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INCULTURATION

INCULTURATION

Inculturation simply means making use of this God-given gift to praise and thank God. Culture determines my being. I am an Asante not a Croatian, not because of my colour or because the Asante and the Croatian are different brands of homo sapiens, but because of the way I behave, think, speak and generally relate; in other words, because of what my culture has made me.


In inculturation, I am giving back to God the most important gift he has given me. In any case I can really know and understand him only through the medium of that gift.

Hence the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) is right in saying: " We recognise as well the challenge of inculturation of Christianity in Africa, an evangelization in depth of the African Christian; which respects and affirms his specific cultural identity and seeks to bridge the gap between faith and Culture. In this important and delicate task, we are determined to proceed with courage, faith as well as with due sense of pastoral responsibility". In sum then, inculturation deals with contextualization. It makes relevant the Word of the Lord in a given milieu.

TRADITIONAL RELIGION
For Africa, the role of traditional religion in determining the modus vivendi has been vital. African cultures are known for their religious orientation. In fact, African cultures are religious cultures. It is not possible to study African culture in isolation from religion. Religion permeates the ideal African from cradle to grave. African traditional religion, therefore, comes into play in the shaping of the African's future. We have to know the past in order to understand the present and be better equipped to plan the future. We cannot know the past of the African if we neglect his religion. Traditional religion is part of the African's ethos and an understanding of it should go hand in hand with Christian evangelization.

MISREPRESENTATION

Unfortunately, African traditional religion which should be employed for its potentially salutary effect has been misunderstood and is still misrepresented. The misconception is amply evident from the many wrong names by which traditional religion has been described. It is difficult to understand the tenacity with which African traditional religion has been termed a primal religion. Evidently the use of the term is to distinguish it from the so-called great or world religions. A primal religion is supposed to have no founders. It is without a literary source.

One cannot but wonder whether it is the written word and an identifiable founder that make a religion a religion. In any case, it is an assumption of dubious validity that one cannot at least point to a dominant historical figure in the past in relation to African traditional religion. The Asante of Ghana can, without hesitation, indicate Okomfo Anokye as the source of most of the religious injunctions of the ancient kingdom.

PILLARS OF RELIGION
Without trying to sound too simplistic, it can be argued that all religions are built on three major pillars: faith, morality and worship. Religion deals with belief in some higher power or being who is accepted as having some influence on devotees This conviction enables or even compels the adherents to comport themselves in their socio-cultural life in a manner they believe will please the object of their worship. Here we have moral or ethical behaviour. This, in turn, leads to the believers meeting from time to time to express in public their faith in, and dependence on, their spiritual overlord. This is worship or liturgy.

These three elements common to all religions, are not in any way linked to a written word. A religion is not a religion or a high religion because its tenets are written down. On the contrary, the tenets ate written down because it is already a religion. To, as it were, insist on the book as the evidence of religion or, worse still, classify religion as great or small on the basis of scripture would appear to be wrong.

Yet we have entered the paper culture. What is written down is glorified. Some take what they read in the newspapers as the Gospel-truth. We need certificates to prove our ability. We require tickets to board a plane. If at the last check-point we do not produce the boarding card, we cannot enter the plane. We insist on receipts.

These pieces of paper are needed for empirical reasons. They may serve as records for the future. They remind us of what has happened. They help to prevent mistakes. But, by and large, they indicate the decadence of the present age. In most cases they are meant to prevent fraud. We are in a world where one could, without any qualms of conscience, pose as a medical doctor when one does not know the first letter of the dictionary of anatomy. Without a ticket or a boarding pass, few would feel obliged to pay for their travels. So in a way, written evidence exhibits the worst in humanity.

Religions with scripture make sure that their teachings are not distorted, and that they are obeyed. This does not make them, therefore, superior to others.

POWER OF THE WORD
In the hey-day of traditional religion in Africa, the word of mouth was considered much more sacred than the written word is now. Written wills are being constantly contested in Asante as elsewhere with a disgraceful frequency. A hundred years ago, there was no way in which the verbal last testament of a dying person would be subtracted from, added to or disputed. Only one person may have heard it, yet it would be honoured. It was certain that that one person would not put into the mouth of the dying person what he had not said.

The word was powerful. 1 suppose Jesus taught this power of the word clearly. He never wrote down a word of what he said; but he founded a religion. African traditional religion does not tamper with the spoken word. Ceremonies of vital importance such as enstoolment of a chief, the marriage rite, the initiation of a priest or a youth into a secret society, the commissioning of a warrior, are all performed with ritual and words; nothing is written down. To break a verbal oath is one of the greatest felonies in Asante.

In my own life-time, Asante has seen a time when one could take food items from another person's farm without the latter's knowledge or consent. It was sufficient for the one who took the plantain or pepper to inform the rightful owner afterwards that he took it for personal consumption. He was believed, and would not abuse the trust by selling what he had taken.

That is what religion is about. Religion is about fidelity and conviction, not about interpretation and analysis of ideas. African traditional religion has a message for us here. Its lack of scripture has not, in any way, meant lack of effectiveness. Religion is to be practised not just to be talked about. This, of course, does not mean that doctrine and ideology are useless. But doctrine need not be doctrine because it is written, and doctrine devoid of practice is meaningless.

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