Unit Three: Studying Africa through the Humanities
Module Fourteen: Religion in Africa
Activity One: Engage
"In the Beginning": Creation Stories
For as long as there have been human societies, humans have asked questions such as: "Where do we come from?" "What is the purpose of life?" "How shall we behave?" "Why should we behave in this way?" "What is the consequence of misbehavior?" "Why is their so much suffering in the world?" "What is death and what does it mean?"
Religions have attempted to provide the answers to these questions. One way in which religions attempt to answer these questions is through religious texts, holy writings. For example The Qur'an is the sacred text of Islam, the Torah and the Talmud are important texts of Judaism, the Vedic texts are a compilation of the holy writings in the Hindu religion, and the Bible is the sacred text of Christianity.
In addition to writings that directly address the important questions of life and that provide specific rules and regulations (guidelines) for how people should live, these sacred texts also include stories that help people understand life, death, and the most appropriate way of living. These stories are often called myths. You may think of a myth as being a story or tale that is important but not necessarily factual. Myths are not important because they are factual accounts (or not), but because of the insights that they provide the reader or listener. In other words the importance of a story is not if it is factual, but what it tells the reader or listener about life.
Almost all religions in the world, including African religions, have creation stories: stories that tell how the world began and how humans were created. Creation stories are often interesting to read. However, these stories tell more than a simple story. Creation stories also provide insights into how a particular religion addresses important questions of life and death.
Creation stories from a specific religious tradition can provide important insights into:
- What God is like-what are the characteristics that describe and define God.
- The relationship between God and human beings.
- What is considered to be proper behavior between human-beings.
- Characteristics of human nature-why humans behave the way they do.
- "The meaning of life,"-why humans are on earth.
- Why there is so much suffering in the world.
- Why there is death.
Many of you will be familiar with what is often called the Genesis Account of creation. This story, found in the first chapters of the first book of the Bible, is accepted by three world religions-Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. In addition to this account, and those found in other world religions, African religious traditions have important stories of creation.
We have reproduced just four of the many creation stories from African religious traditions. These stories come from West, East, and Central Africa. In addition to reading these creation stories, please re-read the Genesis creation story.
In addition to reading the stories by yourselves, your teacher may want to read the stories to the entire class.
Once you have read the stories, please complete the following exercise. After your teacher has looked at this assignment please place it in your Exploring Africa Web Journal.
- Which of the African creation stories do you like best? Why?
- What do the stories tell us about what God is like? How does the image of who God is differ between these stories?
- What is the relationship between God and human beings in these stories? How is this relationship different between stories?
- What do these stories say about why there is suffering in the world?
- According to these stories was death part of the Gods' plan for humans? If not, what happened to bring death into existence?
- What are some of the similarities between the African creation stories and the Genesis account?
Writing ActivityWrite your own creation story. If you would like, you could think about what your story has to say about God, human beings and their relationship with each other.
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