The Challenges of Raising Children in an African Traditional Religion

We are supposed to be living in a time where there is freedom of expression and religion. However, the reality is that as a parent raising children in an African Traditional Religion (ATR) I know that my children will be treated differently if I openly would have said during the enrollment interview in their non secular school, “Oh yes, by the way, one of my children is an Olosha and the other one is preparing to become a Palero.”

I can see the polite smiles and the colors dancing on their faces as they try disguise surprise, contempt and a way to reject a perfectly good check of a few thousand dollars for their tuition. The first reaction for most teachers and school directors is to jump to their own religious roots and to snap quick judgments based on their religious programming, it is a natural reaction. What is not natural is to let that religious programming obscure the fact that all families have the right to religious self-determination and that not always parents are Christians, Jewish or Muslims to name three mainstream religions.

This issue however, goes beyond tolerance. The existence and persistence of African Traditional Religions spits on the face of those who have been programmed to see us as evil heathens who worship the devil. We are not evil, we are not heathens and certainly we do not worship the devil. Nonetheless, our existence challenges their narrow understanding of good and evil because quite frankly, we do not fit the mold of with God and against the devil.

Most private schools, even if they are non-secular, will have some form of ‘values’ included in their curriculum and those as I have seen unequivocally are modeled after Christian values. There is nothing wrong with Christian values, if your child is a Christian. Mine happen not to be, they are Lukumí and they have the right to not be exposed to values contrary to their own, at least during the formative years when they are more impressionable and prone to confusion.

How do we as parents manage to obtain a good education for our children be it in public or private schools, and still keep them away from the religious goody two shoes that believe that proselytizing is their divine right and that our children are a great target to ‘convert’? Here is what I have found to work for my family.

It takes a village to raise a child.

The very foundations of the Lukumí practices are centered on community, and so are the roots of literally any other ATR I can think of. It is crucial for children to learn by example to see their practices at many different levels, to be surrounded by grandparents, aunties and uncles. In my religious family elders are seen by my children as aunts and uncles, unless they are much older and seen as grandparents. Children need the stability of family and in our days where we are so mobile, it is much more important to be able to provide this foundation.

It takes prudence to raise a child

I would like to say that our children are truly free to say who they are wherever they are, but face it, if they do so, they will be misunderstood, mistreated and ostracized because being children they will not be able to articulate their religious believes properly. It can even get uglier than that, you can come across a meddler that would like to report you to Child Protective Services because in your religion chickens are sacrificed. These sorts of meddlers will not care to research that we don’t sacrifice chickens at the drop of a hat and that there are guidelines of when and why to use a life force in our religious context. No, they will only care about their own understanding of how the world should be. Take for example the case of the New Jersey mother who currently battles in a court because she initiated her daughter into Palo and the girl had no prudence and spoke to an outsider of their family practices.

I want neither of my children to suffer discrimination, therefore I am prudent in the level of knowledge they acquire. This knowledge is imparted to them as I see they can manage to exercise good judgment and know when to speak and when to be quiet about their religion. I truly hate the fact that my children need to learn the value of secrecy. But on the other hand, I remember that the pillars of Western Magic are fairly wise: “To will, to know, to dare and to keep silence.” Yes, there is stuff we can learn from our Western brothers.

It takes preparation to raise a child

One of the main obstacles my husband and I have faced is the lack of educational materials to support a homeschooled based curriculum. I have had to get very organized and resourceful both in the creation of materials as well as in structuring our teachings to compliment their own school curriculum. We are not trained in pedagogy, but we are both professionals and the combined knowledge of our respective fields has greatly helped to develop a curriculum. To that we add the support of our godfather who has placed in our hands a wealth of written resources from the ilé. We have in turn re-worked the material into lessons at the level of our children’s age and capacity, and there we have it, a system to teach in an organized and systematic ways the fundamentals of the Orishas.

However, children not only learn from lessons, they also need supplementary materials, toys and tools to learn. We have been also working on these elements and finding ways to integrate lessons in every day actions. For example, a walk in the park is for my husband and I an opportunity to teach about the importance of Osain, to point out trees, shrubs and herbs and their importance. A day at the beach can become a lab practice in how to do a cleansing with Yemayá or how to pray to this wonderful orisha. It is all a matter of creativity and organization we are surrounded with opportunities to teach.

Effective teachers practice active listening

Active listening is a great tool because it allows parents to gage the level of engagement our children as we convey religious teachings, it lets you see if the material is being assimilated properly and if you need to increase or decrease the complexity of the material being presented. I would suggest parents to become familiar with this technique and to practice it with his/her spouse first so it becomes second nature in your conversation and not a forced technique.

At large there are three degrees in active listening: Repeating, paraphrasing and reflecting.
When teaching a concept, ask your student to repeat what they understood and then let them hear it from you again using exactly their same words. In paraphrasing, you render back the message to the student using similar words and structure to what they expressed, and in reflecting, simply render a final summation of the concept being conveyed using your own words and concepts thus reinforcing a lesson.

By all means, this is a subject worth exploring from more angles and certainly with the input of parents who are actually professional educators. As the expression goes; it takes a village to raise a child. Share your own experiences and techniques and help to raise our village’s knowledge.

