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Opinions of Thursday, 24 April 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Juju Church or Church in Juju

The traditional Ghanaian spirituality front is lousy. It is a soup of almost all the main religions in the world dancing in the traditional spirituality pot without giving any credence to the mother of all spiritualities. Sometimes it looks confusing, sometimes clear. Sometimes even the dreaded juju is found in churches, reflecting the fearful spiritual dance in the sometimes perplexed spiritual terrain. Most Ghanaians, whether Christians or Moslems, still practice traditional spirituality – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. The awfulness comes from the fact that while most Christian churches use the Bible to put down traditional spirituality, they secretly appropriate it gleefully.

“Hypocrisy” in the Ghanaian spiritual topography is the right word.

Privately, most Christian Spiritual Churches go further by appropriating the occult aspects (juju, among others) of traditional spirituality for their operations in order to go a bit nearer to the deep spiritual hunger of Ghanaians. But in the higher schemes of the broader African cosmological thought, juju, with its negative supernatural powers and fearful rituals, isn’t part of African religion – it is at the fringe and generally seen as “evil,” “negative,” “destructive,” and “counter-productive.”

So when the Accra-based Daily Guide reported that one Collins Agyei Yeboah, pastor of one of the booming spiritual churches Ghana-wide, has employed the spiritual services of a towering traditional priest, Nana Kwaku Bonsam, to establish a Vision Charismatic Chapel, it wasn’t a big deal. What was sensational was Collins Agyei Yeboah losing his alleged “spiritual powers” because Nana Bonsam has gone to retrieve the paraphernalia of traditional spiritual rituals he made for Yeboah to establish his church.

The question is why should a Christian priest, Yeboah, appropriate negative juju rituals to establish a church which is supposed to be a positive venture? Was it actually juju or positive traditional spiritual rituals made for Yeboah for the good of his church? What are the implications not only for the worshippers of Vision Charismatic Church but the broader progress of Ghana? Why didn’t Yeboah appropriate the normal principles of African cosmology such as prayers, views of causality, or the order of the visible and invisible world to set up his church as others in the western hemisphere have done in places like Cuba or Brazil or Surinam with names like Santeria or Candomble where African faiths have been mixed with non-African spiritualities?

Despite the difficulty of reading Yeboah’s mind, his mixture of juju, if the Daily Guide report is anything to go by, with Christianity confirms the already held view among Ghanaians that at the root of most Christian Spiritual Churches is traditional Ghanaian spirituality. But they do not give credence to it openly and this has impacted negatively on Ghana’s development process. Here either traditional spirituality or Christianity or Islam is a development issue and any ensuing confusion emanating from either of them has implications in Ghana’s progress. By giving credence to traditional spirituality, Christian spiritual churches will help refine some of the inhibitions within traditional spirituality and help it grow as all religions in the world had, starting from the primitive and despicable position and constantly refining themselves.

Instead, the Spiritual Churches constantly bash traditional spirituality so much so that it is as if Ghanaians have no innate spirituality or their innate spirituality is “evil,” “pagan,” “primitive,” “heathen,” “despicable,” “fetish,” or “backward.” The global prosperity precedent is that stable spirituality of all forms and not the confused spiritual state in Ghana today, spur progress, as Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism indicates of Europe. The same but traditional spirituality of Southeast Asians drive their progress, as the America social scientist Ronald Inglehart tells us.

But Ghana is stuck between the enhancement of its traditional spirituality and its progress and Christianity and Islam, with the very Ghanaians beating, demeaning, and denigrating their original traditional spirituality and in the process opening their souls to spiritual confusion. Fifty-one years after freedom from colonial rule, there is still immense schisms between traditional Ghanaian values and the ex-colonial neo-liberal ones without any decisive attempts to harmonize the two as the Southeast Asians and others have done.

And the spiritual life of Ghana is one aspect.

Nowhere do we see this more than the spirituality that drives Ghana. There is the traditional spirituality battling Christianity and Islam, with the public domain so ashamed of the traditional spirituality that it is not mentioned in any critical spiritual, educational, religious and moral discussions in relation to Ghana’s progress. Just imagine President John Kufour ordering the Education Ministry to insert Christian morality into the new education curriculum without doing same for traditional morality. But the rupture is more with Christianity, with its avowed mission to convert and civilize the traditional “primitives.” A long while ago, Islam conversion of Africans had come with immense bloodshed. Despite this apparent rupture, most Ghanaians still access traditional spirituality, especially when confronted with dare life challenges.

As a result of the disharmony between Christianity and traditional spirituality, now and then, as the Collins Agyei Yeboah-Nana Kwaku Bonsam spiritual row show, a commotion in the Ghanaian spirituality front, with the confused citizenry, who appear not to understand African spirituality deeply enough because of its immense pollution by colonialism and its Christianity appendage, falling over each for spiritual balance in the face of poverty and distress. Despite all this African spirituality is a great survivalist, midwifing itself, mystically, and other spiritualities globally. In Peter Paris’ The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for Common Moral Discourse, there is the indication that African traditional “understandings of God, ancestral spirits, tribal community, family belonging, reciprocity, personal destiny and agency, have not only survived great cultural upheavals but remarkably even been enriched and enlivened.”

Such tenacity by Ghanaian/African spirituality may explain why, as the traditional priest Nana Kwaku Bonsam told Daily Guide, despite the hypocrisy of Ghanaian churches; they secretly access the cosmology of traditional spirituality to enhance their churches and that some of these churches survive at the mercy of traditional spirituality. Remove traditional spiritual paraphernalia from most Spiritual Churches and they will collapse, as Yeboah’s Vision Charismatic Church situation demonstrates. In fact, at the more global level, Ghanaian churches’ appropriation traditional spirituality is nothing to write home about – just look at the mixture and rapid growth of African spirituality and Christianity in Brazil, Cuba and other parts of the western hemisphere.

Theologians explain that African spirituality has, directly or indirectly, “influenced” the three main Western religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – and their use of the words “pagan,” “primitive,” “fetish,” and “heathen,” “become devoid of meaning.” And as the powerful traditional priest Nana Kwaku Bonsam would say of Ghanaian Spiritual Churches, some of which have consulted him heavily before establishing their churches, “one realizes the enormous debt the Western religions owe to their African predecessors.”



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