Earth

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Most traditional African societies regard the Earth as sacred. The implications of this philosophical idea are numerous. In fact, Africans take the Earth to be a major spirit—not just the carrier of all the other spirits, but a vital, living entity.
In the ancient narrative of creation told in the African Nile Valley, the Supreme Deity created Shu and Tefnut, air and moisture, and Nut and Geb, sky and Earth. Thus, Geb, the Earth, was at the very beginning. As a deity, Geb was considered one of the sacred elements of the universe. The Earth as a deity must be treated with respect and deference if the universe is to be held together.
One way to protect the human and natural order is to share in general devotion to the Earth as sacred. This is why the Earth is considered by some ethnic groups to be a female deity, a god mother, who is truly the mother god of all humanity. The Akan people of Ghana believe that the Earth is a deity, Asase Yaa, and is the goddess of fertility. One must walk softly on the Earth so as not to cause harm to its surface. The person who stomps and tramples on the Earth with no regard for its sacred nature brings shame on his or her community.
The Earth is responsible for giving birth to all humans who people it. No one can be born who does not come from the Earth. When a person dies, he or she also goes back to the Earth, who, as a deity, causes the rain to fall, the grass to grow, and the land to prosper. Everything that is seen by humans is the result of a good relationship between the Earth and other deities.
The Akan accept the idea that the Earth is the principal source of life for all humans. Without the Earth to conceal, protect, and provide, the masses of people will not be happy. How can one find happiness in a society where there is disrespect for the ancestors? The Earth is the abode of the ancestors. It is here where one must find the convergence between the living and the Dead. According to Zulu oral traditions in southern Africa, a secret milk lake exists under the Earth to nourish the grass roots that make it possible for the cattle to have much to eat. Therefore, the Earth is the only source of food for animals and humans.
African people know that human flesh is also Earth and that it returns to Earth when a person dies. All living things are really the Earth, and the Earth is in all living things. Traditional African cultures often believe that anything that has connection with the Earth is sacred. Thus, fire that comes from wood that comes from the Earth is also sacred.
The Earth is not worshipped, and there are no priests or priestesses dedicated to an Earth temple in Africa. Yet humans are supposed to take care of the Earth, to ask her permission before digging to bury the Dead, and to seek her blessing that the child returns to Earth. Thursday is her day in the Akan language. Asase Yaa is the upholder of the truth, and one could swear on a part of the soil. Indeed, the idea of libation is where water or gin is poured on the Earth in the name of the Supreme Deity, Mother God, and the ancestors find its strength and value in the fact that every act is one of beseeching blessings from the deities.
In conclusion, the Earth is viewed by Africans as a sacred space where humans express their joy at the living and reciprocal relationship between humans and the Earth as the Great Mother of life.

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Further Reading

  • Asante, M. K., and Nwadiora, E. (2007). The History of Africa. London: Routledge.
  • Downes, R. M. (1971). Tiv Religion. Ibadan, Nigeria: Ibadan University Press.
  • DriebergJ. H. The Secular Aspect of Ancestor-Worship in Africa (Suppl.)Journal of Royal African Society 35 (138) (1936).
  • Dubois, R. (1978). Olombelona: Essai sur l'existence personnelle et et collective à Madagascar. Paris: L'Harmattan.
  • Lawson, E. T. (1984). Religions of Africa—Traditions in Transformation. San Francisco: HarperCollins.