AFRICAN CONCEPTIONS OF THE CREATOR/’GOD’
By Dalian Adofo – Spirit is Eternal (book excerpt)
The anthropomorphic conceptions of the Creator/’God’ amongst Africans have never been solely confined to the human form, hence it is quite common to have more than the one title of reference with varying meanings within the same community of people that each encapsulates an aspect or function of this Divine source.
The many titles of reference given and their meanings reflect the broad approaches utilised by Africans in conceptualising the penultimate source of all things.
So, for instance, the name might mean ‘the provider’- indicating the community’s understanding that all sustenance comes from this source, or it can mean ‘the all-powerful rock’, a reference to the Creator being a source of strength/support for adherents and so on.
The Kikuyu (Kenya, East Africa) name for the Supreme, ‘Ngai’, means Creator, a reference to a function, whereas ‘Akongo’ means ‘the beginner and the unending Almighty and inexplicable’ for the Ngombe of Congo (Central Africa), a reference to the power and greatness of this source.
The various titles show quite clearly that Africans sought not to personalise the concept of ‘God’ into a human being,
“It does not make God in its image but tries to see itself in God’s image. So, if God is every and all things at once and we the human being, the bumblebee, the butterfly, the grass, the tree, the callaloo, the corn, we are all different expressions of that singular essence having our peculiar experiences, which all interdependent on one another for survival.” (Small, 2013)
Mainstream religious attributions of God such as being Omnipotent (all powerful), Omnipresent (everywhere at every time) and Omniscient (all knowing) are also explicit in these African references to their Creator.
The Creator/ ‘God’ as Nature
Sobonfu Some (2013) encapsulates the importance of nature in African societies across all sectors of societies including its spiritual knowledge systems in the statement; ‘In Africa, nature is everything’.
The reference to Nature is not just limited to the vegetation and soil, but also animals and the earth itself, including the four elemental sources- air, water, fire and minerals/rocks.
This by no means excludes the planetary bodies and universe at large and the constellations within it, many of which also inform particular ritual ceremonies as evident in full moon rituals or the appearance of interstellar objects such as comets or meteorites visible in the earth’s atmosphere.
The Omnipresence (ever present) of Nature is evident the world over. It is all encompassing and enduring. Even where vegetation is absent or gradually erodes, it assumes the form of sand (deserts), and even in such environs, we find whole ecosystems of life forms still striving and being sustained.
The Omnipotence (all-powerful) of Nature is explicit in the destruction wrought by tsunamis, tornadoes, whirlwinds, earthquakes, fires and the like. In these ‘natural disasters’, we witness an awesome power that even all the technological advancements of humanity has yet to surpass or even curtail.
Its incredible power is further gleaned in its ability to sustain life in some way, shape or form even in the harshest conditions. Often its power to destroy is complementary to that of its power to create, as is observed with new growth and fertile soil after a bush fire for example- again we see reflected in this the notion of balance as covered earlier.
The Omniscience (all knowing) of nature is witnessed in the changing of seasons at prescribed times, just as the day ‘knows’ when to become night.
In the same vein, the planets revolve in alignment, with their phenomenal effects on earth evident for all to see- whether it’s the female menstrual cycle or the tidal effects at sea and on other water bodies.
There is an innate creative intelligence that spurs on a harmonious dynamic interchange that is well beyond human comprehension.
Nature also meets many existential needs for humans. It is a source of plentiful and varied food types; plants and animals with different vitamins and nutritional qualities. It is also a source of housing materials to meet sheltering needs, medications to help cure various ailments and so on- the list is endless regarding nature knowingly providing for our needs.
It is thus not surprising that it is conceived of as Divine and worthy of veneration across the continent and its legacy in Diasporic communities that has carried on the traditions. It also explains why we find different formations within nature being respected as sacred.
The Masai (Kenya, East Africa) refer to Mountain Kilimanjaro as ngaje ngai, “the house of God”, whilst Matabele mountain in Kuruman, South Africa is revered amongst the Zulus and Xhosa.
Trees such as the Sycamore of ancient Kemet, Baobab, Iroko and Nyame Dua in West Africa and rivers as well as vast water bodies such as Lake Bosumtwi in Ghana or Lake Bambline in Cameroun and so on.
Excerpt from Spirit is Eternal (book)
By Dalian Adofo
Click for both the book and the accompanying film…