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African Holocaust | The Greatest Holocaust in History





Until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter

African Proverb

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will

– Frederick Douglass

The most pathetic thing is for a slave who doesn't know that he is a slave

– Malcolm X

Every man is rich in excuses to safeguard his prejudices, his instincts, and his opinions.

– Ancient Egypt

Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

– African Proverb

What kind of world do we live in when the views of the oppressed are expressed at the convenience of their oppressors?

– Owen 'Alik Shahadah

We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us.

– Chester Higgins Jr.

Leave no brother or sister behind the enemy line of poverty.

– Harriet Tubman

If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.

African Proverb

If we do not stop oppression when it is a seed, it will be very hard to stop when it is a tree.

– ' Alik Shahadah

If the future doesn't come toward you, you have to go fetch it

Zulu Proverb

It takes more than a horrifying transatlantic voyage chained in the filthy hold of a slave ship to erase someone's culture

Maya Angelou

It makes no difference what language Africans speak if our first language is not Truth

Hilary Muhammad (NOI)




Anna Marano
Kofi Asare Opoku 2005

Holocaust     Holocaust
It takes more than a horrifying transatlantic voyage chained in the filthy hold of a slave ship to erase someone's culture Holocaust
Holocaust Holocaust
Holocaust Maya Angelou

The Africans who were forcefully uprooted from their homes in Africa and transplanted in the Americas came from well-established societies with vital cultures, and wherever they settled their cultures grew roots and blossomed luxuriantly to the extent of profoundly influencing the formation of new cultures in the Americas.

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As bearers of culture, the Africans brought with them a distinctly African world-view, that enabled them to endure the indescribable hardships of the transatlantic journey and the unspeakably brutal and unimaginably painful life as slaves on plantations and homes. Their physical condition, as people who were essentially the property of others, people in chains, whose very fate depended on the arbitrary whim and fickle fancy of others, was the very opposite of their spiritual condition, which was strong, resolute and robust. The strength of their spirit, in the end, did not only enable them to survive, but also, on the basis of what they brought with them, contributed, singularly and permanently, to the new cultures that were to emerge in the Americas.

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The African World-View:

The core of religion in traditional Africa consists of a belief in a Supreme Being known by various names in the different languages in African societies. Especially, in the culture areas of Africa whose influences were to become prominent in the Americas, this Supreme Being goes by such names as Olorun and Olodumare, among the Yoruba; Mawu-Lisa, among the Fon of the Republic of Benin; Onyame and Onyankopon, among the Akan. This Supreme Being is the Creator (Chineke – the Spirit that creates, among the Igbo of Nigeria) and Sustainer (Mebee – the One who bears the World, among the Bulu of Cameroon), of the universe. There are no visual representations of the Supreme Being, who is understood to be a Great Spirit, as the Igbo name , Chuku (Chi – spirit; uku – great), makes explicitly clear. And because the Supreme Being is a Great Spirit, there are no temples built specifically for Him/Her, the Yoruba say: “Since Olorun is everywhere, it is foolish to try to confine him/her in a temple”. The Akan also say, “If you want to speak to Onyame, speak to the winds”. Like the winds, Onyame is invisible and is everywhere.


The Great Spirit has attendant spirits, children, agents or messengers who ran errands and who reflect aspects of the nature of the Great Spirit. The Yoruba call such beings Orishas, and clearly distinguish between them and Olorun. For the Yoruba, these Orishas are many, numbering 400 + 1 all the way up to 1600 + 1, leaving room for humans to discover the multifarious dimensions or manifestations of the power of  Olorun. These Orishas include: Orisha-nla (the Yoruba arch-divinity, and Olodumare’s deputy,

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who assisted in the creation of both the earth and human beings); Ogun, the Orisha of iron, who led the Orishas from the heavens into the world and cut a path through the thickets with his machete and thus had the title, Chief of all Deities, Osin-Imale, conferred on him by the Orishas.           

It was this same Ogun, who supplied Orisha-nla, also known as Obatala, with skeletons from which he moulded human beings with clay. There is also Eshu, the divine communicator, who runs errands between the Orishas and Olodumare,  and is also the keeper of crossroads and entrances. Shango is the Orisha of thunder and lightning; Yemoja, the most famous of the river Orishas, is the mother of numerous river divinities in Yorubaland and also the ruler of the Ogun River in Abeokuta. Yemoja is not only the “mother of fishes”, but is also believed to be the giver of children. Other important river Orishas are Oya, goddess of the River Niger; Oshun, goddess of the Oshun River in Oshogbo and one of the wives of Shango. Other Orishas are Orunmila, also known as Ifa, divinity of wisdom and divination and an omnilinguis, who understands every language spoken under the sun; Shopona or Obaluaye, the Orisha of smallpox and epidemics; Osanyin, the Orisha of herbal medicine and Olokun, the Orisha of the ocean.

