There’s a religious paradox in the African Diaspora. While evangelical Catholicism and Protestantism are the fastest growing faiths on the Motherland, African indigenous faiths are growing among African descendants in the Americas. Professor Molefi Asante said that more and more African Americans are turning to the Yoruba faith.
This was one of the messages shared during the “Akan and Yoruba: Two Denominations of African Religion” lecture given at the MKA Institute on Feb. 27. An interfaith crowd of Christians, Muslims and those who practice indigenous faiths gathered for the two-hour slideshow presentation followed by a lively question and answer session.
“I decided to come because I wanted to know more about African religious thought,” said Clayton Salter of Northwest Philadelphia. “I feel it is important to be educated especially about religions like Akan and Yoruba. Before hearing this I knew nothing about their concepts.
“It is positive to have some understanding of what others believe. As a Christian I already understand the things that I believe. Now I have something to compare that with,” Salter said.
Asante showed on the African map the West African regions that practiced Yoruba. This included major portions of Nigeria and portions of adjacent countries. He also showed that the Akan people generally came from Ghana. He said that his research shows that while the Yoruba likely originally migrated west from East and North Africa, the Akan have their original origins from West Africa.
The term Yoruba, like Jew, collectively describes the people from a particular location, their cultural identity and one’s religion, according to Asante. “I know now many people will say they are a secular Jew, but there is no such concept in Africa where you separate your culture from your religion,” Asante said
One misnomer about African religion that Asante dispelled is that Africans believe in many gods. Asante stressed that this was not the case. He pointed to the creator and one God of the Yoruba has the name Olodumare. The Akan and other indigenous African religions all have that one God. Asante pointed out that while there is one God who created the earth and humans, generally he is a lofty being not involved in one’s day-to-day life.
The daily guidance, assistance and protection is given by the ancestors. For the Akan people these are the ancestors along one’s maternal line. The Yoruba look to all ancestors. So, the African context is to look at one’s deceased extended lineage for wisdom, guidance and assistance. “We must not try to put this in the Christian contexts of saying that the orishas are angels. Just know that there is no personal relationship with God, but there is with the ancestors,” Asante said.
Asante said that he gave a similar lecture at a Seventh Day Adventist Church last weekend. The church had invited him to speak about African religions for their Black History Month program.
“Yoruba is the fastest growing phenomenon in the Americas while evangelical Christianity is the fastest growing phenomenon in Africa. So even the Seventh Day Adventists were interested in learning about Akan and Yoruba,” Asante said.
Christopher Jones of Germantown is studying indigenous faith. He is among those who is considering converting to a Yoruba faith. “We, young people, just want something that we can relate to. We like that idea of kinship that the Yoruba faith embodies,” Jones said.