The Ghanaian women walk through the streets with their wares on top of their head. These images of the women walking to and fro have made the images of the women in Scripture come alive for me. The women carry large water pots on their heads, are dressed in native clothing with tribal markings on their faces. With the load on top of their heads, they manage to sway in time to a distant drum beat. These are the people depicted in Scripture traveling throughout this land of Africa. The women carry wood, charcoal, water, milk, bread, beads, cloth and other items along with babies carefully strapped to their backs. The market is crowded with women and men, boys and girls, selling or exchanging goods for life’s necessities. One can buy yams for fufu, clothing, cooking utensils and just about everything else. It appears that everyone is in business. The many shops depict a deep and abiding faith in a God who has many names.
The African sun is very hot. Vendors provide tables, chairs and wooden benches for you to sit and relax while sipping a cool bitter lemon drink. The Ghanaian people actually name their businesses after people and places in Scripture. "Praise the Lord Auto Repair," "Shakinah Glory Clothing," and "Jesus Our Savior Fishing Boat," are but a few examples of their African theology. These are signs of the secular and sacred being one within the African’s theological world view.
Most of the Ghanaian people work very hard, however, I contend that the women work harder. Yet, in addition to the loads women carry on their heads, backs, shoulders and arms, they carry the stigma as the ‘beast of burden.’ They carry the burden of being female in a male dominated society with few exceptions, matrilineal groups of the Akan Society. Since coming to Ghana, the issues surrounding women in the society have caused me concern. If the women go to church, they are relegated to the periphery and not in leadership roles, except in some African Independent Churches.
Wherever I went during my visit to Ghana, I saw women being marginalized. If we went to the communication store, the manager was male but the person with the technical knowledge was female. If we went to the bank, the manager was male and the women do all the work. In the clothing stores, the women take care of the customers but the man is in charge of all administrative decisions. At the colleges and seminaries, there are only five women attending in one of the three schools that I visited. While in Ghana, we visited Central University College, Accra; The Baptist Seminary, Kumasi, and Trinity Theological Seminary, Accra. The University of Ghana at Legos has a few women in the Divinity School, but exactly how many was not determined.
My visit to Ghana caused me to begin asking questions. What does it mean to be an African Christian woman in the context of West African culture? How does the Christian Church and African theology impact the daily life of African women, and Ghanaian women in particular? I chose to examine the current debate between inculturationist, liberationist and feminist theologies in order to answer these questions.
In the development of African theology in sub-Saharan Africa, the struggle for independence has caused much discussion and debate surrounding the issues of Christianity and African culture. Therefore, I will briefly define and discuss four terms which are relevant for this reflection. The terms are: culture, inculturation, acculturation and liberation in a theological context.
First, culture is defined by Clifford Geertz as, "A system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which human beings communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about, and their attitudes towards life."1 Most anthropologists have accepted the Geertz definition of culture. However, Kofi Asare Opoku says, "African culture is a God-given heritage which is to be understood as the sum total of all the traditions, ideas, customs, modes of behavior, patterns of thought, ways of doing things and outlook on life that have been received from God, learned and passed on from one generation of Africans to the other.2 Aylward Shorter, in Toward A Theology of Inculturation, contends culture is the fundamental concepts a human being learns or acquires, as a member of society. Their interaction with each other, their mental reflection and behavior, which is embodied in symbols, is static and ever changing.3
Second, the definition of culture leads us into the meaning of inculturation. It is within the culture that persons are socialized or inculturated into the society. Afterwards, they in turn adapt knowledge, language, images, and symbols to construct, create and interpret their own creations. According to Shorter, "theological inculturation follows the insertion of an individual into his or her own culture as the insertion of the Christian faith into a culture where Christianity was not previously present."4 Further, the process of inculturation can be ongoing and is not limited to a one time insertion. Thus, the definition for inculturation is, "The on-going dialogue between faith and culture or cultures. More fully, it is the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and the culture or cultures.
Third, the meaning of acculturation is, "the encounter between one culture and another, or the encounter between cultures." These encounters become "complex because many of the conflicts produced are worked out at the subconscious level."5
And finally, the meaning of liberation is the act of being liberated from slavery, captivity or any form of oppressive control; to be set free from doctrine and allowed free expression of one’s thoughts, one’s will, and one’s actions.6 As I was exposed to the culture and the church, these definitive terms helped me to have a better understanding of my Christian experience within my own personal context.
The history of African theology developed as a result of colonization and the African revolution to win their independence. It was out of the European Missionary Movement of the Nineteenth Century that African theology emerged. Missionaries came with a twofold purpose, one being conversion of African ‘pagans,’ the other being to set up commercial trade for the many resources in African soil. In Ghana, gold, diamonds, and slaves were commodities which led to its colonization.
According to Josiah Young, author of Black and African Theologies: Siblings or Distant Cousins?, Africans can document their history as victims of white supremacy. In Africa there is, also, a difference between the urban and rural dweller. The people who lived in close proximity to Europeans assimilated more to their colonizers way of life. On the other hand, people living in rural villages, close to the land, kept their identity intact maintaining their traditions, customs, mores, including aspects of traditional religion. These people were inoculated with European culture but not as strong. Nevertheless, they accepted the faith through their own landscape.7
Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a professor at Trinity Theological Seminary in Accra, asked the question, is the culture greater than the gospel or is the gospel greater than the culture? Today, we must look backward as the Sankofa Bird does in order to answer this most pertinent question for ourselves in order to know where we are headed. How has the current debate between inculturationists, liberationists and feminists theologians impacted the gospel and the culture in Ghana? And how has the debate helped or hindered Ghanaian Christian women? These questions will be examined in future articles.
1Aylward Shorter, Toward
A Theology of Inculturation, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995), 4-5.
2Emmanuel Martey, African Theology: Inculturation and Liberation, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1993), 72.
6Victoria Neufeldt and David B. Guralnik, eds. Webster New World College Dictionary, (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1996), 778.
7Josiah U. Young, Black and African Theologies: Siblings or Distant Cousins? (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1986), 28.