Celebrating Easter in South AfricaThis weekend marks Easter for Christians who honour and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but a lot still seems to be misunderstood about the whole concept of Christianity as a whole and some of its traditions like Easter observation.
In South Africa, observation of Easter is unique to each Christian denomination and has seen a distinct mixture of African and Western rituals, with the likes of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) which holds pilgrimage annually in their holy sight, Zion City Moria in Limpopo.
Although Christian, ZCC seeks to retain traditional African values by their rituals, which are mostly that of African culture and tradition. The way in which the church practices and observe the Easter tradition displays an element of co-existence between Christianity as a Western concept and African tradition, which most black people still possess.
While many Christian churches would perform western rituals during church services and Easter gatherings, ZCC performs a special ritual by its male members called Mkhukhu dance, where they leap into the air and then come down stamping their foot on the ground.
Professor Simangaliso Kumalo, a University of KwaZulu-Natal theologian and historian says Christianity in South Africa and how South Africans observe Easter has become Africanised, so much so that even the European kind of Christianity no longer recognises it,
“There is a gap between Christianity and African tradition because these are two religions, and it takes hard work to actually see the similarities. African religion has been there for as many years as the African people themselves; whereas Christianity is only about 300 years old in Africa. We always related to God through ancestors and African tradition rituals,” he says.
If Christianity and African religion are two different religions, how do the two then coincide one would wonder. According to Professor Kumalo, Africans adopted Christianity and appreciated but, many instead of fully transitioning to it, tried to link it.
“Saying that Christianity is a foreign religion is no longer true because as much as it came as European, the kind of Christianity that many churches now are practicing is no longer the proper western but more African; with the kind of rituals they perform,” he said.
Although Easter observation is in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ, the tradition has been commodified by both people and retail companies.
“Whether for religious reasons or not, everyone is always looking forward to it. It is a big thing for both wrong and right reasons; and has been commodified that’s why it’s celebrated all over denominations,” Professor Kumalo said.
Although there seems to be controversies that exist within Christianity, the fact that these aren’t only exclusive to Christianity cannot be disputed due complexities deeply entrenched in the whole religion spectrum.