By: John Lanchina Seidu (2012 CABC Alumni)
African Traditional Religion has bewitched the people of Africa. It has no written guide or records for its practices, yet it has similar practices throughout the entire continent of Africa. Some things may vary from place to place, yet you will always find some common pagan beliefs in several countries across African territory.
One of the most common beliefs and practices that I see in the area that I come from (Ghana, West Africa) is the belief of Reincarnation. New born babies are being named after a late family elder, and this child is believed to be this old family member that was alive, died, and has now come back. The child is given the name of this past elder, and he is respected though a little baby, because he is believed to be a reincarnated family member.
The child is told not to eat certain foods that were not eaten by this family elder. He is given some marks at birth, so that wherever he goes, he will be recognized as a reincarnated being. The possibility of this child being pampered is large. He is treated according to his pleasures, and rarely will parents deny his requests because of the belief they have over him.
II. The Issue of Reincarnation
Reincarnation is defined as “the process by which the dead return to the historical world and live in the normal bodily form” The doctrine of reincarnation is often referred to as the transmigration of souls, or rebirth. This belief has been held in various cultures in Africa and around the world, including the ancient Greeks, as well as many eastern religions and philosophies such as Jainists, Buddhist, Hindus, and Sikhs.
There are a lot of different ideas on reincarnation in Africa depending on particular cultures. Among the Waala in Ghana, reincarnated children are referred to as “Leuwaa” which means second adventor. They came back either to continue life in order to protect their family, or to come and fulfill an unfulfilled life. It is amazing to see that parents and grandparents question such children or babies in a polite, and compassionate manner when they are crying, because they believe the crying baby has probably seen an impending evil that is coming on one of the family members.
Although the belief that rebirth occurs immediately after death is prevalent, it does not point to the period in which this can occur. My concern here is to find out the truths in these things and the rationale behind them.
In African Traditional Religion people worship unknown gods. The divinities worshiped are generally in two categories; the supreme deity, and the subordinate deity. The supreme deity comes first, and then follow other deities like spirits, and other reincarnated beings.
In West Africa, it is believed that traditional groups are served by these spirits, but the people are served in accordance to the interest of the gods and other spirits. This clearly tells us that African Traditional Religion only dictates to its worshipers, and exercises authority on them if they keep obedience and worship to these gods. But whatever they give worship to, has no roots in their lives. It is more like slavery than worship. It is also a reminder that there is no order in the religion, and every one conducts his worship to the gods based on the issues of his community and what he expects. Others worship because their fathers and grandfathers did it too and since they are here no more, it is time for them to take over. Their perceptions and claims on these gods and upon whatever request was fulfilled in their lives and in the community, gives the gods the authority and credit to reign in the lives of these people. If one decides to leave his traditional beliefs today, the gods have no power to maneuver his life.
New born babies therefore can always be given names that have no traditional implication, and no god can question why you did not name the child after a member of the family. The truth is that nobody is coming back to life as the African Traditionalist claims. It is that we give respect and obedience to spirits and things that we have made; we can leave them if we wish, because in real sense they offer no protection for those who believe in them. People believed in them because they did not know the true God and as a result found their own pagan religion.
In this religion, many African traditionalist believe that physical death was not the original plan of their deity, but sin came when man missed his privileged choice of immortality as a result of a delay on the part of the messengers (tortoise, dog, lizard cat and others) who were sent to verify from man his favorite choice of living forever, but the result of their delay made man subject to death.
African Traditional Religion does not hold to death as the end of life, but that life is a cycle in which man “changes from one form of existence to another.” There is no total separation from their family members in their society. It is believed that when a man lived to an old age with his prospered children, he has achieved a good life and therefore joins his ancestors at death undergoing the process of death, meaning he comes back to life and dies again making life unlimited until God permits the person to live forever.
III. What Does the Bible Say?
In the Bible there is no such thing as reincarnation. The Bible made it so clear that “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The Bible does teach resurrection, which is the raising of the dead in Christ to eternal life (John 11:25). Christ, Lazarus, the widow’s son all died and came back to life, but were not reborn as African Traditional Religion Teaches. Also note that all these people came in the very physical form in which they were known and not as a different human being.
People named their children after others in the Bible, but it never meant it was their ancestors coming back to life. Children are named by their parents with the hope that their child that is born will follow the good spiritual life of the person they are named after. Parents may have also named their child after someone because they might have lived with the person when the baby was conceived, or, at some other time in their life. The name Emmanuel, which means “God with us” was given to Jesus, (Isa.7:14; Matt. 1:23). If someone is named Emmanuel, it does not mean that Jesus has come back taking another person’s body.
Samuel was named in the Bible because of the unique circumstances his mother faced (1 Sam. 1:20). He was thus named to reflect her promises to the Lord, and the blessing He had given her. Many names like this exist in the Bible; it does not mean that those people bearing such names are reincarnated beings. Those who were first named that lived good enough lives to be emulated make people desire their situation to be like them, therefore, they name others after the first bearers.
Also note that the naming system has positive and negative effects. If the person you are named after did not live right in a particular area, you may sometimes be tempted to compromise with the evil that the original name bearer committed. Others will always say “no wonder you are called so, and so.” They may critically take pride in it. On the other hand, if a child is named after a good person who has an outstanding testimony, his parents will always challenge their ward to reflect upon the name he is bearing, and correct his or her moral problem. No wonder we don’t hear people being called Cain or Jezebel. So your child’s name depicts someone’s character, and your child is bound to their example.
The naming system in African Tradition Religion is very different. Though some African cultures share some similarities with the Scriptures, yet those cultures have a misapplication of what the Scriptures intended. As a result, innocent children are misled, and their lives destroyed. Most of these children are dedicated to gods, and shrines that cannot help them. They are deprived from their precious joyous Christian life. There is therefore a great need for African preachers to rise to the occasion and fight all these deceptions and help set our people free from the bondage of the Devil, instead of watching them die in darkness.
In conclusion the practices of African Traditional Religion cannot be followed through reading a book because it has no religious record. Reincarnation, as African Traditionalists claim, is not real. The Bible does not teach reincarnation and there has never been a reincarnated being even in Africa. We could name our children after some family members just to remember them but it should not be believed that that family member is the new child we are seeing. You may name your children after good people, but pray that they grow to live good lives.
Denis Isizoh, “African Traditional Religious Perspective of Areopagus Speech.” Article posted 15 April 2011 at http://www.afrkaworld.net/afrel.areopagus, p. 15.
Jainists: A religious group originated in India around the sixth century B.C. They teach the liberation of the soul by right knowledge, right faith, and right conduct.
Buddhist: A religious group of people from eastern and central Asia growing out of the teaching of Gautama Buddha. This religion teaches that suffering is inherent in life and one can be liberated from it by mental and moral self-purification.
Hinduism: The dominant religion of India that teaches ritual and social observances and often mystical contemplation and ascetic practices.
Sikhs: This is a monotheistic religion of India founded around 1500 A.D. by Guru Nanak and marked by rejection of idolatry and caste.
Resurrection: Raising to life after death (Matt. 22:23). God rising the dead in Christ to eternal life (Rom. 6:4-9).