A Response to Semantic Racism



Aloysius M. Lugira




Experience in Moenchengladbach


In 1959 I traveled from Fribourg in Switzerland to Moenchengladbach near Duesseldorf in Germany.  There I stopped to pay a courtesy visit to a schoolmate and a director of a Kindergarten in that town.  As I arrived, by taxi, at the school, the kids were joyously playing in the court yard.  As the taxi stopped the kids became curiously attentive to know what was going on.  I stepped out of the car.  The kids had a shock of their life.  They had never seen in person, a person who looked like me.  Terrified they run away into the school building where they hid in every nook and corner.  Embarrassed, my schoolmate and now director of this kindergarten approached and greeted me with all sorts of apologies.  As we chatted one of the little girls approached  from the hiding.  As if she was affected by Rudolf Otto’s element of the tremendousness [1950:12-40] in combination with a state of being fascinated, the little girl stood hiding behind the director.  In comforting the director out of embarrassment, I told her about my experience when a little boy in our village back in Africa:  “A European missionary would arrive.  His appearance with a very long beard, riding a motorcycle we came to know as pikipiki because of the sound it


made, would get us into excitement similar to what has affected the children.”  Meanwhile I caught sight of the little girl behind the director.  I gently stretched out my hand to her.  She grabbed it and snappily pulled her hand out of my hand, looked at her hand and exclaimed in German that “Der mann ist schwarz aber nicht schmutzig, = the man is black, but he is not filthy”.  With this exclamation the ice was broken.  All the kids came out of hiding.  They all shook my hand and we became friends.


Africism:  A Response to Semantic Racism


By daring to sense, to judge and to act with regard to the stranger, the children were encountering for the first time, they gained knowledge that enabled them gainfully to feel comfortable with the situation.  Africism:  A Response to Semantic Racism, is the topic of this presentation.  Africism:  A Response to Semantic Racism is not a topic one is accustomed to.  Dare to face it, sense it, judge it, act on it, the expected result will be additional knowledge towards the appropriate sensitization regarding human diversity in general, and religious diversity in particular.


It is the intention of this presentation to approach the topic of our concern in an interdisciplinary way.  By definitional description, while semantics is involved in meaning, racism implies a belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own breed and its presumed right to domination over others.  Africism may be broadly defined as the system of African religious beliefs, ritual practices, and thought concerning superhuman beings and the world.  The semantic intricacies remedially involved in Africism as they are statically embedded in racism, call for some reflection intended to generate some healing knowledge.


For that reason let us now proceed with the following five points.

These will include:


1.   The Premise of Inequality

2.   The Religious Genesis of Semantic Racism

3.   The Need for a Consolidated Name for African Autochthonal Religion

4.   Africism

5.   Appreciation and Recommendations




After an extensive research and teaching in the African Great Lakes region, Professor Jacques J. Maquet wrote an Anthropological classic titled The Premise of Inequality in Ruanda:  A Study of Political Relations in a Central African Kingdom.  By hindsight one would say that Prof. Maquet in 1961  had hit the real nail of the underlying cause of the predicament which is currently bedeviling the Central African region.


Conclusion out of Maquet’s observations lead to the identification of the premise of Inequality as being at the root of the racist human condition  in Ruanda and Burundi.  Maquet, identifies the concept of the premise in terms of “a principle in the logical order from which a set of conclusions may be deduced”.  [1961:160].  Consequently the premise of inequality reflects the configuration of the superior and of the inferior.


In terms of human existence, what is behind premises of inequality are considerations which entertain situations of superiority complex versus inferiority complex.  The substantiation of this is what may be observed from some geographical exemplification.  For the case of Europe, Edward B. Tylor in his Primitive Culture [1874] advances the example of the Aryan race the contemporarization of which lands in ideas of Herrenvolk  which culminates into Aryanism  in the sense, according to Oxford English Dictionary, of “a theory asserting the cultural and racial superiority of those of Aryan descent.”  By an Indo-European connection one encounters the case of India involved in the caste grading, into, first, the Brahmins, the nobles and highly regarded priests, second, the Kshatriyas, the chieftains and their warriors considered to be near the apex of the society;  third, the Vaishyas, considered to be the commoners and merchants, regarded as the subservient to the two upper classes;  fourth, the Shudras, not considered to be full members of the society and generally held the position of slaves or servants.


