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.

Leave a Reply