Religious Foods in Africa

Religions in Africa

Prior to the introduction of religious holidays into Africa, there were many native religions. Despite the vast amount of native religions that each had various traditions and beliefs, they also had many similarities. The main thing that they had in common was the profound effect on the daily lives of Africans. The way they thought, acted, and even who they interacted with was all dependent on their religion and religious beliefs.

Picture34In addition, all religions in Africa had a variety of shared values: “a belief in one God above a host of lesser gods or semi-divine figures; a belief in ancestral spirits; the idea of sacrifice, often involving the death of a living thing, to ensure divine protection and generosity; the need to undergo rites of passage to move from childhood to adulthood, from life to death” (“The Story of Africa”).

Despite the large amount of native religions, today, most of the continent follows Christianity or Islam. 


How did non-native religions get to Africa?


Islam was first introduced to Northern Africa when Muslim refugees came to seek safety from the Arabian Peninsula. The spread continued in the 600s, following Mohammed’s death, when an invasion spread the culture into Western Africa. This was further spread into East Africa, in the eighth century, as trade between West Asia and East Africa began to be more prominent. The first Africans to convert to Islam were Sudanese merchants. The conversion was mainly done by elites: In the 11th century, elites in Ghana began to convert and elites in Mali followed in the 13th century. The spread continued, despite not getting a lot of attention by those of lower social classes, but was sporadic and did not follow any patterns.


According to fable, Christianity was brought from Israel to Egypt in 60 AD by an evangelist. It then slowly spread both east and west. As time progressed, it became a more widely used religion, even becoming the official religion in Ethiopia in the 4th century. In the seventh century, Islam began to become more widely practiced, when compared to Christianity, in the North. It was not completely eradicated, as it was still practiced in some areas, such as Ethiopia. In the fifteenth century, Christianity was spread to Sub-Saharan Africa when the Portuguese arrived and in 1652, the Dutch Reform Church began to be founded. There were still large areas in the middle of the continent that continued practicing native religions until the 1800s, when Christian missionaries came over. They were successful in causing religious changes from native religions to Christianity but were not as successful in causing change from Islam to Christianity.

More information on religion can be found at “The Story of Africa” and “Trade and the Spread of Islam in Africa”.


Holidays in Africa

Because western religions are celebrated in Africa, so are the holidays that come with the various religions. There are many other holidays, though, that are specifically celebrated in each country.

For example, Botswana is primarily Christian; therefore, they celebrate Christmas and Easter, but they also have other national holidays. They have Sir Seretse Khama Day in order to celebrate their first president and Botswana Day to celebrate their independence and Botswana Day to celebrate their independence. At these large events, it is custom to have dances, festivals, speeches, and food. At ceremonial, large, public events, it is common for the men to cook the main part of the meal, which consists of large cast iron pots filled with meat that cooks until tender. Women prepare the side dishes often consisting of “porridge and/ or rice, pumpkin/squash, and often cole slaw or beet salad” (Countries and Their Cultures).

Even holidays that are religious ones celebrated in other regions of the world celebrate with different foods depending on the region.

For instance, again using Botswana as an example, due to the Christian religion, Christmas is celebrated. Combining the Botswanan traditions and Christian ones, the national food, Seswaa (a dish consisting of beef or goat stew over corn porridge), is made. The tradition of giving gifts occurs in Botswana but is less common due to the largely impoverished nation. Instead, the day is filled with family, friends, and traditions.

An example of an Islamic tradition is Eid al-Adha, which is the feast that occurs after a sacrifice. As such, meat, typically, cow, lamb, or goat, is consumed for this Muslim holiday internationally. In Côte d’Ivoire, while this tradition occurs, the animal that is typically sacrificed and served is a sheep, camel, or ox and is served “with sauce, rice, yam or eggplant, salads, and soups or stews” (“Côte d’Ivoire”). This is due to the availability of animals in the region, as well as the accompaniments being foods that are more common and indigenous and therefore available.

The traditional way that most of the religious holidays are celebrated (religious service, fasting, parties, etc.) tend to generally follow the customary, common international practices. Most of the food that is eaten in African countries on holidays are very dependent on the availability of ingredients. They tend to include dishes that are not specific to a certain holiday, but rather dishes that are specific to the region.

This website has a list of all of the public holidays in the various countries in Africa: “Public Holidays Global

Here is more information on “The Holiday Traditions of Botswana

Here is more information on “Côte d’Ivoire”.

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