Posts Tagged ‘religion’

“Africa the Dark Continent According to Foreigners,” by Jonathan Musere

May 24, 2016

“Africa the Dark Continent According to Foreigners,” by¬†Jonathan Musere
Though the phrase, concept, or application “Dark Continent” has existed for at least four centuries, increasingly over time it came to be more significantly bestowed on Africa, more prevalently on “black” or sub-Saharan Africa. Over the recent past centuries, the region was increasingly inundated by foreign prospectors, adventurers, explorers, missionaries, biologists, geographers, and others.

Africa and Africans were as mysterious and strange to much of the rest of the world, just as the foreigners and their ways were mysterious to the Africans. The foreign presence in Africa accelerated during the Slave Trade and the Scramble for Africa.
Europeans, starting from the coast of west Africa, gradually ventured deeper and deeper into the interior of the continent. Many of them wrote down what they perceived and what their opinions were regarding the culture, religion, appearance, habitations, community, modes of living and survival, and other characteristics of the Africans and their environment. Africans were compared and contrasted to Europeans, to other Africans, and to other people. Some of these accounts were debasing, exaggerations, fabrications, illogical, and without merit. Some of the accounts were corroborative and displayed commonalities among black Africans. Veneration of and sacrifices to ancestors, superstitiousness, as well as operation of witchcraft and blood rituals were common. Women prevalently carried out the domestic work, men were warriors and hunters, and polygamy was widespread.
The renowned foreign chroniclers of Africa included, among many others, David Livingstone, Mungo Park, Hugh Clapperton, Robert Moffat, Henry M. Stanley, Samuel W. Baker, and Paul B. Du Chaillu. The extracts in this book offer a mosaic of the Africa as the Dark Continent in their eyes and descriptions. The writings on Africa and Africans sometimes took a positive, unbiased or neutral tone; they were not always negative.



Birth Order, Occupations, and Religion in African Names and Naming

May 11, 2011

A name bestowed on an African child can traditionally depend on birth order in the family, and the occupation the family is associated with. The name can reflect names of deities and other religious entities in the culture. A name can also reflect praise or expectations of the child. Many African names reflect circumstances at birth that can include praise or negative opinion of neighbors or other family members.

Many African names reflect the composition of the family. Hence, they can reflect discontentment over gender imbalances among family offspring, family ancestry, and the family in extended form.

Children are named after their forefathers so as to appease the ancestral spirits, given that dead ancestors of good reputation are believed to have become spirits who protect their descendants. The ancestral spirits are also said to be mediators, whereby they plead to God for protection and mercy toward their descendants. Because ancestral spirits protect their living descendants, they are carefully appeased through carrying out the proper observances and referring to them with respect. In many of the ethnic groups of the Bantu African mega group, the first-born male is named after his paternal grandfather, the second-born is named after his father, and those who follow in birth-order are less specifically named, but are many are named after a variety of forefathers and forefathers’ brothers and their other relatives. This allows for ancestors to be retained in history, given that they are mentioned in everyday speech. It is also believed that the spirits of ancestors watch over their namesakes. Many names that are associated with clans are often descendent from ancestors of good reputation or status. Many of the children of the same family line are given names of such ancestors.

Among the Nuba of southern Kordofan in Sudan, the first-born son is called Kuku, the second is Kafi, the third is Tia, the fourth-born son is given the female name Tia in case a daughter has not been born, and the fifth son is named Nalu. Regarding girls, if a daughter is born first she is called Kaka, the second-born is Toto, the third is named Koshe, the fourth is Kiki (or Ngori, or Kikingori), and the fifth-born (regardless of gender) is named Nalu (Seligman 1932: 386-387). Giving a boy a female name, or vice versa, is a displaying of gender preference. A first-born child who is female can thus be given a male name, though she would be given a proper female name upon the birth of a male sibling. Names can therefore also exhibit quantity of births in the family, as well as progeny sequence of birth.

Names have numerous origins. Many began as nicknames, many as proverbial names. Many are derived from occupations and their implements, many are adapted from neighbors’ and foreigners’ names, while many reflect natural phenomena. It is also common for a child to be given the name of a renowned person who is not related to the family. It was very common, in the past for people to take on names of their neighbors through a variety of assimilation processes. These included conquest and capture, blood-brotherhood rituals, merging of clans into one, marriage, and long-term residence in a clan village.

Names can corroborate the spiritual or religious backdrop of the child. A name can, therefore, reflect gratitude towards the Supernatural for the birth of the child. Among the Baganda of Uganda, despite the extensive conversions to Christianity and Islam from the nineteenth century, the names of the native deities are still honored and they still serve as popular personal names. Names of the Goddesses of the Baganda include Nakayaga, Nalwoga, Nagaddya (Nagajja), Nanziri, and Namirembe. The Gods include Sserwanga (Lwanga), Mukasa, Kyobe Kibuuka, Kiwanuka, Musisi, Musoke, Muwanga, and Kitinda. Names that express gratitude to supernatural agencies for the birth of the child given the name, are common. The Zulu use the names Bonginkosi ‘thank the Lord,’ Sipho ‘gift (from God),’ Thembinkosi ‘trust the Lord,’ Sibongile ‘we are grateful,’ and Bongani ‘be ye grateful’ (Koopman 1987: 148-149).

Names can also promulgate an opinion of negative or positive bearing that the namer may direct to neighbors, family and kin, enemies, the newborn itself, or even to ancestral spirits and Gods. The Shona of central and southern Africa have such names as Ruvengo ‘hatred,’ Hamundidi ‘you do not love me,’ Vengwa ‘the hated one,’ Masemani ‘you despised me,’ Ibvai ‘get away,’ Mativengerei ‘why have you been hating us?’ and Chomunorwa ‘what is all the fighting about?’ (Jackson 1957: 116-117).

