Tanti luoghi comuni sulla spiritualità dei popoli africani

Scorro il libro di religione di mio figlio (prima media), e vi ritrovo molti luoghi comuni sulla spiritualità dei popoli africani. Una spiritualità confinata, come sempre, nel primo capitolo, quello in cui si parla della “religione naturale” dei popoli “primitivi”, delle religioni “etniche” e di quelle “animiste”. Mentre va avanti la riflessione e lo studio approfondito e serio di questo argomento, la didattica e la comunicazione pubblica sono ancora molto indietro. Ripropongo un brano da un saggio che avevo scritto qualche anno fa:

“(…)The representation of Africa as a country devoid of its own profound spiritual dimension or of a religion worthy of its name goes to complete, and in some measure to justify, this picture made of unfounded generalizations and distorted or omitted information; a picture which describes a continent whose inhabitants and communities – mostly considered to be rural – would be entwined in an inextricable tangle of often cruel and bloody ancestral rites, superstitions, absurd and childish beliefs and atavistic fears which block their personal capacities, initiative and development possibilities. Another level at which a real stigmatization of Africa occurs, in particular with regard to its spiritual tradition, is that of scientific research, specifically with reference to human and social sciences.

The history of research on African peoples – as Basil Davidson, among others, has demonstrated – is indeed rife with incomprehension, theoretical and methodological errors, and forced and inert interpretations which have taken on different forms. One of these is Evolutionism, which defines African traditional religions as being the most ‘primitive’ stage of the spiritual evolution of peoples, featuring practices it terms derogatively as ‘animist’, ‘fetishist’, ‘pagan’, ‘totemic’, ‘idolatrous’, etc. This without even considering the clamorous blunder whereby Africans were considered for centuries to be polytheists, while in actual fact the spirits or other entities which their religions refer to are considered to act as intermediaries between a single supreme being – who has various names – and human beings. In many ways, all this has actually resulted in African religions simply not being considered to be religions at all.

Another one of such interpretative approaches involves a mono-disciplinary view, in this case the exclusive, and moreover often purely descriptive, use of ethnology and cultural anthropology. This has resulted in African religious phenomena often been locked behind a kind of interpretation cage and viewed as if they existed in a historical void or, at best, as an expression of spirituality which, although ‘authentic’, limits itself to wearily surviving in today’s world. In addition, there has always been a widespread tendency to interpret and assess African traditional religions starting from ‘local’, or specific, practices, which are then generalized without a valid reason. This is the case with certain magical rites – which, incidentally, many such religions are opposed to – and of figures such as the feticheurs. Something no one would dream of doing with other religions; no one, for example, would define the essence of Christianity by the excessive devotional practices towards a given saint found in rural areas or – to mention a recent case – by the holy water jinx which the trainer of the Italian football team performed for the whole world to see on television. Nevertheless, this is what has happened, and continues to happen, with regard to African traditional religions.(…)”

(da D. Mezzana, “African traditional religions and modernity” in African Societies, n. 3, 2002)

Photo: Eliot Elisofon – Shrine house priestess Okomfoyaa Anosua, Besease, Ghana, 1970 (https://thisisafrica.me)

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