The summer of 2020 gripped the entire world with the fervour of social justice change. The killing of unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in the United States, transformed the ‘Black Lives Matter’ into a global movement seeking alternate socio-economic-political systems that do not centre ‘whiteness’ as the default from which all other notions exist as subsets.

The general theme of this reformation has been for ‘Decolonisation’ of all sectors of society; for our diversity and difference to be sources of learning, rather than hate, prejudice and falsified superiority notions.

To this end much of the push for Decolonisation has largely been to rebut false pseudo-scientific notions established by European institutions such as Eugenics that have largely been used to justify capitalistic exploitation and subjugation of non-European peoples of the world. It is with this in mind that the question underlying this article is posed – to explore if indeed we can adequately decolonise our minds and learned behaviour patterns if we are only focussing efforts on some aspects of the Black experience whilst ignoring others? What would be the net result, real change or a patchwork of temporary fixes that would only lead to the same problems re-surfacing at a later date unchanged?

For Africans south of the Sahara, whose lineage extends into antiquity into the Nile Valley (modern day Egypt) and who were enslaved and transported to the Caribbean and Americas, those of Bantu stock, also synonymously referred to as Black – not the political inference but the cultural- there remains an aspect of their cultural inheritance they still continue to reject any form of association with.

This is their spiritual legacy now largely mislabelled Juju, Obeah or Voodoo in the public consciousness.

It must be one of the most bewildering aspects of the Decolonisation movement because the disdain most African/Blacks have or feel towards their spiritual legacy is due to entrenched colonial programming about it, not an authentic understanding of it. Can we see the contradiction at play?

What is also interesting is that what we call racism also primarily originates in religious imagination. The papal Bull (Inter Caetera) by the Roman Catholic Church of AD1493 afforded the Spanish and Portuguese ‘divine right’ to exploit, brutalise and subjugate all citizens from Cape Verde to India.

This is the start of European dominance or white supremacy as it continues today politically, socially, militarily and so on. (1)

The traumatic image of Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck also evoked associations to one of the highest awards of the British Empire; The Order of St Michael and St George. (2)

The summer of 2020 gripped the entire world with the fervour of social justice change. The killing of unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in the United States, transformed the ‘Black Lives Matter’ into a global movement seeking alternate socio-economic-political systems that do not centre ‘whiteness’ as the default from which all other notions exist as subsets.

The general theme of this reformation has been for ‘Decolonisation’ of all sectors of society; for our diversity and difference to be sources of learning, rather than hate, prejudice and falsified superiority notions.

To this end much of the push for Decolonisation has largely been to rebut false pseudo-scientific notions established by European institutions such as Eugenics that have largely been used to justify capitalistic exploitation and subjugation of non-European peoples of the world. It is with this in mind that the question underlying this article is posed – to explore if indeed we can adequately decolonise our minds and learned behaviour patterns if we are only focussing efforts on some aspects of the Black experience whilst ignoring others? What would be the net result, real change or a patchwork of temporary fixes that would only lead to the same problems re-surfacing at a later date unchanged?

For Africans south of the Sahara, whose lineage extends into antiquity into the Nile Valley (modern day Egypt) and who were enslaved and transported to the Caribbean and Americas, those of Bantu stock, also synonymously referred to as Black – not the political inference but the cultural- there remains an aspect of their cultural inheritance they still continue to reject any form of association with.

This is their spiritual legacy now largely mislabelled Juju, Obeah or Voodoo in the public consciousness.

It must be one of the most bewildering aspects of the Decolonisation movement because the disdain most African/Blacks have or feel towards their spiritual legacy is due to entrenched colonial programming about it, not an authentic understanding of it. Can we see the contradiction at play?

What is also interesting is that what we call racism also primarily originates in religious imagination. The papal Bull (Inter Caetera) by the Roman Catholic Church of AD1493 afforded the Spanish and Portuguese ‘divine right’ to exploit, brutalise and subjugate all citizens from Cape Verde to India.