In Africa, the effects of the premise of inequality are reflected in the inherently and semantically racist terminology of Tutsi-Hutu-Twa.  In the case of Rwanda, Maquet highlights the formulations of the inequality premise.  The Tutsi are at the top by birth as the Hutu and the Twa are regarded, by birth, as respectively, second and third class members of Rwandese society, who are supposed to be at the service of the Tutsi.  And as Maquet summarized the eight theorems in which he expounds the Rwandese situation, he states:  “Thus a dependent attitude in hierarchical relationship favours the extension to all social relations of utilitarian usage of language.”  [1961:170].


Colonialism and Evolutionism


In Africa, beside the case of Rwanda, and long before it, the premise of inequality became exacerbated by the Roman influence and the influence of evolutionism.


Round about the 3rd century B.C.E., Hannibal (247-183 B.C.E.) an African general and military strategist of high repute crossed the Alps with a herd of elephants used as Armored Personnel Carriers.  He showed the City State of Rome the threat of its life.  This evokes some of the instances about Africa which Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) proverbially refers to [1991:VIII, 28, 7] in a way that Pliny the Elder (B.C.E. 23-79), picks up in forming the Greco-Roman adage:  Semper aliquid novi Africam offere = There is always something new out of Africa”.  [1940:VIII, 17].  By inverse invasion, under the promptings of Cato’s (234-149 B.C.E.) vituperative utterances, as reported by Plutarch that Delenda est Carthago = Carthage must be destroyed [1914:II, 27] the City of Carthage, Hannibal’s home base was invaded by Scipio Africanus the Younger (185-129 B.C.E.).  This Scipio Africanus the Younger, besieged and destroyed Carthage.  This tragedy saw, as factually reported, the real inception of colonialism to which Africa was subjected, now, for about 2000 years.


Colonialism is a system by which a nation enforces its authority over other people.  Colonialism is cognate to racism in the sense that its promoters are geared to maintaining superiority over the nations and peoples they colonialize under the characterization of tribal entities.  In bolstering semantic racism colonialism finds itself in association with evolutionism.  In a variety of ways evolutionism, turns out to be a base of the religious genesis of rhetorically semantic racism.




At the root of the religious genesis of semantic racism is evolutionism.  Evolutionism being addressed here is not necessarily the theological evolutionism as expounded by the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin [1971].  The evolution of the present concern, to use the British term of origination, is Social Anthropology.  It is the evolutionism, as is aptly summarized by James Waller and Mary Edwardsen [1987] which is steeped in the pioneering efforts of Charles  Robert Darwin’s (1809-1882)  On the Origin of Species, [1993] in general, and elements of The Natural Selection [1975] in particular.  It is the evolutionism as conspicuously influenced by Herbert Spencer (1802-1903) in his Principles of Sociology [1877] and in his First Principles [1890].


Briefly described, evolutionism is a term employed to designate anthropological theories that attempt to account for the genesis and development of religion.  Operating on the basis of Darwin and Spencer who viewed the development of the natural and social world as a movement from lower to higher forms and from the simple to complex, Edward Burnett Tylor, in his anthropological endeavors as an armchair scholar distinguished himself as the champion of evolutionism.  He has so much influenced the scene of religious studies to the extent of poisoning it with rhetorical and semantic racism.  In his influential two volumed Primitive Culture:  Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom,Tylor borrowed the term animism from a German physician by the name of Stahl [1718] and turned it into a center piece of his studies on religion.


At one time Tylor refers to animism as being the rudimentary definition of religion.  At other time, he considers it as the philosophy of religion  And in chapter eleven of his cited work, volume one he repeatedly rubs it in by referring to animism as being the religion of lower races.  [1874:  passim].  From this, it becomes evident that none of the many names that disparage African religions has not been somewhat affected by the misguided concept of animism.




