Sacrifice is a classic theme in African theology. From Augustine’s profound discussion of the notion in De Civitate Dei, to the images of the Lamb of God in Ethiopian illuminated manuscripts, to the invocation of the blood of Jesus in Pentecostal prayers, the notion of sacrifice has played an important role in the lives of African Christians. Given the long history of sacrifice in African theology, this article mainly focusses on sacrifice in English-speaking African theology since the middle of the twentieth century.
The English word ‘sacrifice’ has several different but related meanings in ordinary usage, both in the Global North and in Africa. According to Lexico.com (2022), it can mean: “an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to a deity,” “Christ's offering of himself in the Crucifixion,” “the Eucharist regarded either (in Catholic terms) as a propitiatory offering of the body and blood of Christ or (in Protestant terms) as an act of thanksgiving,” and “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” All of these meanings need to be kept in mind when approaching sacrifice in African theology. As African theologians have sought to develop concepts of sacrifice that are faithful to the Christian tradition and meaningful in African social contexts, one of the key questions has concerned the relation between African and Christian notions of sacrifice. Answering this question not only involves comparing how ritual sacrifice and sacrificial giving up in African traditions relate to their counterparts in the Old Testament, but also to the Cross, the Eucharist and various forms of Christian sacrifice. Such a comparison is further complicated by the fact that sacrifice is a polythetic concept. In a conventional monothetic class, members must have a certain characteristic or series of characteristics in common in order to belong to that class. In a polythetic class, however, members may share a number of characteristics that occur commonly in other members, but no single characteristic is essential for belonging to that class. When African theologians use the concept of sacrifice in relation to Hebrew and African traditions, it includes a range of practices that do not necessarily have a single feature in common. They make different decisions about what features to include and what to ignore, which results in a variety of approaches and understandings. Nevertheless, within this variety of approaches, the sacrifice of Christ is the key to their understanding of sacrifice. For them, Christ’s offering of himself – not just in the Crucifixion but throughout his life – is the true and universal sacrifice that ends and fulfils all sacrifice. In the process, it integrates meanings of sacrifice from both Hebrew and African traditions and continues to shape Christian sacrifice today.
The article begins by presenting useful introductory resources and giving examples of the rich variety of primary resources available online. The first two thematic sections explore missionary accounts and anthropological studies of sacrifice in African traditional religions, which provide important background for African theological discussions. The four main sections deal with different areas of African theology. The first section focusses on the relation between African theology and African traditional religions. The second section covers biblical tradition, including Hebrew tradition and the sacrifice of Christ. The third section considers ritual sacrifice, the blood of Jesus and the Eucharist in Christian liturgy and spirituality. The final section examines Christian social ethics, looking at martyrdom, suffering, self-sacrifice and giving.
There are no articles or books that provide an overview of the theme of sacrifice across the entire field of African theology, but there are a number of key articles that offer useful points of entry into different areas of discussion. Sawyerr 1969 is a classic that provides historical background to the discussion, indicates key questions that the practice of ritual sacrifice raises for African theologians and suggests ways in which African notions of sacrifice can contribute to wider discussions. Awolalu 1973 and Ukpong 1983 are exemplary contributions to the study of ritual sacrifice in African traditional religions. Awolalu shows the importance of paying close attention to African sacrificial terminology and making detailed descriptions of a wide variety of sacrificial practices. Ukpong demonstrates the need to understand ritual sacrifice in relation to African systems of thought rather than foreign frames of reference. Ekem 2007, Kalengyo 2009 and Oduyoye 1986 exemplify the study of sacrifice in three major areas of African theology: biblical studies, liturgical theology and social ethics. Ekem stresses the need for constructive dialogue between biblical notions of sacrifice and African concepts, practices and stories of sacrifice in a dynamic and open-ended encounter. Kalengyo shows that such an encounter has important implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated. Oduyoye offers a carefully nuanced articulation of Christian sacrifice, drawing a crucial distinction between making a sacrifice and being sacrificed. Bussey 2020 analyses approaches to sacrifice in African theology and suggests ways in which they constructively challenge understandings of sacrifice in the Global North.
Awolalu, J. Ọmọṣade. “Yoruba Sacrificial Practice.” Journal of Religion in Africa 5, no. 2 (1973): 81–93. DOI: 10.2307/1594756 Access: Export Item
A well-organised and systematic presentation, based on fieldwork, by a Nigerian Anglican scholar of religion and clergyman, that deals with the purposes, materials, and object of sacrifice. Awolalu writes that sacrifice among the Yorùbá has both a positive and a negative side, is referred to using the single term ẹbọ, contra Mbiti’s distinction between sacrifice and offering, and is indirectly offered to Olódùmarè, the Supreme Being. Free via subscription from JSTOR.
Bussey, Samuel K. “Stories of Sacrifice from Below: From Girard to Ekem, Kalengyo and Oduyoye.” Stellenbosch Theological Journal 6, no. 4 (2020): 183–212. DOI: 10.17570/stj.2020.v6n4.a8 Access: Export Item
Bussey provides an intercultural comparison of the notion of sacrifice in the work of René Girard and three African theologians. He first discusses the theoretical issues involved in approaching the notion of sacrifice and then analyses the work of Girard and Ekem, Kalengyo and Oduyoye. He argues that the latter challenge Girard’s theory with their dialogical typological approaches, their use of multiple sacrificial themes and their emphasis on appropriation.
Ekem, John D. K. “A Dialogical Exegesis of Romans 3.25a.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30, no. 1 (2007): 75–93. DOI: 10.1177/0142064X07081547 Access: Export Item
A pioneering article in the field of mother-tongue biblical theology by a Ghanaian Methodist biblical scholar and translator. Ekem presents a novel exegetical method called ‘dialogical exegesis’ and illustrates it with a case study on the term hilastērion in Romans 3:25a. He examines various translations of the verse in European and African languages and then analyses both sacrificial concepts and popular legends among the Abura-Mfantse of Ghana in order to propose a better translation.
Kalengyo, Edison M. “The Sacrifice of Christ and Ganda Sacrifice: A Contextual Interpretation in Relation to the Eucharist.” In The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, edited by Richard J. Bauckham, 302–18. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009. Export Item
Kalengyo, a Ugandan Anglican priest and theologian, presents a clear and insightful example of liturgical inculturation. He uses a tripolar interpretive process, which involves first examining the biblical text (Hebrews 9:1-10:18), then analysing the context (the concept and practice of sacrifice among the Ganda of Uganda), and then addressing the question of appropriation (an inculturated understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice). He finally explores the implications for how the Eucharist should be celebrated.
Oduyoye, Mercy A. “Church Women and the Church’s Mission.” In New Eyes for Reading: Biblical and Theological Reflections by Women from the Third World, edited by John S. Pobee and Bärbel von Wartenberg-Potter, 68–80. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1986. URL: Link Access: Export Item
An important contribution by a Ghanaian Methodist theologian and ecumenical leader. Oduyoye’s starting point is her experience of “women’s lives as a ‘living sacrifice’” (p. 68). She explains the close connection between mission and sacrifice, investigates ritual sacrifice and self-sacrifice in African social contexts, and calls on the whole church – both men and women – to follow the example of Christ in the scriptures and the sacrificial lives of African churchwomen. Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Sawyerr, Harry. “Sacrifice.” In Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs, edited by Kwesi A. Dickson and Paul Ellingworth, 57–82. London: Lutterworth Press, 1969. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Sawyerr, a Sierra Leonean Anglican priest and theologian, famously describes sacrifice as “the open sesame of the heart of the African to Christian teaching” (p. 58). He gives examples of sacrifices offered in West Africa, discusses their structure and purpose, and relates his reflections to wider discussions about the origin of sacrifice, the use of blood and the debate about expiation and propitiation. This classic article placed sacrifice squarely on the African theological agenda. Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Ukpong, Justin S. “The Problem of God and Sacrifice in African Traditional Religion.” Journal of Religion in Africa 14, no. 3 (1983): 187–203. DOI: 10.2307/1594914 URL: Link Access: Export Item
A well-presented and sophisticated discussion, by a Nigerian Catholic priest and biblical scholar, that reassesses why some African peoples offer sacrifice to God only occasionally or not at all. He argues that both the Deus otiosus theory and the mediumistic theory are inadequate. Instead, he suggests that just as Ibibio etiquette demands that the king should not be approached often, so God is not given sacrifice frequently out of deference. Free via subscription from JSTOR.
There are several anthologies that provide helpful background to the study of sacrifice in African theology. Bourdillon and Fortes 1980 and Carter 2003 are two collections that provide a general overview of sacrificial theory and include a number of texts that deal specifically with sacrifice in African traditional religions. Bourdillon and Fortes offer a clear and insightful discussion of the relationship between anthropological and theological approaches to sacrifice, and show the value of interdisciplinary collaboration on the subject. Carter gives a valuable introduction to the study of sacrifice across a wide range of academic fields, which includes theoretical positions that have been highly influential in African theological discourse. Kenny 1988 and Ayegboyin and Dada 2018 are two collections in honour of J. Ọmọṣade Awolalu, the African doyen of sacrificial theory, published by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan. They include studies of sacrifice by African theologians and scholars of religion, indicate key areas of interest and show how the discourse has developed.
Ayegboyin, Deji, and Adekunle O. Dada, eds. Sacrifice in Religious Traditions: Essays in Honour of Ven. Prof. J. Omosade Awolalu. Ibadan: University of Ibadan, 2018. Export Item
A weighty festschrift in honour of J. Ọmọṣade Awolalu with a foreword by Archbishop Nicholas D. Okoh. The collection is multidisciplinary and includes five sections: A. General Perspective, B. Church History, Christian Theology, Classics and Philosophy, C. Ethics and Sociology of Religion, D. Biblical Studies, and E. African Traditional Religion. The academic quality of the contributions varies considerably, but together they give a helpful picture of recent discussion.
Bourdillon, Michael F. C., and Meyer Fortes, eds. Sacrifice. London: Academic Press, 1980. Export Item
An important collection of essays that resulted from an interdisciplinary conference between social anthropologists and Christian theologians. Several of the authors have spent significant time working or conducting fieldwork in Africa and draw on this experience in their contributions. Michael Bourdillon’s introduction provides an invaluable discussion of the relationship between anthropological and theological approaches, different types of sacrifice, and the variety of themes associated with sacrifice.
Carter, Jeffrey, ed. Understanding Religious Sacrifice: A Reader. London: Continuum, 2003. Export Item
A magisterial anthology that presents twenty-five of the most important and influential approaches to sacrifice in the study of religion, from Edward Burnett Tylor to Jon D. Levenson. Several of the selected writings are by leading anthropologists, such as Edward E. Evans-Pritchard, who conducted extensive ethnographic studies among African peoples. Carter’s introduction and postscript provide an insightful account of the factors that influence the study of sacrifice.
Kenney, Joseph, ed. Orita: Ibadan Journal of Religious Studies 20, no. 2 (1988). Export Item
A commemorative issue in honour of J. Ọmọṣade Awolalu. It includes articles on sacrifice in the Old Testament, New Testament, African Traditional Religion, and Islam, as well as a more theoretical comparative assessment of the notion. All the contributors were lecturers in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan at the time of publication.
Primary Resources Online
There is a rich variety of primary material on sacrifice that is freely accessible on the internet. This section includes some examples from both African traditional religions and African Christianity that are relevant to the study of sacrifice in African theology. There is a good deal of material on African traditional religions online, much of it collected by ethnographers in the twentieth century. Evans-Pritchard 1935 and Cole 1973 are examples of photographs that bring out different aspects of sacrifice: the killing of a sheep and a building that has been created as a sacrifice to a deity. There is also a wealth of material on African Christianity online. Some of this material has been collected, but most of it has been added by African clergy and Christians. The earliest resources available are Ethiopian paintings of the Crucifixion that depict Jesus as the Lamb of God (Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century]) and Ethiopian Anaphoras (Harden 1928). Njau 1959 and Mveng 1960 are classic examples of modern African art that draw on African history and culture in their portrayals of Christ’s sacrifice. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century a vast amount of audio and video recordings have been put online. Eschatos Bride Choir 2016 includes one of the most well-known African hymns that speaks about salvation through the blood of Jesus. This key notion has also been taken up in African liturgies, such as the Kenyan Service of Holy Communion that was used at the opening service of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the closing service of the 2010 Cape Town Conference (Lausanne Movement 2011). Mbewe 2012 and Duncan-Williams 2016 are examples of an African Evangelical sermon on what it means to be a living sacrifice and an African Pentecostal sermon on having faith in the blood of Jesus.
Cole, Herbert M. Mbari Shrine House. 1973. Photograph of architecture and sculpture. Digital Collections of the University of Washington Libraries. URL: Link Access: Export Item
The front side of an mbari house built by Igbo artists in Owerri, Nigeria in the early 1960s. An mbari house is form of religious architecture containing painted sculptures that is created over several years as an elaborate sacrifice to the goddess Ala and other deities. For more photographs and an analysis of the process of building an mbari house, see Cole’s article, “Mbari Is a Dance,” which is free via subscription from JSTOR.
“Double-Sided Gospel Leaf [first half 14th century].” Tempera on parchment. Tigray, Ethiopia, February 7, 2017. The Met. URL: Link Access: Export Item
According to the Met, “The compelling images on this double-sided leaf are from a group of early fourteenth-century Gospels that feature a revival of motifs that reached Ethiopia from the eastern Mediterranean, probably in the seventh century.” The reverse side of the leaf depicts the Crucifixion. Instead of portraying Jesus on the cross, the Lamb of God appears above the cross, a striking symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and victory.
