The African Traditional Religion (ATR) is typically a system of worship deeply rooted in the reverence of a supreme being, divinities and deities, and ancestors as well. There is also a belief in mystical powers. In the past, the ATR embodied the totality of the people’s way of life. There are laid down systems of being and doing things. Hierarchy is a peculiar thing in any form of religion, and every religion I must say has a flair for the politics of its administration. In that vein, the ATR has a way of influencing the people since it covers pretty much everything, from the individual obligations to the politics and administration of the community.
Even in the recent modern dispensation, having secret groups is no surprise to Africans, it has been deep-rooted from centuries ago. An illustration will be the initiation of young men into the masquerade cult and by implication into manhood. The ideology behind this is to further show the importance of being a man, the gender most qualified and suitable to commune with the spirit beings. An initiated man is accorded all sorts of respect because he seems to have graduated into the super-mortals club and wields a lot of authority. This was the norm in the past which apparently strengthened the reason why men were valued more in the homes and community at large.
Cultism is not an African thing. It is a socio-religious and even a political thing that is identifiable in every nation of the world. Cultism is the sharing of a worship or belief system among a selected few with the intention of upholding a particular beneficial truth. In the African context, cultism is largely concerned with reverence of a being, discreet but rare in-depth teaching, power control and benefits which could be spiritual, economic, social, political or plain personal (circumstantial) reasons. A cult usually has carefully laid down tenets that must be adhered to. For the uninitiated, the (open) secrecy, often due to its socially deviant practices; and relevance of these groups is a far-out understanding.
In the secular world, a cult is a confraternity of people with a common ideology, interests and belief system; but by nature of our origin, the African secret cults are socio-political and religious groups whose ideologies have dominated and influenced the affairs of governance and even wealth distribution of the African society. They might be seen as a heretical power loving group of people who have willingly become programmed to tread a mysterious path as if under the metaphysical control of some sort. As true as the general notion of cultism might be, most rooted African cults started off as a requisite for the good of the people and an organised system of administration. Let’s take a look at the 15 most prominent African secret cults…
15. Ogboni Fraternity
Using the Yoruba polity as a case study, the Ogboni fraternity has a strong affiliation to royalty, gerontological system of governance and the law enforcement of the community.They are traditionally revered for their positions as intermediaries between the people and the ancestors. Their belief system is strongly roped with the African (Yoruba) cosmology, thus their statutory role of preserving of the tradition and the veneration and the ‘Ife’ oracle. In pre-colonial history, the judiciary of the Yoruba kingdoms was under the strict tutelage of the Ogboni members. As expected, the group plays roles in the social, religious and political affairs of the Yoruba clan. As their sculptural symbol depicts, their aim was to strike a healthy balance in the aspect of fairness and justice. Internal details about membership and brotherhood demands of this ancient group is supposedly a top secret known to only the members.
With the coming of the westerners, the Ogboni group lost grip of all the past authorities it once had. Still, in the bid to stress their importance, they turned to their own personal concerns, often overstepping their boundaries. This quest soon translated into dubious tendencies and attached the popular derogatory tag to the Ogboni group. Though there have been modern reforms to the group, they are still functional in few remote kingdoms. The Ogboni Fraternity is a popular cult in West Africa – the Nigerian Yoruba and Igbo speaking communities, Togo and Benin-Republic.
14. The Eckankar Cult
Eckankar is a 20th-century trans-national cult that has filtered its way into the African continent in such countries as – Togo, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. The Eckankar has gained a global recognition with about 3 million followers worldwide. Eckankar means “Co-Worker with God” and promises spiritual freedom and prowess – a higher state of spiritual consciousness. The movement encourages individual responsibility and self-realization which basically leads to God-realization, thus, known as the religion of the light and sound of God. As a means of boosting interior sensitivity, the Eckist is a strong believer of dream/soul travels, through which their initiations are conducted.
The supreme leader, Mahanta, a pseudo-god, often described as the living Eck master, presides over crucial activities of the movement – channelling the souls of members back to the maker through subtle mind control; consecration/initiation ceremonies and rites of passage to adulthood. He is also present during other occasions like weddings and funerals. The Eckist activities include theatrical performances, symposiums and spiritual fellowships. The different heads in the different nations of the world have a tendency of making extra “necessary” additions, some of which have gone out of hand, leading to the withdrawal of members and criticisms of the public. Africans are naturally superstitious people who have every tendency of influencing the movement with certain cultural traits.
13. Poro Cult
The Poro fraternal society has a religious and civil undertone; and also the most important cult in Sierra Leone. There are 3 groups involved in the initiation – the elders, the chief priests and the boys/men to be initiated. They are taken into the Poro bushes where diviners help to unravel their potentials through strong mystical powers. There they are prepared for their cultural roles – ensuring the sanity of the community. The elders of the Poro group particularly scare off asocial behaviours and all sorts of dispute especially when they are spiritually related. The crowd are permitted during the grand finale. The members are made to swear an oath of secrecy and to sternly adhere to the laws of the group. Poro is a masquerade cult found in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Ivory Coast.
