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(638 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
1. Background The Rastafarian movement is a new religion from Jamaica, with adherents also in Britain, the United States, and Africa. Its name comes from Ras (Prince) Tafari (family name), the name of Haile Selassie (lit. “might of the Trinity,” 1892–1975) of Ethiopia before he was crowned emperor in Addis Ababa in 1930, an event followed closely by the press in Jamaica. In 1928 he had assumed the title negus (king) and was hailed as a descendant of King Solomon and as the Lion of Judah and King of Kings. Earlier the renowned Jamaican Paul Bogle (ca. 1822–65), a black preacher and freedo…

Ancestor Worship

(470 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
1. The phrase “ancestor worship” comes from an era when Europeans ruled over foreign cultures and religions. The Spaniards spoke of it as the culto de los antepasados. Missionaries deplored it as a sin against the first commandment (Decalogue). The term is still in vogue, perhaps because Europeans accuse others of the sin and can feel that they are above reproach. But people of those other cultures—including the Christians among them—feel misunderstood and insulted by the term. Such misunderstandings grow out of mistaken comparisons. Thus the Polynesian Maoris speak of a…


(266 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
When he was in Cuba, Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) heard of some “Canibales” (cf. Lat. canis, “dog”) who ate human flesh. In fact these were Caribs (Columbus mistook the r for n), ancient inhabitants of the Caribbean, but “cannibalism” became the common term for eating human flesh. Cannibalism was common in primitive times, and it has occurred in tribal cultures, in World War II prison camps, and in many places where victors have triumphantly eaten the livers of their enemies in front of clicking cameras. Friends as well as foes have b…


(346 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
The concept of taboo (Tongan tabu) holds a high place in Polynesian religious systems. Without experiences of tabu, we have no suitable word for translation. “Forbidden” or “holy” might seem to work, but they do not fit properly; it is closer to the unholy, violation of which causes shock. A look at the original meaning of tabu is helpful. In Polynesia, tabu was and is transferred by touch and harms those who are weaker. For this reason the people avoid stronger taboo and protect the weak from their taboos. Special tabu, necessary for sowing seed, building boats, burials, and so fort…


(638 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
The term “shamanism” is used for anything that has to do with shamans. It comes from Evenki, a Tungusic language of Siberia, and denotes beating around oneself. Scholars have for many years disputed the definition, origin, extent, and exact scope of shamanism. Their uncertainty bears witness to the gap between the West and the intercultural and religious phenomenon known as shamanism. Women as well as men are shamans. They may be found in the north of Asia, America, and Europe, among Inuits, Ind…

Crisis Cult

(421 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
1. The phrase “crisis cult” refers broadly to a collective attempt to meet a crisis situation along cultic lines. It is not a matter of personal religion in crises in individual life but involves a group situation. Research into crisis cults is thus done by sociologists. Crises affect not only religious groups but also political, racial, and social groups and involve political, military, economic, cultural, or religious reasons. In reality, there is seldom a single cause. Although a crisis is an acute situation whose outcome is uncertain, some scholars speak of permanent crises (e.g., …


(430 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
The Kitawala movement arose in 1911 in what was then British Nyasaland (now Malawi). The Briton Joseph Booth (1851–1932), a free-lance missionary working for many new Christian groups, directed it from outside. The African Elliott Kenan Kamwana (1872–1956), a student of Booth’s, preached the good news inside the country. The American Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916) inveighed in his writings against church and government, which would be eliminated at the return of Christ. Kamwana adapted this te…

Cargo Cult

(540 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
1. “Cargo cult” refers to a religious group that believes that material wealth can be gained through the exercise of proper ritual worship. The word “cargo” in this phrase refers to various goods of European origin (e.g., dishes, knives, rice, canned food, glass beads, razor blades, hydrogen peroxide, rifles, axes, and cotton goods) and the money with which to buy such items. Believers in the cult typically have no access to such goods but expect that they will soon acquire them supernaturally. 2. The cults belong to Melanesia, though there are similar phenomena in other cultures (e.g., …

Afro-American Cults

(837 words)

Author(s): Greschat, Hans-Jürgen
1. At the heart of African American cults stands the experience of a superhuman presence. A deity or spirit or God’s Spirit seizes believers, through whom he speaks and acts. This seizure is introduced and ritually directed by rhythms, drums, songs, dances, and offerings, for there is a fear of uncontrolled possession (Dance; Sacrifice 1; Ecstasy). 2. African American cults arose through 350 years of slavery. 2.1. The slaves wanted from their religion what their memory preserved. They used it in their burial rites, hoping for rebirth in Africa. They used it in …