Duncan-Williams, Nicholas. The Place of the Blood in a Believer’s Life. Sermon video, 1:05:22. Given at the Prayer Cathedral of Action Chapel International in Accra, Ghana. Posted 23 May, 2016. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Duncan-Williams is the Archbishop and General Overseer of Action Chapel International, a Ghanaian Pentecostal megachurch with a worldwide network of churches. After a worship song about the blood of Jesus and a prayer (0:00-4:00), he draws on Rev. 13:8 and 12:11 to argue that the blood is the key to a believer’s identity and a life of victory. Having faith in the blood means believing in and invoking it in daily life, as well as participating in sacrificial giving.
Eschatos Bride Choir. Tukutendereza Yesu. Hymn Audio, 43:42. Posted 23 December, 2016. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A beautiful rendition of the legendary hymn of the East African Revival (0:00-4:00). The words of the chorus proclaim the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus: “Tukutendereza Yesu / Yesu Mwana gwendiga / Omusaigwo gunazi’za / Nkwebaza Mulokozi” (We praise you Jesus / Jesus Lamb of God / Your blood cleanses me / I praise you, Saviour). The hymn is also closely connected with stories of sacrificial martyrdom in East Africa.
Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. Nuer Sheep Sacrifice. 1935. Photograph. Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. URL: Link Access: Export Item
The killing of a sheep as a sacrifice to the lion-spirit for a girl who was possessed by the spirit and had a seizure. According to Evans-Pritchard, “Her family sacrificed a sheep to the spirit and dedicated a cow to it, for the seizure was thought to have been due to their failure to dedicate a cow to it earlier; and the girl was restored to her normal self.”
Harden, John M., trans. The Anaphoras of the Ethiopic Liturgy. London: SPCK, 1928. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A translation of the Ethiopian Anaphoras as they have existed since around the sixteenth century. The concept of sacrifice is very important in Ethiopian liturgy; in Ge’ez the word qwarbān means both sacrifice and Eucharist. In the Anaphora of Saint Athanasius, which is used on Sundays, the Prayer of the Fraction declares that “to Him we do sacrifice, who is Himself the sacrifice” and calls on “the Lamb” to be present at the celebration (p. 99).
Lausanne Movement. The Holy Communion - Closing Ceremony - Cape Town 2010. Worship video, 21:10. Celebrated at the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town 2010 Congress on 24 October, 2010. Posted 8 October, 2011. URL: Link Access: Export Item
The text of the Eucharistic Prayer and Institution (5:40-7:20, 11:01-13:50) is taken from the Church of the Province of Kenya’s A Kenyan Service of Holy Communion (Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1989). The words explicitly draw on both biblical and African understandings of sacrifice. In particular, the phrase “We are brothers and sisters through his blood,” (12:18) uses the African notion of blood brotherhood to proclaim the new kinship that believers have through Christ’s sacrifice.
Mbewe, Conrad. True Repentance Makes a Living Sacrifice. Sermon audio, 47:41. Given at Kabwata Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia. Posted 16 September, 2012. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Mbewe, the Pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church, has gained an international reputation as “the Spurgeon of Africa.” In this sermon he interprets Psalm 51:18-19 in light of Romans 12:1-2, to argue that true repentance means giving everything to God (9:37-). In view of Christ’s self-offering, believers are to give themselves as living sacrifices (34:30-). The Ethiopian eunuch and the conversion of Ethiopia is an example of such a life of surrender and the fruit it can produce (40:15-).
Mveng, Engelbert. Ugandan Martyrs Altar. 1960. Photograph of a mural on the apse of the Chapel of Libermann College, in Douala, Cameroon. ArtWay. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Mveng was a Cameroonian Jesuit priest, artist and historian. As he writes, “The Christ in majesty standing above the altar recapitulates the offering of the whole world and all of humanity in the sacrifice of the cross. At the foot of Christ crucified stand the martyrs of Uganda: they are the image of all those people in Africa who have united the sacrifice of their lives to that of Christ crucified.”
Njau, Elimo. Crucifixion. 1959. Photograph of mural on the interior north wall of the Saint James and All Martyrs Memorial Cathedral in Murang’a, Kenya, 3.5m x 4.5m. Pinterest. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Njau is a Tanzanian artist who studied at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. The painting is one of five murals depicting scenes from the life of Christ in a church that was built as a memorial to Christians who had died during the Mau Mau rebellion. Njau draws on Kikuyu culture and the local landscape in his portrayal of Christ’s sacrificial death. The blood of Jesus trickles down from the cross, cleansing the people and the land.
The European missionary movements led to a new encounter between Christian and African notions of sacrifice. European and African missionaries brought with them Christian stories, practices and concepts of sacrifice and were forced to engage with their counterparts in African traditional religions. They preached the sacrifice of Christ and celebrated the Eucharist, they provided the first empirical descriptions of African sacrificial practices, they wrestled with how to translate Christian concepts of sacrifice in the Bible and catechism into African languages, they taught sacrificial living, and they acted it out, with some of them and their converts giving their lives for the cause of the Gospel. Crowther and Taylor 1859 is an exceptional resource in that it is written by African missionaries and provides one of the earliest accounts of engagement with African sacrificial practices. Callaway 1870, MacDonald 1882, Roscoe 1911 and Basden 1921 are examples of European missionary attempts to understand the religion and sacrificial system of the people where they were living. Parrinder 1969 and Parrinder 1962 move beyond description to try to generalise about African traditional religions and engage in comparisons.
Basden, George Thomas. Among the Ibos of Nigeria: An Account of the Curious & Interesting Habits, Customs & Beliefs of a Little Known African People by One Who Has for Many Years Lived amongst Them on Close & Intimate Terms. London: Seeley, Service, 1921. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A comprehensive description of the Igbo people, by a British Anglican missionary and archdeacon, that is frequently referenced in discussions of Igbo culture. Basden suggests that Igbo notions of sacrifice point to Hebrew influence (p. 31) and provides a description of the Igbo sacrificial system (pp. 223-34). In his view, “sacrifices are offered, not from any desire to give, but because of the fear that, unless they are offered, their lives and interests will be blighted” (p. 223).
Callaway, Henry. The Religious System of the Amazulu. London: Trübner, 1870. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Callaway, a British Anglican missionary and bishop, provides a detailed study of Zulu religion and society that includes both the original Zulu and an English translation. He gives an account of Zulu sacrifice in relation to ‘the tradition of creation’ (pp. 1-12) and ‘ancestor worship’ (pp. 129-227). According to Callaway, sacrifices are offered to the Lord of heaven and to the ancestors.
Crowther, Samuel, and John Christopher Taylor. The Gospel on the Banks of the Niger: Journals and Notices of the Native Missionaries Accompanying the Niger Expedition of 1857-1859. London: Church Missionary House, 1859. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Includes a journal by an Igbo Anglican missionary from Sierra Leone who was chosen to lead the Igbo Mission and bring the Gospel to his people. After Taylor’s arrival in Onitsha, sacrifice becomes a recurring theme in his journal, which includes entries on “The Folly of Idolatry” (p. 254), referring to sacrificial worship, “Sacrifice to Ikenga” (p. 288) and “Cruel Sacrifice” (p. 366). He also provides the first empirical description of Igbo human sacrifice (pp. 343-5).
MacDonald, Duff. Africana; or the Heart of Heathen Africa. Vol. 1, Native Customs and Beliefs. London: Simpkin, Marshall, 1882. URL: Link Access: Export Item
MacDonald, a British Presbyterian missionary, presents an extensive study of society in what is now Malawi that includes chapters on ‘Native Theology’ (pp. 58-75) and ‘Native Worship’ (pp. 76-97). He provides an account of the occasions for offerings, such as undertaking an expedition, seeking healing and asking for rain, as well as the types of offerings, which include flour, beer, chickens, goats, and occasionally human beings.
Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey. West African Religion: A Study of the Beliefs and Practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and Kindred Peoples. London: Epworth Press, 1969. URL: Link Access: Export Item
An important textbook by a British Methodist missionary in West Africa, who later worked in the pioneer Department of Religious Studies at Ibadan. Parrinder went beyond most earlier missionaries by not only studying African traditional religions but also comparing them. This book, originally published in 1949, is a revision of his doctoral thesis for the University of London. Parrinder deals with a variety of sacrifices in his discussion of temples and worship (pp. 60-74). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey. African Traditional Religion. London: SPCK, 1962. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Parrinder later coined the term ‘African traditional religion’. In this landmark textbook, originally published in 1954, he discusses sacrifice in relation to the worship of God (pp. 37-39), the ancestors (pp. 57-66) and communal ritual (pp. 79-90), especially highlighting ‘communion sacrifice’ (pp. 87-88). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Roscoe, John. The Baganda: An Account of Their Native Customs and Beliefs. London: Macmillan, 1911. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A thorough study of the Ganda people by an Irish Anglican missionary that includes a detailed chapter on ‘Religion’ (pp. 217-345). Roscoe describes the sacrifices made to the dead king (p. 284) ghosts (p. 288) and the different gods (pp. 290-323). He also describes the various sacrificial places and the scapegoat ritual (pp. 342-44).
Missionary descriptions of sacrifice and other religious practices helped to lay the foundation for the new science of anthropology. Early anthropologists, such as Edward B. Tylor, drew on missionary and travellers’ accounts to construct general theories of religion. The dominant account of sacrifice was an evolutionist one. Over time, “lower” forms of sacrifice, such as ordinary gift giving, were understood as necessarily giving way to “higher” forms, such as abnegation. The development of social anthropology led to new ethnographic studies of African traditional religions. Some anthropologists took a more functionalist approach to religion, understanding sacrifice as essentially a way of maintaining the social whole; others took a more symbolic approach, focussing more on the metaphysical ideas of the people being studied and arriving at a variety of interpretations. Many of these studies are now considered classics. Recent ethnographic studies, rather than studying the religion of a particular people group, often examine aspects of religion in relation to certain themes and are more attentive to social change. This section presents some of the classic studies, recent studies and key theoretical approaches dealing with sacrifice in African traditional religions, many of which have been influential in African theological discourse on sacrifice.
Western and African ethnographic studies produced a wealth of material on sacrifice in African traditional religions. Kenyatta 1965 is a pioneering study by an African anthropologist that combines rigorous data collection with the insider knowledge of a participant. Originally published in 1938, it is remarkable in that it contributed to a resurgence of Kikuyu sacrificial practices in the period leading up to Kenya’s independence. Griaule 1978 is a good example of a French symbolic approach, which draws heavily on the metaphysical ideas of a Dogon sage but somewhat neglects the social order. British anthropologists generally took a more functionalist approach, but gradually a shift occurred as they tried to do more justice to the myths, practices and ideas of the people they were studying. An important example of this shift is Evans-Pritchard 1956, which attempts to discover the meaning of sacrifice among a particular people group. Middleton 1960 and Lienhardt 1961 take a similar approach, paying close attention to both the ideas and the social organisation of the people they study. Douglas 1957 and Beidelman 1966 deal with aspects of sacrifice in relation to hunting and kingship rituals. Cole 1969 analyses a form of religious architecture that is built as an elaborate sacrifice. Awolalu 1979 is an influential study by an African scholar of religion that set the standard for later African research on sacrifice in the fields of religious studies and theology. Berglund 1976 is an example of a study, based on extensive fieldwork, by a missionary who has also trained as an anthropologist and is fluent in the local language.
Awolalu, J. Ọmọṣade. Yoruba Beliefs and Sacrificial Rites. London: Longman, 1979. Export Item
A landmark study, based on many years of fieldwork, by a Yorùbá Anglican scholar of religion and clergyman, who approaches sacrifice from a Christian perspective. Awolalu first introduces Yorùbá beliefs as a framework for his discussion of sacrificial rites. In his definition, “sacrifice is a religious act,” “generally takes the form of rendering something to a supernatural being or beings,” “varies from religion to religion in details but [is] essentially similar,” and “has various intents and purposes” (p. 136).
Beidelman, Thomas O. “Swazi Royal Ritual.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 36, no. 4 (1966): 373–405. DOI: 10.2307/1158048 URL: Link Access: Export Item
Biedelman, an American anthropologist, provides a sophisticated analysis of the Swazi royal rites of Incwala. He first presents his understanding of Swazi cosmology, which includes a discussion of the nature of ritual action and the notion of sacrifice as “separation and transformation” (pp. 387-88). In light of this cosmology, he discusses the rites, which include the ritual killing of a black ox (pp. 394-401). Free via subscription from JSTOR.
Berglund, Axel-Ivar. Zulu Thought-Patterns and Symbolism. London: C. Hurst, 1976. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A careful study, based on twelve years of fieldwork, by a Protestant missionary and anthropologist who was born and raised in Zululand. Berglund argues that “if sacrifice and offering assume a transcendental dimension, neither are terms applicable to Zulu thought-patterns relating to the shades” (p. 28). He provides a detailed description and analysis of a ritual killing as a form of communion with the shades (pp. 214-40). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Cole, Herbert M. “Mbari Is a Dance.” African Arts 2, no. 4 (Summer 1969): 42–51, 79. DOI: 10.2307/3334379 Access: Export Item
Cole, an American art historian and wood carver, provides photographs and an analysis of the process of building an mbari house. According to Cole, “Mbari . . . is the greatest sacrifice in the Owerri world; as such it is comprised of hundreds of smaller offerings: chickens and goats, and wine; iron rods, plates, and the ‘yam’ inhabitants of the house; and tremendous human effort – two years from the lives of thirty or forty people” (p. 51). Free via subscription from JSTOR.
Douglas, Mary. “Animals in Lele Religious Symbolism.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 27, no. 1 (1957): 46–58. DOI: 10.2307/1156365 URL: Link Access: Export Item
An insightful analysis of the symbolism of the pangolin and various other animals in Lele religion by a British Catholic anthropologist who went on to make significant contributions in the field of biblical studies. Douglas explains the pangolin’s association with fertility and describes pangolin ritual in relation to several hunts. This article, which cites the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, was an important step in relation to her later work on Leviticus. Free via subscription from JSTOR.
Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. Nuer Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Evans-Pritchard was an influential British Catholic anthropologist who became the president of the Royal Anthropological Institute. In this exemplary study he provides a systematic discussion of Nuer sacrifice, focusing on personal sacrifices (pp. 197-230), before dealing with spear symbolism (pp. 231-47) and the sacrificial role of cattle (pp. 248-71). Finally, he addresses the meaning of Nuer sacrifice, arguing that the central idea is substitution (pp. 272-86).
Griaule, Marcel. Conversations with Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas. London: Oxford University Press, 1978. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A translation of Dieu d'eau: entretiens avec Ogotemmêli (Paris: Éditions du Chêne, 1948). Griaule offers a detailed outline of Dogon cosmology, as disclosed by the sage Ogotemmêli in an extended series of interviews. According to Ogotemmêli, “The effect of every sacrifice . . . is the same as that of the sacrifice to Lébé. First one feeds and strengthens oneself, and then, by means of the Word, gives strength and life to all men” (p. 137). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu. New York: Vintage Books, 1965. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Kenyatta was a Kikuyu anthropologist who later became the first president of Kenya. This book, originally published in 1938, is a revision of his doctoral dissertation supervised by Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. Kenyatta provides a valuable discussion of sacrifice among the Kikuyu, including detailed descriptions of various rituals (pp. 222-58). He argues that the Kikuyu do not worship their ancestors but “hold communion with them” (p. 255-56). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Lienhardt, Godfrey. Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961. Export Item
A magisterial study, based on two years of fieldwork, by a British anthropologist. Lienhardt emphasises the close relationship between the Dinka and their cattle, which they offer as sacrifices (pp. 10-27). He argues that sacrifices “recreate, and even dramatize, situations which they aim to control, and the experience of which they effectively modulate” (p. 291). In sacrifice, the Dinka “enact the death of the victim which in important respects represents themselves, in order to survive that death” (p. 296).
Middleton, John. Lugbara Religion: Ritual and Authority among an East African People. London: Oxford University Press, 1960. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Middleton, a British anthropologist, “does not seek to present Lugbara religion as a system of theology, but to make a sociological analysis of the place of ritual and belief in Lugbara social life” (p. v). He primarily discusses sacrifice in relation to the cult of the dead (pp. 79-128), which in his view “operates to resolve conflict, to sustain and regulate lineage authority and to validate changes in its distribution” (p. 264). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
The theme of sacrifice has been less prominent in recent ethnographic studies, but anthropologists continue to explore different aspects of the notion in relation to a variety of topics. Ruel 1990 argues that a distinction should be made between sacrificial and non-sacrificial ritual killing. Barrett 1998 deals with sacrifice in relation to prophecy and develops a new theory of sacrifice specific to the Turkana people. Cole 1997, White 2001, and Grillo 2010 study sacrificial practices in relation to their historical and political settings. Cole examines how sacrifice in Madagascar helps to mediate people’s experience, focussing on the sacrificial narratives in the speech that is performed during a sacrifice. White investigates how sacrifice in a rural setting responds to the challenges of life in post-apartheid South Africa, especially the inherent tension between migrancy and establishing a traditional household. Grillo explores how sacrifice offers people a sense of commonality in an individualistic urban setting. Van Beek 2012 characterises house sacrifice among the Kapsiki/Higi as a ‘cognitively optimal’ ritual because its similarity to a normal family meal makes it easy to remember and perform. He argues that this sacrifice and its larger elaborations emphasise the household and village as a place of refuge against evil and others from the outside world. MacGaffey 2016 seeks to move beyond the distortions associated with the study of ‘religion’ and suggests that sacrifice is a way of making and renewing a god.
Barrett, Anthony. Sacrifice and Prophecy in Turkana Cosmology. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1998. Export Item
A comprehensive and systematic study, based on sixteen years of fieldwork, by an Irish Catholic missionary and anthropologist. Barrett argues that “sacrifice must be examined . . . in relation to social, cosmological and ritual structures” (p. 205) and concludes that “sacrifice is primarily a creative and constructive ritual act which transforms disparate elements into a tripartite relationship. Akuj, man and animal are transformed from occupying separate domains into a cool totality” (p. 210).
Cole, Jennifer. “Sacrifice, Narratives and Experience in East Madagascar.” Journal of Religion in Africa 27, no. 4 (1997): 401–25. DOI: 10.2307/1581910 Access: Export Item
Cole, an American anthropologist, offers an insightful study of sacrifice among the Southern Betsimisaraka. Drawing on Lienhardt’s understanding of sacrifice as symbolic action, she argues that sacrificial narratives “are central to the constitution of subjectivity, providing people with a sense of themselves in relation to the past, a hence the present and future” (p. 403). Free via subscription from JSTOR. For further analysis, see her book, Forget Colonialism? Sacrifice and the Art of Memory in Madagascar (University of California Press 2001), pp. 170-222.
Grillo, Laura S. ““When You Make Sacrifice, No One Is a Stranger": Divination, Sacrifice and Identity among Translocals in the West African Urban Diaspora.” In Religion Crossing Boundaries: Transnational Religious and Social Dynamics in Africa and the New African Diaspora, edited by Afeosemime U. Adogame and James V. Spickard, 143–64. Leiden: Brill, 2010. Export Item
A valuable study of sacrifice in Abidjan by an American anthropologist. Drawing on earlier studies and her own fieldwork, Grillo gives a detailed description of sacrifice in an urban setting, which tends to be more individualistic than in rural areas. She argues that “together, divination and sacrifice foster a sense of community based on ‘Africanity,’ one that transcends the perilous appeal to citizenship but does not fall back on the divisive conceptions of ethnicity” (p. 144).
MacGaffey, Wyatt. “Dagbon, Oyo, Kongo: Critical and Comparative Reflections on Sacrifice.” In Ifa Divination, Knowledge, Power, and Performance, edited by Jacob K. Olupona and Rowland Abiodun, 141–57. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2016. URL: Link Access: Export Item
MacGaffey, an American anthropologist, offers an analysis of sacrifice in the kingdoms of Dagbon (northern Ghana), Oyo (Nigeria) and Kongo (central Africa). Following Jean Bazin, he argues that “killing at a shrine . . . is one of an ongoing series of acts by which the body of the god is built and thereby renewed” (p. 151) and concludes that “there is no clearly defined entity to be called sacrifice, in form or function” (p. 154).
Ruel, Malcolm. “Non-Sacrificial Ritual Killing.” Man 25, no. 2 (1990): 323–35. DOI: 10.2307/2804567 Access: Export Item
Ruel, a British anthropologist, provides a careful study of ritual killing among the Kuria. He questions the general use of the term sacrifice for all ritual killing, defining a sacrifice as “an offering to a deity, a personalised recipient” (p. 325) and argues that there are ritual killings that do not fit this definition. Free via subscription from JSTOR. Reprinted in his book, Belief, Ritual and the Securing of Life: Reflexive Essays on a Bantu Religion (Leiden: Brill, 1997), pp. 89-107.
Van Beek, Walter E. A. The Dancing Dead: Ritual and Religion among the Kapsiki/Higi of North Cameroon and Northeastern Nigeria. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A magisterial study, based on fieldwork conducted intermittently over forty years, by a Dutch Mormon anthropologist. Van Beek approaches Kapsiki/Higi sacrifice as a ‘ritual of dwelling’: “in the house sacrifice the father of the house and his family express their belonging to that house, their dwelling in the social and physical environment” (p. 69). House sacrifice is “a normal family meal, but for the presence of the unseen” (p. 71). Larger sacrifices expand on this basic model (pp. 74-94).
White, Hylton. “Tempora Et Mores: Family Values and the Possessions of a Post-Apartheid Countryside.” Journal of Religion in Africa 31, no. 4 (2001): 457–79. DOI: 10.1163/157006601X00275 URL: Link Access: Export Item
A sophisticated analysis of Zulu sacrifice, based on fieldwork, by a South African anthropologist. White describes two sacrifices, explains how they attempt to remedy the problems facing a rural home, and argues that they reflect the troubled relationship between the present and “an ancestral past of the homestead” and “an apartheid past of migrancy” (p. 460). Free via subscription from JSTOR. For further analysis, see his doctoral dissertation, “Value, Crisis, and Custom: The Politics of Sacrifice in a Post-Apartheid Countryside” (University of Chicago, 2001).
Drawing on their ethnographic studies of African traditional religions, a number of anthropologists have gone on to develop theoretical approaches to sacrifice that have been influential in the field of religious studies. Some take a large-scale approach, which involves significant generalisation to account for as much diversity as possible; others take a small-scale approach, paying attention to the complexity of a particular case. Evans-Pritchard 1954 is an example of the latter. Rather than try to construct a grand theory of sacrifice, he focusses on the meaning of sacrifice among one people group, which he interprets as substitution. His approach remains an important model, but his analysis has been criticised for importing Judaeo-Christian theological concepts. Turner 1977 takes a more dynamic approach to social life and proposes a general theory of sacrifice, understanding it as a ritual process that transforms social structures. Heusch 1985 approaches sacrifice from a structuralist perspective, examining the meaning of sacrifice in relation to two main schemas or systems of structured relations. He provisionally concludes that sacrifice is the payment of a debt of life in an existential game with death. Bloch 1991 offers a general theory of sacrifice as a form of rebounding violence, involving the elements of self-sacrifice and consumption. Lambek 2007 argues that sacrifice is an exemplary form of beginning, but suggests that his understanding amounts to a redescription rather than a new theory of sacrifice.
Bloch, Maurice. Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Export Item
An important theory of ritual as “rebounding violence” by a French anthropologist and Fellow of the British Academy, who has conducted extensive fieldwork in Madagascar. Bloch approaches sacrifice as “a pointer to a cluster of phenomena which are contained within a wider family of rituals” (p. 42). He focusses on two key elements – self-sacrifice and consumption – arguing that each element implies the other (p. 31).
Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. “The Meaning of Sacrifice Among the Nuer.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 84, no. 1/2 (1954): 21–33. DOI: 10.2307/2843998 Access: Export Item
Evans-Pritchard first delivered this classic article as his Henry Myers lecture to the Royal Anthropological Institute and later republished it in Nuer Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956). He surveys various theories, discussing different aspects of Nuer sacrifice, and argues that “if we have to sum up the meaning of Nuer sacrifice in a single word or idea, I would say that it is substitution, a life for a life” (p. 29). Free via subscription from JSTOR.
Heusch, Luc de. Sacrifice in Africa: A Structuralist Approach. Translated by Linda O’Brien and Alice Morton. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985. Export Item
A thorough treatment of sacrifice in Africa by a Belgian anthropologist and cultural historian, who draws on studies of many different people groups. Starting with a minimum definition of sacrifice as “the immolation of a human or animal victim” (p. 15), De Heusch carefully identifies and distinguishes between two sacrificial schemas: royal/cosmogonic and domestic/culinary. Ultimately, he argues that “to perform a sacrifice is, primarily, to try to outwit death” (p. 215).
Lambek, Michael. “Sacrifice and the Problem of Beginning: Meditations from Sakalava Mythopraxis.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13, no. 1 (2007): 19–38. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2007.00411.x Access: Export Item
Lambek, a Canadian anthropologist, first delivered this sophisticated article as his presidential address to the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. Drawing on the traditions of the Sakalava monarchy in Madagascar, Lambek argues that “sacrifice is an exemplary mode of beginning and hence that beginning affords one way to interpret sacrifice” (p. 27).
Turner, Victor. “Sacrifice as Quintessential Process: Prophylaxis or Abandonment?” History of Religions 16, no. 3 (1977): 189–215. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A key article by a British Catholic anthropologist, who has conducted extensive fieldwork in Zambia. Influenced by Van Gennep’s notion of ‘rites of passage’, Turner sees sacrifice as “a process with several stages” that “may be itself a stage in a longer ritual process” (p. 189). He distinguishes between sacrifices of abandonment, which destroy social structures in order to create ‘communitas’, and sacrifices of prophylaxis, which maintain or re-establish existing social structures (pp. 213-15). Free via subscription from JSTOR.
African Theology and African Traditional Religions
Missionary accounts and anthropological studies paved the way for theological studies of sacrifice in African traditional religions. As African nations gained independence, a number of African theologians began to reassess the value of traditional practices and ideas. On the one hand, they were concerned to finally lay to rest the negative views that were prevalent in the work of Western missionaries and anthropologists; on the other hand, they saw the value of traditional ideas and practices for communicating the gospel in their contexts. In Protestant theology this led to a significant debate about salvation. Some Protestant theologians were highly positive about traditional sacrifices, understanding them as a preparation for the gospel or even as a means of salvation. Others saw this as a form of universalism and emphasised the inadequacy of traditional sacrifices in comparison with Hebrew sacrifice and Christ’s offering of himself. In Catholic theology the Second Vatican Council contributed to a greater openness towards African traditional religions. A number of Catholic theologians produced valuable studies of traditional sacrifices among various people groups, which they saw as an important step towards the inculturation of the Eucharist. Furthermore, the emphasis on sacrifice in African theology helped to ensure that it remained a major theme in religious studies departments across the continent. This section presents some of the key contributions to the salvation debate, the inculturation of the Eucharist and religious studies that deal with sacrifice in African traditional religions.