12. Sande Cult
Sande cult is the female version of the Poro secret society. The enrollment into the Sande cult can be expensive, in which case, kidnapping becomes an alternative for those who cannot afford it. The females are taken to the bushes as well to be cleansed, circumcised and drilled into womanhood by learning certain domestic skills and craft, culture, customs and folklore. Their functions and laws are aligned side by side to the Poro cult; in other words, the female cult is in charge of the affairs of the womenfolk. The Sande leaders also wear masks like their male counterparts. It is rumoured that even in the present time, except you are a member of the Poro or Sande cult in Liberia, you are not fit to hold a political position. Liberians practice this tradition because it is meant to help the grooming of more respected citizens.
11. Neegee society
Neegee is the Bassa word for crocodile. The Neegee group is a cannibalistic society and are ‘supposedly’ in opposition to the utilitarian essence of the Poro and Sande groups. They are also called the ‘Human Leopards’ because of their extreme inhumane human sacrifices to their god. They are believed to be capable of transforming into ware wolves, leopards and water crocodiles to attack their victims. Neegee members believe that feeding on human parts gives them mystical powers. While Poro and Sande groups vehemently oppose the Neegee’s, it is arguable that the former stemmed from such ritualistic tendencies of the later, as could be the case when some initiates who do not make it to the graduation ceremony are claimed to have been eaten by the divine spirit of the devil bush.
10. Afrikaner Broederbond
Afrikaner Brotherhood is a secret society that was popularized during the apartheid regime in South Africa. The group is aimed at maintaining and upholding the interest of the Afrikaans in South Africa. Their motto was “Wees Sterk” which meant “Be Strong”. From 1948-1994, The Afrikaner brothers have become the most powerful group in South African politics and government. It is a fact that all the leaders of the country at that time in history were all members of this secret group. This substantiates the Calvinist view that they have been “planted in South Africa by the God” in order to run the affairs of the country and particularly deliver them from apathy. The Afrikaner Brotherhood, whose motivation were based on the concept of predestination, largely influenced the socio-political lives of South Africans. The internal membership activities and requirements aside from being an Afrikaan and up to the age of 25, remains a secret. Potential and qualified candidates are secretly invited. The emergence of this group can also be linked to the Boer War in South Africa.
9. The Doomsday Cult
The Doomsday cult is a sinister transnational cult that has paved its way from the west and Asian world into some African countries including Uganda and South Africa. This cult seems to incessantly predict the total destruction of the planet earth. The group is gaining grounds because of the supposed knowledge of the chaotic future tendencies that await humans on earth, as well as the possession of the key to being among the group to be saved on that fateful day. If we look at it on the other side, might seem as an indirect way of seeking global power and attention. The Doomsday cult members are usually violent and self-destructive, up to the point of committing suicide. Their leaders are famous for being super hypnotic characters who are not so accommodating of unbelievers or hindrances to be saved at the end of time. There have been cases of induced ‘raptures’ which were pure cases of homicide.
8. Ekpe Cult
Ekpe is a Nigerian male masquerade cult, whose members are typically politicians and law enforcers. They are well-respected agents of wealth distribution in the community. The highest rank of the Ekpe cult has a lot of privileges. Attaining the height is not as expensive as the benefits when attained. They get to own and control tremendous economic assets like land and palm trees in the community. Being a member of the Ekpe group is a self-enriching quest, as members and their families are favoured beyond expectation. As a give-back to the community, they often throw parties and sponsor feasts for the sole merriment of the people. ‘Ekpe’ which means leopard in Efik, is practised in several parts of Africa and has equally migrated to some foreign countries in other continents – originally from Cross River and Akwa Ibom areas; secondary ceremonial festivals in some Igbo speaking part of Nigeria; and migrated to Cameroun, Cuba and Brazil. They do not admit just about anyone but reputable and outstanding personalities.
Okonko Society is a stronger equivalent of Ekpe in the Igbo Community. It is a closed group that is only open to a certain calibre of men in the community. Their festivals are strictly meant for the members; only the initiates are allowed to follow Okonko processions at any ceremony. This is a cult of titled elders, kingmakers and law enforcers whose members must be of no questionable character. Initiation is in three stages and lasts for seven days. The significance of palm leaves in Igbo land was really stressed by this group to show the sacredness of an occasion. For instance, when on their lips, it shows silence and divinity, while when found alongside the Okonko music in any compound, the man of the house has been invited to their court for probationary reasons. They are the principal characters in most Igbo ceremonies and festivals.
