Can Religion and African Traditional Practices Co-exist?

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I grew up in a semi-strict Catholic household. We went to mass every Sunday, Sunday school was a must and I knew all my prayers off by heart from a very young age.

I enjoyed everything about by childhood parish: the priest, my Sunday school teacher, the thrill of preparing for my First Holy Communion and the after-church cake sales! I was always enthusiastic about going to church, but it was more a social thrill rather than a spiritual one (well, in all fairness, I was only a kid).

After my parents’ sudden passing and I found myself in a country that was somewhat new to me, I began to appreciate religion even more. I found relief in participating in the day to day parish activities. This helped shield me from the dark realities of my life at the time.

However, when I reached my twenties, the dynamic began to change. I gradually went from being very religious, to more spiritual. The difference between religion and spirituality become more apparent to me, and the more I read, the more I began to question certain religious practices and their effects on maintaining my African identity.

In my understanding, pre-colonial African communities were spiritual and not religious; hence, one of the biggest dilemmas I struggled with was the co-existence of religion and African traditional practices in post-colonial Africa.

In my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, religion plays a big role in the everyday lives of the people. Christianity being the dominant religion, there are virtually revival churches everywhere you turn. The question is, can religious practices and African traditional practices co-exist without the one comprising the other?

In my opinion, it can be very difficult to adhere to the two without having to make a few comprises here and there. This gives way to the question of religion versus spirituality.

To me, being spiritual does not hinder my connection to my African traditional beliefs and identity; but being religious somewhat does in certain cases. One may argue that religion and tradition cannot be compared to each other; but I beg to differ. Because they are both man-made, there is without a doubt room for confusion and overlapping.

I can go on and on and debate about how religion arrived to the continent and in which circumstances, but that remains a long debate for another day. For now, my wish is to understand who the African man was before the arrival of the first European missionaries.

Were my forefathers bound to religious practices of their own, or were they directed by spirituality and the guidance of their ancestors? What does that mean for me, a young adult living in post-colonial Africa and unfortunately not being aware of the deepest aspects of my roots? Sadly, this remains a question for the ages.

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