Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Religion in Sierra Leone

I received this question and will answer it now:
"What are peoples’ spiritual and religious lives like?"

This is difficult because people’s beliefs and practices are very individual, as in America. However, I can make some generalizations. They are 2 or 3 major religions here depending upon how you look at it. The major religious are Christian and Muslim. I am often asked “are you Christian or Muslim?” as if there are only 2 religions in the world. To the people living here they are. Unlike in America, they live together peacefully. I see people always praying around mosques or outside their hopes or offices. There are many big mosques (you can see one in an earlier picture on this blog). The Christians always go to church on Sunday. There are other kinds of intolerance here, but not religious intolerance. It is interesting that this does not bother the locals here at all but it is dividing Americans. I tell them that I am a Jew, that we believe in the Old Testament. They have never heard of Judaism. The only time I have heard the word jew used was in reference to someone who makes his living selling used clothes, he is called a jew-man. I wonder which colonialist contributed to that phrase. It is like in Botswana where jew meant ‘stingy.’

So, there are these 2 religions, but as in other African countries, many still practice what they call traditional beliefs. The traditional African religion does not have one speak with God directly, but through physical things. They pray to large trees, rocks, and rivers. It involves curses and what we may call witchcraft. There are traditional and spiritual healers who make medicines out of plants and put them in people cutting small slits with razors. You can see these marks on most people here. I would say that nearly all people believe these traditional ideas, although also believing in Christianity or Islam.

Another thing to note is that there are things called ‘secret societies’ which involve some type of rite of passage. I heard about these in Botswana some as well, but I am really never allowed to know what goes on there. There are separate ones for men and women, where they learn how they are supposed to act as adults. It is a type of training. There is also circumcision involved. This has become a human rights issue here. Some people have their very young daughters go to these societies. When that happens it is often referred to as female genital mutilation. It is a touchy subject between older and younger generations.

I hope this gives you some insight into religious life here, please continue asking more questions.

No comments: