Libation in African Christian Theology: a critical comparison of the views of Kwasi Sarpong, Kwesi Dickson, John Pobee and Kwame Bediako
Agyarko, Robert Owusu
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The issue of libation poses an important challenge to Christianity in Africa and, more specifically, among the Akan people in Ghana. Libation is traditionally a key ritual for the Akan as an ethnic group. However, the European missionaries who operated in West Africa condemned this ritual as idolatrous. Following the emergence of African Christian theology, especially within the Ghanaian context, various African theologians have contributed to a more systematic discussion of such libation practices. This thesis entails a critical comparison of the views of four Akan (in Ghana) theologians on Christian participation in libation practices. On this basis, the research problem in this thesis is stated in the following way: â€•What are the points of divergence that lie beneath the different positions of Kwesi Sarpong, Kwesi Dickson, John Pobee and Kwame Bediako on the question of whether and in what forms Christian participation in libation practices in an Akan context in Ghana may be regarded as compatible with the Christian faith? This thesis describes analyses, compares and assesses the cultural and theological presuppositions of the views of these four Akan Ghanaian theologians on Christian participation in libation rituals. It shows how the views of these four theologians on libation are influenced by their views on the tatus which is attributed, both in Akan culture and in contemporary Christianity in Ghana, to abosom (lesser divinities) and nsamamfo (ancestors) in relation to Onyame (Supreme Being). The purpose of this thesis is therefore to clarify the cultural and theological assumptions underlying current debates on the observance of libation rituals by Christians in Ghana. The task is a description of the views of Sarpong, Dickson, Pobee and Bediako on the compatibility of Christian participation in libation practices in an Akan context with the Christian faith - just as they themselves understand its content and significance. In this thesis I approached the debate on libation in African Christian theology in two ways, namely following a direct and a thematic approach. In the direct approach the focus is explicitly on libation as a topic either in the context of African traditional religion and culture by itself or in its encounter with Christianity. In the thematic approach the focus is on libation within the context of its wider religious (with reference to God, the lesser divinities and ancestors) and cultural (the relationship between Christianity and African culture) contexts. The research indicates that the point of divergence amongst the four theologians mentioned above is almost always related to the invocation and petition of the lesser divinities and the ancestors. In addition to these major theological issues, "ecclesiastical sanctions" also forms a major determining factor that influences the positions of these; theologians. On their respective views, Sarpong asserts that libation in its present form is not incompatible with the Christian faith. By contrast, Bediako maintains that libation as is presently practiced among the Akan is not compatible with the Christian faith neither can it be adapted into the Christian faith. On the other hand, Dickson and Pobee maintain that libation rituals are not compatible with the Christian faith, but that it can be adopted and adapted into the Christian faith if the content of the accompanying prayer is made in consonance with Christian theology. The thesis is comprised of eight chapters and a postscript. In the postscript, I offer some personal views and argue that libation has to be adapted before it can be compatible with the Christian faith. I suggest that libation should be made only to God and to the ancestors. Petitions during libation rituals should be made only to God, while the presence of the ancestors should be recognized in a "symbolic manner" by an invitation to join the living human beings to make such petitions.