The Salvation Debate
There have been many contributions to the salvation debate over the years. This subsection includes some important treatments of sacrifice that have been influential in subsequent discussions. Idowu 1962 is a ground-breaking study that offers a sympathetic interpretation of Yorùbá sacrifice. He argues that sacrifice is an essential element of religions around the world and that as religions develop it is ‘sublimated’ and ‘spiritualised’. Sawyerr 1969 (see ‘Introductory Resources’) provides a rich description of West African traditional sacrifices and suggests that the continuation of such practices poses an important challenge for African Christians. Mbiti 1969 takes up Parrinder’s task of comparing African traditional religions, arguing that they share a philosophical understanding of life. In this landmark textbook, Mbiti presents a definition of sacrifice that has been highly influential in African theology: “‘Sacrifices’ refer to cases where animal life is destroyed in order to present the animal, in part or in whole, to God, supernatural beings, spirits or the living-dead. ‘Offerings’ refer to the remaining cases which do not involve the killing of an animal, being chiefly the presentation of foodstuffs and other items” (p. 58). Mbiti 1970 gives a similar analysis but includes many more examples of traditional sacrifices from different African people groups. Kato 1975, Adeyemo 1997 and Olowola 1991 offer Evangelical perspectives on traditional sacrifices. Kato briefly presents the conclusions of his fieldwork on the traditional religion of the Ham or Jaba people. Adeyemo characterises African traditional religion as “Salvation by Right Ritual,” arguing that traditional sacrifices are ‘ritualistic’ and ‘utilitarian’. Olowola offers a more sensitive treatment, highlighting important similarities and differences between traditional sacrifices and Hebrew sacrifices, and emphasising the adequacy of Christ’s sacrifice in African contexts. Abogunrin 1999 gives a Reformed assessment of sacrifice in African traditional religion and Christianity. Whilst she sees much of value in African concepts, practices and stories of sacrifice, she argues that they are at best inadequate and at worst idolatrous.
Abogunrin, Eunice Oluwaseun. “A Comparative Study of the Concepts of Salvation in African Traditional Religion and Christianity.” PhD diss., Trinity International University, 1999. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A comprehensive and systematic study by a Nigerian theologian, who compares the concepts of salvation in African traditional religion, as found in the works of selected African theologians, with the concepts of salvation in Christianity, as found in the works of selected Western theologians in the Reformed tradition. Abogunrin carefully describes the similarities and differences between African traditional sacrifices and Hebrew sacrifices, stressing the perfection and finality of Christ’s sacrifice (pp. 119-37, 172-93, 241-81).
Adeyemo, Tokunboh. Salvation in African Tradition. 2nd ed. Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House, 1997. Export Item
Adeyemo, a Nigerian clergyman and theologian, became the second African General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa. This book, originally published in 1979, is a revision of his MDiv thesis at Talbot Theological Seminary. He draws heavily on Idowu, Mbiti and Sawyerr in his understanding of sacrifice (pp. 31-47), but argues that, in contrast to Hebrew sacrifices, African traditional sacrifices are not a means to salvation (pp. 84-85).
Idowu, E. Bọlaji. Olódùmarè: God in Yoruba Belief. London: Longmans, 1962. Export Item
A ground-breaking study by a Nigerian clergyman and scholar, who became the third indigenous leader of the Methodist Church Nigeria. This book is a revision of Idowu’s doctoral dissertation supervised by Geoffrey Parrinder at the University of London. He defines sacrifice as “primarily a means of contact or communion between man and the Deity” (p. 118) and provides descriptions of the main kinds of Yorùbá sacrifices (pp. 118-25).
Kato, Byang H. Theological Pitfalls in Africa. Kisumu: Evangel Publishing House, 1975. Export Item
Kato, a Nigerian theologian, became the first African General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa. In this book, a revision of his doctoral dissertation at Dallas Theological Seminary, he notes that “blood sacrifice is . . . usually for deliverance from the power of evil spirits.” He concludes that “these pessimistic and ceaseless ordeals help a Jaba Christian appreciate the assurance of rest and finality found in the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world” (p. 43).
Mbiti, John S. African Religions & Philosophy. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Mbiti, a Kenyan clergyman, scholar and Bible translator, became the director of the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches. He distinguishes between sacrifices and offerings, asserts that God is the ultimate recipient of sacrifices to the spirits and living-dead, and suggests that sacrifices maintain “an ontological balance . . . between God and man, the spirits and man, the departed and the living” (p. 58-59). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Mbiti, John S. Concepts of God in Africa. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A classic study that draws on material from over two hundred and seventy different people groups. Mbiti devotes a chapter to sacrifices and offerings, briefly describing the practices and concepts of different groups, as well as presenting a survey of the different animals and items used (pp. 178-93). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Olowola, Cornelius. “Sacrifice in African Tradition and in Biblical Perspective.” Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology 10, no. 1 (1991): 3–10. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Olowola, a Nigerian Evangelical clergyman and theologian, became the president of the Evangelical Church Winning All. He argues that “the approach of the New Testament to sacrifice stands in sharp contrast to the approach of African tradition, and supersedes that of the Old Testament” (p. 1). In his view “the major distinction between African and Old Testament sacrifice . . . concerns the one to whom it is offered” (p. 4).
Foundations for Inculturation
Many theologians have helped to lay the foundations for inculturation by producing studies of sacrifice in African traditional religions. Some of these studies, although conducted as part of larger research projects on biblical texts or the Eucharist, are based on careful fieldwork and are valuable in their own right. Some have been published as standalone studies. Arinze 1970 provides an early study of sacrifice among the Igbo as part of a larger project to better explain the teaching of the catechism regarding the Mass. Ukpong 1982 describes and analyses Ibibio sacrifices and Ukpong 1983 (see ‘Introductory Resources’) offers a theory of why some African peoples offer sacrifice to God only occasionally or not at all. Both articles draw on material from his doctoral dissertation, which compares Ibibio and Old Testament sacrifices with the aim of developing an Ibibio Christian appreciation of Eucharistic sacrifice. Nelson-Adjakpey 2008 focuses on penance and expiatory sacrifice among the Ghanaian-Ewe. Ssempungu 1985 deals with Ganda sacrifice in relation to the teaching of the catechism regarding Eucharistic sacrifice. Gakpe-Ntsri 1989 uses the notion of inculturation, studying Akan sacrifice with a view to the inculturation of Eucharistic sacrifice in Akan traditional religion. Sipuka 2000 and Kalengyo 2006 go beyond earlier studies by examining both traditional and modern sacrifices among a particular people group. Sipuka carefully analyses Xhosa sacrifice as an important step towards an inculturated understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice. Kalengyo makes a detailed study of sacrifice among the Ganda in order to set up a dialogue between sacrifice in the book of Hebrews, Ganda sacrifice and Eucharistic sacrifice.
Arinze, Francis A. Sacrifice in Ibo Religion. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1970. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A classic study by an Igbo Catholic priest who later became a cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This book is the first part of Arinze’s doctoral thesis, “Ibo sacrifice as an introduction to the catechesis of Holy Mass” (University of Rome, 1960). He approaches sacrifice among his people from a Thomist perspective, using Aristotle’s ‘four causes’ to structure his work, and distinguishes between “joyful” and “joyless” sacrifices (pp. 59-60). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Gakpe-Ntsri, Theodore. “Aspects of Inculturation of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the Traditional Worship of the Akans of Ghana: A Theology of the Eucharist in the Context of an Indigenous African Traditional Religion.” PhD diss., Duquesne University, 1989. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Gakpe-Ntsri, an Akan Catholic priest and theologian provides a comprehensive and systematic examination of Akan sacrificial concepts and practices (pp. 88-146). He argues that “for the Akan sacrifice is basic to one’s relationship with God and every other divine power” (p. 145) and that “every sacrifice is an act of self-submission to God, so that he may purify and revitalize the devotee.” (p. 146).
Kalengyo, Edison M. “Sacrifice in Hebrews 9:1-10:18 and Ganda Sacrifice: A Study in Relation to the Christian Sacrament of the Eucharist.” PhD diss., University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2006. URL: Link Access: Export Item
An important study by a Ugandan Anglican priest and theologian that includes an extensive description of the understanding and practice of sacrifice among the Ganda (pp. 124-208). Kalengyo deliberately avoids choosing one theory of sacrifice, arguing that “Ganda sacrifices were often multifunctional. What was a gift sacrifice was at the same time a thanksgiving sacrifice that ended in a communal meal that enhanced communication, friendship and communion with the deity” (p. 200).
Nelson-Adjakpey, Ted. The Faith of Our Fathers: From Tradition to Christ. 2nd ed. Accra: zZynnyzygnx Enterprise, 2008. Export Item
Nelson-Adjakpey, an Ewe Catholic priest and theologian, provides a valuable study of sacrifice among the Ghanaian-Ewe (pp. 120-55). This book, originally published in 1982, is a revision of his doctoral dissertation at the Accademia Alfonsiana. He defines sacrifice as “the act of offering to a deity as an expression and manifestation of one’s total dependence on that deity” (p. 122).
Sipuka, Sithembele. “The Sacrifice of the Mass and the Concept of Sacrifice among the Xhosa: Towards an Inculturated Understanding of the Eucharist.” ThD diss., University of South Africa, 2000. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Sipuka is a Xhosa-speaking Catholic bishop and theologian who later became president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and first vice president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. He includes a clear and insightful analysis of both traditional and modern Xhosa sacrifice arguing that the former “serves lineage solidarity” (p. 169), while the latter is becoming “a family and personal affair” (p. 206).
Ssempungu, Joseph K. “Ganda Sacrifice and the Catechesis of the Eucharistic Sacrifice: An Anthropological-Theological Study.” PhD diss., Pontificia Universitas Urbaniana, 1985. Export Item
Ssempungu, a Ganda Catholic priest, provides a useful discussion of Ganda sacrifice. He emphasises that the Ganda offer sacrifices expecting a favourable return (p. 49-51). He characterises Ganda deities as agents of the Supreme Being and argues that all Ganda sacrifices are offered via them to the Supreme Being (pp. 58-60).
Ukpong, Justin S. “Sacrificial Worship in Ibibio Traditional Religion.” Journal of Religion in Africa 13, no. 3 (1982): 161–88. DOI: 10.2307/1581435 URL: Link Access: Export Item
A well-organised and systematic presentation by an Ibibio Catholic priest and biblical scholar that describes the different kinds of Ibibio sacrifices and offers a theoretical reflection on their meaning. Ukpong emphasises that “the observable phenomenon in a society must be seen as something meaningful and the meaning must be sought within the context of the society’s system of beliefs and values” (p. 182). He concludes that “sacrifice is primarily a means of communication with the invisible world” (p. 187). Free via subscription from JSTOR.
African theologians are not the only ones who have sought to reassess the value of African traditional practices and ideas. African historians and scholars of religion have also produced valuable studies of sacrifice in traditional religions, many of which approach the subject from an explicitly a Christian or traditional religious perspective. The work of J. Ọmọṣade Awolalu has been very influential in this field (see the entries under ‘Introductory Resources’, ‘Anthologies’ and ‘Anthropological Studies’). Awolalu 1987 uses the notion of ‘scapegoatism’ to examine two traditions of human sacrifice in Yorùbá traditional religion. Abímbọ́lá 1976 is a pioneering study by an African scholar of religion who is also a leading practitioner. Der 1980 and Ikenga-Metuh 1985 seek to improve upon previous studies. Der critiques Western anthropological interpretations of sacrifice in Northern Ghana, while Ikenga-Metuh reassesses Arinze’s treatment of Igbo sacrifice, offering a theory of sacrifice as prayer. Amanze 1986 and Kirika 1988 provide detailed studies of sacrificial practices, but also consider how they have diminished through interaction with other religions traditions such as Christianity and Islam. Magesa 1997 gives an overview of sacrifice in African traditional religion, using a variety of examples from across the continent. Ephirim-Donkor 2010 provides a study of sacrifice among the Akan. He discusses both human and animal sacrifice, but mainly focusses on the latter. Mbogoni 2014 and Bukuluki and Mpyangu 2014 offer treatments of human sacrifice, which has recently become a key topic, partly because of media attention and the work of human rights activists.
Abímbọ́lá, Wándé. Ifá: An Exposition of Ifá Literary Corpus. New York: Athelia Henrietta Press, 1976. Export Item
A pioneering study of Yorùbá divination, based on fieldwork, by a Yorùbá babalawo (Ifa priest), scholar of religion and politician, who later became the Awise Awo ni Agbaye (Spokesperson of Ifa in the Whole World). This book, a revision of Abímbọ́lá’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Lagos, describes Ifá as “the Yoruba traditional body of knowledge embodying the deep wisdom of our fore-fathers” (p. vi). It includes a discussion of Ifá divination sacrifice (pp. 35-40) and many examples.
Amanze, James N. “The Bimbi Cult in Southern Malawi.” PhD diss., SOAS University of London, 1986. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Amanze, a Malawian Anglican theologian and clergyman, provides an extensive description of the Bimbi cult, based on fieldwork. As he explains, “the Bimbi seeks to divert meteorological disturbances through sacrifice, public atonement or other virtuous practices” (p. 53). He describes a series of public rituals, including rain offerings (pp. 202-43), and argues that “sacrifices and prayers in the Bimbi cult are attempts by the people to communicate themselves with God in action, word and thought” (p. 229).
Awolalu, J. Ọmọṣade. “Scape-Goatism in Yoruba Religion.” Orita: Ibadan Journal of Religious Studies 19, no. 1 (1987): 3–9. Export Item
A valuable comparative study, by a Nigerian Anglican scholar of religion and clergyman, that focusses on two important sacrificial narratives among the Yorùbá: the Tele, or ‘carrier’, in Ife-Ife, formerly a human but now an animal victim (pp. 5-7), and Eleguru, a priest who offered himself as a sacrifice to save the Ijebu-Ode People (pp. 7-8). Awolalu introduces the Hebrew notion of the scapegoat, discusses the Yorùbá traditions, and briefly compares them to the sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ.
Bukuluki, Paul, and Christine Mbabazi Mpyangu. “The African Conception of Sacrifice and Its Relationship with Child Sacrifice.” International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences 41 (2014): 12–24. DOI: 10.18052/www.scipress.com/ILSHS.41.12 Access: Export Item
Bukuluki, a Ugandan sociologist, and Mpyangu, a Ugandan scholar of religion, examine the relation between sacrifice in African traditional religions and phenomena that has been labelled ‘child sacrifice’ in Uganda. Drawing on focus group discussions with community members, interviews with traditional healers and anthropological perspectives, they argue that “human sacrifice and/or child sacrifice are not part of the traditional African worldview” (p. 22).
Der, B. G. “God and Sacrifice in the Traditional Religions of the Kasena and Dagaba of Northern Ghana.” Journal of Religion in Africa 11, no. 3 (1980): 172–87. DOI: 10.2307/1581412 URL: Link Access: Export Item
An early study of the problem of God and sacrifice in African traditional religions, by a Dagaba Catholic historian, who takes Western anthropologists to task for stressing the view that “Africans do not sacrifice directly to God but to their ancestors” (p. 172). Instead, Der argues that among the Kasena and Dagaba, God is worshiped both directly and indirectly, with the ancestors functioning as intermediaries, reflecting traditional societal norms. Free via subscription from JSTOR.
Ephirim-Donkor, Anthony. African Religion Defined: A Systematic Study of Ancestor Worship among the Akan. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2010. Export Item
Ephirim-Donkor, an Akan scholar of religion and traditional ruler, draws on fieldwork and personal experience to provide an account of sacrifices and offerings among the Akan (pp. 47-71). He writes that “for the Akan and their kindred peoples, a sacrifice is kha-mogya, meaning ‘to spill blood.’” (p. 54). He explains that the deities and spirits desire blood because it contains “the okra (soul) or living essence of all things originating with God, Nana Nyame” (p. 57).
Ikenga-Metuh, Emefie. African Religions in Western Conceptual Schemes: The Problem of Interpretation. Ibadan: Pastoral Institute, Bodija, 1985. Export Item
An important study by an Igbo Catholic priest and scholar of religion. Ikenga-Metuh takes a phenomenological approach to Igbo sacrifice in order to discover what it means to the Igbo themselves. He argues that a sacrificial victim does not actually have to be killed to be a sacrifice (p. 66) and proposes that “the meaning of sacrifice becomes more comprehensible if it is seen in the broader perspective of a form of prayer communication with God” (p. 68).
Kirika, Gerishon N. M. “Aspects of the Religion of the Gikuyu of Central Kenya before and after the European Contact, with Special Reference to Prayer and Sacrifice.” PhD diss., University of Aberdeen, 1988. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Kirika, a Kikuyu Presbyterian clergyman and theologian, provides a comprehensive and systematic study of sacrifice among the Kikuyu, based on fieldwork (p. 103-68). In his definition, “Sacrifice (igongona) describes a number of activities and ceremonies all of which involve the slaughtering of a spotless ram to be offered to Ngai, or some other animal such as an ox which is eaten by the njama (sacrificial council of elders), or sometimes offered to ngoma (ancestral spirits)” (p. 112).
Magesa, Laurenti. African Religion: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A general overview of sacrifice in African religion by a Tanzanian Catholic priest (pp. 201-09). Magesa observes that “when it is an issue of restoring or maintaining the power of life, such rituals take the form of sacrifice or offering.” He distinguishes between sacrifice, which involves “separation by destruction” and offering, which involves “separation by dedication” (p. 201). He particularly draws on Evans-Pritchard and Barrett in his understanding of the purpose of sacrifice. Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Mbogoni, Lawrence E. Y. Human Sacrifice and the Supernatural in African History. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2014. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Mbogoni, a Tanzanian historian, gives an account of human sacrifice using case studies from across the continent. Following Ruel he distinguishes between human sacrifice and non-sacrificial ritual killings. He argues that “first and foremost, human sacrifice and related killings from olden times to the present are the result of African beliefs in the power of supernatural forces and their presumed impact on people’s daily lives” (p. 7).
The reassessment of sacrifice in African traditional religions by African theologians has gone hand in hand with the study of sacrifice in biblical tradition. Personal acquaintance with traditional practices and ideas of sacrifice has been an important factor in motivating African biblical scholars to examine Hebrew and Christian notions of sacrifice in greater depth. Different biblical scholars take a variety of approaches, which often depend considerably on their theological tradition, but in general three main approaches can be discerned. Some focus on the original meaning of the biblical texts and make little or no attempt to explore the relevance of their conclusions for African social contexts. Others take a comparative approach, examining sacrifice in ‘African Traditional Religion’, or in a particular traditional religion, and biblical tradition, comparing the different sacrificial systems and evaluating the usefulness of traditional practices and ideas for communicating the gospel in their contexts. Still others are concerned to reassess translations of biblical texts into African languages, engaging in an intercultural dialogue between the Hebrew and African sacrificial systems that can enable deeper insight into both the original meaning of Hebrew notions of sacrifice and their counterparts in African traditional religions. This section presents some of the most important studies of sacrifice in Hebrew tradition and the sacrifice of Christ.
Much of the scholarly work on sacrifice in Hebrew tradition focuses on the sacrificial rituals described in the book of Leviticus, but there are also studies of other sacrificial texts, as well as general overviews of sacrifice in the Old Testament. Thompson 1974, responding to the challenge laid down by Sawyerr in his classic article, conducts a preliminary investigation of sacrifice in the Old Testament. Abe 2004 provides a more extensive survey. Neither, however, devotes much attention to the relation between Hebrew sacrifices and African traditional sacrifices. Apuri 1983 and Berekiah 2014 deal with texts from the book of Genesis and explore the origins of sacrifice in Hebrew and African cultures. Both argue that the similarities that exist are either due to divine revelation or a form of cultural diffusion. Ukpong 1987 and Ngewa 1987 provide careful systematic treatments of the material in Leviticus. Ukpong examines all the Levitical sacrifices, while Ngewa focusses on the concept of substitution and limits himself to significance of the blood sacrifices and the scapegoat. Both are important comparative studies that have been influential in subsequent discussions. Takyi 2015 and Mojola 1999 focus on specific texts from Leviticus. Takyi considers the Yom Kippur festival, while Mojola analyses the goat of Azazel. Ekem 2002 and Ashby 2003 deal with texts from the prophets. Ekem examines the sacrificial language used to describe the suffering servant in Isaiah and Ashby assesses attitudes to sacrifice in the book of the twelve prophets.
Abe, Gabriel O. History and Theology of Sacrifice in the Old Testament. Benin City: Seevon Prints, 2004. Export Item
A useful study of Hebrew sacrifice by a Nigerian biblical scholar. Abe offers an account of its development and interpretations of its various forms but does not discuss the relationship between Hebrew sacrifice and African traditional sacrifices. Nevertheless, the book provides a helpful point of reference and is frequently cited in subsequent discussions.
Apuri, Joseph W. “Human Sacrifice, Isaac and Jesus: A Study of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East and Ashante and Related Tribes, in the Light of the Blood of Jesus in the Epistle to the Hebrews.” ThD diss., Pontifical Urban University, 1983. Export Item
Apuri, a Ghanaian Catholic priest, provides a tripartite study of human sacrifice, focussing on Genesis 22, Ashanti traditional religion and the Epistle to the Hebrews. He compares Hebrew and African notions of human sacrifice, noting the similarities, and argues that these cultural parallels are either because God reveals himself to all peoples or the result of cultural interaction in the distant past.
Ashby, Godfrey W. “The Prophets versus Sacrifice? With Special Reference to the Twelve.” Old Testament Essays 16, no. 3 (2003): 561–72. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A valuable study by a British Anglican bishop and theologian who worked for many years in South Africa. Ashby notes that the practice of sacrifice in the Global South offers fresh insights into Hebrew concepts of sacrifice. He offers a definition of sacrifice as a “means of converse between God and man” (p. 564), examines three kinds of prophetic discourse on sacrifice, and proposes several corollaries for readers in African contexts.
Berekiah, Olugbemiro O. “Sacrifice in Religious Traditions: A Case for Shared Origins in Human Cultures and Provenance of Gen 1-11.” African Journal of Biblical Studies 32, no. 1 & 2 (2014): 1–11. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Berekiah, a Nigerian biblical scholar, examines the understanding of sacrifice implicit in the proto-atonement text in Gen. 3.21 and compares it with Yorùbá notions of sacrifice. He argues that it is “the first instance of blood sacrifice in the life of the human race, and its purpose was propitiatory,” and that “all humans must have learnt from their shared parenthood, the concept of sacrifice” (p. 8).
Ekem, John D. K. “Translating Asham (Isaiah 53:10) in the Context of the Abura-Mfantse Sacrificial Thought.” Trinity Journal of Church and Theology 12, no. 1 (2002): 23–29. Export Item
A sophisticated study, by a Ghanaian Methodist biblical scholar and translator, that interprets and translates the Hebrew concept of asham in relation to Abura-Mfantse notions of sacrifice. Ekem highlights Yahweh’s initiative, suggesting that asham should be interpreted as “a divinely-initiated atoning pledge” (p. 25). After examining Abura-Mfantse sacrificial terminology and the legend of Egya Ahor’s voluntary self-offering, he argues that Isaiah 53:10 should be translated: “When you have offered him as a representative atoning pledge” (p. 28).
Mojola, Aloo O. “The Chagga Scapegoat Purification Ritual and Another Re-Reading of the Goat of Azazel in Leviticus 16.” Melita Theologica 50, no. 1 (1999): 57–84. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Mojola, a Kenyan Anglican bible translator, provides a careful analysis of how the scapegoat ritual in Leviticus 16 should be interpreted from a Chagga perspective. As he writes, “the idea of the goat being sent to a demon or being designated for a demon called Azazel does not make sense to the Chagga religio-cultural mind” (p. 77). Given the need for a contextual reading and the lack of consensus regarding this interpretation, he prefers the traditional interpretation (p. 79).
Ngewa, Samuel M. “The Biblical Idea of Substitution versus the Idea of Substitution in African Traditional Sacrifices: A Case Study of Hermeneutics for African Christian Theology.” PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1987. Export Item
A well-organised and systematic study of substitutionary sacrifice by a Kenyan Evangelical theologian that includes an examination of the Old Testament sacrificial system (pp. 109-76) and a detailed analysis of the relationship between Old Testament sacrifices and African traditional sacrifices (pp. 176-97). Ngewa argues that “the most fundamental difference . . . is that the Old Testament falls in God’s economy of redemption while African traditional religion(s) do(es) not” (p. 189).
Takyi, Emmanuel H. “A Comparative Study of the Concept of Atonement in the Aboakyer Festival of the Effutu Tribe in Ghana and the Yom Kippur Festival of the Old Testament: Implications for Adventist Mission among the Effutu.” PhD diss., Andrews University, 2015. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Takyi, a Ghanaian Adventist theologian, provides an extensive comparison between the Yom Kippur festival, as described in the Old Testament, and the Aboakyer Festival, which he describes based on fieldwork. He argues that the latter “displayed only a local sweep and focus,” while the former “pointed beyond the local Israelite context to a universal outlook on the issue of sin” (p. 140). The Yom Kippur festival is, therefore, a valuable model of atonement for the Effutu (p. 172).
Thompson, Prince E. S. “The Anatomy of Sacrifice: A Preliminary Investigation.” In New Testament Christianity for Africa and the World: Essays in Honour of Harry Sawyerr, edited by Mark E. Glasswell and Edward W. Fasholé-Luke, 19–35. London: SPCK, 1974. URL: Link Access: Export Item
An explorative study of the relation between Hebrew and African notions of sacrifice by a Sierra Leonean Anglican clergyman and theologian, who later became a bishop. Thompson argues that “while most of the African rites seem to have a forward-looking reference in so far as they are designed to influence the course of events in the future, those which are mentioned in the Old Testament seem to be retrospective in their main inspiration” (p. 20). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Ukpong, Justin S. Sacrifice - African and Biblical: A Comparative Study of Ibibio and Levitical Sacrifices. Rome: Urbaniana University Press, 1987. Export Item
Ukpong, a Nigerian Catholic priest and biblical scholar, provides a well-presented and systematic study of Hebrew sacrifice, focussing on the book of Leviticus. He observes that “sacrifice expresses the most fundamental aspirations of Ibibio and Old Testament religions” (p. 3). He argues that Israelite sacrifice was “a symbolic giving of material things to God, expressed divine supremacy, Israel’s dependence on God, and was a means of constant purification and communion with God. In all this Israel acted in response to the covenant” (p. 168).
The Sacrifice of Christ
If Old Testament scholars tend to concentrate on the sacrificial rituals described in the book of Leviticus, New Testament scholars tend to focus on the sacrifice of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Most of the studies included either examine texts from the letter or draw heavily on the author’s typological approach to Hebrew sacrifice. Antwi 1980 and Ngewa 1987 are both major studies that deal with multiple texts, including material from the Gospels. Antwi provides an extensive discussion of atoning sacrifice in the New Testament; Ngewa focuses on substitutionary sacrifice. Obijole 2018 considers the possible meanings of the Lamb of God in the Gospel of John. Pobee 1985 deals with the theme of martyrdom in the Pauline tradition, highlighting the sacrificial aspects of Christ’s death. Ekem 2005 and Kalengyo 2015 examine concepts of sacrifice in the Pauline epistles and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Ekem uses his case studies of atonement concepts in these letters to develop a new hermeneutical model for African biblical studies, which has come to be known as ‘Mother Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics’. Kalengyo studies Paul and Hebrews to lay biblical foundations for the inculturation of the Eucharist. The rest of the examples in this section deal with the Epistle to the Hebrews. Ekem 2007 (see ‘Introductory Resources’) presents a novel method called ‘dialogical exegesis’ with the help of a case study on the term hilastērion in Romans 3:25a. Bediako 2015 and Okure 2004 offer insightful analyses of why the treatment of sacrifice in letter remains highly relevant, both in African contexts and around the globe. Mvunabandi 2008 provides a detailed discussion of the ‘blood-life’ sacrifice in Hebrews. Olowola 1991 (see 'The Salvation Debate') and Pali 2014 present the sacrifice of Christ in Hebrews as the final sacrifice that renders traditional practices of sacrifice obsolete.
