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.