Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/217

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

be futile. These two forms of religion, if one may call them so, seem to correspond more closely with two divergent subjective dispositions than with two principles, two doctrines, or two traditions. We find, in fact, individuals and families, in the midst of animist populations, who materialize the expression of their worship by making images, into which they summon the souls of their dead; and similarly, in the midst of fetishist populations, a number of individuals and families who have no fetishes. The word "fetish", derived from the Portuguese feitigo (Lat. facticius), signifies a material object to which is attributed a mysterious influence, in consequence of the presence or action of an invisible power in this sacred thing. Fetishism is the sum of beliefs and practices existing in connection with this idea. It is therefore a mistake to fancy that the negro adores the material of which his fetish is made, or attributes to it a supernatural power. On the contrary, the fetish only possesses influence by means of the particular virtue which the fetishist has fixed in it. But, subject to this reservation, anything may become a fetish: images, bones of men or animals, figures more or less grotesque, stones, trees, huts, etc., according to circumstances or to personal predilection. As to the diffusion of Fetishism, Livingstone called attention to the proofs that the blacks seem to be more superstitious and more idolatrous in proportion as the traveller penetrates into the forest country; an observation that was well founded. And, since western Africa is far more thickly wooded than the eastern part, it is chiefly in the west that we find classic Fetishism, with its material images and its coarse practices. It is practically non-existent among the Hottentots, the Bantus of the east, the Nigritians, the Hamites, and the Negritos. We are thus led to conclude that these peoples, being more given to wandering than the others, often living a pastoral life in a more open country, have been less prone than were the sedentary tribes to materialize their worship in objects difficult to carry about with them. This, possibly, is the explanation of the phenomenon which attracted Livingstone's attention. However this may be, an impartial study of African religion makes it impossible for anyone, in the present state of acquaintance with the subject, to assert that man began on this great continent by having no religious ideas; that from such a state he passed to Naturism, to rise, by degrees, to Animism, Fetishism, and Theism. Indeed, we find as many, or more, facts indicating that the black man, from a religious standpoint, has degenerated. In fact, from one end of Africa to the other we meet, overgrown by a more or less confused mass of strange superstitions, the essential ideas of that which everywhere has been looked upon as the primitive religion: an unseen God, Master of all things, and Organizer of the world; the survival of the human soul, under a form not clearly defined; at times, the idea of reward and punishment in the other world; the existence and activity of spirits, some of whom help men while others deceive them; prayer, sacrifice, the need of a worship; the sacred nature of a fruit, a tree, or an animal; the duty of abstaining from certain actions, of practising self-restraint; the idea of sin, of the power left in man to wipe out its stain, etc. The sum total of this evidence—and the list might be prolonged—more or less clear, distinct, or scattered, collected from tribes of different origin which cannot possibly have met for centuries, leaves us convinced that at the beginning of the formation of the black race there were common beliefs and practices, such as are found at the beginnings of every human race, and on which Christianity itself rests, as we have it to-day.

(B) Judaism.—The first historical record of the settlement of the Jews in Africa is the story of Joseph; but it is probable that there had been others there before him. Under Moses, who had been educated at the court of the Pharaoh Rameses "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts, vii, 22), the Children of Israel once more crossed the Red Sea. Alexander of Macedon however, recalled many of them, in 332 b.c., to take part in the foundation of Alexandria. Alexandrian Jews, merchant princes and good soldiers, have also produced historians such as Alexander of Miletus, surnamed Polyhistor (though modern critics pronounce him a pagan to whom some fragments of a Jewish tendency have been falsely attributed); moralists and philosophers, such as Aristobulus and Philo; elegant writers of Greek verse, such as the tragic poet Ezechiel (c. 200–150 b.c.). It was at Alexandria that the "Seventy" (Septuagint) translated (third century b.c.) the Law and the Prophets into Greek. Thence, the Jews spread over the Cyrenaica, and made their way to Carthage. A second wave of Jewish emigrants, moreover, left Italy on the conquest of the Carthaginian State by the Romans (146 b.c.), and founded trade-exchanges in most of the seaports of northern Africa. Hence, St. Jerome, writing to Dardanus, could say that the Jewish colonies formed in his time an unbroken chain across Africa, "from Mauretania to India". Yet another scattering of the Children of Israel followed the taking of Jerusalem by Titus (a.d. 70) and the destruction of the Temple, bringing a third wave of Jewish emigrants into Roman Africa. The triumph of Mohammed at Mecca (a.d. 630), and the rapid spread of his religion, obliged a large number of Jews to leave Arabia. Of those who crossed the Red Sea some took refuge in Abyssinia, a country with which they had long had intercourse, and where they doubtless found some of their older colonies. It is from these, probably, that the Falashes and Gondas are descended, although these tribes trace their ancestry to Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Others took the well-known route to Egypt, and, following the Mediterranean coast, set out to rejoin their co-religionists in the territories of Tripoli and Tunis. Some, by pursuing the caravan route of Dar-Fur, across the Wadaï, Bornü, and Sokoto, arrived, about the middle of the eleventh century, at the valley of the Niger. Finally, when, in 1492, they were driven from Spain, many of them went to Morocco, and others to Tunis. Such varied origins have caused diversities of type, manners, and speech, among the Jews of Africa, but all have kept that peculiar, personal imprint which distinguishes everywhere the Children of Israel. It is estimated that the approximate number of Jews in Africa may be divided thus: 50,000 in Abyssinia; 30,000 in Egypt; 60,000 in Tunis; 57,000 in Algeria; 100,000 in Morocco; more than 10,000 along the border of the Sahara, and 1,800 at the Cape; giving a total of about 300,000. The study of their history in Africa leads to the conclusion that their monotheistic influence was real in Egypt and Numidia, and even in the Sudan. At the present day, however, they carry on no religious propaganda, but are satisfied with keeping their Israelitish worship intact, in communities more or less numerous and faithful, under the guidance of rabbis of various classes—officiating rabbis, sacrificing rabbis, who attend to circumcision, rabbi notaries, and grand rabbis.

(C) Islamism.—Islamism has found in Africa a boundless sphere of conquest, and its uninterrupted spread, from the seventh century down to the present time, among all the races of the continent is one of the most remarkable facts of history. Today a Mussulman may travel from Monrovia to Mecca, and thence to Batavia without once setting foot on "infidel" soil. Three phases in this movement of expansion may be distinguished. In the first (638—1050) the Arabs, in a rapid advance, prop-