Antwi, Daniel J. “The Death of Jesus as Atoning Sacrifice: A Study of the Sources and Purpose of New Testament Soteriology, with Particular Reference to Selected Texts.” PhD diss., University of Aberdeen, 1980. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A magisterial study by a Ghanaian Presbyterian theologian that covers Jesus’ understanding of his death, the Last Supper tradition, the early church’s understanding, Pauline tradition and Hebrews. Antwi argues that “we can no longer speak of ‘spiritualization of sacrifice’, or ‘Christian rejection of atoning sacrifice’ in the NT” (p. 407). Atoning sacrifice continues to be relevant for interpreting the death of Jesus because “atoning sacrificial language is a living issue in man’s response to the universe” (p. 411).
Bediako, Kwame. “Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective on Ancestors.” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 32, no. 4 (2015): 195–201. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Bediako, a Ghanaian Presbyterian theologian, argues that “the value for us of the presentation of Jesus in Hebrews stems from its relevance to a society like ours with its deep tradition of sacrifice, priestly mediation and ancestral function” (p. 199). Previously published in Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience (Orbis Books: Maryknoll, 2004), 22–33. Originally published as Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective (Accra: Asempa Publishers, 1990).
Ekem, John D. K. New Testament Concepts of Atonement in an African Pluralistic Setting. Accra: SonLife Press, 2005. Export Item
A sophisticated study of the notion of atonement, which Ekem describes as “an all-inclusive soteriological concept involving the entire scope of God’s redemptive work in Christ from the Incarnation to Christ’s present heavenly ministry, and even beyond that” (p. 3). He examines the notion of hilastērion in Romans 3:25a, discusses the cosmic Christology in Colossians and finds a model for African biblical hermeneutics in the creative typological approach of the author of Hebrews.
Kalengyo, Edison M. Sacrifice in Hebrews and the Pauline Epistles. Nairobi: Acton, 2015. Export Item
Kalengyo, a Ugandan Anglican priest and theologian, provides a thorough study, arguing that “all the major themes of Paul’s theology such as redemption, reconciliation, justification by faith and sanctification are based on his understanding of the death of Jesus Christ as sacrifice. Additionally, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews uses the category of sacrifice exclusively to explain the work of Christ on the cross and the benefits that accrue therefrom for the believer” (p. 1).
Mvunabandi, Shadrack. “The Communicative Power of Blood Sacrifices: A Predominantly South African Perspective with Special Reference to the Epistle to the Hebrews.” PhD diss., University of Pretoria, 2008. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A wide-ranging study by a Rwandan theologian that includes a detailed interpretation of the sacrifice of Jesus in the book of Hebrews. Mvunabandi characterises it as a ‘blood-life’ sacrifice and argues that “a mysterious power resides in the blood, and when blood is being shed, it communicates some power that affects the lives of worshippers” (p. 264). Jesus’ blood-life sacrifice communicates power for soteriological, psychological and sociological benefits.
Ngewa, Samuel M. “The Biblical Idea of Substitution versus the Idea of Substitution in African Traditional Sacrifices: A Case Study of Hermeneutics for African Christian Theology.” PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1987. Export Item
Ngewa includes an examination of the death of Jesus as “the ultimate sacrifice” (pp. 198), covering the witness of Jesus, Paul, Peter and John. He argues that “Christ’s death was in the place of the sinner’s death,” “his death was for the purpose of averting the wrath of God (propitiation) as well as removing sin (expiation)” and “in taking the place of sinners, Christ paid the penalty for their sins. Christ was the sinner’s legal substitute” (p. 324).
Obijole, Olubayo O. “The Johannine Concept of Jesus as the Lamb of God in John 1:29, 36 and the Sacrificial Use of Lamb in Yoruba Religio-Cultural Comparative Context.” In Sacrifice in Religious Traditions: Essays in Honour of Ven. Prof. J. Omosade Awolalu, edited by Deji Ayegboyin and Adekunle O. Dada, 189–203. Ibadan: University of Ibadan, 2018. Export Item
A useful study by a Nigerian scholar of religion that examines several possible meanings of the phrase “Lamb of God,” including the lamb of the daily offering in the Temple, the Passover lamb and the symbol of the lamb in Isaiah 53. He concludes that “Yoruba Christian converts have a better understanding of Christ’s death as a scapegoat lamb of God in the light of the human (Tele, Eleguru) and animal sacrifices in Yoruba religion” (p. 201).
Okure, Teresa. “Hebrews: Sacrifice in an African Perspective.” In Global Bible Commentary, edited by Daniel Patte, 527–34. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2004. Export Item
Okure, a Nigerian Catholic biblical scholar, attempts to lay to rest the idea that “sacrifice is primarily, if not exclusively meaningful to Africans” (p. 535). She argues that the central message of Hebrews is that “the desire of humans to remove the obstacle of sin between them and God or to establish a permanent communion with God through sacrifice has already been fulfilled for us by God in the person of Jesus” (p. 537).
Pali, Khamadi Joseph. “Christ as Once for All Sacrifice: A Cultural Reading of Hebrews.” Acta Theologica 34, no. 1 (2014): 145–72. DOI: 10.4314/actat.v34i1.9 Access: Export Item
A careful study by a South African Reformed theologian and minister, who aims to contribute to “a wholistic and evangelistic African Christianity” (p. 147). Pali argues that “for African Christians, sacrifice to the ancestors is replaced by Christ’s perfect and superior sacrifice. It is no longer necessary to do sacrifices to the ancestors in fear or exchange of favours, for Christ has secured for us all we need” (p. 166).
Pobee, John S. Persecution and Martyrdom in the Theology of Paul. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985. Export Item
Pobee, a Ghanaian Anglican theologian and priest, mentions that the persecution of the church in Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah and his government during the sixties was an important factor in his choice of subject (p. vii). Based on a careful study of the Pauline texts, he argues for a martyrological interpretation of the cross, characterising the death of Jesus as a “voluntary, vicarious self-sacrifice” (p. 55).
Christian Liturgy and Spirituality
In African theology there has been sustained discussion of sacrifice in relation to Christian liturgy and spirituality. African theologians have not only been challenged by the continuation of traditional practices and ideas of sacrifice, but also by the ways in which African Christians have appropriated and transformed them. In particular, they have sought to provide considered responses to the practice of ritual sacrifice in Christian worship and the frequent invocation of the blood of Jesus. On the other hand, African theologians have been confronted by the perception that many African Christians feel alienated by the continued use of imported forms of worship. In response, they have put great effort into the inculturation of the Eucharist, seeking to develop concepts of sacrifice that are faithful to the Christian tradition and meaningful in African social contexts. Catholic theologians have led the way, focusing on the notion of Eucharistic sacrifice, but some Protestant theologians have also begun to explore sacrificial understandings of the Eucharist. Parallel to these theological discussions, the rise of the anthropology of African Christianity has also resulted in studies dealing with the theme of sacrifice in relation to a variety of Christian groups, especially African Independent Churches (AICs) and Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches (PCCs), examples of which are included below. This section presents some of the key contributions on ritual sacrifice, the blood of Jesus, and the Eucharist.
There have been a variety of contributions to the study of ritual sacrifice in African Christian worship. The earliest studies that deal with the phenomenon were produced by Western missionaries and scholars of religion, but their treatments tend to be limited to brief descriptions with little analysis of the meaning of the practices in relation to traditional sacrifices. Later the subject was taken up by African and Western missiologists. Daneel 1971-88 is a classic study that is unique in both its scope and attention to detail and provides a clear and perceptive account of how traditional practices have been appropriated by AICs. Nussbaum 1984 and Priest 1990 are contributions by Western missiologists that offer theological assessments of the acceptability of ritual sacrifice by African Christians and suggest a way forward. Olowola 1991 (see ‘The Salvation Debate’) and Pali 2014 (see ‘The Sacrifice of Christ’) are contributions by African theologians that respond to the issue but focus more on the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice than on the meaning of ritual sacrifice among African Christians. Britt 2008 is an anthropological study of the phenomenon that shows how it can change in response to a variety of influences. Mbaya 2011 and Wepener and Meyer 2012 are studies produced as part of a research project entitled “Exploring the role of religious rituals for social capital formation.” Both describe and analyse the practices of a particular AIC. Kane 2014 is an anthropological study that focuses on ritual sacrifice in an inter-religious setting and examines its political implications.
Britt, Samuel I. “‘Sacrifice Honors God’: Ritual Struggle in a Liberian Church.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 76, no. 1 (2008): 1–26. DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/lfm093 URL: Link Access: Export Item
A valuable study by an American scholar of religion, based on fieldwork carried out in the eighties, that shows how an AIC’s practice of sacrifice has changed over time. Britt approaches sacrifice as a ‘ritual struggle’, “a complex stratagem of symbolic rites, verbal and bodily statements, and coping measures performed communally (and anxiously for desired results” (p. 3) and argues that it “addressed two fundamental concerns . . . fear of human malice, and securing the promise of life” (p. 4).
Daneel, Marthinus L. Old and New in Southern Shona Independent Churches. 3 vols. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Daneel, a renowned scholar of Shona religion who was born and raised in Mashonaland, provides a magisterial study that includes detailed descriptions of traditional rituals and customs, such as the kugadzira, a Shona post-mortem ritual that is performed “to settle the spirit of the deceased” (vol. 1, pp. 101-13). He also carefully documents how European missions engaged with the kugadzira (vol. 1, pp. 272-77) and how later AICs in Zimbabwe adapted them (vol. 2, pp. 116-39).
Kane, Ross. “Ritual Formation of Peaceful Publics: Sacrifice and Syncretism in South Sudan (1991-2005).” Journal of Religion in Africa 44, no. 3–4 (2014): 386–410. DOI: 10.1163/15700666-12340024 URL: Link Access: Export Item
A perceptive study by an American scholar of religion that analyses the ritual of bull sacrifice, which was frequently performed as part of the peace process in South Sudan. Kane argues that “a syncretistic ritual, utilizing indigenous Dinka and Nuer practices as well as Christian practices, formed peaceful publics that practiced politics of inclusion and coexistence over and against politics of ethnic exclusion as perpetuated by rebel leaders” (p 387). Free via subscription from JSTOR.
Mbaya, Henry. “The Socio-Practical Dimensions of Isitshisa [Burning of the Heifer] in the Corinthian Church of South Africa.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 67, no. 2 (2011): a930, 1–8. DOI: 10.4102/hts.v67i2.930 Access: Export Item
Mbaya, an Anglican priest and missiologist, provides a helpful discussion of isitshisa based on field research. He observes that, “the whole act of worship ended the following day, Sunday, with the presentation of gifts to 60 blind people” (p. 2). Jean Richmond, a participant, explains that “the sacrifice of the heifer implied that the Corinthians must also ‘offer’ their lives for the neediest in society, such as the blind” (p. 8).
Nussbaum, Stan. “Rethinking Animal Sacrifice: A Response to Some Sotho Independent Churches.” Missionalia 12, no. 2 (1984): 49–63. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A helpful re-evaluation of animal sacrifice by an American Mennonite missiologist who worked in Lesotho and wrote a doctoral dissertation supervised by Marthinus Daneel at the University of South Africa. Nussbaum describes two cases of thanksgiving sacrifices in African Independent Churches, argues that “they are right to try to incorporate animal sacrifice into their worship of God, but they are often wrong in how they do this” (p. 57) and suggests an alternative “evangelistic sacrifice” (p. 58).
Priest, Doug. Doing Theology with the Maasai. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1990. Export Item
Priest, an American missiologist who worked among the Maasai for about seven years, provides a careful study of Maasai traditional sacrifice to assess whether it is acceptable for Maasai Christians to participate in them. He argues that “sacrifices which involve the participation of the ritual expert . . . cannot be transformed to allow Christian participation” but suggests that “sacrifices to God which are for purposes of thanksgiving rather than purification” are acceptable (p. 191).
Wepener, Cas, and Esias E. Meyer. “Ritual Burning and Slaughtering in an AIC: Perspectives from Liturgical Studies and Old Testament Criticism.” Religion & Theology 19, no. 3–4 (2012): 298–318. DOI: 10.1163/15743012-12341242 Access: Export Item
A sophisticated interdisciplinary study of sacrifice and the use of blood in the Corinthian Church of South Africa by two South African theologians. Wepener and Meyer describe a variety of rituals, give an overview of the notion of inculturation, and examine the sacrifice of the red heifer in Numbers 19. They argue that “ritual practices seemingly peculiar to the CCSA . . . can serve an important function as part of the glue that holds a community together” (p. 316).
