion. Worship is an expression of man’s attitude towards God and other spiritual beings. It is also an act of communication and communion between man and the supernatural world. It is a means of retaining God-man relationship and the channel through which an upset of the balance of such relationship is rectified and restored.
As it had been stated earlier, since religion permeates all of life in Africa, it is believed that there has to be a balance at all times in the relationship between God and humanity; the spirits and humanity and the departed and the living. The effect of any misbalance in the African thought leads to misfortunes and sufferings of all kinds. Worship and offering of sacrifices is therefore a psychological device to ensure the restoration of this balance. Worship and sacrifices are done mostly in the temples, grooves and shrines and they can be daily, weekly, occasional and annual.
3.2 Types of Worship
Daily Worship Daily worship is usually done before the tutelary divinities in the family compounds. The head of the family stands here as the worshipper committing the entire family and the affairs of the day to the spirits and the ancestors. It is usually not an elaborate worship. It consists of the offering of cold water, kola nut and bitter-kola to the divinities and the ancestors. After these are offered, the family head invokes blessings upon the family members. A lobe or two of the kola nut is placed in the shrine after the completion of the morning prayers. The other lobes are shared out between the family members so that they can partake of the worship.
The priests too in their family houses also perform daily worship of the divinity on behalf of themselves, their families and the whole community by extension. It is usually also not elaborate and consists of the presentation of kola nuts and invocation of blessings.
During the worship, prayer is offered on behalf of worshippers of the divinity for life, health and protection from their enemies’ attack. It often involves an offering of kola nuts and other favourite items of the divinity. The weekly worship is usually concluded with songs rendered in the praise of the divinity.
Annual Worship The annual worship is the most elaborate of all the worships as almost all the community and the neighbouring communities would want to partake. During this annual worship priests and priestesses from other communities would be invited to partake in the worship. The annual worship usually takes place in the central shrine of the divinity and special arrangements are made depending on the need of the occasion. It is usually an occasion of rejoicing, thanksgiving and renewal of covenant. Worshippers would come to show their gratitude for the blessings they have received from the divinity in the past year and call for guidance in the New Year. You have to note that there are certain festivals that are tied to the harvest period and must precede the eating or even buying and selling of particular produce. For example, in some communities the new yam cannot be found in the market or eaten in private without the celebration of the major divinity of the community.
By definition, liturgy is the form and arrangement of public worship laid down by a church or religion. It is the prescribed form of rituals for public worship. It is a means of communication with God within the context of worship. In African traditional religion liturgy is made up of elements like: libation, invocation, offering, prayers and songs.
Libation:Libation is the act of pouring out of a liquid such as water, wine or oil, as a sacrifice to God, the divinities or in honour of a dead person. While the libation is being poured, the officiating priest also pours out the people’s requests to God or the divinity in prayer. In most cases, water is used in libation but other items like palm-wine, spirits or liquor can be used depending on the occasion and the divinity. The importance of libation lies in the belief that since the liquor softens the ground, it symbolically opens the way to the presence of the divine powers. Thus
in the process of worship, the family head can pour libation to the ancestral spirits on behalf of the family to sanction the demands of the family members. Libation is also poured during other social activities like marriage, naming, laying of the foundation of a new house and the opening of a new house.
Invocation;Invocation is calling upon a greater power such as God or divinities or spirits for help or just to seek their presence. In African Traditional Religion the worshipper calls upon God or the divinities. It is usually done while libation is being poured out. The worshipper addresses God or the divinity as the case may be inviting God or the divinity to attend and accept their worship. This is sometimes accompanied by the sounding of a gong or a rattle to create a moment of silence whereby divine or supernatural presence could be felt. The sounding of the gong is also followed by the calling of the names, appellations and praise names of God or the divinity. After this the purpose of the gathering is stated and the supernatural is asked to come and be part of them. After this, the kola nut is split into its lobes and the priest casts them to determine whether the worship has been rejected or accepted.
Offering involves the presentation of foodstuffs and other items except animals. Offerings are usually directed to God, the spirits and the ancestors. As the items are offered, the officiating priest invokes the recipients of the offering to come and accept the offering. The acceptability of offering is later determined by the priest through the casting of the lobes of the kola nut on the ground. If the offering has been accepted, part of the kola nut is laid on the shrine and the rest is shared between the priest and the worshippers that are present.
This is the most common act of worship in African Traditional Religion. Through prayers, the worshippers are able to communicate either directly or indirectly with God, the divinities and the ancestors. It is often said that prayers, like the making of sacrifices and offerings are at the heart of African religious life. Consequently, you can see people praying almost every time in every place. There are prayers of thanksgiving in which people give gratitude to God; supplications in which people ask for material blessings; prayers of protection in which people ask for protection against sickness and death, victory over enemies and long life; and prayers of dedication in which belongings and children are dedicated to God. Though people often pray directly to God, it is important to note that it is the priest that does community prayer because it will involve using the various liturgical names and attributes of God or the divinities during such prayers.
