In Africa, the practice of searching for and subduing animals for food is an ancient one. The process of hunting involves the tracking and pursuing of mammals or birds as sustenance to feed a community. There is evidence that hominids have hunted for up to 2 million years. The African hunter is a pivotal figure in African culture. The hunter is the inventor, the explorer, the adventurer, as well as the food collector. He is the source of language, cultural change, narratives for folktales, and makers of proverbs, adages, and aphorisms. This entry looks at the practice and its links to religion.

Historical Background

African hunters have discovered hunting to be a meaningful way to contribute to the human food supply even in areas where agriculture and the domestication of animals have long held sway. Clearly the supplemental protein brought into the society by hunters assisted the people in creating meaningful responses to their environment because of their strength and stamina.
Among the earliest hunting tools in Africa were spears, bow and arrows, and knives. Kings in ancient Africa were known as great hunters as well as great warriors. Depicted on the walls of the temples in the Nile Valley, in Egypt and Sudan, are royal hunters of lions and other animals. Indeed, the use of the chariot by Thutmoses III and Ramses II in hunting scenes suggests that the kings were able to use the war chariot as a vehicle for hunting.
The earliest scenes of hunting in Africa might be the rock paintings that are found in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi, and other countries, which are dated to 40,000 years ago. They show hunting scenes painted in black, red, white, brown, and yellow colors; animals are depicted, often with men chasing the animals to kill them. The Khoi-san people believed in the great God Tsui'goab who brought them rain, food, and hunting success.
Hunting in Africa is associated with virility, in the sense that the hunter must be fit, energetic, alert, and physically capable of sustaining long journeys. The hunter must have the ability to gauge the weather, determine the seasons, navigate the terrain, and pursue animals over vast stretches of territory. Hunting is also associated with taboos that produce hunting restrictions in sacred forests where various spirits assemble. There are some areas of Africa where the hunter is restricted from access to certain holy temple or shrine sites.

The God of the Forest

The Mbuti, an ethnic group of small people who live in the Congo, are among the best hunters in Africa. They relate their hunting skills and resources to their religious ideas. They believe in the Creator Deity called Tore who is the lord of rainstorms, the master of the sky, the creator of rainbows, and the giver of all life. Before the hunters leave on a hunt, they must first invoke the name of Tore to grant them food. Thus, in this instance, the Almighty Tore is not far removed from the Mbuti hunters. Unlike many African expressions of the Supreme Deity, he not only creates but involves himself in the lives of the ordinary people.
The Mbuti and hunting are almost synonymous because they spend most of their time looking for food. They revere the moon, and some of them believe that the moon shaped the first human, covered the human with skin, and poured blood inside. This human grew to become a hunter and laid down the principles for the foundation for hunting, which included respect for the forest.
Indeed, respect for the god of the forest is the first law of hunting. If the hunter does not respect the god of the forest, paying as much honor to the god of the forest as they do to their natural parents, they will not be able to hunt successfully. One must believe that the forest is good and will reveal to the respectful hunter all that is necessary for food. The disrespectful hunter will be disappointed, saddened, and destroyed by the forest.
Hunting is the occasion for praise songs and creative dancers imitating the various animals of the hunt. The Mbuti place a basket of food near the river as an indication that the forest deity has been invoked as they celebrate their hunt. Throughout Africa, this ritual of hunting and invoking of the deities is carried out with the same degree of reverence as seen in Mbuti tradition.
In general, African hunters discovered that the spirits of the forests needed to be invoked by offerings of food in trees and rocks. This is necessary because the spirits are able to assist humans in making a successful hunting chase. The hunters become weathermen and are able to predict and prevent the rain because of their invocation to the forest deities. The forest holds many spirits: those who have died and not been buried, ghosts of twins, monsters, tsotsies, and other creatures. Therefore, hunting in Africa was traditionally a profession laden with courage, mystery, and reward.



  • hunting
  • forests
  • Africa
  • spirits
  • food
  • animals
  • gods


Related Entries

Further Reading

  • Benwenyi K. O. Le Dieu de nos Ancêtres Cahiers des Religions Africaines 31 (1970) 137–151.
  • Biobaku S. The Use and Interpretation of Yoruba Myths Odu 1 (1955). 152–171.
  • de Boeck, F. (1993). Healing From the Margin: Symbolic and Diachronic Study of Inter-cultural Therapeutic and Divinatory Roles Among a Luund and Chokwe. In W.van Binsbergen, and K. Schilder (Eds.), Ethnicity in Africa (pp. 114–135). London: Afrika Focus.
  • Brookman-Amissah, J. (1989). The Vocation of Traditional Priests in Akan Society. Cahiers des Religions Africaines, pp. 87–99.
  • Courlander, H. (1973). Tales of Yoruba Gods and Heroes. New York: Crown.
  • Daneel, M. L. (1970). The God of the Matopo Hills: An Essay on the Mwari Cult in Rhodesia. New York: Mouton.
  • Field, M. J. (1960). Search for Security. London: Faber & Faber.
  • Field, M. J. (1961). Religion and Medicine of Ga People. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Fisher, R. B. (1998). West African Religious Traditions: Focus on the Akan of Ghana. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
  • Lugg H. C. Agricultural Ceremonies in Zululand Bantu Studies 3 (1927–1929) 198–217.