Friday, September 17, 2021
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‘A’ Level Family & Religious Studies question

Question:
Examine the role of symbols in indigenous religion.


Symbols are defined as objects, acts, relationship
or linguistic formations that stand for a multiplicity of meaning. This
definition indicates that there are different symbolic forms in different
cultures and that it is possible for one symbolic form to be given several
interpretations and these interpretations could be given at different levels,
depending on the level of the interpreter’s consciousness and beliefs. This
essay will discuss the significance of symbols in indigenous religion.
Symbolism can help to maintain order and coherence
and this is achieved largely by the use of art objects. They are a powerful
instrument for indoctrination or as a tool for impressing religious dogma in
the minds of the devotees, thereby making it easy for the leaders to organize
their followers in an orderly manner. According to Nabofa, a symbol can be
defined as an overt expression of what is behind the veil of direct perception.
It is quite usual for a perceiver to express his inner experience, sight or
visions and mystical or religious experience in symbols.
Words, myths, proverbs, parables, icons and masks
are powerful and enduring symbols for conveying religious truth. Onigu Otite
postulates that symbols are agents which are pregnant with messages and with
invitation to conform and to act when decoded in their social and cultural
context, they are believed to have both cognitive and emotional meaning. For
example, the axe or the meteorite stones found in most of the cults of God and
solar divinities in West Africa convey the meaning and idea about the wrath of
God and it also shows the purity of God and His impartial justice. Carl Jung
posits that a symbol can be a term, a name or even a picture that we are
familiar with in daily life yet that item possesses specific connotation in
addition to its conventional and obvious meaning.
Symbols also serve as agents of identification in
indigenous religion. People of the same religion or culture or status can easily
identify each other through symbolic attire or objects for instance the attire
for chiefs is a symbol for rulers hence it is easy to identify them. From the
above line of argument it is apparently clear that symbols have the role of
assisting in identity.
Symbols, especially those connected with cultural
festivals, which reenact historical events, are useful instruments for
communication to the younger generations about the sect they belong. This is
another means of preserving culture. A good example is that of the costumes
used by the Shona people perform such dances as mhande, muchongoyo or mbakumba
which are all believed to be symbolic just like the isitshikhitsha dance of the
Ndebele people.
Symbolism helps in indigenous religion to express
gender roles for example the spear is a weapon for the male people and it is a
symbol of war and hunting expertise. For the Shona group, rusero is a tool used
by women and it is symbolic for the hard work at home by the mothers. Just like
the hoe which is a symbol for farming.
Symbols are a source of history about different
religions. One’s religious history can be traced using the symbols. Symbols of
religious art can be used as a means of preserving knowledge of historical and
religious importance for example the Zimbabwean bird at the great Zimbabwe
ruins
Finally, symbols of religious art could help in
achieving higher mystical exercise and spiritual development, such as
divination, medication and education. For example, a diviner who uses water,
mirror, lobes of kola nut during divination usually develops higher spiritual
intellectual ability to solve human problem which a normal man cannot do.

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