Role of Religion
The animistic religion of the Aztec is similar to many other animistic religions.
They started with the myths of the creation that was orally passed down through
the generations. They had a Master Spirit that took different forms at different
times. Below the Master Spirit there were many smaller deities that cover specific
areas of their life. The religion of the Inca was similar in many respects to
the Aztec religion. The main god of the Inca was the Sun God. The inca, ruler,
of the people was the direct representative of the Sun God on the earth. The
calendar was made the same way that the Aztecs made their calendar. They used
the festivals and ceremonies to mark time. The people sacrificed young people
to appease the gods the same as the Aztec. Women in the tribe were more closely
affiliated to the gods of Fertility such as the moon and earth than the men.
The men were more in tune with the gods of War.
Their religion tied into every part of their lives. One of the things that
was special in their religion is that the deities of their religion have both
male and female forms. This is because they believe in the duality of all things.
The religious events and ceremonies are the way that they arranged their calendar.
They measured the year by what festival came next. The political system of
the Aztec was just as closely related to the religion. The leader of the people
was supposed to be the patron, Huitzilopochti, of the War cult. They sacrificed
their young people to the gods all of the time to appease them. The religion
had a big affect on the Native American people. The religion is like the
Earth and the rest of their culture is like the moon that orbits around the
Their religion dictated the rest of their lives.
As the Spanish and Portuguese conquered lands in the New World,
they brought their religion, Christianity, along with them. When the Spanish
the church was at first represented by individual priests. Soon missionaries
such as the Dominicans represented the church in participating in enterprise.
By 1530, a cathedral was being built on Hispaniola. The mistreatment and destruction
of the American Indians led to attempts by clerics and royal administrators
to end the worst abuses. The activities of men such as Dominican friar Bartolomé de
Las Casas, a conquistador turned priest, initiated the struggle for justice.
Under the Spanish authority, the old Indian religion and its priestly class
were eliminated. Catholic religious orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans,
and Jesuits carried out the widespread conversion of the Indians, establishing
churches in the towns and villages of the sedentary Indians and setting up
mission in frontier areas where nomadic peoples were forced to settle. Taking
seriously the pope’s admonition to Christianize the peoples of the new
lands, some of the early missionaries became ardent defenders of Indian rights
and even admirers of aspects of Indian culture. In core areas, the missionary
church eventually was replaced by an institutional structure of parishes and
The Catholic Church deeply influenced the cultural and intellectual life of
the colonies in many ways. The construction of churches, especially the great
baroque cathedrals of the capitals, stimulated the work of architects and artist,
usually reflecting European models but sometimes taking up local themes and
subjects. When Africans began to be sold as slaves in the New World, they too
were forced to convert to Christianity. The church and state combined to create
an ideological and political framework for the societies.
The main belief of the African people was animism. They believed
in a single god that ruled over the other gods. The smaller gods have specific
areas of life that they influence. The lesser gods are represented in animals
on Earth and are sometimes sacrificed to ensure divine generosity. The
people of Africa also venerated their ancestors. They believed that the ancestors
could be helpful to the family or mischievous. It is custom to give sacrifices
to the ancestors to try and ensure their aid. They also believed that the
shamans and religious clergy had powers of healing. They used potions and
with divine aid to help their victims.
In Things Fall Apart there are many references to the role of religion in the
community. At the beginning when Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, goes to the
priestess he says “Every year … I sacrifice a cock to Ani, the
owner of the land … I also kill a cock at the shrine of Ifejioku, the
god of yams … And when a man is at peace with his god and his ancestor”.
This reference hints on the fact that they sacrifice animals to their gods
to try and win some favor so that the gods will be generous to them. Also the
priestess Agbala hints on the fact that they venerate their ancestors as well
as their gods. This shows that the people of the african tribes used their religion
in their everyday lives because of their influence on agriculture. The other
parts also have specific dieties where they influence the people.
Before the Islamic spread Christianity had already been through Africa. The
main areas of the conversion were in Egypt and Nubia.