The Multiplicity of Names


From what has been touched upon so far one is made conscious of the influence of evolutionism in establishing the multiplicity of names for religions of the land of Africa.  For many years religions of Africa have become victims of name calling.  While some names were geared to marginalizing African Autochthonal Religions, others in a racist way, were intended to accentuate the differences presupposed to exist among human beings concomitantly going hand in hand with paradoxes which regard the human race to be one.  While some names are terminologically coined to promote the status quo, others are phraseologically framed to bear significations that make the situation look more confused than before.


A Ugandan proverb has it, that, “Sserinnya bbi lissa nnyini lyo = a bad name disadvantages its bearer.”  Calling African religions by bad names does not affect only religions, it does also in a racist way affect the people who practice those religions.  Such names, terminologically, include:  Kafir, Fetishism, Juju, Grigri, Animism, etc.


Depreciatory Terminology

Kafir, Fetishism, Juju, Grigri


Kafir, is a term which was introduced to Africa by Arabic speaking first outsiders to reach the Eastern African coast.  This was used to say that the Autochthonal inhabitants of that region were infidels, with all pejorative meanings behind such a characterization.  Europeans who arrived later, picked this designation up, popularized it to themselves and as Godfrey Callaway [1905 ]  has indicated, as well as has been pointed out by Lugira [1981:18]  localized it to the extent of naming a good chunk of that region by the name of Kaffraria to mean what they considered to be the land of people without faith.  This in addition to colonialism and slave trade, set the pace of the racist stereotyping designations resulting into many disparaging names of African religions.


In the world of scholarship Fetishism was introduce as the name by which to designate the religions both of ancient Egypt and the religions of Africa south of the Sahara with special reference to West African religions.  To fulfill his scholarly ambitions, drawing on reports of early travelers, Charles de Brosses in 1760 wrote what may be regarded as one of the first academic books to be written on the religions of Africa south of the Sahara.  In his On the Worship of Fetish Gods [1760], de Brosses concludes that the religion of Africa is Fetishism.  Fetish a derivation from the Portuguese language stands for a ritual object.  However, ritual objects are not gods, as de Brosses wishes to understand them.  In promoting fetishism as a religion, de Brosses owes much of his inspiration to Hume’s Natural History of Religion.  And as he claims that fetishism was a universal stage of human religion, he contributes some assistance to Auguste Comte’s formulation of the idea that the earliest of the three states of man, regarding religion, is the theological state, which could further be subdivided into the fetishist, the polytheist and the monotheist stages.  [1875].  Consequently, as we shall note later, fetishism is made to substantiate what Edward B. Tylor repetitively refers to as being the religion of lower races [1874: passim].


Meanwhile, what Noel Q. King observes about witchcraft, fetish, and juju can be said about many other frivolously coined terms including grigri, for African religion.  He suggests that:  “I have placed fellowship with the divine, sacrifice, and the descent of the spirit at the heart of African religion.  What of witchcraft, fetish, and juju?  Silly use and emphasis of words is offensive to many Africans, but to many Westerners they are central to African religion.  Juju was a pidgin word used in some parts of the west coast to refer to the whole of ‘native superstitions’.  It can be dismissed at once.” [1986:70].  As these previously used names were identified as being misnomers, Edward B. Tylor hastened, in the name of scholarship, to replace those names with Animism a coinage he unceremoniously borrowed from Georg Ernest Stahl [1737].






To fathom the influence of the concept of Animism as proposed by Tylor, particularly both within and without the academia, one can easily conjecture its impact in light of the means of its primary propagation.  The major propaganda machinery of this idea is Tylor’s Primitive Culture [1874] a publication which has already been referred to above.  Viewed in connection with one of the most influential academic institutions, the influence of Primitive Culture  is reflected in its presence within the conglomeration of the College Library of Harvard University.


