Who can practise African wellness? Who can practise African spirituality?
There is no one answer to these questions but these are my thoughts on the matter. First, it’s important to understand that there is a distinction between African wellness, African-centred wellness and African spirituality.
African wellness involves practices that are African in origin. This is tricky because, well, everything is of African origin. But we can understand it more as practices that are commonly associated with African countries. Examples include various traditional dances, djembe drumming and using African superfoods for healing.
African wellness is for everybody. As with everything, as long as you recognise and respect the roots of the practice, and adopt it in a way that supports and honours the community it hails from, there should be no harm in you enjoying the benefits of these practices regardless of your heritage.
African-centred wellness, as described in my book, is ‘a wellness practice rooted in African wisdom that promotes the healing and empowerment of the global Black community’. African-centred wellness is more about the individual, the community and the foundational wisdom that drives the actions, rather than the actions themselves. African-centred wellness might not even involve a single African wellness practice. You can approach yoga, reiki, Swedish massage and any number of non-African wellness activities in an African-centred way.
African-centred wellness is for Black people. It centres our bodies, our experiences and our needs. It is also a path that must be carved out by the individual and the community, rather than an off-the-shelf discipline. An African-centred approach to wellness, while it is for Black people, is useful for all people to understand – especially anyone who is interested in creating safe spaces for Black people.
African spirituality is not only African Traditional Religions. It is any spiritual path rooted in African knowledge and philosophy. This one has a lot of people divided. My take is that a key feature of African spirituality is its nature as a path to liberation for Black people. We cannot ignore the history of demonisation, criminalisation and oppression that practitioners of African spirituality have endured at the hands of other races.
Therefore, I find it incredibly uncomfortable that a person whose ancestors were only on the side of the oppressor would claim this spiritual path as their own. However, spirituality isn’t about comfort, it’s about alignment. As with any spiritual path, you must only follow it if you are truly called to it. Not because it’s ‘interesting’, not because it’s trendy, not because you like the aesthetic. If your Ancestors lead you to the path of African spirituality then that is the path you must take. If you are not Black and you feel that this is the path you’re being led on, you must really interrogate this, interrogate your intentions, interrogate your relationship with the global Black community and move forward from there.
The rhetoric of ‘spirit transcends race’ is spiritual bypassing. While it is true that spirit transcends race, it’s also irrelevant. Spirituality isn’t only about spirit. Spirituality is about all parts of the self. In African philosophy, a person is made up of many selfs; the spirit, the soul, the body, the blood, to name a few. Your personhood – and your spirituality – is inseparable from your identity in this physical plane. And, therefore, your race matters.
Perhaps more importantly, African spirituality prioritises community. Ancestors, family, the land, those yet to be born – they all form part of this community. And they are all affected in one way or another by the white supremacist system that aims to oppress and destroy. To ignore race because it’s ‘not spiritual’ is to shun the global Black community, our experiences and your responsibility as a member of the global community.
What do you think? Should African spirituality be for everyone?