Lately I have been having strong, loud and vivid revelations and conversations about spirituality. It is those revelations and conversations that inspire this piece. Spirituality is usually is a very complex phenomenon that takes many forms and dimensions. This is not surprising because spirituality is subjectively experiential – we all experience it differently and hence we can only give a subjective account. In this piece I will give my own subjective account of what I understand spirituality to be. I will pay particular attention to African spirituality, the identity it bestows upon us as Africans, how it can be used as an instrument of unification among us as Africans and lastly how we can we can navigate ourselves towards decolonization drawing inspiration from our African spirituality.
More often than not spirituality is confused with religion. This misinterpretation is facilitated by our strong attachments to the religions we subscribe to and practice. We often think that being religious automatically means that we are spiritual and that is not the case. In laying down my subjective definition of spirituality I purposefully want to distinguish between spirituality and religion just to clear this long standing stubborn confusion between the two. What is spirituality? I understand spirituality to be a deeper essence of our being – spirituality is a state of being; while religion on the other far end is a dogmatic institution confide to set principles, laws and practices. There are no set principles, laws and practices for spirituality, spirituality is not a dogmatic institution and hence we all define, experience and embrace it differently regardless of subscribing to the same religion or not. Religion is an institution that may assist us navigate through our spirituality and perhaps give it a more comprehensible meaning, but it is not the essence of our spirituality.
This distinction is extremely important to us as Africans as I believe our spirituality, while we may define, experience and embrace it differently, is that one thread that ties us together. African spirituality is the essence of our identity as Africans. We find and identify ourselves through our spirituality. In primitive Africa our cultures, traditions and customs were informed by our spiritual experiences more than anything else. The custodians and authorities of a particular tribe would consult those who were believed to be spiritually superior and powerful on the traditions and customs to be followed which would then constitute as the culture of that particular tribe, and hence it was a norm to find Sagomas, Seers, Witch-doctors and Herbalists in every tribe who were held in high regard and honor. It was the spirituality that gave the tribe its identity more than anything else.
It is not a surprise at all that this is the case because spirituality is all about wholeness. It is all about our interconnectedness to the universe, creation and nature; it is the total sum of our lived experiences and relations be it close, distant, natural, physical, supernatural or/and metaphysical. It is never about a deity as many would like to believe, it is instead more about ourselves, our total consciousness and our contribution to the universe in all its forms. That is why we are able to have insightful conversations with our ancestors, distant relatives, stars, water, plants, fire, the moon and the sun either through dreams or revelations that can manifest themselves physically, and perhaps that is why this phenomenon is so complex yet so beautiful.
For the purposes of unification among us as Africans the key words are “wholeness” and “interconnectedness” – these words are a guiding compass to our identity bestowed upon us by our spirituality more than the birth lottery or anything else we can think of. While we may define and navigate ourselves differently in spirit it is our spirituality that ties us together, an irrefutable fact we need to embrace as the center of our unity. I believe the moment we start accepting that as Africans we are all connected in the spiritual realm regardless of the different religions we subscribe to, is the very moment we will draw towards one another as one; that is what will make us a formidable force spiritually and otherwise. Our spirituality bestows upon us our Africanism, we are Africans in spirit first before anywhere else – that is the north start to our unification.
Our African spirituality if well embraced and understood can also lead us towards the process of decolonization. The process of colonization began with the demonization of our spirituality which result in vilification of our African identity, cultures, traditions and customs – we were robbed of our spirituality before anything else. The colonizers had to deal with our spirituality first in order to gain access to everything because they had seen that our attachment to our being, our names, our songs, our land and all that we are was informed by our spirituality above all. Our entire way of life was guided by our spirituality and hence it was extremely important for the colonizers to launch an offensive on our spirituality in order to successfully colonize and enslave us.
I strongly and proudly believe that the process of decolonization will commence the very moment we begin to navigate ourselves back to our spirituality in the most truthful sense as Africans. This would require us to acknowledge and embrace our African spirituality beyond our religious attachments and practices. It would require us to tap deeper and deeper into our African selves in the sole purpose of locating that deeper essence of being that was distorted and dismantled by the colonizers over centuries of passing time – that is what I regard as going back to the roots. This is indeed a very difficult and perhaps the utmost tormenting process but its necessity is beyond any reasonable doubt; it is the most fundamental way towards decolonization.
Upon finding that deeply hidden unknown treasure that is our true essence of being, we need to document and translate it into our way of life. By this I am not suggesting that we should reverse back to the primitive ages, I am arguing that while evolution and civilization are irrefutable and consistent, our spirituality is constant – it forever remains our essence of being and hence it can be experienced anywhere at any time.
The documenting of our African spirituality should find an uninterrupted expression in our education, it should form part and puzzle of our curriculum so that it can be handed over to future generations to successfully continue with the legacy of decolonizing Africa. In a focus group meeting on decolonization hosted by the Former President of the Republic of South Africa and the Patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, Cadre Thabo Mbeki narrated to us a story of how a white man who was diagnosed with cancer or some incurable disease was introduced to a Sagoma/Herbalist by a friend, and upon weeks of consulting and receiving indigenous treatment from the Sagoma he was healed. When he went back to the hospital for tests, all the tests were negative and he was declared completely fine and healthy.
Cadre Thabo Mbeki continued to narrate how he had the privilege to meet the Sagoma, who revealed to him that in fact there’s an indigenous school that one must go through to be qualified as a Sagoma. Upon hearing this the former President established a task team to document this education in the sole purpose of integrating it in the education and the health system of our country like in China. He narrated how his intentions were inspired by the Sagoma’s sentiments when he told him of how multinational pharmaceutical companies would exploit this indigenous knowledge for profits. Although the intentions were not successful due to some unforeseen circumstances that he shared with us but I won’t mention, I saw this as a very progressive and revolutionary move towards decolonization. This is precisely what needs and must happen.
Our African spirituality is not only a guide towards ourselves but also towards decolonization of the status core. We therefore need to take our spirituality serious, hold it high regard and honor. We need to be more attached to our spirituality more than we are to our religions. In fact our subscription and practice of religion should, as any aspect of our lives, be informed by our spirituality and not the other way round. We are spiritual beings and that is what grants us our African identity. Our African spirituality is that unbreakable thread that ties us together as one and we should embrace it without holding back!
Former Wits SRC President