African Traditional Religions

African traditional religions are difficult to research, as there is an absence of scriptures or the written word. These oldest religions of the world,have had their history and traditions handed down orally and preserved in the culture and religious artifacts of the African people.

It is most difficult to properly understand a religion if you do not know it’s history. If the meanings of present religious practices are hidden in history too long, they cannot be be present in the individual and collective memory of today’s believer. Thus these religions are continually evolving.

It is accepted, that it is difficult to exam these religions from outside as it takes interaction with the people to understand their beliefs.

The three essential features of African traditional religions are belief, worship and morality.


In the African traditional religions, the main beliefs are, God, the divinities, spirits and ancestors. The belief in God as a supreme being is central to all the traditional religions but there are a few where this is not so.

Next to God are the divinities which are spiritual beings who owe their origin to and are dependent on God and are messengers of God. The divinities although recognized as being demanding are considered as good and just.

There is also a class of innumerable spiritual beings who may be good, mischievous or evil. Some are the spirits of people who have died but perpetrated some evil deed in their lives.

There is also a belief that the spirits of witches and wizards are able to leave their bodies and inhabit lower animals in order to harm other people.

It is also believed that there are good spirits known as “living-dead” who are members of the family who have passed and now live in a state that allows them a special relationship with God, the divinities and good spirits. They protect the family from harm as they have power over the evil spirits.


Only God and the divinities are worshiped through sacrifices, offerings, prayers, invocation, praises, music and dance. There are an abundance of temples, shrines, altars and groves used for private and public worship.

Sometimes special trees, rivers, forests and mountains are considered sacred and are used as places of worship. God is worshipped at the location not the location.

The veneration of ancestors is not to be confused with the worship of God. This veneration takes the form of libations, offerings and prayers.


Human conduct is most important within African traditional religions and the belief in God implies a certain type of conduct. Conduct that respects that established by God and watched over by the divinities and the ancestors.

Those who practice this religion have a sacred reverence for life as it is believed to be God’s greatest gift to man.

Living in harmony within a community is a moral obligation ordained by God for the promotion of life. Religion provides the basis for community and not only is a religious need but a religious obligation.

Folk Religions

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