Songs find an important place in the traditional worship among Africans. The songs are used more in communal worship and each divinity usually has its own sets of songs and music that are connected with its cult. Songs are sung as the occasion demands. For example, some are used only during the sacred day worship; others are reserved for the annual worship while some are for crisis period or funeral time. When the order of worship is strictly followed there are points in which
songs are rendered. At these points the song is led by the officiating priest or one of his attendants and later the whole congregation joins in. The songs vary depending on what is to be done next on the programme.
When used in worship songs confirm the faith of the worshippers, their belief in and about the divinity as well as their assurances and hopes in the future life. The songs also enhance emotional and physical participation in the act of worship which some of the time leads to ecstatic experiences that often results to prophetic utterances from the divinity through the human medium.
Sacrifices play an essential role in African Traditional Religion as it is of every religion in the world. It is inconceivable in the African mind to have a religion without a system of sacrifice. Sacrifice is the act of offering the life of animal or a human being to the divine power or powers. It is also seen as a means of communion between humanity and God. It is the highest means of establishing and maintaining relationship between human beings and God on the one hand and the divinity on the other hand. It can also be said to be the most effective means through
which humanity can influence the divinities or other supernatural powers that may be interested in the affairs of this world. What is offered however and the manner of offering it depends on the nature of the cult, the occasion of the sacrifice and the injunctions given by the receiver of the sacrifice through the priest.Unlike some other religions where sacrifices can be total burnt offering to God or the deity, in African religion sacrifices are usually shared by both the receiver and the worshippers. This is done by placing part belonging to the receiver on the shrine and the rest is eaten by the worshippers. The following are the different categories of sacrifices in African religion:
The Votive Offering
In this type of sacrifice, the worshippers go before the divinity as supplicants to ask for favours. This may include blessings, money and material things as well as gifts of children. In the process the supplicant makes a vow of something to be given to the divinity for the favour received. The vow will dictate the items of the offering. Like the thanks-offering, the sacrifice is made in the midst of dancing and singing and merrymaking, eating and drinking.
The Propitiation or Expiation Sacrifice
This is a kind of sacrifice that looks more of an atonement sacrifice. It is aimed at lessening the wrath of the divinity through the process of self-humiliation. It is usually offered when there is crisis signified by low or no harvest, protracted illness, famine, sudden death, outbreak of plagues or epidemics and diseases. During the process of the sacrifice efforts are made to locate the cause of the trouble and the best means of removing the trouble. It will also include how to calm the wrath of the divinities or the spirits responsible for the calamity and win back their favour. Through this sacrifice the worshipper can also express regret for past wrongs and mistakes and ask for forgiveness. It is usually held that after the sacrifice have been performed the worshippers or the one that has made the sacrifice have been transformed from the state of defilement to that of purity.
The Foundation Sacrifice
The Preventive Sacrifice
As the name implies, this sacrifice is expected to prevent impending disaster or calamity. It is a means through which the one who offers it expect protection against enemies or the protection of the whole community from disaster. It is believed that as a sacrifice can remove evil and calamity so also it can prevent evil or misfortune from occurring. It has to be noted that most of the time this sacrifice is done through the instruction of the divinity from the oracle.
The Substitution Sacrifice
This is a sacrifice that is expected to take the place of another person whose life is being threatened or is about to be terminated. The sacrifice is done on behalf of the person even if the person may not be able to perform the sacrifice himself. The sacrificial victim involved and other items of the sacrifice are usually rubbed on the body of the person and they are treated like a corpse and buried as if the person has actually being buried. The animals commonly used for this sacrifice are sheep, cows and oxen.
The Meal and Drink Offerings
This is the most common type of sacrifice and it takes place almost everyday at the household shrines, sacred days and communal shrines. In this sacrifice, any type of food item can be offered and in most cases, the kind of food offered is what the people eat at home. To offer this sacrifice, the leader first pours libation after which the meal is offered to the divinities or the ancestors. The rest of the food is then shared among the worshippers as a sacramental feast through which they enter into communion with the divinity.
There are various forms of worship in the African Traditional Religion. This is led by the family head at the level of the family and the priest of the divinity at the level of the community. It includes libation, invocation, offering, prayers and songs. Sacrifice on the other hand is the act of offering of the life of an animal or human being as the case may be to the divine powers. Sacrifices are also various including thanksgiving, votive and foundation offering among others.
The following are the major points you have learnt in this unit:
- In African Traditional Religion, worship is an expression of man’s attitude towards God and the spiritual beings.
- Worship in African Traditional Religion can be daily, weekly, annual and occasional.
- Liturgy is the form and arrangement of public worship.
- In African Traditional Religion liturgy includes libation, invocation, offering, prayers and songs.
- Sacrifice is the act of offering the life of an animal or a human being as the case may be to the divine powers.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
Discuss the various types of sacrifice in African Traditional religion.