The Egyptians were very intense in their copying of the scripture into their
own language. They eventually split from the Byzantine Empire over a religious
issue. Muslims conquered the Egyptians and many of them were forced to become
Muslims. A few of the Christians retained their faith. These faithful were called
the Copts and they were tolerated by their Muslim conquerors. The fervor that
they had spread up to Nubia and the land of the Kush caused the Kush to resist
the Islamic push until the 13th century.
The other large Christian kingdom in Africa was in Ethiopia. Non-Christians surrounded
the Ethiopians and this caused them to turn inward. They did not have as much
contact with the other countries around them because of this difference in religion.
When the Muslim nations rose up against Ethiopia the looked to the West for help.
The Portuguese came to their aid to stave off the Muslim push. The Portuguese
tried to convert the Ethiopians to Roman Catholicism and this didn’t work.
Some of the things that their beliefs caused are separateness from the other
territories around them. The Ethiopians especially had little to do with their
neighbors and this still has some truth today.
In Things Fall Apart one of the issues that arises later in the book is the Christians
that move in to South Africa. The two countries that were mentioned before were
in northern Africa and they were accepting to this new religion. The point of
view in the book is that the people were not very accepting of the new faith.
Many of the people thought that they should fight for their beliefs and the right
to have them continue without the outside influence of competing religions. The
culture of the tribes was intricately tied to their religion and this intrusion
caused unwanted change to their culture. One of the things that we can see is
that the people were not always accepting of new religions.
The Islamic spread into North Africa occurred due to their proximity to the Mediterranean
cultures. The spread of Islam really started in the middle of the 7th century.
The followers of Muhammad started in Suez and went across northern Africa.
France stopped them and so their conversion centered on northern Africa. The
Islamic conversion was successful at first in much of northern Africa. The
decline and the problems that occurred with the Abbasid Empire caused the unity
of the religion in Africa to crumble. This caused division within the different
parts of Africa.
In the 12th century there was another major push into Africa from the Islamic
religion. Groups from northern Africa pushed deeper into the sub-Sahara Africa.
One of the reasons that the people of Africa were so accepting of Islam is because
Islam was so accepting of them. The teachings of Islam were that all Muslims
were equal which made the African and Muslims equal. Politically the unifying
of the church and state caused some of the kingdoms to accept the religion because
the leader thought that it would give him more power.
Some of the conflicts that occurred because of Islam are due to the fact that
the Muslims were hypocritical. Many of the practices showed an inequality between
the Berbers and their Muslim counterparts as well as between men and women. Social
stratification is important to the Islamic culture and this was a cause of some
of the revolts of the African people against the Muslims.
The religions of the Aztec and African tribes are very similar
in the structure of their pantheon. They have the same concept of a chief god
and lesser gods
who govern specific areas of the people’s lives. The main difference between
the religions is the Aztec religion was very bloody. The Aztecs sacrificed human
beings to appease the gods and the Africans used animals. Human sacrifice was
not part of their religious practices. The other major difference is that the
Aztec and Inca people choose their leaders based on divine influence and the
African people did not use religion as much of a factor in determining their
leader. The difference in the way that they arranged their calendars is also
due to a difference in their cultures and religions. The African people used
the crops and the harvests to determine their calendar while the Native Americans
used their religion to make the calendar. The conclusion that is drawn is that
while the Africans are rooted in religion the Native Americans are more in depth
to their religion. It is a much more demanding religion. The influence of Christianity
on the different societies was not the same. The Christian push in Africa left
behind religious states that were surrounded by Muslim nations and other animistic
religions. They were not forced to take the religion. In the Americas the Portuguese
and the Spanish forced upon the natives their religion. They used their religion
as a hammer that swept all of the Native Americans religion away. One of the
differences is that the African people didn’t accept the Roman Catholic
version that the Spanish and Portuguese imposed on the Native Americans. One
of the similarities is in the construction of the churches. In the New World
and Africa they constructed many large churches in the main towns. One of the
main differences between the two countries was that some parts of Africa were
introduced to the Islamic religion.