In the Fon area of West Africa, Mawu, the female aspect of Divinity, represents the moon and symbolizes coolness, wisdom and mystery. Lisa, the male aspect of Divinity, represents the sun, heat, strength and energy. Similar to the Chinese yin and yan, these opposites, in their interaction, give rise to complimentarity and this feminine-masculine interaction constitutes the very nature of the universe. The interaction between Mawu and Lisa is conceptualized in Fon religious thought as Da, the embodiment of force or power, and is represented by the serpent, which is the symbol of flowing, sinuous movement.

Below Mawu-Lisa are the Vodu, who are the offspring of the union between the twin divinity. The Vodu are associated with features of the environment and manifest themselves as Vodu of rivers, oceans, mountains, fire or as Vodu of natural phenomena, such as thunder and lightning and epidemics. The Vodu are in control of aspects of life and their devotees offer them sacrifices, prayers and libations in order to secure their protection. Among the Fon Vodu, are Gu, Vodu of iron and warfare, who made the world habitable; Fa, Vodu of divination; Sagbata , the Vodu of grains, agriculture and harvests; Legba, the Vodu of communication and entrances who opens the way for the other vodu. There is also Agoue or Agwe, the Vodu of the ocean.

A major component of the world-view has to do with belief in ancestors who, together with the Great Spirit, are always revered and are believed to continue to live after death and to be active in the lives of their relatives by punishing and rewarding them.

The world is populated by spirits which are able to possess humans, and the possessed persons become the mouthpieces of the spirits through whom the wishes of the spirits are made known. The world of spirits and the world of humans do not exist in isolation from each other, they interpenetrate, and the presence of the spirit in a person is evidence of the concern and care the spirits have for humans and the communication that takes place between them.

Religious life includes rites to mark the various stages in the cycle of life; healing practices by herbalists, medicine men and women; sacrifices; narration of sacred narratives, legends and folktales, dancing and singing. Spiritual practice includes movement which put humans in tune with the vital spiritual forces of the universe.

And lastly, the world view the Africans brought with them recognizes the existence of a power or force in the universe which could be tapped by those with the necessary expertise for beneficial or injurious purposes. The negative use of this force is what is called witchcraft and sorcery or Obeah, in the Caribbean Islands.

On the whole, the religious traditions the Africans brought with them to the Americas aimed at improving the lives of people during their passage through this world rather than a preparation for life in a future world that was yet to come.

Africans in the Americas:

In South America and the Caribbean, African cultural traditions became more prominent and obvious than they did in North America and the reasons are due to the numerical strength of the Africans and the duration of the slave trade. The importance of numbers helps to explain the existence of orthodox African belief systems in Candomble in Brazil, Santeria in Cuba and Vodou in Haiti.

In South America and the Caribbean, the Africans were able to continue their ethno-medical systems because they found similar plants with which they were familiar. The runaway slaves who established free communities and maintained African cultural traditions helped to retain much of their traditional culture. And in areas where the slave trade lasted longer, African religious values were reinforced as new shiploads of Africans were brought in.

In the Catholic countries, Black Brotherhoods were encouraged and in these brotherhoods the African descendants were free to perpetuate their ideas, customs and languages. Although in the Catholic countries, Africans were forcefully baptized into Catholicism and were forbidden to practice their own  religions and customs, there was no forceful programme of indoctrination and the Africans therefore secretly held on to their beliefs of their ancestors in Africa, oftentimes under the guise of Catholicism.

Besides, the Catholicism which the Africans encountered had many correspondences with the religious traditions the Africans brought with them. The number of Catholic saints who solved the earthly problems for people corresponded to the Orishas who helped their devotees, and for the African descendants, the saint and the Orisha were the same. The elaborate Catholic rituals, feast days and processions also helped the African descendants to identify their religion with Catholicism. And while the African descendants maintained the fundamentals of their religious heritage, they could make many correspondences with Catholicism and disguise their religion as Catholic.

But above all, the strength and resilience of the African religious traditions and the determination of the African descendants to hold on tenaciously to them as their only firm ground upon which to base their resistance to a system that was bent on their death, culturally, religiously and otherwise, enabled the African descendants to survive and prosper in their new homelands.


