Earlier this month we wrote about the Kara Heritage Institute, which takes its name from Karaism. While Christianity is currently the largest religion in Africa, it is believed that Karaism is the oldest, dating back to the beginning of recorded history. It was the foundation of ancient African religion and philosophy, and it’s thought that its influence still permeates African traditions and culture today.
The first record of African spirituality dates to around 5000 years ago when people practiced a religion that was based on what could be seen in the heavens. Awareness of God and divinity was linked to the sun, the moon and the stars – because the movement of celestial bodies had an impact on things like the seasons, which affected harvests, it made sense that people saw the heavens as evidence of divine power. The power of the sun was considered the most important factor in daily lives, so the sun itself was regarded as a manifestation of God. The sun as a symbol of divinity was referred to by a number of names, one of which being Kara (Light). Thus faith in the Divine Light became known as Karaism.
The first known inhabitants of Africa, in the regions now known as Ethiopia and Egypt, as well as their descendants who migrated to Southern Africa, observed the movements that took place in the sky, the heavens, and the universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere. From these movements, they developed solar and lunar calendars. They had a week of 10 days, twelve months of 30 days each and the thirteenth month of 5 days. They divided the year into four quarters of three months each, and dedicated each quarter and season to the gods, which were worshipped at specific times, as determined by the movement of the sun, the moon and the planets.
This study of the sun, moon, stars and planets became known as African cosmology, and resulted in the formation of Karaism, which dominated every aspect of African life, stipulating when people planted, when they harvested, whom they worshipped and when they initiated their young men into manhood.
Karaism marked the beginning of a long history of worship of the ‘Sun God’ in various guises, eventually evolving into the major western and middle-eastern religions that are practiced today. As Africans, we can rightly be proud of the powerful influence of our religious heritage on today’s cultural identity and religious practices.
Image courtesy of www.britannica.com