In Widener, the flagship library of Harvard University, there are ten copies of Primitive Culture.  While Tozzer Library of Anthropology, Francis Countway Library of Medicine, Hilles Radcliffe Library and Lamont Library have two copies of the book each;  Andover Harvard Theological Library, the Law School Library, Biblioteca Bevenson Library, Robbins Philosophy Library hold one copy of the book each.  There are two microfilms of this book in this library system.  In all there are 24 copies of Primitive Culture in the Harvard University library system.


The influence of Primitive Culture emanating from this institution is not reflected only in the holdings of the book found in the variety of libraries mentioned above.  The intensity of its presence may also be noticed through the presence in a variety of editions.  These editions extend from the first edition of 1871 to the edition of 1970.  There is one copy of the first edition  (1871) and a copy of the second edition (1873) at Harvard University.  While the third edition (1874) is represented by 2 copies of the book, the fourth (1877), the fifth (1883), the sixth (1889) and the seventh (1920) editions are represented by one copy each.  The University library system holds two copies of the eighth (1924) and ninth (1958) editions.  The latest edition (1970) of Primitive Culture held by Harvard is in a single copy. [Hollis:  Harvard’s Online Catalog]

With regard to the religiously and semantically racist subtleties, the encompassing influence of Animism was this year demonstrated in a report which appeared in the Boston Globe on the Sudan.  Writing on the current political situation, among other things, Colum Lynch reported that:  “A new rebel alliance comprising of Muslim, Christian and animist insurgents spent the past week seizing key towns along Sudan’s eastern border.” [January 19, 1997 on page A2].  Trying to be constructive, the writer of this presentation sent a letter to the Editor of the Boston Globe pointing out the semantically racist intricacies in the report.  To this day the letter has not appeared in the Boston Globe;  nor has the writer been graced with an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter.  Here the semantic issue is on the phrase “Muslim, Christian, and animist”.  Note the initial capital “M” in Muslim and the initial capital “C” in Christian.  Compare the first and the second word of the phrase and their initial capital letters with the initial small letter “a” in animist.  Base the comparison of the three terms on grammatical, rhetorical, semantic and logical principles.  By the comparative process of this presentation, the conclusion clearly tallies with what Edward B. Tylor profusely indoctrinates that Animism is the religion of “lower races”.

Animism as propounded by Tylor is a pre-conceptionally perceptive name which is entangled in a variety of semantic ensnarements.  Tylor in one way suggests that Animism stands for a minimum definition of Religion which he amplifies as being “the belief in Spiritual Beings” [1874:  I, 426].  This being the case, he makes it clear, in a way, that would today be regarded as trying to be politically correct.  He indicates that he has deliberately avoided the use of the term “Spiritualism” [1874:  I, 426]  which if modified into Spiritism would have better been in consonance with the African situation.  In between Tylor declares that  “I propose here, under the name of Animism, to investigate the deep-lying doctrine of Spiritual Beings, which embodies the very essence of Spiritualistic as opposed to Materialistic philosophy [1874:  I, 426].  As if he is drawing a conclusion, Tylor asserts that “Animism is, in fact, the ground work of the philosophy of religion, from that of savages up to that of civilized men.” [1874:  I, 426].  Landing himself into semantic racism Tylor declares that “Animism characterizes tribes very low in the scale of humanity.” [1874:  I, 426].  He then unabashed and repetitively in his book, proceeds to accentuate and punctuate that Animism is the religion of lower races [1874:  passim]  For that reason this presentation wonders whether Animism is an expression of semantic racism par excellence!  Isn’t it time to erase it out of meaningful seasoned and serious religious discourse? 

However, the influence of Tylor’s perception of Animism is so perversive, as unwittingly to involve written statements, in 1994, like the one, salva reverentia, found in Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II.  It is stated that:

“At this point it would be helpful to recall all the primitive religions, the animistic religions which stress ancestor worship.  It seems that those who practice them are particularly close to Christianity, and among them, the Church’s missionaries also find it easier to speak a common language.  Is there, perhaps, in this veneration of ancestors a kind of preparation for the Christian faith in the Communion of Saints, in which all believers-whether living or dead-form a single community, a single body?  And faith in the Communion of Saints is, ultimately, faith in Christ, who alone is the source of life and of holiness for all.  There is nothing strange, then, that the African and Asian animists would become believers in Christ more easily than followers of the great religions of the Far East. [1994:82]

Despite its apparent perversiveness Animism is a loaded characterization of African Religions which ought to be discarded.


