- Category: Resources
- Published: 03 September 2014
Anthropology is a useful source of information regarding ancient life forms and behaviors in societies that existed during the Stone Age era. One of the areas of focus for any anthropologist is to determine if the ancient communities that lived in an area had any form of religion. Religion is a prime focus in any culture as it forms a common belief among individuals of the whole community (Amarasingam, 2010). Determining the type of religion that a group of people had in the ancient days helps to track the changes that have occurred over the years resulting in the current religion practices. Different parts of the world exhibited different forms of religion and practices that are done in accordance to religion rules. Communities like the Indians and Africans have different perceptions and practices concerning religion. They both had religion or believed in a supreme being but had different perception and practices regarding to what religion should entail (Barney, 2011).
Research shows that the Africans have had three major religions since the Stone Age periods. These include the Traditional African religion, Christianity and Islam (Makumba, 2007). Though the Traditional African religion is still being practiced by a few African societies, it was popular during the precolonial periods and no longer observed by most of the communities. With the coming of Christianity, many African communities turned to Christianity and it is the most dominant religious group in Africa. The Arabs also introduced the Africans to Islam and it is the second largest religious group in Africa. On the other hand, Indians practice Hinduism as the main religion in Asia. Hinduism is believed to be one of the first religions to emerge on earth. It is sometimes referred to as “the eternal law” and is believed to be beyond human origin. Apart from Hinduism, other religions also exist in India. These include Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, and Christianity (Makumba, 2007).
The traditional African religion refers to the religious beliefs and practices that exist among the different African ethnic groups. Each ethnic group in the African continent has their own set of beliefs and practices. These religious rules, beliefs, and practices were formed by rulers, magicians, and wise men existing within the community (Barney, 2011). The rules, beliefs, and practices formed the backbone of the religion and were an important part of the culture of the community. Siblings were taught such cultures through stories and teachings during initiation. Each community had its own unique and most esteemed place or thing that served as a shrine. Some communities had regular prayer sessions while others had irregular sessions. Most of the prayer session were done to appease gods or to offer sacrifices to the gods in which the communities believed lived at the shrines. A magician or a wise man who also acted like a priest led the prayer sessions. The different communities offered different types animals to the gods for appeasing or thanksgiving. The magnitude or the importance of an offering was proportionate with the size and value of the animal that was to be offered. From this analysis, it is evident that the Africans had rich religious beliefs and practices, which they followed strictly (Makumba, 2007).
On the other hand, Hinduism, which was the first religion in Asia, involves the worship of supreme beings and deities. These deities and supreme beings are believed and worshipped by all the community members. Hindu can also be divided into a number of denominations: Shaivism, Smartism, Shaktism, and Vaishnavism (Makumba, 2007). Some of the denominations use statues to represent the gods and goddesses that the community believes while some do not believe in such gods and goddesses. Hindus believe that a person’s spirit is eternal and lives on even after death of the physical body. Some denominations believe that good people in the society are reincarnated in form of animals and birds while the bad people in the society will suffer eternally. Hindu as a religion has a number of practices and rituals, which are done either regularly according to schedule or according to needs. Some of this includes daily rituals like the puja, recitations when you are in different contexts and situations, occasional pilgrimages, and annual festivals. These rituals and prayers are normally done in the Hindu temple and are headed by an elder who acts like the priest (Amarasingam, 2010).
The Traditional African religion and Hinduism have some similarities in practice of religion. Both cultures believe in a supreme being and strictly follow the rules, beliefs, and practices required of them by the religion. In addition to this, both religions believe in life after death and believe that good people are rewarded after death while bad people are punished after death (Makumba, 2007). Both religions also have such things like an object or a statue, which they use for worshiping purposes. On the other hand, Hinduism differs with the Traditional African religion in that Hindus believe in carvings and statues but the traditional African religion did not. The Africans believed in one supreme God who controls everything. Another difference between the traditional African religion and Hindu is that Hindus have special temples and meeting places while the Africans had shrines and no specific meeting place. Some religious meetings were conducted new mountains or even along riverbanks (Barney, 2011).
During prayers and rituals, the Hindus were expected to remain in a state of meditation for some time before finishing. This period showed surrender and repentance to the gods. Lengthy meditations also offered a time when one could get visitations from the spirit world and relate information and messages to the living (Makumba, 2007). The Africans were also expected to be attentive during religious meetings and to respect the shrine and God. Since the introduction of Christianity, the traditional African religion began to deteriorate and currently has very few followers. The occurrence of Christians and traditional African believers has caused social tension and enmity among fellow community members. The emergence of new beliefs, practices and the growth of religions like Christianity and Islam have caused a decrease in the practice of such religions as Traditional African religion and Hindu (Amarasingam, 2010).
In conclusion, it is evident that religion is an important part of the culture of any group of people. Religion is what brings a community together and was thus respected and observed keenly. People feared punishment from the gods and thus followed all the rules and practices as required of them. The analysis above shows how important religion is to communities and also shows that religion is free in most of the communities and one can belong to any religion. From this, it is evident that anthropological excavations and studies should focus on religion and artefacts related to supreme forces gathered during excavation or study. This will give a better explanation of the culture of a group of people (Barney, 2011).
Amarasingam, A. (2010). Religion and the new atheism: a critical appraisal. Boston: Brill.
Barney, G. D. (2011). Mormons, Indians, and the Ghost Dance religion of 1890. Boulder, Colo: B̈äuu Press.
Makumba, M. M. (2007). An introduction to African philosophy: past and present. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa.