Working Session on African Traditional Religions:  the Way Forward

Cinquième journée de la session de travail sur les religions traditionnelles africaines au Centre Kungoni, Malawi

From left to right : Mathew W. Banseh (Centre for Social Concern (CfSC)), Bernhard Udelhoven (Lumimba parish) Zambia, Ignatius Anipu (Institut de Formation Islamo-Chrétienne (IFIC)) Mali, Philip Meraba (Faith and Encounter Centre, Zambia (FENZA)) Zambia, Anselme K.A. Tarpaga (Assistant General) Rome, Prosper Harelimana, Rome, Brendan O’Shea (Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art, Malawi), Malawi, Bruno Ssennyondo (Centre de Recherche pour la Sauvegarde et la promotion de la Culture Senoufo (CRSPCS)) Mali

The Missionaries of Africa concluded their working session on African Traditional Religions (ATRs) at Kungoni, Malawi this Friday 22nd March 2024. It was a week of sharing of experiences, insights, ideals and perspectives for the future. There remains a question to be asked. What next? Intense reflection on ATRs has led to five areas of focus: (1) animating confreres, (2) initial formation, (3) creating a synergy between centres and parishes, (4) research and publications, and (5) visibility and communication.

The first area of focus will target the following: sessions and workshops, build up a repertoire of issues of concern through modern technology, and establish core groups (commissions) to enrich pastoral activities in line with ATRs. The second area will encourage candidates in formation to intentionally research and investigate contemporary issues of  ATRs. It will also nurture candidates’ talents, encourage the teaching of  African Philosophy and Theology. It intends to introduce sessions on ATRs into our formation system, review the Stage Vade mecum on ATRs to help stagiaires go deeper on specific topics, etc. The third area will ensure that modern technology is well used to store and share materials on ATRs. It shall subscribe to Jstor, Ebscom and other academic websites for quality research. It shall source expertise to enhance our centres. Furthermore, it shall aim at improving collaboration between centres such as Kungoni, FENZA, IFIC, etc., and parishes. It shall enhance professionalism in our centres, enlighten younger generations in the area of ATRs, and empower personnel through capacity building programmes. The fourth and fifth areas will promote academic publications on ATRs issues, create a  platform where publications of Missionaries of Africa on ATRs can easily be accessed. It will ensure that the websites of our various centres are linked with the main website of the  Society. It shall encourage sharing of events on ATRs that take place in our different areas of mission.

The above-mentioned activities entail creativity, dedication and team work. They also call for rigorous monitoring and evaluation. Looking back to appraise our performance and activities remains a fundamental exercise to be constantly carried out. It shall be done by ourselves, and if need be,  involve experts. All is being done to accomplish, respect and  promote what our founder Cardinal Charles Lavigerie urged us to do. He strongly advised us to cherish the language, culture and tradition of people. 

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

Passing on skills for a better understanding of African Traditional Religions

Fourth day of the Working Session on African Traditional Religions at Kungoni Centre, Malawi

Understanding African Traditional Religions (ATRs) entails willingness to be with people. It also calls for rigorous academic work, with acknowledged scientific methods.  Research methods and modern technology are necessary tools to explore and understand better ATRs. Which type of skills?

Our today’s discussion was on how to make use of practical skills, research methods and modern technology. We need such skills to discover, understand and make known the cultural heritage imbedded in ATRs. Practical skills focus on people’s (human) actions, i.e., their behaviour and actions that affect or are affected by great passages of life such as practices at the time of birth and death, observing religious and cultural expressions during happy or sad moments, etc. Research methods investigate patterns of African thinking and understanding of good and evil, cosmology, hermeneutics, theodicy, what it means to be a “human person” (‘Ubuntu’ concept), etc. Rigorous methods point to research gaps – what have not been discovered, answered or explored – in the realm of ATRs. Modern technology helps in creating a repertory of African cultural heritage. There are so many materials on ATRs that need to be well preserved according to modern standards. Technological is tool to preserve what we already have. It is also used to discover what we do not know yet.

Early missionaries had awe-inspiring skills. They left us a legacy. We learnt a lot from them. It is time we gradually pass on to younger generations what we received and know about ATRs. «Happiness is not perfected until it’s shared.» Let us share what we have, know and cherish about the African heritage. Those being born in our times crave for identity and authenticity. Are we ready to help them discover who they really are?

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

Towards a consolidated strategic plan for encounter and dialogue with African Traditional Religions (ATRs)

Third day of the Working Session on African Traditional Religions at Kungoni Centre, Malawi

African Traditional Religions (ATRs) embody spiritual, social and moral values needed to live a better and dignified life, both at individual and societal levels. The Missionaries of Africa are aware of this fact. They consider it as a great opportunity to enrich their pastoral endeavours. How to access people’s values? This short reflection intends to offer some answers.

