drumming

Events in connection with the controversial yearly drum-banning issue still continue to highlight a wide gap existing between Christians and African traditionalists, a gap which needs to be narrowed by the recognition of the fact that the differences are merely a question of religion and nothing else!

Whilst the traditionalists insist that all their customs and rituals are pristine, sacrosanct, and an inviolable culture and therefore must be rigorously obeyed by members of each community, despite each one?s religious cut, Bible-oriented Christians think otherwise, insisting that drum-banning is a yearly practice of a ?religious group? that calls itself African Traditional Religion (ATR), but not an agreed-upon ritual of a whole modern-day community of citizens who have their different religions. This is what Ghanaian chiefs must know and appreciate, so to impose ATR edicts on its own believers only and not on inhabitants of different or various religious beliefs.

Christians raise eyebrows over the discovery that African traditions are ingenuously and almost inextricably bound up with African Traditional Religion whose creed, doctrinal and ritual essentials differ markedly from those of the Christian religion. Thus the main contention of the Christians is that any true believer who dabbles in the religious aspects of African traditions is certainly on the road to breaking God?s commandments, or to flouting the teachings of Christ, which will lead him or her to hell, after his death. I strongly share this opinion.

Take for instance the question of libation pouring of the traditionalists, a ritual embedded in many of our traditional customs such as marriage ceremonies, birth and naming rituals, divorce, enstoolment of a chief, burial and funerals or praying for deliverance or exorcism, or for blessings from God. In all these, there is libation pouring ostensibly to God, then to the gods and ancestral spirits.

And this is what presents problems to the true Christians: whether to get himself involved in what is called ?amannee? (traditions) or ?kusum? (custom, which word suspiciously derives from the English ?custom?) without compromising his own Christian principles.

Bible-oriented Christians (but not the free-going, half-hearted Christians) see libation pouring as an anathema in the context of the Word of God, especially in Christ?s own teachings on prayers in which he never mentioned the pouring of libation as a way of praying.

Christ directs: ?when you pray ?.say ?Our Father who art in Heaven?.? And do not keep babbling like pagans?.?. Particularly, it is even the prayer-words of the traditionalists which make Christians flinch, especially the invocation of the gods and ancestral spirits, an act which the Supreme God vehemently forbids in Exodus 20:2-3: ?I am the Lord your God?. You shall not have any other gods apart from me?, and again God forbids it in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ?let no one be found among you? who practices divination or sorcery or casts spells, or  who? is a spiritists or who consults the dead. Any one who does this is detestable to the Lord?. In libation ritual, the dead are invoked or consulted, thus flouting the Word of God.

I contend that the libation pouring prayer mode is, to the Christian, very much extraneous to the Christian religion. In the small, primitive society of long ago, libation used to be ?amanee? (the ?state thing?, the ?state ritual?) in which all the ?oman? (the state or community) participated willingly because they, of one accord, believed in the gods and ancestral spirits being invoked.

But in modern times, such religious rites as pouring of libation, sacrifice of sheep to shrine gods, seasonal silent meditation and its drum-banning edicts etc are no more ?amanee? (?state thing? or community ritual) but ?ekuw-adee? (?group thing?) or group ritual, only participated and appreciated by a religious group (adherents of the traditional religion only). Therefore the tenets of these religious observances cannot be imposed on Christians, Muslims and so on, who do not believe them or share in their religious essentials.

This is the logic of the controversy. Thus if this religious rationalisation is well understood by both sides, there will be mutual respect and peace. On the issue of their system of praying to the gods and ancestral spirits, the traditionalists naively point to the Roman Catholics as doing the same thing, and ask whether they (the Catholics) are not also Christians? Last week, a traditionalist argued that the Catholics also invoke their ?ancestral spirits? whom they euphemistically call ?saints?. He argued (as others are still contending) that since the Roman Catholics make statues of some dead religious heroes of European origin and kneel before them to worship them, why do Christians consider it an aberration if they, the traditionalists, also do the same thing?? He asked why African statues modelled after some rivers, rocks or forest gods are branded as fetish, whilst European idols which are more beautifully carved or moulded are called ?holy statues of saints?, instead of being called gods.

Even though I am not holding brief for the Roman Catholics, I consider (in respect of my deductions from hagiological theology) that the Catholic saints are not the same as the one-time pipe-smoking, akpeteshie-quaffing, adulterous or idolatrous men who died and became ancestral spirits of the traditionalists. The Catholic saints, to the best of my knowledge, are Godly spirits who sanctified themselves in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2) and were beatified and made saints by the Vatican after several years of research into their moral and religious lifestyles which they led when they were in this world. Besides, their sainthood is often proven by the true and amazing miracles performed by their relics (especially their clothing).

At any rate, the comparison being made between the traditionalists? ancestral spirits and idols and the Catholic saints and statues on the other hand, is just far-fetched and out of place in this libation pouring or drum-banning issue.

How can an ancestral spirit be said to be holy if he continues to drink akpeteshie or schnapps poured to him in libation? How can a boozed ancestral spirit who ?blows fuse? from his mouth pray and intercede effectively before God? Will God listen to him at all? Of course, such spirits dare not go near to God because of their previous many sins which have ostracised them from even the precincts of heaven.

Going back to culture of libation pouring to the gods and ancestral spirits, one can contend seriously that it is prudent for a true Christian who wants to enter heaven to refrain from the ?tradition of men? (Matthew 15:6).

In my point of view, the nearest reconcilable position a Christian might take in relation to traditional religion?s practices which are glibly described as ?culture? or ?traditions?, is ?to allow traditionalists to pour their own libation, or to let them do their own thing. As Christ says, ?let the dead bury their own dead?. (Matthew 8:22).

And this brings us to the question of a Christian ?playing asafo? (playing the role of the historical community warrior who went to war through beating of drums and firing of musketry, which is now a memorial ritual).

Christians can play or dance ?Asafo?, provided they do not join the group to the ?Asafo? company?s fetish shrine for libation pouring and drinking of juju water, or provided they do not drink any alcoholic beverage.

In point of fact, our African traditions are an amalgam of religion, superstitions and pure aesthetic culture. And if a discerning Christian is able to perceive the religious and superstitious dross which he should shun, there should be no problem participating in showcasing our cultural heritage.

But care must be taken that Christian doctrines are not sacrificed on the altar of traditional religion which often comes by the name ?culture?. Some half-hearted, biblically ignorant Christians fall into that trap, but they are warned of their ?accountability? in life after death! So, Christians must beware of the religious trappings of tradition and culture.

NB. Many of us political scholars are gladdened by Nana Akufo-Addo?s declaration last three days that he will still continue with his ?Presidential? politics. That actually meets the expectations of several Ghanaians, and I say ?ayekoo? to him. Full discussions of this declaration will come up soon.

 By Apostle Kwamena Ahinful

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