The African presence in Brazil that expressed itself in the religious traditions, languages, sacred narratives, music, song and dance, especially in Bahia in the nineteenth century, came to be called Candomble. But while the African traditions were maintained, they were also transformed as a result of their encounter with the Amerindian traditions as well as with Roman Catholicism and Spiritism.

In terms of African religious influences, it was the cosmology of the Yoruba which had the most indelible impact of the religion of the Brazilians of African descent, and the Yoruba Orixas who were existentially and culturally relevant continued to be worshipped in Brazil. Olorun continued to be recognized as Creator and Sustainer of the world, and the Orixas who are in daily contact with their devotees, empowered the enslaved Africans to prevail in their struggles. Ogun, Orixa of iron and warfare, and the remover of obstacles, helped his devotees to vanquish their enemies; Xango, the Orixa of thunder and lightning, personified the indefatigable strength and fighting power of his devotees; Oxoosi, Orisha of the hunt in Yorubaland and extremely well-versed in the knowledge and lore of the forest, provided  penetrating intelligence and indefatigable curiosity to his devotees; while the Orisha Yemoja became Iemanja, Orixa of the ocean and patron of fishermen in Brazil and as the symbol of fertility and motherhood, her New Year festival has become a national institution in Brazil.

The Yoruba Orishas found correspondence with the Catholic saints in Brazil. Thus Oxala (Yoruba Orisha-nla) is identified with Jesus Christ; Obaluaiye or Shopona, the Yoruba Orisha of small-pox is identified with St. Lazarus; Xango, with St. Jerome; Iemanja, with Our Lady of the Conception; Ogun with St. Anthony and Iansa, Orixa of winds and storms, with St.Barbara. But these correspondences merely masked the African practices at a time when it was forbidden.

The Orixas continue to be relevant in today’s Brazil and the Casa de Oxum, Houseof Oxum (Oshun) in Salvador, specifically for street girls, was inspired by Oxum’s qualities, which are expected to be a source of inspiration to the girls. At the annual Oxum Ball, a pre-carnival ball, the woman who has played an important role in Brazilian cultural, political or social life is crowned “Oxum of the Year”; and Oxum features in plays, carnival groups, opera, such as “Lidia de Oxum”, novels and music. Oxum is not left out of the campaign against AIDS, and in Sao Paulo Pai Laercio, A High Priest of Oxum, has been educating children about the deadly disease, using a comic book, Odo Ya, and also establishing a center for children infected with the disease. Mae Menininha do Gantois, a famous Oxum priestess, raised the spiritual and cultural profile of Candomble to world-wide attention and thousands of people came from all over the world to seek her blessings and wise counsel. All these clearly demonstrate that the African traditions are alive and well and Candomble, like traditional religion in Africa, concerns itself with making human life here livable and tolerable, rather than concentrating on a life yet to come and has thus a powerful appeal not only to Brazilians of African descent but to all Brazilians.


The Way of the Saints, Santeria, or as the descendants of the Afro-Caribbean tradition in Cuba prefer to call it, La Regla de Ocha, the Rule of the Orishas, is a religious tradition developed by the Lucumi (Yoruba descendants in Cuba) to sustain them through their experiences during slavery and freedom and beyond. The Lucumi prefer the name La Regla de Ocha because the name Santeria rather overemphasizes the Catholic elements in the religion, which was essentially an African spiritual path, developed by their ancestors. The crux of La Regla de Ocha involves the development of a profound personal relationship between initiates and the Orishas so that heavenly wisdom and success in this world become attainable and one’s life on earth becomes a true fulfillment of one’s destiny given by Olodumare.

By means of divination during consultation with Babalawos (Fathers of Secrets), and the performance of sacrifices, as well as possession by the Orishas and by following two paths or caminos of initiation into membership: camino de Santo, which leads to the priesthood and camino de Orula,  the path of knowledge, which leads one to become a Babalawo, those who are initiated deepen their relationship with their Orishas.

As in Candomble, there are correspondences in La Regla de Ocha with the Orishas. Shopona is identified with St. Lazarus; Eleggua with St. Peter; Chango with St. Barbara; Yemanja with The Virgin of Regla, a suburb of Havana; Oggun with St. John the Baptist and Ochun with the Virgin of Cobre, the Patron Saint of Cuba.

Ochun has played a great role in Cuban history, revealing herself as the Virgin Mary to three copper miners caught in a storm at sea in the seventeenth century and also assisted Cuban soldiers, who sewed  portraits of her in their uniforms, during the second war of independence in 1895. The soldiers called themselves Mambises and since then  Ochun has been called La Virgen Mambisa, in commemoration of her fierceness in fighting for the independence of Cuba. Castro’s Movement of the 26th July used the colours red and black, which are the colours of Eleggua.