Firstly, we need to learn the local language. Today’s discussion has made us understand that learning the language and culture of the people is a gateway to the realm of their beliefs and values. Through daily interactions, one gets access to what people value and respect most. For instance, interacting with the young reveals their aspirations and ideals for the future. In this way, one discovers what motivates and challenges them. If need be, one can find with them some answers to their preoccupations, being spiritual, mental and psychological.

Secondly, as missionaries, we need to reach out to the people and spend time with them. Being with and for the people is another avenue to be treasured. A missionary discovers more about the people when he is in solidarity with them in their daily happiness and struggles. There are events that help in discovering and understanding people’s traditional and cultural values. For instance, attending important events such as marriages, naming ceremonies, harvest festivals, funerals, reconciliation ceremonies, etc., remain key avenues to discover, understand, appreciate and respect people’s traditions and customs. Such events open mutual enrichment between the Gospel and people’s traditions.

Last but not the least, we need to allow ourselves to be formed by the people and their way of life. Sometimes we get worried about what to offer and teach the people. Do we allow ourselves to be formed by the people’s cultures? Do we take time to be fascinated by their songs, dances, poems, artefacts, myths, worldview, understanding of the origin of life and the afterlife?

To effectively live such proximity with the people, we need a strategic plan. It will clarify contemporary manifestations of ATRs that call for attention. It will also point to what we can really do as confreres in our parishes, formation houses, cultural and social centres. It intends to open a window for rigorous research and publications that will enrich us and the people we are called to serve.    

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

Finding a Common Understanding of African Traditional Religions

Second day of the Working Session on African Traditional Religions at Kungoni Centre, Malawi

After discovering in depth the cultural beliefs of the Chewa, Ngoni and Yao tribes, today our discussion was about our understanding of African Traditional Religions (ATRs). Dr. Rodian Munyenyembe of Mzuzu University focused on “Understanding and engaging with contemporary configurations of African Traditional Religions”. Ignatius Anipu, M.Afr., elaborated on the “Engagement of the Missionaries of Africa with African Traditional Religions”.

Dr. Munyenyembe highlighted some pointers to fruitful dialogue such as “cultural sensitivity, patience and persistence, clarifying misconceptions, Gospel contextualization, education and learning, and being bridge-builders.” Anipu, in his presentation emphasised some crucial or priority areas for a meaningful dialogue with ATRs. He argued that learning of the local language and the culture of the people, practising a diversified dialogue with ATRs, promoting human life, fostering reconciliation and peace-building, etc., are prerequisites for a true encounter with ATRs.

Confreres had time to ask questions, make comments and offer their well-reasoned out insights in line with the topics presented. It was noticed that the Society of the Missionaries of Africa has contributed and still has a lot to offer in the area of encounter with ATRs. However, there still exist some conceptual and missionary gaps: not having a unified nomenclature of ATRs, modern overlook of traditional beliefs and cultural values, detaching encounter and dialogue with ATRs from the ordinary parish ministry, not paying attention to realities of the ‘invisible world’ that affect people’s daily life, etc. Associating ATRs with what is evil, mysterious or dangerous for Christian living is another challenge calling for attention. 

In the coming days, participants will try to find sustainable solutions to the already identified problems. By the close of the week, a road map would have been designed to enhance missionary effectiveness and efficiency in matters of encounter and dialogue with ATRs.

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.

The Missionaries of Africa Open a Working Session on African Traditional Religions at Kungoni Centre, Malawi

Monday 18, March 2024, the Missionaries of Africa opened a one week working session on African Traditional Religions (ATRs) at Kungoni Centre, Malawi. Confreres from Rome, Mali, Zambia and Malawi are gathered to work and share experiences. In his opening remarks, Anselme Tarpaga, Assistant Superior General in charge of Encounter and Dialogue (ED), welcomed the participants and thanked them for having spared their time for the session. He reminded them that the purpose of the session is to revisit the 29th General Chapter recommendations on ATRs. It is also a follow up of suggestions that were given during the 17 June 2023 online meeting on ED.

It is an opportunity to create a synergy between Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art, Malawi; Centre Sénoufo de Sikasso, Mali; Institut de Formation Islamo-Chrétienne (IFIC), Bamako, Mali; Faith and Encounter Zambia (FENZA); and Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), Lilongwe, Malawi. The confreres vested with a considerable knowledge and understanding of ATRs and other experts are sharing ideas on how to promote the interaction between the Christian Faith and ATRs. All is being done to promote a culture of dialogue, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.

It is worth noting that Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art is part of the Mua Mission, founded by the Missionaries of Africa in the year 1902. Claude Boucher Chisale, M.Afr., started the centre in the 1970s. It inhabits a great cultural heritage of the Chewa, Ngoni and Yao tribes. People from all walks of life visit the centre to learn about the Chewa culture, language and other important events within the Malawian history. The session is expected to bring about new ideas that enhance interaction between the Gospel, people’s identity, richness and traditional values which sometimes are overlooked. 

By: Prosper Harelimana, M.Afr.