Shrines in Africa: History, Politics, and Society

Shrines in Africa: History, Politics, and Society

Shrines in Africa: History, Politics, and Society

Shrines in Africa: History, Politics, and Society

Excerpt

There is a clear West African bias to the papers in this volume. Much of the reason for this is the influence of Peter Lewis Shinnie on the life and careers of a number of the researchers presented here. Peter passed on in the summer of 2007, but his voice still echoes in these pages.

Shrines, in the African context are cultural signposts that help us understand and read the ethnic, territorial, and social lay of the land. Just as the church steeple in Europe once marked the centre of a community whose boundaries lay at the point where the rising spire came into view or the tolling of the bells could be heard, shrines on the African landscape help shape and define village, community, and ethnic boundaries. Shrines are physical manifestations of a group’s claim to a particular piece of land and are thus markers of identity – they represent, both figuratively and literally, a community’s ‘roots’ in the land they work and live upon. The shrine is representative of a connection with the land at the cosmological and supernatural level and, in terms of a community’s or ethnic group’s claim to cultivable territory, serves as a reminder to outsiders that this is – in very real terms – ‘our land.’

Shrines are vessels in two important senses. They can act as containers in a literal sense for the spirits of ancestors and deities who must be regularly placated and petitioned for blessings, requests for intercession, and divine sanction. These spirits or entities must be venerated with pilgrimages, offerings such as money, food, beer and hard alcohol, and sacrifices of fowl, small stock and cattle. Spiritual intercession from ancestors and deities is sought for a wide range of events, including but not limited to: births, marriages and funerals; the appointment of a new chief; the building of a . . .

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