La Regla de Ocha has spread widely in the Americas and especially into the USA since the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro and is today one of the fastest growing religions in the Americas. And as in Brazil, the Lucumi in Cuba derived maximum strength from their religion to resist oppression and demonstrated their spiritual prowess over their physical bondage.


In Vodou, there is one cosmic Principle, Bondye, whose spiritual nature is manifested in humans, and in numerous spirits. The spirits, Lwa, are manifestations of Bondye and they interact with humans and assist them in their daily lives, and the practice of Vodou hinges on the development of a deep personal relationship with the Lwas, the equivalent of the Orishas, and the practitioners of Vodou describe themselves as serving the Lwas. These Lwas can mount their devotees and make their presence felt through spirit possession and inspire them to meet the needs of the people. The Haitian Revolution which was fought with the assistance of Ogou Feray, Lwa of iron and warfare, led to the creation of the independent nation of Haiti. Legba, the Lwa of communication carries messages to and from the Lwa and Damballah, symbolized by the snake, ensures motion and is a cosmic Lwa who is the giver of children. Ezili, the manifestation of Oshun, inHaiti, is the cosmic womb and also giver of children and the symbol of motherhood, and Agoue or Agwe is the Lwa of the ocean.

The Lwa live in the mythological city, Vilokan, and the poto-mitan, which is an axis mundi in the Vodou temple, ounfo, connects the world of the Lwa with the world of humans. The ancestors also watch over the people and serve the people before the Lwas and while the Lwas and the ancestors can possess people, Bondye never manifests himself in the body of humans because of his immense power. This , as in African Traditional Religion, is a reflection of the limitlessness of Bondye.

As in Candomble and Santeria, the Vodou Lwa have their correspondences with Catholic saints. Thus Bondye corresponds with Mawu-Lisa; Legba with St. Peter; Ogou with St. James; Ezili with the virgin Mary and Damballah with St. Patrick.

Vodou is the embodiment of the relationship between humans, spiritual beings and nature and contributes to the strengthening and maintenance of these relationships. It provides the inescapable foundation of Haitian religious and cultural life and has been the source of hope and survival for the Haitian peasantry in the vicissitudes of their lives.

North America:

African religious and cultural influences are very much present in North America and have endured beyond the era of slavery. The experience of people filled with the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal and Baptist Churches, the ring shout, the call and response singing, snake handling all reflect unmistakable African origins. But there are also healing practices and the use of charms and spells or rituals  called root work, conjure, Hoodoo or Voodoo that have an African provenance. The Gullahs on the coast of South Carolina have made a conscious effort to remain in touch with their African heritage and have created a unique society.  And the work of American scholars, such as William DuBois, Carter Woodson, Melville Herskovits, Sheila Walker and Margaret Washington Creel and Joseph Holloway have considerably helped to raise awareness about Africanisms and  their enormous contributions to American life and culture in general.

There are many societies in African American communities that are dedicated to the service of the Orishas, such as the Society of the Children of Obatala; the Society of the Children of Yemoja; the Society of the Children of Oshun; and the Society of theChildren of Oya. The Oyotunji Village, near Sheldon, South Carolina, an African village established by Walter Serge King, also known as Oba Oseijeman Adefunmi I, in 1970, represents a conscious effort to live and practice Yoruba religion and worship the Orishas. Mention must also be made of the celebration of the Odunde Festival for worshippers of Oshun for the past thirty years on the Schuykill River and which has become an institution of the city of Philadelphia. The Kwanzaa celebration though not dedicated to African Orishas, is nevertheless an African cultural contribution of immense significance to American life in general.


The various religions and practices discussed above have in common an African provenance and their existence and growth indicate the strength and resilience of the African religious and cultural heritage. But while they are African in origin, they also reflect the environments in which they are found. But in religions such as Candomble, La Regla de Ocha and Vodou, the core of their world-view, their liturgies and the philosophy behind them, remain fundamentally African. These religions have been the effective means by which the African descendants in the Americas have fought back the obliteration of their cultural identity and have thereby succeeded in gaining for themselves, cultural, social and political space.

But their significance goes beyond the narrow confines of the communities of African descendants to include the larger societies of which they are a part. These religions have enriched the lives of many and have given meaning and significance to the lives of people who would otherwise not have them.
This article was written as part of the 500 Years Later film project         




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