Continuities and Changes of Religions in Sub-Saharan Africa

7 July 2016

“Listen more often the Things Beings, Voice of Fire means, Hear the Voice of Water. Listen to the Wind Le Buisson into tears: It is the breath of the ancestors. ” This excerpt comes from Senegalese Birago Diop’s poem “Souffles” which shows ancestor worship in Sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout history, Sub-Saharan Africa experienced multi-religious changes throughout 500 BCE – 1750 AD, beginning with animism, polytheism, and anthropomorphic worship of a god; however they were affected by globalization in which other religions, such as Christianity and Islam, vastly changed their beliefs and practices.

As far back as historians date in 500 BCE, Sub-Saharan Africa had polytheistic religions such as animism, voodoo, and ancestry worship. During this Paleolithic Era, humans were hunter-gatherers and lived in tribes, traveling from place to place. The tribes believed in a supreme being as the highest power and had a polytheistic mindset. One of the religions they believed was animism, which British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Taylor believed was the most primitive and essential form of religion. It suggests that non-human entities are spiritual beings.

Continuities and Changes of Religions in Sub-Saharan Africa Essay Example

Another example of their polytheistic views is worshipping forces of nature, as if it were a god. Polytheism continued across tribal Africa until 500 AD when monotheism, such as Christianity and Islam, traveled south from Eurasia into Africa due to trade and globalization. By 500 AD, exchanges and trade between Eurasia and Africa began, in which the merchants and trade networks spread their two dominant religions, Islam and Christianity, extensively. Muhammad started the Islamic faith when he proclaimed he was the prophet of Allah after having a spiritual realization.

Since Muhammad was once a merchant, Muslims thought highly of the merchant class and held many way stations for them. As Islam grew into an empire, it highly affected Africa by creating urban centers that appealed to the scholars, which started to urbanize the tribal areas of Africa. The cities and elite were extremely interested, and they had begun to develop financial benefits from the trades. Christianity also had an interesting interaction with Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia was 80% Christian and had a fascination with Judaism in the second wave civilization.

They had the most Christian land of Africa due to the isolated location on the eastern tip of Africa. During this time, hunter-gathering tribes still existed, and many of them still believed in animism and polytheism. Although, when Europeans had found the Americas, they took over and used the Natives as slaves before they died out due to diseases. Due to this immense depletion of people, the European’s obtained more slaves from the southwest coast of Africa, in which spreading the Christian religion amongst the Americas and Africa.

By the 1450’s, globalization had made its biggest jump in history by connecting four continents together. Throughout 1450 to 1750 AD, Christianity and Islam took a large new role on Sub-Saharan Africa. By this time, Africa was mainly monotheistic instead of polytheistic like it was 1,000 years ago, however, polytheism continued in the uncivilized, hunter-gathering tribes. Islam affected the east coast of Africa while Christianity affected the west. Also the trade between Africa and Europe aided the spike in Christianity that you see today.

The choices people made, and the locations where religions began, directly affected the parts of Sub-Saharan Africa’s religions. It started with the polytheistic views of hunter-gathers from 500 BC to 500 AD, which then flipped in 500 AD – 1750 AD to monotheistic views of Christianity and Islam. Today, there are many Christian churches and schools in Africa, and many people take mission trips to continue spreading it. Muslims are also still seen on the more eastern and northern sides of Africa, which proves history. Without these movements of trade, religion would not be the way it is today.

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