Ambivalent Phraseology

Among designations of African Religions are names which have been coined in forms of phrases.  Most familiar of such names include:  Primitive Religions, African Tribal Religions, African Native Religions, African Primal Religions, Religions of Pre-Literary Societies.  These names have variously been popularized either by missionaries or by anthropologist or by colonialist administrators, followed by their African counterparts.  Given the colonialist condition under which these names have been framed, these names share one thing in common.  And this is their qualificative objectives which bear the meaning of being less than.  Such a situation evokes premises of inequality which are concomitant to semantic racism.  Hence the inadequacy born by those phraseological names of the religions of the land of Africa calls for a rethinking.

The depreciatory terminology as well as the ambivalent phraseology in naming the religions of Africa have come about as a result of the fact that Africa has suffered more than other continents.  For centuries Africa has been considered as a quarry for slaves.  From a religious consideration, Africans as cited in Lugira’s From Fetishism to Africism, were regarded as incompetent of conceiving the idea of God. [1996: 6].  In some case constitutionally semantic racism would consider an ancestrally African person to be only three-fifths of a human being.  Such a situation was even aggravated by a Judeo-Christian doctrine which, without theological foundation regarded Africans as the accursed sons of Ham.  Walbert Buehlmann notes that:  “At Vatican Council I, a group of missionary bishops proposed to compose a prayer for black Africa, beseeching God to free that continent at last from the curse of Ham.”  [1976:  150-151]  Signs of such prayers being heard seem to have vigorously started appearing on the horizon in 1953, as projected in the Papal Encyclicals edited by Claudia Carlen [1981].

In 1953 Pope Pius XII, by an Encyclical letter Evangelii Praecones called for the Africanization of Christianity.  With this development a new disposition evolved into steps that led to the Vatican Council II, the English version documents of which were edited by Walter M. Abbott, S.J. and Joseph Gallagher [1966:  656-671].  By the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, known as the Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church exhibited a change to a new leaf with regard to African autochthonal religions.  Having mentioned by name religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, Nostra Aetate makes reference to African autochthonal religions in terms like:  “Likewise, other religions to be found everywhere strive variously to answer the restless searchings of the human heart by proposing ‘ways’, which consist of teachings, rules of life and sacred ceremonies.”  [1966:  662].

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions.  She looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teaching which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that trust which enlightens all men.” [1966:662].  In preparation of this declaration, Bishops from Africa, and scholars of religion like Franziskus, Cardinal Koenig, Archbishop of Vienna, asked that mention be made of a number of religions in Africa.  Given the multiplicity of the manifestations of autochthonal religions in Africa, the impossibility of enumerating and mentioning names of all autochthonal religions of Africa posed a difficulty that could not be easily and appropriately surmounted.

In search of an appropriate name for African religions, Frances Cardinal Arinze, a Nigerian born, President of the Vatican Secretariat for religions other than Christianity, in a letter he wrote to all bishops of Africa has acted as if he was officializing the phrase African Traditional Religion as the name by which to call African autochthonal religions.  However, he did not do this without reservation when he says that, “There is no agreement as to what name to call this religion.  Some have suggested animism.  Others use the plural and say African Traditional Religions.  In this paper I keep the singular and say African Traditional Religion. (ATR),” [1990:221]

Representing the position of the World Council of Churches, John Taylor [1976:3-4] enumerates what he characterizes as unacceptable terms in naming African autochthonal religions.  He includes terms like:  pre-literate, primitive, pagan, animistic, primordial, native, ethnic, tribal and traditional.  Representatives of the WCC have promoted the phraseology of African Primal Religion as an interim name for African Religions.  John Taylor explains the basis of this choice in the following way:  “ ‘Primal’ is therefore intended to avoid objectionable or inaccurate alternatives, or judgemental words (whether derogatory or laudatory), and to suggest both the possession of basic religious forms and factual historical relations to other religious systems.  While we may not yet have discovered an ideal term and while there must be a continuing search for improved terminology, this word seems less objectionable than others, is coming into more common usage, and is capable of assuming the meanings for which we require a comprehensive term.” [Taylor 1976:4].