The Blood of Jesus
The notion of salvation through the blood of Jesus has been popular in African theology since the arrival of the first European Evangelical missionaries. Cleansing through the blood of Jesus was central to the collection of movements that came to be known as the East African Revival. Kibira 1974 and Shenk 1984 are two treatments by revivalists that explore the meaning of the blood of Jesus in relation to traditional African practices of reconciliation. Western Pentecostal and Charismatic evangelists, such as Reinhard Bonnke, also contributed to the popularity of the notion. Bonnke 2001 is an articulation of the theology of the blood that he developed during his African crusades. The practice of invoking the blood of Jesus for protection, healing and prosperity became more widespread with the rise of new African PCCs. Oyedepo 2012 and Oke 2016, both originally published in the 1990s, are two influential treatments of the topic by leading Pentecostal bishops that encourage believers to appropriate the power of the blood in their daily lives. Some theologians see this emphasis as a positive development. Mwombeki 2005 argues that the Lutheran theology of the cross needs to be supplemented with the theology of the blood. Other theologians, however, have condemned the invocation of the blood of Jesus in prayer. Olarewaju 2003 provides a forceful critique of the practice, arguing that it has no biblical basis. Dami 2018 arrives at a similar conclusion but develops an alternative theology of the blood for African Christians. Acheampong 2015 is a substantial engagement with Pentecostal interpretations of the blood of Jesus in relation the blood of the Passover lamb. Zetterström-Sharp 2017 is an anthropological study that highlights the importance of living a godly Christian life in order for the blood of Jesus to be effective against the Devil.
Acheampong, Joseph W. “I Will Pass over You: The Relevance of the Passover to the Understanding of Salvation in Contemporary Ghanaian Pentecostalism – A Critical Reflection from an Akan Perspective.” PhD diss., University of Hamburg, 2015. URL: Link Access: Export Item
An important study, based on fieldwork, by a Ghanaian Presbyterian theologian that includes a detailed analysis of the use of Exodus 12 among Ghanaian Pentecostals (pp. 173-212). Acheampong argues that “Pentecostals in Ghana tend to apply a typological hermeneutics in their reading of the Passover text” (p. 213) and highlights “their ‘extreme’ appropriation of the apotropaic function of the blood of the Passover animal” (p. 216).
Bonnke, Reinhard. The Power of the Blood of Jesus. 4th ed. Frankfurt am Main: Full Flame, 2001. Export Item
Bonnke was a German Pentecostal evangelist who, inspired by a vision of a “blood-washed Africa,” launched a pan-African crusade to spread revival across the continent. In this booklet he draws on biblical texts (1 Peter 1:19, John 1:29 and Leviticus 8:23) and uses illustrations from earlier sermons in African contexts to proclaim that Christians are not only washed by the blood of Jesus, but also protected against demons, witches and all kinds of evil. For a sermon by Bonnke on this theme, see the video on YouTube.
Dami, Caleb D. The Theology of the Blood of Jesus: Its Meaning, Usage, and Implications. Jos: COCIN, 2018. Export Item
A systematic discussion of the blood of Jesus in response to the popular use of the concept by a Nigerian Evangelical theologian. Dami takes a biblical-theological approach, discussing the meaning of blood in the Ancient Near East and African traditional religion, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. He argues that the blood of Jesus is primarily a way of referring to Christ’s death and explains its multifaceted salvific implications.
Kibira, Josiah M. Church, Clan, and the World. Lund: Gleerup, 1974. Export Item
Kibira, a Tanzanian Lutheran bishop, relates the blood of Jesus to the traditional practice of blood brotherhood (omukago). He argues that the blood of Jesus establishes a new omukago that unites people from different clans, creating a new clan in Christ. As he writes, “Unless the blood of Jesus Christ is taken as Omukago among his followers. . . it will never take its real and meaningful rooting in the African soil” (p. 46).
Mwombeki, Fidon R. “The Theology of the Cross: Does It Make Sense to Africans?” In The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology, edited by Niels H. Gregersen, 101–14. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A well-presented and systematic article by a Tanzanian Lutheran theologian, who later became the general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches. Mwombeki considers the cross in Luther’s theology and African theologies before arguing that “the theology of the blood” is a way to enrich the theology of the cross (p. 111). For further analysis, see his doctoral dissertation, “Biblical Interpretation in a Current African Situation: The Case of Blood” (Luther Seminary, 1997).
Oke, Francis W. The Precious Blood of Jesus. Ibadan: His Kingdom House, 2016. Export Item
Oke is a Nigerian Pentecostal bishop and founder of Sword of the Spirit Ministries, who later became the president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. In this book, originally published in 1999, he argues that “the blood of Jesus has power to protect us from all evil and all attacks from the Devil” and that “you can boldly claim and declare your Protection from plagues, diseases, accidents, demonic attacks, robberies and violence, through the blood of Jesus” (ch. 3).
Olarewaju, Samuel. “The Efficacy of Prayer in the Blood of Christ in Contemporary African Christianity.” Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology 22, no. 1 (2003): 31–49. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A careful study of the use of blood in African traditional religion and the Bible by a Nigerian Evangelical theologian. Olarewaju argues that “to pray and cover various objects with the blood of Christ as protection against demonic attacks, epidemics, natural disasters, accidents, and other such experiences is . . . without scriptural warrant.” Given that “the practice is paralleled in various traditional religions,” Christians should consider it “syncretistic” (p. 45).
Oyedepo, David O. The Blood Triumph. Lagos: Dominion Publishing House, 2012. Export Item
Oyedepo is a Nigerian Pentecostal bishop and founder of Winners’ Chapel International, as well as chancellor of Covenant University and Landmark University. In this book, originally published in 1995, he argues that the blood of Jesus is the weapon that delivers from Satan and gives power and blessings. As he writes, “Every time you invoke the Blood of Jesus in faith, you are bringing God on the scene and He has never been known to fail” (ch. 2).
Shenk, Joseph C. Kisare, a Mennonite of Kiseru: An Autobiography as Told to Joseph C. Shenk. Salunga, PA: Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1984. Export Item
The story of a Tanzanian Mennonite bishop, which includes a testimony about a revival that took place in Shirati after a period of discord in the church (pp. 71-83). Kisare explains that “the Holy Spirit showed us that Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for all of us to be brothers and sisters in the same village” (p. 81). He also observes that this insight was central to ‘The Fellowship’ across East Africa (p. 83).
Zetterström-Sharp, Johanna. “‘I Cover Myself in the Blood of Jesus’: Born Again Heritage Making in Sierra Leone.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 23, no. 3 (2017): 486–502. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.12647 Access: Export Item
Zetterström-Sharp, an anthropologist and curator, provides a valuable study, based on fieldwork, that explores how Sierra Leonean Pentecostals who work as heritage professionals navigate the tension between their faith and their professional responsibility to promote traditional practices and objects that their church considers demonic. For such professionals, “It is not enough to call on the blood of Jesus; this must be done within a broader regime of practice for it to be successful” (p. 497).
Many theologians have contributed to the inculturation of the Eucharist over the years. Some studies, following the Second Vatican Council, prefer an adaptation approach or model, which maintains the essence of the Eucharist but makes use of certain elements from traditional sacrificial practices, such as dress, music or dance. Nelson-Adjakpey 2008, originally published in 1982, takes this approach, but maintains that adaptation is very similar to inculturation. Gakpe-Ntsri 1989 distinguishes between adaptation, which often takes the form of a cultural monologue, and inculturation, which is more dialogical, and suggests that incarnation is the most appropriate model for inculturation. Okoye 1992 chooses an inculturation approach, which establishes a dialogue between the Eucharist and traditional sacrifice with a view to assimilating certain traditional sacrificial values, such as expiation, purification or communion. He argues that such an approach is able to deal with the deeper cultural meanings of sacrifice, as well as do justice to local practices. Lupande, Healey and Sybertz 1996 responds to the African Synod’s call for inculturation by focussing on the values related to particular practices. Galgalo 2000 is an important example of an historical study, which does not address the question of inculturation directly, but explores ways in which early eucharistic sacrifice could be appropriated in an African context. Sipuka 2000, Kalengyo 2006 and Eze 2008 are three major studies that all take an inculturation approach and use an incarnation model, attempting to reformulate the Eucharist in terms of the stories, practices and concepts of a traditional sacrificial system. Kalengyo 2009 (see ‘Introductory Resources’) and Kalengyo 2018 provide accessible introductions to Kalengyo’s work. Mbagwu 2017 chooses a more general inculturation approach.
Eze, Damian Ọ. The Eucharist as Orikọnsọ: A Study in Eucharistic Ecclesiology from an Igbo Perspective. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2008. Export Item
A valuable study by a Nigerian Catholic priest and theologian, who examines “the problem of double allegiance” (p. 3) in the Catholic Church and explores how the Eucharist can be better inculturated from an Igbo perspective in order to solve this problem. Eze argues that Holy Communion, which is currently translated as Oriri Nsọ or ‘holy feast’ in Igbo, should instead be translated as Orikọ Nsọ or ‘holy sacrifice of atonement and reconciliational communion’ (p. 220-21).
Gakpe-Ntsri, Theodore. “Aspects of Inculturation of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the Traditional Worship of the Akans of Ghana: A Theology of the Eucharist in the Context of an Indigenous African Traditional Religion.” PhD diss., Duquesne University, 1989. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Gakpe-Ntsri, a Ghanaian Catholic priest and theologian, provides a comprehensive and systematic study that includes an extensive discussion of the Eucharist as sacrifice (pp. 147-280) and a critical analysis of the similarities and difference between Akan and Eucharistic sacrifice (pp. 281-308). He argues that “the Eucharist . . . embodies what is the Akan basic notion of sacrifice: Life is offered to God that he may bestow life on humanity. Through the sacrifice of Christ, this belief has become a reality” (p. 296).
Galgalo, Joseph D. “Eucharistic Sacrifice: A Theological Study of the Sacrificial Interpretation of the Early Eucharist and Its Role in the Economy of Salvation (c. 30-202).” PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 2000. Export Item
A careful and sophisticated account by a Kenyan Anglican priest and theologian. Galgalo shows how “the Eucharist evolved into becoming a central rite, within a complex edifice of a ‘ritual system’” and argues that “the Eucharist became a ‘new sacrifice’ functionally replacing the traditional sacrifices as part of the resultant discrete ‘ritual structure’” (p. 186). He also suggests some pointers towards the appropriation of early Eucharistic sacrifice today, focussing on the Anglican Church in Kenya (pp. 179-85).
Kalengyo, Edison M. “Sacrifice in Hebrews 9:1-10:18 and Ganda Sacrifice: A Study in Relation to the Christian Sacrament of the Eucharist.” PhD diss., University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2006. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Kalengyo, a Ugandan Anglican priest and theologian, provides a well-presented and systematic study that includes a treatment of the Eucharist (pp. 209-52), a comparison between Eucharistic sacrifice and Ganda sacrifice (pp. 266-73) and a valuable proposal for inculturating Eucharistic sacrifice among the Ganda (pp. 286-302). He argues that “in the celebration of the inculturated eucharistic sacrifice, the incarnate and risen Lord Jesus Christ meets with the Ganda and bestows the benefits of this sacrificial death to the faithful through faith” (p. ix).
Kalengyo, Edison M. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper: Ending the Eucharistic Famine. Carlisle: HippoBooks, 2018. Export Item
A clear and insightful response the ‘Eucharistic famine’ facing African Christians. Kalengyo suggests that one way of addressing this situation is by better inculturating the Lord’s Supper using the model of incarnation (pp. 34-45). He highlights the centrality of sacrifice in African traditional religions, examines the sacrificial nature of the Last Supper and argues for the use of local sacrificial terminology to communicate the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (pp. 47-61).
Lupande, Joseph M., Joseph G. Healey, and Donald F. Sybertz. “The Sukuma Sacrificial Goat and Christianity: An Example of Inculturation in Africa.” Worship 70, no. 6 (1996): 506–16. Export Item
Lupande, a Tanzanian Catholic, and Healey and Sybertz, two American Catholic missionaries examine the parallels between the Sukuma sacrificial goat and Jesus Christ, the sacrificial lamb of God. They argue that “the Sukuma ritual of the sacrificial goat leads to the Christian teaching on the Eucharistic sacrifice,’ which “takes the African cultural example of the sacrificial victim to a higher level” (p. 511). Also published in African Christian Studies 12, no. 1 (1996): 20–29.
Mbagwu, Paschal C. Where God and Human Meet: The Paschal Mystery, Priesthood and Sacrifice Among the Igbos. New York: Herder & Herder, 2017. Export Item
An accessible study by a Nigerian Catholic priest and theologian, who proposes that Igbo traditional rituals should be ‘inculturated’, reinterpreted and internalized. Mbagwu argues that “only an authentic Christocentric shift, based on their traditional values will help the Igbos understand the true meaning of the ritual of sacrifice practiced by the Church as a true sacrifice replacing their traditional ones” and “make meaning of their sufferings and pains by uniting their trials to those of Christ” (pp. 155).
Nelson-Adjakpey, Ted. The Faith of Our Fathers: From Tradition to Christ. 2nd ed. Accra: zZynnyzygnx Enterprise, 2008. Export Item
Nelson-Adjakpey, a Ghanaian Catholic priest and theologian, discusses penance and sacrifice among the Ewe and in Catholic tradition and attempts to integrate these religious concepts (pp. 209-31). He argues that both include: “the acknowledgement of one’s dependence on the supernatural, the desire and the anxiety to respond to the demands of the supernatural, the establishment of peace and harmony among men and the relationship with the supernatural, and the attainment of peace within oneself” (pp. 213).
Okoye, James C. “The Eucharist and African Culture.” African Ecclesial Review 34, no. 5 (1992): 272–92. Export Item
An astute analysis by a Nigerian Catholic priest and theologian. Okoye argues that “the Eucharist has foundational paradigms that must be respected or there is no Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. But in so far as ‘sacrifice’ is a dimension of the Eucharistic meal it can gain from dialogue with sacrifice in Traditional Religion. . . . [I]t should be possible . . . to highlight the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, adapting the celebration to patterns of sacrifice in the culture” (p. 290).
