Tradition and Superstition





Tradition and Superstition

A tradition could be defined as an activity or belief passed down from one generation to another in a particular society or group. Traditions usually have symbolic implications and have past origins. Traditions usually carry on for long periods of time. Some individuals have the conviction that tradition that traditions exhibit ancient history; however, some traditions were created on purpose most specifically culturally. On the other hand, superstition refers to the faith in supernatural causality where one incident triggers another devoid of any particular natural course connecting the two incidents e.g. omens, religion, astrology, prophecies, witchcraft and the likes that challenge natural science. (Anthony Appiah)

Many communities have traditions and superstitions that they believe in and hold so dear. Some individuals are so attached to traditions to the extent that there whole lives are driven by the tradition. Most traditions are derailing and untrue. Some individuals could be aware of this fact but since they have been made to believe this by their ancestors and their keens they exhibit every reason to oppose scientific explanations of nature and the occurrence of events. Traditions could be negative.

Among Africans particularly the Kenyan Abaluhya community death does not signify the end of life but the continuity up to infinity. (Mushibwe) According to them, there isn’t a partition between life and death. Human existence is an ever changing process exhibiting decrease or increase of life force, power, dying and living and there exists differing stages of life and death. Kenya has 42 tribes; many Kenyan tribes express the reality that events aren’t going well. For instance, where there is sickness, in the statements ‘we are living a little’ implying that the degree of life is too low. (Mwakikagile, Kenya: Identity of a Nation) Death and illness emanate from some outside agents, a thing, circumstance or an individual that weaken or deteriorate a person since the agent exhibits greater life might.

According to them death doesn’t end or change the life or the character of an individual but only alters its conditions. This is articulated in the notion of ‘ancestors’ individuals who have passed on but who continue to exist or live within the particular community and converse or communicate with their kin.

Despite the fact that death is a dreaded occurrence, it is perceived as the commencement of an individual’s deeper association with creation, the harmonization of life and the start of the interaction or communication between the invisible and visible worlds. The goals of life, according to them, is to one day become an ancestor; that is why any individual who passes on must be given a correct send off accompanied by a religious ceremony. The Abaluhya believe that if this isn’t done an individual becomes a wandering phantom or a ghost, a threat to individuals who are still alive.

The Abaluhya have a tradition of removing a departed individual’s body through a hole or opening on the wall of a home. This ensures that the dead find it hard to recall the way back to the living since the hole is instantly closed. In other occasions, the dead body is removed feet first, characteristically facing away from the previous area of residence; alternatively a zigzag trail may be taken to the burial spot.

The Abaluhya believe that although death is the loss of a soul, there is recognition and some interrelationship between the buried individual and his or her soul that continues to live on. The Abaluhya have traditions as well as different notions of where dead individuals go; according to them they go to an area or land that, in many cases, is like the land that we dwell in. They believe the dead go to a land under the earth; mostly, an extension of what is the case presently; a better place devoid of hunger and pain and hunger. A Kenyan academic, John Mbiti wrote that a conviction in the persistence of life after death for Kenyan communities doesn’t guarantee a hope for an improved livelihood.

They believe that the departed are close to an existing Supreme Being and earth’s creator. That punishment and reward come to individuals who are a live and not the ones who are in the after life. The Abaluhya believe in reincarnation, where a dead person’s soul is reborn in another’s body. An ancestor may reincarnate in more than a single individual’s body at a single instance. They believe that it is vital to determine which ancestor is reborn in a child, for gratitude reasons. A community’s fate is satisfied through both simultaneous and successive reincarnations.

Additionally, the Abaluhya believe in transmigration where a person changes into an animal. Commonly, sorcerers and witches are the ones with the capacity to change into animals so as to carry out evil activities. Death according to them is a passage rite and it, as is the case in life, takes a while, in most cases an extensive time to complete. Smooth transitions are thus observed to ensure detachment of the deceased from the living. Funeral rites ensure the dead are mourned and celebrated in all abundance; it ensures solidarity and identity adoption.

Mourning sometimes could involve merry making and dancing for all except for close family members this according to them provides the deceased with light feet for the other world’s journey. A cow or a beast is usually slaughtered at the graveyard; this likewise, allows the deceased to go home to rest comfortably. The bereaved shave their hair and wear black clothes not only as a form of mourning but also as a symbol of solidarity with the dead. Most particularly hair shaving signifies death, hair growing represents life strengthening.

Individuals with Physical contact with the dead body are viewed as unclean according to the Abaluhyas; additionally, chairs and eating utensils that belonged to the deceased are disposed off. Cleansing is done to ensure the deceased’s family does not get bad luck as a result of darkness or uncleanness.

The question one should ask oneself is; what are the effects of this tradition? According to me this tradition is not detrimental it is on the other hand beneficial, the belief in life after death gives an individual motivation to leave and eliminates the fear individuals have with regard to death. The belief that death opens the door to another life eliminates uncertainty and indecisiveness from the individuals from the Abaluhya community. Punishments for individuals who do bad steer ethical living; for one to become an ancestor one has to lead virtuously. Mourning steers acknowledgement of the realities of passing on, fosters the creation of an identity and ensures the search for meaning. Traditions about death and life after death enable individuals to understand and appreciate that the period of time that we lead is in some way linked to all other time periods those that precede an individual’s life and those that come after including death. As a result, an individual becomes a piece of something that is larger than him or herself.

Personally I do not believe in life after death and the concept of ancestors. The only life an individual lives is the one that he lives on earth, the notion of ghosts is non existent and is not only imposed on people to generate fear but also apprehension. Ancestors, as earlier stated is a perception imposed on children and societal players to encourage good ethics and to deceive people that they have abundant protectors.

The faulty logic or fallacious perception existent in this tradition is that death does not end life but signifies the beginning of another, the existent of a soul that roams to protect individuals in a particular setting is clearly false. Additionally, the existence of a world beneath the earth where the dead live again is not only faulty but beats logic. In all ways the superstition is illogical, dead people do not communicate, according to this tradition the dead communicate or converse with the living; what is not clear is how they communicate with the living. How would a dead and buried person communicate with a living one? Is it through dreams? It could be argued that dreams are a recollection of past events or the thoughts that one has that dominate when one is asleep. Hence, it is impossible for a dead person to communicate with one who is living and there’s no proof or logical reason to support arguments of one individual as dreams cannot be shared hence they could be based on bias and prejudice.

In conclusion, as much as tradition could be important in driving a certain ideology for particular groups of people; it has the potential of propagating ignorance and fixed stereotypes. Embracing traditions is not always harmful but practicing all of them could lead to diminishing returns for individuals.

Works Cited

Afe Adogame, Ezra Chitando. African Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa: Emerging Trends, Indigenous Spirituality and the Interface with other World Religions. New York: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, 2013.

Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates. Encyclopedia of Africa, Volume 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Belcher, Stephen Paterson. Epic Traditions of Africa. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2010.

Bronner, Simon. Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Mushibwe, Christine Phiri. What are the Effects of Cultural Traditions? New Jersey: Anchor Academic Publishing (aap_verlag), 2013.

Mwakikagile, Godfrey. Kenya: Identity of a Nation. Nairobi: Intercontinental Books, 2007.

—. The People of Kenya and Uganda. Nairobi: Intercontinental Books, 2014.

Sobania, N. W. Culture and Customs of Kenya. Portsmouth: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008.

Tempels, Placide. Bantu Philosophy. Paris: Présence Africaine, 2009.


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