What has just been reflected on above depicts Francis Cardinal Arinze on one side and John Taylor on the other, as religiously groping for a comprehensive and a consolidating name with which to address the autochthonal religions of Africa.  Reading the signs of time Pope Pius XII in 1953 in his Evangelii Praecones, proactively advocated for the localization of Christianity in Africa.  This advocacy did not get confined only to the religious affair.  It ignited an enlivening fire whose glow and warmth carried the process of Africanization both politically and religious into irreversible African self-determination.  Maulana Karenga has it opportune when he describes the second of Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles) of Kwanzaa.  He refers to it in Kiswahili as Kujichagulia, that is to say Self-Determination.  By this, meaning:  “To define ourselves, and speak for ourselves instead of being defined, named, created for and spoken for by others.” [1988:52].  With this in mind African Religions have to be given a real name for what it is, and not according to how it is, and/or how one wishes it to be.  To that end the position of this paper is to propose a name by way and means of a geo-ontological approach.  Herein after for the purpose of agglutinational fluidity the version of geontological will be applied instead of geo-ontological.

The Geontological Approach of Identification


So far the designations applied in  naming the autochthonal religions of Africa are a result of evolutionistic approach of identification.  As this approach appears to have failed to produce a comprehensive and consolidated identification of African religions, which is free from semantic racism, it is the position of this presentation to consider African Religions in a new key by proposing a geontological approach as a way and means of coining a name for the aboriginal religions of Africa.


One speaks about geopolitics in regard to the ‘relationship’ of political affairs seen and considered in the light of geographical circumstances.  One can also speak about geontology in connection with ‘being’ as seen in the light of geographical circumstances.  It is hereby proposed that the religions of the land of Africa, that is the religions which originate in the continent of Africa may in descriptive phraseology, accurately and geontologically be designated as African Autochthonal Religions.  One could also be of the opinion that a shorter phrase like African Religions is a better designation.  It should be noted that while ‘African’ in the latter designation accentuates pertainance to Africa, ‘Autochthonal’, in the former designation, emphasizes being of Africa.  The following lines will summarize the significance of the adjective ‘autochthonal’ in the phrase African Autochthonal Religion.


African Autochthonal Religion


Basically, African Autochthonal Religions forms a geontological phraseology whose thrust is geared to playing the role of an antecedent to a terminologically consolidated designation of the religions of Africa with amplifications of a religious unity in diversity.  Etymologically the adjective ‘autochthonal’ is derived from the Greek prefix auto-, and a Greek root word -chthon- as well as the Latin suffix -alis as Anglicized into -al.  Auto- has the meaning of self, one’s own, independently by oneself, self-motivating, self-contained;  -chthon- means the earth, land, soil, ground; -al modifies the root word to signify characteristics.  In short something autochthonal refers to something whose being of what it is, is formed in the place where it is found and/or in place where aboriginally it may be traced.  African autochthonal religion, therefore, means a religion which originates in Africa independently of any other continent.


Geontologically descriptive, African Autochthonal religions can be applied both essentially and existentially.  While the first mode of application allows the usage of the phraseological name in singular form, the second application allows it in the plural form.  The singular expresses the unity in essence, of the religion, of Africans in Africa.  The plural indicates the plurality, in manifestation, of the religions of Africans in Africa.  While there are many names expressive of the manifestations of African Autochthonal Religions in Africa, it is the name expressive of the essence of African Autochthonal Religions that we are in need.  After one has phraseologically checked on the geontological existence of the religions of Africans, one can terminologically propose a name for those religions.  The name proposed is AFRICISM.






