African spirituality eschews abstraction

I came across a post on a social media site which featured a video of what appeared to be an African American woman thanking God for slavery, which supposedly saved her from being somewhere in Africa worshiping a tree. A commentator who re-shared this post indicated that he would rather worship a tree since trees are, after all, real.

His was a good commentary on the logic of African spirituality, that is that it eschews abstraction and elevates that which gives life to the status of the divine. After all, why shouldn’t humans worship the trees, the sun, the earth, and those other things upon which life depends?

Below I list a few examples of how Africans recognized nature as divine from the Akan, Igbo, and Yorùbá traditions.

DivinityAspect of natureCulture/tradition
Asase YaaEarthAkan
Ṣàngó (Changó, Shango, Xangô)LighteningYorùbá
AmadiohaLightening and thunderIgbo
Nana Adade KofiLightening and ironAkan
Ògún (Ogun, Ogum)IronYorùbá
Ọ̀ṣun (Oshun, Ochún, Oxúm)River, fertilityYorùbá

Nature, humanity, and the divine

A few days ago I posted something about the implications of the desacralization of nature and the erosion of humans’ relationship with it. I was happy to see that this topic was recently addressed on the Medicine Shell. The reality is that not only was Africa historically wealthy in terms of our ancestors’ knowledge of nature, but also their ability to apply such wisdom in ways which were sustainable. The loss or suppression of this knowledge vis-á-vis enslavement, colonization, globalization, and modernization–all processes of westernization–have not only attenuated our connection to the natural world as a people, but have limited our consciousness to a paradigm of life where nature is seen only for its extractive, instrumental value–a form of relation that has and will continue to be disastrous for humanity.