This is the start of European dominance or white supremacy as it continues today politically, socially, militarily and so on. (1)

The traumatic image of Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck also evoked associations to one of the highest awards of the British Empire; The Order of St Michael and St George. (2)

This was achieved in a subsequent rebellion popularly known as Tacky’s Revolt in 1760 where an elderly man identified as the spiritual leader was quickly assassinated, leading to demoralisation and a rather quick defeat in comparison to the earlier Maroon Wars, as noted in the writings of English Historians such as Edward Young. (4)

The English legislature would then introduce a range of laws to criminalise any form of African practice(s) it deemed ‘Obeah’, including those for various healing modalities.

In doing so Empire established control of the narrative and definition of what these practices should be, which is the source of much of the misperceptions and discomfort Africans exhibit when they hear the words Obeah or Juju.

In Haiti, African Spirituality would be the stimulus for independence. Vodou from the West coast of Africa would establish the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere and remains to date the only one created solely by the agency and will of the African/Black people themselves. (5)

Political, social and economic sanctions on Haiti thereafter has lasted far longer and more consistent than on any country in the world, even Cuba, and continues to strangle the economy and the wellbeing of its people. Occupation by the United States from 1915 would lead to an explosion of media promoting fear-mongering and false depictions of Vodou that has increased misunderstanding of and aversion towards it.

So, at this point we can establish that our misperception of African Spirituality today is the result of religious, political and media-based manipulations, it has never had anything to do with moral questions concerning the nature of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘holy’ or ‘evil’, but rather, what narrative has encouraged African/Black submission to fuel the profits of capitalism.

We evidence this state of disconnection in the energy applied to social causes as well. In October 2018 when UK-based awarding body AQA approved a GCSE Sociology textbook that contained an African/Black derogatory racial stereotype, thousands signed online petitions that swiftly led to the publication being removed.

Yet a petition by the UK based advocacy group, CADISS (Council of African & Diasporic Indigenous Spiritual Systems) who set up an online petition in 2019 to challenge the historical injustice of criminalising African indigenous faith systems, continues to struggle for signatures in order to repel old, out-dated, racist laws.

Can any of us imagine the UK or United States being allowed to effectively ban Islam as a religion simply off the basis that its fuels ‘terrorism’?

Of course we can’t, so why the exception still for African Spiritual systems?
SIGN PETITION

In the UK educational system today we can find page spreads in textbooks explaining respectfully all the tenets in various non-western religious/spiritual systems such as Buddhism, yet on ‘African Traditional Religions’ – the main accepted moniker for African Spiritual Systems – we still find derogatory references in very limited paragraph sections, never do we find page spreads. If this harmful content is to be believed, then to any mind, ‘African Traditional Religion’ is apparently about Africans worshipping Ancestors or stones in very ‘superstitious’, ‘primitive’ and ‘irrational’ practices, even though bodies of scholarship has existed for decades to adequately inform such assertions in academia.

There is not a call to convert every and any African/Black person to become devotees, far from it, but it remains essential that this aspect of African/Black culture is not purposefully ignored based on internalised historical falsehoods?

The least expectation is for us all to have at least a ‘basic knowledge’ of it, so as to encourage ‘Religious Tolerance’ across the board – the same buzzword that has been applied since 9/11 to encourage community cohesion and respect for all faiths.

If the aim of Decolonisation is not to bring fundamental and lasting change then what is the point, for we will only be going through processes of revolving doors?

It remains clear that in order to Decolonise in totality, many African/Black people must start by Decolonising their Faiths, as their current religious affiliations inherently promotes an anti-Blackness sentiment towards its Spiritual legacy.

If the aim is not to seek a resolution from the root causes of an issue, then of what use is trimming the leaves and branches, surely then we are merely surface dressing?

By Dalian Adofo (Ancestral Voices Co-director)

For those new to researching African Spirituality may find our Home Study Course useful as it breaks things down systematically covering a range of spiritual traditions.

REFERENCES:

1. The Papal Bull of 1493. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/timeline/171.html Accessed on 20/04/2020

2. The Order of St Michael and St George Award re-design. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/22/calls-for-redesign-of-royal-honour-over-offensive-image Accessed on 13/04/2020

3. Adofo, DK (2016), Ancestral Voices: Spirit Is Eternal (2016). London: Arise Ventures.

4. Brown, V (2020), Tacky’s Revolt; The story of an Atlantic Slave War. United States of America: Harvard University Press.

5. James, CLR (), The Black Jacobins, 2nd Edition. United States of America: Random House, Inc