The Encounter between Christian and Traditional African Spiritualities in Malawi: The Search for a Contextual Lomwe Christian Spirituality

Article excerpt

The Encounter Between Christian and Traditional African Spiritualities in Malawi: The Search for a Contextual Lomwe Christian Spirituality. By Francis G. Masuku. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Meilen Press, 2007. Pp. 396. $119.95 /£74.95.

In this book Francis Masuku, a Lomwe Roman Catholic priest from southeastern Malawi and spiritual director and lecturer at Kachebere Major Seminary, explores the encounter of Christian and traditional African spiritualities among the Lomwe, who migrated in the twentieth century from Portuguese-ruled Mozambique to British-ruled Malawi, where 90 percent of them became Roman Catholics.

Masuku first reviews the theological, historical-contextual, and anthropological concepts of spirituality. He then summarizes the coming of the Catholic missionaries, painting a bleak picture of their well-meaning efforts to plant the Gospel in Malawi. This section suffers from a lack of historical perspective. Discussion follows of missionaries after Vatican I (1870), who imposed their religion and Western culture on willing converts without knowing much about African Traditional Religion, which they dismissed as simply paganism, idolatry, or superstition. Any religious dialogue that took place happened privately in the lives of the Lomwe Christians, as the missionaries would have seen their views as syncretistic.

In subsequent chapters Masuku deals with the contemporary relationship between Christianity and Lomwe Traditional Religion. The discussion, which is based on fifty in-depth interviews with priests, nuns, catechists, and lay Catholics, shows a good understanding of Lomwe culture and Traditional Religion. The interviews reveal that Catholic leadership, though now Lomwe, still strictly rejects Traditional Religion. The priests show some good insights into the possibilities Vatican Ð (1962-65) offers for religious dialogue, but they do not communicate any of these points to the laity, who still believe that their ancestor veneration, spirit possession, and initiation rites (which, according to the church's teaching, are paganism or idolatry) involve serving multiple gods. …