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African Religious Concepts: Time and Puberty Rites


A lot of people all over the world believe in the existence of some supreme forces that can affect their lives. Such beliefs determine their religion and its practices. In addition to that, it affects their everyday life and worldview. People who follow African and Western religions tend to have different views on one and the same concepts, regarding the fact that are driven by religion. The concept of time and puberty rites plays an enormous role in the lives of people who have these traditions, but Western and African religions treat them differently.

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Puberty Rites

People face a lot of different changes as they grow up, and Africans emphasize the most critical of them with initiation rites. These events make them close to their creator and give them special power that allows them to start a new stage in life. Puberty rites, such as circumcision, exist in both African and Western religions but tend to have a range of differences.

In western religions, Jews and Muslims practice male circumcision. As a rule, it is maintained soon after birth but may also be postponed. This event is critical in the life of a boy because it reveals faith in God and shows that his parents follow God’s instructions. Christians, for example, do not have any particular considerations regarding this point so that they do not require or forbid them.

Africans, unlike other cultures, accept both male and female circumcision. It can be maintained at a different age. For example, the Massai usually conduct circumcision when a child is 12-16 years old. The Akamba, in their turn, do it when kids are 4-7 years old. Boys and girls are separated for this ceremony. During it, they are encouraged not to shout, and those who endure pain are highly praised. Africans refer to the living-dead with gifts after circumcision. Later, they bring presents to children, celebrating their separation from childhood, ignorance, and inactivity. It also makes them stronger physically and ensures that they are able to inherit their property. Unlike Westerns, they do not pay much attention to some medical effects of circumcision. In addition to that, male circumcision often obligatory while females do it willingly, for the sake of their religion.


The African and Western concept of time also differs greatly. It affects people’s beliefs and their everyday life. In general, human beings perceive time as a range of events that took place in the past, happening now, or will be observed in the future.

Those who follow Western religions tend to believe that time is linear. Being often compared to a river that flows toward eternity, it tends to have a one-sided way. For the West, the past is not very critical. People do not really want to get to know what has happened and how they appeared. On the contrary, they focus on the things that are awaiting them in the future, after death. Time is connected with the history and historical events, such as the Exodus of the Night of Power. They are a cause of the most precious beliefs. People think that God can affect them through history. He can teach them lessons or punish them in this way.

African perception of time is totally different in these aspects. They consider that time is a cyclical concept. In this way, it is more like an ocean that is always around human beings. People come from it and return to it with the course of time. There is no other destination, such as eternity. In addition to that, those things that have already happened are not treated as something critical in the framework of religion. Africans tend to believe that historical events reflect the past of human beings so that it does not bear any critical information. They do not think that history is connected with some divine things and is determined by the representatives of the general public. Thus it can be claimed that Africans live in the present and care only for it. Unlike the Westerns, they also do not have the third dimension of time – the future. The thing is that it is something that cannot be decently understood because it has not happened yet. Africans focus on actual time and tend to move backward more, referring to their roots.

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The category of time is discussed along with motion and space. The motion refers to those rhythms people consider to be significant for their lives. Minor ones refer to those creatures that live on the planet. They focus on people, animals, and plants, and reveal such events as their birth and death. Major rhythms discuss more abstract notions that people cannot really control. These are changes of night and day, weather, etc. Unlike Western people, Africans also may more attention to those things that are geographically near because they play a particular role in their lives, defining their roots and developing the divine mystical connection with their predecessors who lived there in the past. In this way, people in the West try to avoid living near commentaries, while those from Africa can even walk on graves.

Having at home and on a smartphone a numerical calendar is normal for Western people who reckon time on the basis of different dates, paying attention to mathematics. African tradition societies do not utilize such an approach because the time for them is a range of different events. Thus, their calendars reveal different events and the way they are connected with one another. For instance, when Western people agree to meet in the morning, they mention a particular time (8 a.m.). Africans resort to events, such as sunrise so that regardless of particular hours, they will meet as soon as the sun has risen. In the same way, a month in the West is defined by the number of days, and in Africa by the moon.


Thus, it can be concluded that African and Western people who follow their religion tend to focus on one and the same things, such as time and puberty rites. However, they do not consider them from one and the same point of view. Circumcision, as a puberty rite, is maintained by both Africans and Western people. Still, the first ones see it as a step that makes children adults, shapes their character, and teaches to cope with pain; the second ones explain it with their religion and necessity to follow God’s words. What is more, in Western religions, females do not usually do circumcision while such practice exists in African ones.

The concept of time is also very important but different from the point of view of these people. Time is linear and three-dimensional in the West but cyclical and two-dimensional in Africa. It has major rhythms that deal with natural processes and minor ones that reveal events connected with people, animals, and plants. Time can connect human beings with their creator or predecessors by means of rituals. Finally, Africans see time as a sequence of dates while Africans concentrate on events.

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