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This Far by Faith

Journeys

Timeline

People

About the Series
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1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA
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Timeline: 1526-1775 View Detailed Timeline
1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA
Religion in Africa: Unity in Diversity




While the many traditional religions of Africa do share commonalities, it is through their differences that we get a true sense of the vastness of the continent, and the diversity existing among the men, women, and children suddenly thrust together in the New World. Many of these differences center on the particularities of the Supreme Being, and the distinct characteristics attributed to Him.

The Mbuti Pygmies, who live in the forest regions of the River Congo, believe in a great, elderly being of the sky, lord of storms and rainbows, named Tore. Before hunting, he is invoked for success in finding food. The Pygmies also revere the moon, and some say that it was the moon that molded the first man, covered him with skin, and filled him with blood. The central Pygmy deity, however, is the god of the forest, who is benevolent and to whom men pay as much respect as they do their own parents.


The cramped hold of a slave ship. "Vignettes, Descriptive of the Origin and Progress of the Slave Trade."

The cramped hold of a slave ship. "Vignettes, Descriptive of the Origin and Progress of the Slave Trade."


The Bushmen and Hottentots were the original inhabitants of southern Africa, when the first Europeans arrived at the Cape. Modern Bushmen pray to celestial spirits and tell myths and legends about them. They also pay special attention to the moon, which plays significantly in their speculations about the origins of death.

In East Africa, a common name for the Supreme Being is Mulungu, a word indicating the almighty and ever-present creator. The thunder is said to be his voice, lightning is his power, and he rewards the good and punishes the wicked. From the northern Kalahari through the Congo to Tanzania, the Supreme being is called Leza , perhaps from the root meaning, "to cherish," as he is the one who watches over people. Leza is said to live in heaven and is transcendent and incomprehensible.

Various names for the Supreme Being are encountered in West Africa. Nyambe, perhaps from a root indicating power, is used from Botswana to Cameroon and a similar appellation, Name, is found throughout West Africa. Other divine names are: Ngewo, god of the Mende people of Sierra Leone; Amma of the Dogon of Mali; Mawu of the Ewe of Abomey; Olorun of the Yoruba, Chukwu of the Ibo, and Soko of the Nupe--all of Nigeria.

The Africans enslaved in the Americas were not all of one background; rather, they spoke different languages, and their myths, magic, gods and beliefs were often not the same. This diversity of tradition and culture made it all the more difficult for African religion to survive under the harsh slavery system. But these diverse African peoples also had a long tradition of mixing and appropriating beliefs, gods and practices from each other. In America, they continued to creatively blend their faiths, and to hold fast to those beliefs and rituals that they did hold in common in an attempt to better survive the New World.

Read a former slave's account of religious beliefs in his native Nigeria at http://vi.uh.edu/pages/mintz/22.htm




People of Faith


 Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano


Did You Know?



The foundations of African-American culture grew as much from the differences existing among the slaves as from the similarities.
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