A name that embodies the expectations the parents have of their child is intended to serve as inspiration for the youngster. The Xhosa of southern Africa employ such names as Khokela ‘guide,’ Mxolisi ‘peacemaker,’ Malusi ‘shepherd,’ Solomzi ‘eye of the home,’ Thembeka ‘be faithful,’ Thozama ‘be meek,’ Mcebisi ‘counselor,’ and Monde ‘perseverance’ (Thipa: 1987: 116-117).

Noleen Turner assembles an impressive field survey collection of names of the Zulu of southern Africa. Tuner points out that many African names have psychological functions, they can express discontentment and censuring within the societal and domestic setting within which the names operate (1992: 42). On the same page, Turner continues about Zulu names.

“…social function in working out stress situations, minimizing friction and providing a means of acceptance or indirect comment in a situation where direct confrontation or even accusation is unacceptable.”

Turner(1992: 55-56) summarizes that African names can “express dissatisfaction or vent frustration,” and “cast suspicion or level accusation.” The names can function to “ridicule, mock, or warn against an unacceptable mode of behavior,” and can function to “challenge a person who by virtue of his or her position, precludes normal channels of criticism and censure.” Turner also finds that African names can portray the disputing of allegations that were made, as well as informing the party that “has made the allegations, that the namer is well aware of the situation.”

Though by and large, one or both of the parents have the precedence in the naming, in many societies the extended family tremendously influences this process which can involve extensive discussion and debate. There are cases, for example, where the combination of the mother, the traditional midwife (during and after the delivery of the child), and the child’s paternal grandmother have exclusive powers in the naming. One can therefore imagine why in many African societies, there exists a breadth of names that openly portray negative and even derogatory remarks about one or both of the parents. The African naming ceremonies vary, from society to society.


Koopman, Adrian. “Zulu Names and Other Modes of Address.” Nomina Africana 1, no. 1 (1987): 136-164.

Musere, Jonathan. African Names and Naming. Los Angeles, CA: Ariko Publications, 2000.

Seligman, C.G. and Brenda G. Seligman. Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan. London, England: George Routledge and Sons, 1932.

Thipa, H.M. “What Shall We Name Him?” Nomina Africana 1, no. 2 (1987): 107-117.

Turner, Noleen S. “Zulu Names as Echoes of Censure, Discontent, and Disapproval Within the Domestic Environment.” Nomina Africana 6, no. 2 (1992): 42-56.

Jonathan Musere

Joseph G.Healey’s “Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy”–a Review

May 10, 2011

“Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Wisdom and Joy” (Orbis Books, 2004), compiled by Joseph G. Healey, is a unique and intriguing book that remarkably captures the essence of African society in response to and in cooperation with Christianity, other religions, and other foreign influences. But this is not an academic book laden with complex and boring theories. Rather, the book contains close to 100 short stories that convey experiences of east Africans with Christian missionaries from the west. Each story is unique and can convey an African parable, an abridged African story, an encounter with a group of Africans, missionary work in African schools, African response to death and dying, the extent to which Africans compete with each other relative to other world societies, the importance of Africans sharing and running together, how Africans perceive Christianity and foreign behavior, etc. Many of the stories are humorous, but the value message does not become lost. A Maasai moran wonders how great Jesus was. Relating to the Maasai aspect of recognizing greatness and manhood, the moran questions whether Jesus ever killed a lion and how many wives he had.

In a running competition, a nun wonders why the schoolgirls keep crossing the finishing line together. They tell her that they do not want to leave anyone behind, they want to finish together. Many of these stories convey African society as highly cooperative, not heavily dwelling on a person outpointing and crushing the other and taking the spotlight. Africans traditionally do not want to be separated from each other, and will work hard to stay together even when threatened by differences in religious belief. They are far less materialistic than many other societies of the world, they can achieve joy and happiness in the face of poverty and misfortune; they are generally not imbued with that western spirit of materialism, monopoly, and selfishness.

Africans believe in re-incarnation, believing that the spirit of a good person always returns to earth through a newborn, dead ancestors are guardian angels. African societies are shown to have their accounts of creation. African proverbs are numerous and tell a lot about Africans. In the book, Africans are portrayed in their homes, the gardens, in church, in prayer, in hunting, at work, etc. This is indeed a book about African joy and wisdom concisely illustrated with short significant stories, tales, proverbs, encounters and happenings.

Father Joseph Healey, who is originally from the United States and has operated in east Africa for several decades, managed to compile a gem of a book that one never gets tired of reading. Healey’s extensive practical familiarization with many African languages and ways of life made him the ideal candidate to compile this heart-warming and objective volume. More than any other text, the book illustrates joy and wisdom in the day-to-day basic lives of Africans and their response to a new world that gets smaller and smaller and becomes more connected. The contents also illustrate how people from other parts of the world practically respond to and perceive African life. The stories in this book are short, but their messages are very powerful. Lessons on Africa are conveyed through aspects of adventure, ministering, religion, folklore, prayer, stories, African culture, poetry, spirituality, and tales.

Jonathan Musere

The Role of Homosexuality and Other Vices and Sins in the Bible

August 29, 2010

If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense. Leviticus 20:13

The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching. 1 Timothy: 10

Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18: 22

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. Revelation 21:8

Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Revelation 22:15

…the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:5.

…shameful acts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Romans 1:26-27.

Jonathan Musere