The specific concerns of this presentation are misnomers that have disadvantageously affected the religions of Africa.  But before addressing Africism as the appropriate name of the discovery it is important to be clear about its antecedent which is Africa.  Africa is the name of a continent.  What is the origin of the name Africa?


In the first century CE, Flavius Jospehus, a Jewish historian advances an opinion that it was the descendants of Abraham, Japhras and Apheras, by his wife Katura, their names to the city of Aphra and the country of Africa. [1930: I, 239-242].  This assertion seems to be no where clearly and specifically supported in the book of Genesis.  Leo Africanus suggests that “Festus has the name Africa to be derived from the Greek word phrike which means horror or cold and the prefix a- as a privative particle indicating negation or absence and agglutinantly forming the word aphrike, meaning that Africa is a place free from horror and extremities of cold because it lies open to the heavens and is sandy, dry and desert”.  [1660: 13].   On page 121 of the same book, Leo Africanus also suggests that Africa in Arabic is called Iphrichia with the sense of dividing.  That this part of the world is divided from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, and that it is divided from Asia by the Nile and the Red Sea. 


Prior to opinions so far enunciated about the origins of the name Africa, to the opinion of this presentation, the name by the Roman derivation seems to be the most plausible.  This may be traced back to the Punic Wars (264-146 B.C.E.).  During this period one is made aware of the existence of a people known as Afri inhabiting the southern Mediterranean shores around the city of Carthage.  The Punic Wars end by the destruction of Carthage and the annexation of its territory by Rome.  The region becomes a Roman province.  Latin becomes the official language of the province.  Africa, as it were, is proactively and geontologically coined to designate the province.  The procedure of coining this name takes the name Afer, singular, and Afri, plural, by which the autochthons of this region were known, agglutinates it with the suffix -ca­ to make a qualificatory adjective.  Africa which is brought together with the word for land and forms an intelligible phraseology of Africa terra, to mean the land of the Afri.  In his Latin-German Dictionary under the word Africa, Dr. William Freund notes that “the Romans received this name from the Carthaginians as designating their country (1850).  While the silenced terra in the phrase Africa terra helps to emphasize the existence of the totality of the continent, terra incognita, draws attention to the fact that there is part of the totality of the land which was unknown.  But the semantically racist translation ended by creating what is called the “Dark Continent.”  The restricted sense of Africa means the ancient Roman province.  In an extended sense, by metonymy the name Africa covers the whole quarter of the globe south of the Mediterranean Sea.  The coverage however, is not only terrestrial, it can also be noted as spiritual.  Africa is also understood in the form of Africus.  As such according to a note by Dr. William Freund in the dictionary mentioned above, the classical world has known Africus as the god in manifestation of the south west wind.  So connected the root of Africus i.e. Afric- appropriately contributes to the generation of the name Africism. 




The task of this endeavor is to come up with a name which comprehensively, consolidatively and inclusively names and appropriately projects the image of Africa’s autochthonal religions.  The name Africism is arrived at by an agglutinative process which is seriously mindful of the semantic implications of the component parts.  Africism results from agglutinating the suffix -ism to the root Afric.  While the latter component part geontologically stands for Africa and the people thereof, the suffix -ism in this case stands for the system of the religions and the world views of Africa.  Grammatically, linguistically, rhetorically and semantically the suffix -ism connotes some ideas.  For the purpose of this presentation, the Oxford English Dictionary expresses the vital ingredient regarding the suffix -ism in the process of creating a neologism.  About how and when the suffix is applied OED states that:  “Forming the name of a system of theory or practice, religions, ecclesiastical, philosophical, political , social, etc., sometimes founded on the name of its subject or object, sometimes on that of its founder.”  Given this premise, Africism, as a Terminology, means:  The system of African religious beliefs, ritual practices and thought concerning superhuman beings and the world.  Africism stands for the essence and unity of African Religions.  It helps to elucidate the unity and diversity of the autochthonal religions of Africans.  It contributes to saving the African religious condition from the perpetuation of semantic racism.