Omimelli
Oní Yemayá Achagbá

About Omimelli

I am a Olosha or Santera and for years I have been at the service of the Orisha and the community. I am initiated to Yemayá and my father in osha is Aganjú. I am also an initiate of Palo Mayombe and hold the title of Yaya Nkisi. As part of my daily devotional I spend time at my bóveda and work with my spirits on regular basis.
This entry was posted in Palo Monte, Santeria, Vodou. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Challenges of Raising Children in an African Traditional Religion

  1. Patricia Brown says:

    I honor your efforts to teach your children the religion of family and ancestors. So little is known to so many of us of our roots in these matters, especially as a white woman, I would cherish these teachings if they were mine. I learn second hand from books and other explorers, it is quite difficult so please let them know how very fortunate they are. I respect their rights and honor their opportunities. I look forward to reading more about your family and religion, to counter especially the stereotypes that others use to oppress and indoctrinate. It is good to hear of your respect for nature, and the birds used in ritual.

    • Omimelli says:

      Patricia,

      Thank you so very much for your words they mean a lot to both my husband and I.

      I will continue to post more articles on this subject as time goes by.

      Modupué,

      Omimelli

      • chris says:

        My wife is trying to reconnect to her roots, she has been searching for anything about African traditional regilion. We are looking for teachers, priests, priestess, anyone who can teach us the regilion of her ancestors. My wife feels empty and lost without a spiritual connection. She was raised in a Christian cult and seeks the true spiritual beliefs that were beaten out of the African slaves. After 500 years of brutal suppression of a culture we are finding it difficult to learn anything. If anyone here could help or offer advice we would be most grateful. May the spirits guide and bless you all.

        • Omimelli says:

          Hello Chris,

          There is so much information out there about so many different ATR paths. What in particular calls to her? It is important to first learn about the basic thread that unites most ATRs if not all, the veneration of ancestors. This is where I would suggest she starts. Ancestors Path is a really good book to read. Hint, hint…get her a copy of the book as a little present. 🙂

          The author is Aladokun, you can find the book on line rather easily

          Which part of the country do you live in? I could offer some recommedations of places to visit or people to meet.

          Omimelli

    • Darence says:

      That’s a sensible answer to a chagienllng question

  2. Wes says:

    sometimes the village is just no good in relation to physical proximity. Some of these villages of the world are shams and devoid of class, value or tradition and they merely appropriate from others and discard with no empathy. Yes we have the right to raise our children and the right to not disclose information. Some do not understand boundaries. No need to discuss it just simpley continue with it.

  3. Paula says:

    Excellent article. Many of my pagan friends also face these challenges with the schooling of their children.
    It is my hope for the future that the Afro-Caribbean traditions would have an infrastructure of schools and services for our community so there would be no need to hide who we are, and to see true freedom of religion.

  4. Omimelli says:

    Hello Paula,

    I really appreciate your encouraging words. Since I posted the article I have gotten very nice emails on the subject and I am considering preparing materials that could be of benefit for other parents going through the same challenges that my husband and I share.

    The future is for us to define and I know that we can certainly create support structures for parents who see the need to supplement their children’s education with materials that respond to their religious convictions and way of life.

    Odabo

    Omimelli

  5. axa says:

    Dear Omimelli,
    I have found a great solution to this problem, Montessori schools. These are brain-based, sciece based schools which nurture innovative and creative thinking and embrace cultural diversity as part of their core philosophy. They are not anti-religion oor pro religion, and they do deal with spirituality in a broad sense, especially conection to nature, origins and so forth.
    Generally the schools are not-for-profit and low-fee compared to episcopalian/protestant and catholic schools without the religious hang ups (I pay $5000 per year which in Oz is reasonable). Please consider this as a viable alternative. Check they are Association Internationale Montessori (AMI) accredited to ensure they are authentic.

    It was a revelation for our family, seeing my child’s creativtiy and social nature flourish in a space where she can tell the other kids that she is going to see Iemanja when we go to the beach! At this school the adolescents even study initiatic traditions as rites of passage before participating in their own nature retreat/ initiation facillitated by their mentors and teachers to enable them to more smoothly passage from child hood to adulthood.

    Good luck with the process,

    Axa

    • Omimelli says:

      Hello Axa,

      This is a really good alternative, I will look into them. I was raised in a Catholic school and it was a horrid experience. We were chastized for asking questions about other religions and for exhibiting curiousity about spiritual matters beyond the scope of their curriculum.

      Still, there is a great need to create materials to explain our children the fundamentals of ATRs. 🙂

      Omimelli

      • axa says:

        I hope that you can find a Montessori school in your local area, their take on spirituality as well as well-researched pedagogy is what won me over.

        Definitely the need for some good english-language books for children. I have been making watercolour pictures for my daughter and discussing things that way. I am currently working alone where we live with my husband on this path, until we head to south America later in the year, where a friend is taking us to her House, I am quite lucky because she has a daugther the same age, although in a different city. We have through the internet actually made some sound connections within Australia and NZ, but I could count them on one hand. Most people in Australia who practise magick are Wiccans, and when they aren’t cherry picking bits and pieces from other systems they are intimidated by Spiritism.

        I love reading the Mystic Cup blog, and find especially interesting the discussions on more europeans being drawn to ATRs and their attitudes. I have found these same attitudes prevalent in other parts of the magickal community (not mentioning any names thelemites)
        I am a mingle of lots of nations, but would be identified as being as European. The sense of entitlement often discussed in the articles has me saying ‘I know!!!!’ It is a big problem in ‘white’ culture.

        Axa

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