Sipuka, Sithembele. “The Sacrifice of the Mass and the Concept of Sacrifice among the Xhosa: Towards an Inculturated Understanding of the Eucharist.” ThD diss., University of South Africa, 2000. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Sipuka, a South African Catholic bishop and theologian, includes a comparison of Eucharistic sacrifice and Xhosa sacrifice (pp. 211-34), and a valuable proposal for an inculturated understanding of the Eucharist among the Xhosa (pp. 235-61). He argues that this will “revitalise the communion element in Eucharistic sacrifice” and “help Xhosa Catholics to have a deepened understanding of sacrifice that extends beyond performance of rituals to include self-giving” (pp. iii-iv).
Christian Social Ethics
The final theological area in which sacrifice features prominently is Christian social ethics. The notion of Christian sacrifice, preached and acted out by African and European missionaries, has been highly popular among African Christians. African Christians who were killed because of their Christian witness have contributed to a strong tradition of sacrificial martyrdom. African prophets, who often suffered persecution and sometimes death at the hands of colonial and post-colonial authorities, have become models of self-sacrifice in African Independent Church traditions. Furthermore, many African Christians, especially women, have suffered greatly as a result of violence, corruption and poverty. Against the backdrop of Africa’s turbulent history, Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches have emphasised various forms of sacrificial giving, especially regular tithing, personal free-will offerings, and the notion of ‘seed sowing’, in which a ‘seed of faith’ (a small amount of money) is sown in anticipation of a return from God. Furthermore, African theologians have elaborated on the notion of Christian sacrifice across a wide variety of areas, from economics to gender studies to politics. In the process they have sought to draw on African and Hebrew traditions, the sacrifice of Christ, and African Christian examples of sacrifice to shape Christian engagement with pressing contemporary issues. This section presents some important contributions on various forms of Christian sacrifice, including martyrdom, suffering, self-sacrifice and giving.
Martyrdom and Suffering
Many African martyrs, following the example of Christ, have given their lives for the cause of the Gospel. This subsection focuses on some of the most well-known stories of martyrdom and suffering and concludes with two theological reflections on the subject. Faupel 1962 gives an account of the Uganda Martyrs, who are venerated as saints by African Catholics across the continent and whose place of execution is an important centre for pilgrimage. Robert 2005 compares St. Patrick to Bernard Mizeki, who brought the Gospel to the Shona people and is remembered as a model of sacrifice in the Anglican tradition. Hoehler-Fatton 1996 examines the martyrdom of Alfayo Odongo Mango, a Kenyan Independent Church leader, providing detailed historical background and analysing the sacrificial meaning of his death in relation to Luo and Christian concepts of sacrifice. Martin 1975 offers an account of the suffering of Simon Kimbangu, the founder of the Église de Jésus Christ sur la Terre par son envoyé spécial Simon Kimbangu. Smoker 1994 shows how the blood of the martyrs in Kenya has not only been “the seed of the church” but also the seed of the nation. Ford 1978 tells the story of Janani Luwum, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, who paid the ultimate price for standing up to President Idi Amin. Blanes 2014 is an anthropological study that calls for more attention to the notion of self-sacrifice in African Christianity, using the life of Simão Gonçalves Toko, the founder of the Tokoist Church, as a case study. Royal 2000 gives an account of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine, Algeria, and provides an overview of African Catholic martyrs in the twentieth century. Stories of martyrdom and suffering have also given rise to theological reflection on the subject. Pobee 1985 (see ‘The Sacrifice of Christ’) is an important example of a biblical study written against the backdrop of persecution in Ghana, but does not directly relate its conclusions to the Ghanaian context. Katongole 2017 discusses the importance of remembering the martyrs for the church in Africa today and includes several stories about African women who paid the ultimate price for their witness.
Blanes, Ruy L. “Time for Self-Sacrifice: Temporal Narratives, Politics and Ideals in African Prophetism.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 79, no. 3 (2014): 406–29. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2013.806946 Access: Export Item
A sophisticated analysis of the notion of self-sacrifice in the Angolan Tokoist Church by a Spanish anthropologist. Blanes argues that “sacrifice, independently from its formal presentations, entails ‘other sides’, particular temporalities, and participates in political and experiential realms of memory and expectation” (p. 408) and shows how Simão Gonçalves Toko, the leader of the church became “an ultimate example of self-sacrifice though his biography of suffering and martyrdom” (p. 423).
Faupel, John F. African Holocaust: The Story of the Uganda Martyrs. New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1962. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Faupel, a British Catholic missionary, gives an extensive account of the execution of the Uganda Martyrs, a group of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts who were killed on the orders of the Kabaka (king) of Buganda. Most of the martyrs were burned to death at Namugongo, which was one of thirteen matambiro (sacrificial places) where human sacrifices were carried out (p. 168). Their deaths were thus considered a sacrifice in both a Christian and a Ganda traditional religious sense. Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Ford, Margaret. Janani: The Making of a Martyr. London: Lakeland, 1978. Export Item
A careful account, based on personal experience, by an Anglican missionary, who was Archbishop Janani Luwum’s secretary up to the time he was killed on the orders of Idi Amin, the president of Uganda. Ford frames the narrative by quoting Romans 12.1-2, suggests that Luwum understood his death in sacrificial terms (p. 84) and draws a number of parallels between Luwum’s death and Christ’s self-offering.
Hoehler-Fatton, Cynthia. Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Hoehler-Fatton, an American historian of religion, provides an insightful analysis of the death of Alfayo Odongo Mango, a leader of the Roho movement in western Kenya (pp. 119-70). As she writes, “Johoro [Roho members] believe that on January 21, 1934, Mango gave his life for the sake of Africans. His self-sacrificial death opened heaven to blacks and ushered in the reign of the Holy Spirit in Africa” (p. 120). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Katongole, Emmanuel. Born from Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017. Export Item
A valuable study by a Ugandan Catholic priest and theologian that includes a chapter on “Refusing to be consoled for the death of the martyrs” (pp. 243-59). Katongole tells stories of sacrifice, such as that of Chantal Mujjawamaholo and her friends, who were killed by Interhamwe militia for refusing to separate along ethic lines. These stories “invite the church to a life of vigil, to a life of social struggle, and to a new and resurrected community” (p. 245).
Martin, Marie-Louise. Kimbangu: An African Prophet and His Church. Translated by D. M. Moore. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A translation of Kirche ohne Weisse: Simon Kimbangu und seine Millionenkirche im Kongo (Basel: Friedrich Reinhardt, 1971). Martin, a Swiss theologian, worked as the director of theological training at the Ecole de Théologie Kimbanguiste, Kinshasa. She notes the similarity between Kimbangu’s suffering and the passion of Jesus, and observes that “it can be assumed that Kimbangu felt constrained to re-enact . . . the passion story without, however, posing himself as the Son of God” (p. 60). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Robert, Dana L. “St. Patrick and Bernard Mizeki: Missionary Saints and the Creation of Christian Communities.” New Haven, CT: Yale Divinity School Library, 2005. URL: Link Access: Export Item
Robert, an American historian of Christianity and missiologist, gives a helpful account of the life and legacy of Bernard Mizeki, a Mozambican Anglican catechist, who is remembered as the Apostle of the MaShona. Discussing the establishment of the Bernard Mizeki Guild, Robert writes that “Anglican migrant workers could identify with Bernard Mizeki as a fellow migrant who sacrificed himself for Christ” (pp. 22-23).
Royal, Robert. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History. Chicago: Crossroad, 2000. Export Item
In addition to the well-known story of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine, Algeria, Royal gathers some of the stories of “the many little-known martyrs of the rest of Africa” in the hope that their memories will “bear fruit in the places where they made their sacrifices” (p. 317). For African martyrs of the twenty-first century, including 150 students shot at Garissa University College in Kenya, Coptic Christians executed in Libya and victims of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria, see the article on the National Catholic Reporter.
Smoker, Dorothy. Ambushed by Love: God’s Triumph in Kenya’s Terror. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1994. Export Item
A collection of testimonies by Christians who suffered and died during the Mau Mau rebellion, compiled by an American Mennonite missionary. As one interviewee says, “We felt we were facing death on the centre cross with Jesus, hung between two other crosses: on one cross was a thief (the British who had taken our land), and on the other cross a murderer (the Mau Mau)! Our job was to offer salvation to both, as Jesus did” (p. 160).
Self-Sacrifice and Giving
In African theology, sacrifice not only has connotations of death and loss, but also life and hope. Oduyoye 1986 (see ‘Introductory Resources’) provides a valuable discussion of Christian sacrifice, drawing a crucial distinction between making a sacrifice and being sacrificed. Oduyoye 2001 assesses the use of the notion in African women’s theology, giving a carefully nuanced defence of the concept. Nürnberger 1999 provides an outline of the notion of sacrifice in Hebrew and early Christian tradition and suggests ways of applying it to political, economic and ecological issues. Katongole 2011 offers a programmatic political theology that draws on the creative possibilities of sacrifice to tell a new story about Africa and imagine a new future for its peoples. Pobee 2018 also emphasises the importance of the concept for addressing social and ecological issues. The notion of sacrifice has also become a key theme in Pentecostal discourse on giving. Oyedepo 1997 is an influential treatment of the topic by leading Pentecostal bishop that highlights the need for believers to offer themselves to God if they are to have any hope of prosperity. Lauterbach 2014 is an anthropological study that examines how Pentecostal migrants understand giving and receiving in a transitional situation. Familusi 2018 analyses the Christian notion of giving as a form of sacrifice in order to address a number of abuses that he identifies in contemporary Pentecostal Christianity.
Familusi, Olumuyiwa O. “Voluntary or Subtle Compulsion? An Ethical Context of Giving as Sacrifice in Contemporary Christianity.” In Sacrifice in Religious Traditions: Essays in Honour of Ven. Prof. J. Omosade Awolalu, edited by Deji Ayegboyin and Adekunle O. Dada, 173–88. Ibadan: University of Ibadan, 2018. Export Item
A useful study by a Nigerian scholar of religion. Familusi observes that sacrificial giving can involve a variety of things, including life, time or belongings, but is increasingly becoming monetised, especially in contemporary Pentecostal Christianity. He criticises a number of immoral practices, such as the giving of stolen money, spiritual manipulation by pastors and the expectation of immediate rewards.
Katongole, Emmanuel. The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2011. Export Item
Katongole argues that “the founding story of the institutions of modern Africa rejects Africa itself” and has resulted in “myriad forms of use and abuse, sacrificing African lives and ultimately Africa itself” (p. 21). A new future in Africa requires a different story that makes possible “a new sacrifice of Africa (in the sense of the Latin root of sacrifice, which is to ‘make sacred’: sacra + facere)” (p. 25). One such story is that of Angelina Atyam (p. 148-65).
Lauterbach, Karen. “Religion and Displacement in Africa: Compassion and Sacrifice in Congolese Churches in Kampala, Uganda.” Religion & Theology 21, no. 3–4 (2014): 209–308. DOI: 10.1163/15743012-02103004 Access: Export Item
An insightful study, by a Danish scholar of religion, that explores how Congolese Christian migrants understand forms of help that are provided to refugees. Lauterbach argues that “[Congolese] pastors and churches provide and conceptualise assistance both in relation to religious ideas of compassion and sacrifice and in relation to expectations of reciprocity when they engage in social relationships of exchange” (p. 306) and highlights the figure of the “sacrificial pastor” in African Pentecostalism (p. 307).
Nürnberger, Klaus. “Sacrifice and Ecology: The Trajectory of Sacrifice as a Soteriological Paradigm in Biblical History and Its Relevance for the Ecological Predicament of Modernity.” Scriptura 71, no. 4 (1999): 279–301. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7833/71-0-1233 Access: Export Item
Nürnberger, a South African Lutheran theologian, argues that “it is absolutely critical for the future of humankind and the earth as a whole that we do not propose to make a few sacrifices to give a wounded nature a chance. Rather we must be taken by God into the broad stream of sacrifice which sustains us through other creatures and other creatures through us” (p. 299).
Oduyoye, Mercy A. Introducing African Women’s Theology. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. URL: Link Access: Export Item
A valuable study by a Ghanaian Methodist theologian, ecumenical leader and founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. Oduyoye draws on the notion of sacrifice in her analysis of hospitality and spirituality (pp. 90-109) and argues that “the Christ-event calls both men and women to the twin experience of cross and resurrection. . . . We risk sacrifice and cross, we struggle against evil and endure many scars, because armed with hope we already see life defeating death” (p. 118). Free via subscription from Internet Archive.
Oyedepo, David O. Understanding Financial Prosperity. Lagos: Dominion Publishing House, 1997. Export Item
Oyedepo is a Nigerian Pentecostal bishop and founder of Winners’ Chapel International, as well as chancellor of Covenant University and Landmark University. In this book he explains the covenant basis for prosperity, emphasising the importance of personal holiness and dedication to God: “When your heart is tuned to God, your sacrifices become acceptable, otherwise they have no meaning to Him” (p. 70).
Pobee, John S. “My Sacrifice, O God, Is a Broken Spirit (Psalm 52:19).” In Sacrifice in Religious Traditions: Essays in Honour of Ven. Prof. J. Omosade Awolalu, edited by Deji Ayegboyin and Adekunle O. Dada, 9–14. Ibadan: University of Ibadan, 2018. Export Item
A brief but wide-ranging essay that applies the notion of sacrifice to topics as diverse as poverty and pluralism. He argues that “the theme of sacrifice is fundamentally about renewal of relationships between peoples as well as between humanity and the rest of creation. Therefore, sacrifice in religious tradition can no longer be only an intra-religious concern, it must overflow the bounds of religions into well-being and renewal of humanity and society” (p. 13).
How to Cite This Resource
Bussey, Samuel K. “Sacrifice.” Bibliographical Encyclopaedia of African Theology. 23 March 2022. Accessed [enter date]. https://african.theologyworldwide.com/encyclopaedia-african-christian-thought/sacrifice.