In my Burning Embers, Coral’s father, ‘The White Pirate’, has died leaving her the legacy of his plantation, Mpingo. Coral’s old yaha (nanny), Aluna, is a native African lady who subscribes to the legends and traditional beliefs of her home, Kenya. And we see in the book that she is unsettled by her former employer’s death, and suspects foul play.
There is not room in the book for me to explore deeply Aluna’s beliefs, but in writing her character I had no doubt that she believed The White Pirate lived on someplace, in the afterlife.
Christianity, with its talk of Heaven and Eternity, was spread across Africa through the work of missionaries, but older, native African beliefs have endured. For your interest, here is an outline of beliefs held by traditional peoples in Africa:
Some believe that two souls dwell in a human body. The life soul vanishes at the point of death, but during life it can be separated from the body in times of mortal peril and then return to the person later to ensure survival. The thought soul is the one that lives on after death. But, interestingly, in contrast to Christian belief, the soul may not endure for ever. Young children and weak people’s souls may fade; whereas those of strong and powerful people, those admired, and those who are evil can last. The souls that linger may do so in a great forest.
The Yoruba (Nigeria) split the person into three: emi, the spirit, the life force; ojiji, the shadow; and ori, the guardian soul. After death, the emi, the ojiji and the ori await s/he who has passed on in the afterlife.
In the Western world, death and life are diametric opposites; black and white. But in many cultures in Africa the line between the two is blurred. As the bleakly titled Encyclopaedia of Death and Dying explains, “Human existence is a dynamic process involving the increase or decrease of ‘power’ or ‘life force,’ of ‘living’ and ‘dying,’ and there are different levels of life and death. Many African languages express the fact that things are not going well, such as when there is sickness, in the words ‘we are living a little,’ meaning that the level of life is very low.”
Reincarnation, meanwhile, is welcomed. Africans celebrate life, the world, and are keen to return to it from the afterlife they envision. This is in contrast to Christian belief, which is that we suffer on earth and find happiness and peace in heaven (“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” Matthew 5:11).
Though of course I hope for a wonderful afterlife, I think there is much to commend in the African joie de vivre and appreciation of life. We should all choose not to live a little, but a lot.
References: http://www.a-gallery.de/docs/mythology.htm; http://www.deathreference.com/A-Bi/African-Religions.html