Opinion: More Africans should rise up to their identity

Date published: Thursday, 7th April 2016

African tradition on display

Identity. Where does one derive answers for this often interrogated and ever important foundation of our lives? Africans in particular suffer from identity crisis, yes we do. Even those who live on African soil!

So what holds the answer?

I found myself asking these questions a few days after the Easter weekend, following the pilgrimages, long and short, that we took to go to church to mark this ever important time in the Christian calendar.

Even folks who usually do not go to church would not miss this milestone.
As an employee of a newspaper that requires my services each Sunday I happen to fall under the category of these folks.

It was a conversation I had with a friend, during that weekend, that drove me to introspect, intensely, about who I am and what defines me. Truly, what is my identity? What does my melanin mean?

Am I an African equally as former South African president Thabo Mbeki who declared that he owed his being to the hills and valleys, the mountains and the glades.

What am I when I kneel down to pray to my Jesus and still want to light up my impepho or mokubetso (incense) and throw some sewasho (a mixture of traditional medicine and ashes) in my bath water?

South Africa's Christian leader, Desmond Tutu

Generally I am not confused about my African-ness. I define myself as an Afropolitan chikita who loves everything African especially my melanin.

Yet serious questions have to be asked when the religion you grew up in, believe in, is hurled through the mud by someone you call a friend.

Truth is I was not about to sever ties with my friend over religion (one only has to look at divisions in the world and you will understand why it’s so unnecessary to write people off on the basis of their religion, creed or culture and general beliefs) even though he called Christianity a fallacy, a tall tale meant to get black people, Africans to tow the line.

This heated debate definitely earned him the tag aetheist, if only for a while.

My friend was quick to point out that he is not an aetheist, nor has he ever been one.

An aetheist is a person who does not believe there is a God. They do not believe in divinities of any sort.

Instead, he said he subscribes to African religion or African tradition and he is a scholar thereof. Unlike Christianity, Islam and even Judaism African tradition is not scripted but its teachings have mostly been shared throughout the ages by word of mouth.

My nameless friend shared that he had chosen to stop going to church and practising Christianity because it was getting in the way of his attempts to learn more about the African way of doing things.

For him, Christianity was getting in the way because it was too stiff, intolerant and unaccepting of the African beliefs despite the fact that Africans themselves have in fact, acquired mastery in the incorporation of religions and African practices; a practice known as Syncretism.

“I will rather be learning about what is practiced in Nigeria or any other African country than to follow a tall tale,” he said.


“Exactly” he said. “This religion of yours keeps you in check you cannot even question anything, you just have to believe and follow,” he said.

So I introspected

Am I like the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of Africa? Or not?

Am I prevented from fully embracing the teachings of my own forebearers because of the lessons of my Christian faith?

What is apparent is that more than ever, before more Africans – my friend being one of them – are rising up and saying no to the relegation of African traditions, practices and culture into the doldrums of life by the unaccepting tendencies of various religions.

They are simply owning their identity. So while my friend continues on his journey to become a true African man – not African by virtue of being born on the continent, I have also made my choice.

What I have ultimately reconciled for myself is that I am both a Christian and an African traditionalist. This is where I derive my answers on the question of identity.

Like the hills and the valleys so vividly described by President Mbeki, I cannot deny my African heritage. I shall refrain from frowning upon sewasho and mpepho.

My syncretism has thus, far defined me and will continue to do so. Like my forebearers, I have been able to syncretise praying into an ancestral ceremony. No shame there.

I too, am rising up to my identity. Meanwhile, I remain ever #Afropolitan.

The author: Kamogelo Seekoei is a South African Journalist, writer, blogger and lover of everything African especially, her melanin