Saturday, September 18, 2021
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‘A’ level Family & Religious Studies question and answer

Question:  Assess
the contribution of African traditional religion to the conservation of the
environment.




Mhuri Muneni

Africans
view themselves as part of the environment. This web of relation is what makes
Africans view the earth as their mother and themselves as her children. This
means that, though God, humanity and nature are distinct concepts they are
ontological categories that are interrelated and interdependent hence J. Mbiti’s
position that Africans are notoriously religious. This means that they believe
in everything being religious. Their environment is a sacred one that should be
guarded jealously. Therefore plants, animals and other non-living beings are
part of nature, which is the product of God’s creation deserving to be
respected as much as human beings who are also part of nature.
 The relationships between persons and nature
are rooted in God as the creator of all. God’s creation is a single family.
This is what makes Africans regard themselves as being in a close relationship
with the entire cosmos. Idowu et al posit that “Africans, especially in the
traditional setting were nature-oriented.” 
African traditional religion is a religion that comprises belief in the human
world, the natural world and the spiritual world. These three worlds are
linked. The natural world provides the habitat for the spirits and sends
message from the spiritual world to the human world (as hierophanies)
Haverkort, et al. For the Africans every plant, animal and natural phenomena are
sacred. In order to appease the spiritual world, people performed rituals and
made sacrifices. The human world has to relate to both the natural and the spiritual
world. It is, therefore, along this general world view that this essay will categorically
examine the attitude of African traditional religion towards the environment.
Land
is important in African traditional religion; it is sacred. That is why the
Shona used soil in swearing rituals. Some traditional sacrifices were
administered by the practice of people biting some soil and swearing. Besides
land, most African ethnic groups regarded water as a symbol of life. Watering
places were approached with respect. Most of the water sources belonged to the
whole community. Nobody was allowed to cultivate around these places. Trees
were not cut and vegetation was kept to ensure that water was not disturbed. To
protect the places and the water from being polluted, many myths, taboos,
proverbs, and riddles were formulated to educate or to make people aware that
those places had to be preserved. One taboo is not to fetch water from the
source using dirt pots (Hari). This would cause the source to dry up. More so,
people should not urinate into water because they might face serious
catastrophes. These taboos were formulated to make sure that people do no
pollute the water.
As
a practical religion, African Traditional Religion involves many beliefs and
practices, traditions and customs, which are the ways by which people express
their religion. Religious values beneath these beliefs customs and traditions
helped people to have a good relationship with their environment. Animals were
viewed as sacred creatures of God. That is why many myths and stories used
animals as main characters. They were respected as part of the whole creation.
Some ethnic groups believed that fierce wild animals such as lions and
elephants were just manifestations of the great power of God. The totemic
beliefs and taboos helped in the preservation of some animal species. For example,
the Remba people of Mberengwa use the Zhou totem. They are not allowed to kill
or eat meat from this animal. They respected these animals. All this consequently
helped in protecting and preserving many animals’ species and therefore the
environment in general.
Many
if not all ethnic groups in Africa, believed that God was the sole owner of the
universe. He created it and so He automatically owns it and does what He wants
with it. Awolalu (1979) posits that God owns the universe, He is immanent in
it. He dwells in the universe in special places, like mountains, rocks,
valleys, or trees. That is why traditionally Africans considered the universe
sacred. Therefore, nobody had the right to destroy it. They believed that the
power to create and destroy the universe belonged to God alone. Therefore, man
had no right to abuse, spoil, destroy or squander what God has made to manifest
His glory.
 In conclusion, Africans have to revert back to
their environmental conservation approaches that have been affected by
contemporary changes, and draw from them what is proper and blend it with
contemporary ways of environmental preservation. Traditional religious
education is important in environmental preservation. Traditional African
education has to be focused on preserving the sacredness of life and whatever
enhanced it. The African system of education traditionally emphasized respect
and reverence of nature which enhanced life. Contemporary Africa should borrow
a drop from traditional education systems as far as environmental conservation
is concerned.

The writer is a teacher at Errymaple High School in Zvishavane

B.A Degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies.


Post Graduate Diploma in Education,
Shona and Religious Studies.

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