Before these remarks are concluded, it is appropriate to express some appreciation and recommendations.  Let me address these concluding notes to Boston College.




Long before one meditated on a geontological approach of identification, as this presentation has tried to do, Boston College did not only meditate or speculate, but did actually put this approach in action through the inventively imaginative concern of two of its students.  Ten years ago, aiming at eradicating semantic racism, two Boston College took it upon themselves and did what Maulama Karenga has rendered in Kiswahili as Kujichagulia.  That is, “to define, to name and speak for ourselves instead of being spoken for by others.” [1988:52].  Creatively Valerie Lewis and Alfred Salesiano rejected the semantically racist identification.  They succeeded in having changed what had been labeled as “Office of Minority Student Programs” to a geontological acronym of AHANA that stands for African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American  as has been put on record by Donald Brown [April 13, 1981: 20].  This is an example of a geontologically objective approach of identification for which Boston College should be commended.




With regard to African Studies at Boston College, the nineteen thirties stand out to have engendered greater prominence than the situation is today.  Father Joseph John Williams, S.J. had set a pace which did not only put Boston College in the lime light of African Studies.  The products of that pace have inspired many African scholars and writers, particularly in the field of Religious Studies.


As Dunigan has chronicled [1947:269-270], during the thirties Father Williams was the Directors of the Department of Anthropology at Boston College, whose work on African Religion caught the attention of his Africanist peers.  As a result he was appointed to be one of the three representatives of the American Anthropological Association and the American Council of Learned Societies to attend the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in London during the summer of 1934.  His literary contribution both in Religious Studies and Ethnology to the congress, did hit headlines.  As a result both the Royal and the American Geographical Societies as well as the Royal Society of Arts bestowed on him the distinction of being elected as fellows of those distinguished scholarly bodies.


Even if Father William’s African Studies legacy and contribution, may today appear as if it is being relegated to the ‘prophet being no a prophet among his own,’ his Nicolas M. Williams Ethnological Collection, currently housed at Burns Library, at Boston College, moved the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures to recognize it, during his time, to be the only one of its kind in the United States.


Given the updated Mission Statement of Boston College as approved by the Board of Trustees. [1996 URL:] the stated three ways of serving global society gives hope for a future of African Studies at Boston College.  It is stated that

            “Boston College pursues this distinctive mission by        serving society in three ways:

·    by fostering the rigorous intellectual development and the religious, ethical and personal formation of its undergraduate, graduate and professional students in order to prepare them for citizenship, service and leadership in global society;

·    by producing nationally and internationally significant research that advances insight and understanding, thereby both enriching culture and addressing important societal needs; and

·    by committing itself to advance the dialogue between religious belief and other formative elements of culture through the intellectual inquiry, teaching and learning, and the community life that form the University.”




Relative to Africism as a response to semantic racism a word to African American brothers and sisters may be appropriate.  America today, is largely a country of immigrants whose advantages and successes are reflected in the connectivity with ancestral geontological heritages.  Eurocentricity carries a good amount of advantages.  Under such circumstances peoples’ worth is valued according to geontologically ancestral backgrounds.  Africa is a sleeping giant to which African Americans are ancestrally so connected that they can hardly disentangle themselves from it.  By accepting to be part of the process of the re-awakening of Africa, African Americans will be in position of contributing to the common good for the benefit of all.




With regard to Africism a word to fellow African may aptly be reflected in Chinua Achebe’s remark [1989:43].  “Needless to say, we (Africans) do have our own sins and blasphemes recorded against our name.  If I were God, I would regard as the very worst our acceptance-for whatever reason-of racial inferiority.  It is too late in the day to get worked up about it to blame others, much as they may deserve such blame and condemnation.  What we need to do is to look back and try to find out where we went wrong, where the rain began to beat us.”


To avoid proclivities of inferiority as referred to above by Chinua Achebe’s Hope and Impediments, to discourage semantic racism, to encourage Africans to name themselves, the submission and strong recommendation of this presentation for an essentially geontological  name of the religions and philosophies of the land of Africa, is Africism.



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