This is the Cuban rendition of the Ekpe cult of Cross River and the Leopard society of the Liberians. It is believed to have been transported to Cuba by Africans in the diaspora. Like every other fraternity, they swear an oath of loyalty. The powerful members of Abakua are believed to enjoy a consecrated and mystical kinship; in other words, the society is more of a spiritual than physical brotherhood. Secrecy is the trending trait of this group, perhaps it is a major factor that makes them revered. From the mysterious chants of the Abakua festivals to the rites performed on several occasions, all is done with a lot of secret codes that are only known to the members of the group. The Abakua dramatic dance pattern has strongly influenced the Hispanic dance styles.
Destonians as popularly called, is a group of people who have pledged their lives to the sole purpose and good of the Desteni society. Although they claim to oppose leadership, they are ironically and constantly undergoing leadership education under Desteni Leadership Forum. They have a habit of contradicting their purpose of self-discovery, equality and oneness; and exhibits a yet unclear apocalyptic tendency – shaved hair, drinking hydrogen peroxide, preaching the forgiveness of Adolf Hitler and the eradication of humans. Desteni is a modern E-cult as members are only seen recruiting and conducting their businesses on the internet and never at public locations. Mind control will not be far from a clique of people who have vowed to live and die to the business and sole good of the Desteni businesses. The Desteni mode of operation is apparently drawn from the New Age ideology and has also been criticized and accused of possible economic fraud and taking advantage of its members. The Desteni Society, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, was founded by late Bernard Poolman.
Osirica is a fraternity of the adorers of Osiris, the Egyptian god of life, after-life and the underworld. As such, the members of the brotherhood are enthusiasts and believers of immortality. Osirica brotherhood is the root of all mason societies, dating back to 2300 B.C, the flourishing pottery era in Egypt. Archaeological proofs have suggested that they existed long before the Pyramids. Amenhotep I was the emperor, who began to restructure the architecture in Egyptian temples and was deified after his death. The construction of the Valley of the kings is attributed to his reign. Egyptians have a great appreciation of architecture, they had the conviction that the typical architectural masonry is metaphorical in modelling and remoulding of a people. The Osirica cult deducts its ideology from Osiris and their deified god, Amenhotep I.
3. The World Egyptian Rite Masons (WERM)
The genesis of the ‘Masons’ is in stages, perhaps why the World Egyptian Rite Mason (WERM) uses the 97-degree steps of progression in their teachings. This group was founded in 1717 and lays very strong claims to the supremacy of its origin from the ancient Osirican Religion. Aside from the guarantee of a first-hand knowledge of the ultimate truth, they promise the means to the perfection of the inner being and confirmed closeness to God. The members of WERM are purportedly the heads of countries and construction establishments. They also lay emphasis on the absence of bribery into the society, since from the beginning of time itself, the financial resources to improve mankind has been provided.
2. Free Masons
This a fraternal society that emerged in the western culture, between the 16th and 17th century with about six million members. The Internationally known Freemasonry can be said to have drawn its structure and purpose from the Egyptian mysticism. Freemasons were originally an ancient Egyptian fraternity of builders, with Imhotep, as their founder and chief sculptor. Imhotep was a revered personality as he was believed to be with superpowers of healing and influencing people and the affairs of the community. The first legendary pyramid in Egypt is attributed to his arts and crafts. In present-day terms, he would have been called a scientist and an engineer.
His powers, however, transcended architecture into metaphysics and the moralistic education of the people. The modern mason lodges contain symbols from his inventions and designs; symbols which meanings are taught only to the initiated members of the society. The Freemasonry’s affiliation to the Imhotep is clearly evident and this is probably why they are accused of several conspiracy theories since their objective is geared towards the restructuring and controlling of global affairs. The Masonic order has spread throughout the world, Africa not excluded. They secretly have affiliates in Liberia and other African countries; there are sub-unrecognized groups too. They swear allegiance to the group – an oath of secrecy and mutual brotherly support – and their membership structure is also in stages.
1. Pyrate Confraternity
Whenever the Pyrate confraternity is mentioned, two things come to mind – the Noble Laurette, Wole Soyinka and the 1952 unfortunate story of a good intention gone vile at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. As a vibrant intellectual and humanitarian, Wole and six of his friends with like minds assembled themselves and became the Pyrates. The mission of this confraternity was profoundly for the good of the less privileged, the oppressed and most importantly, bridging the tribal and social gaps between people, starting from their immediate students. It was the bright idea of the Pyrates, later registered as the National Association of the Seadogs, to erase from the society, all forms of hypocritical excuses of ‘convention’ for genuine compatriotism.
This golden vision got corrupted with the fall out with Bolaji Carew and other expelled members who became the National Association of the Sea Lords (Buccaneers). The spring out of other unseasoned confraternities who were often used by corrupt public figures as thugs did not help the Pyrates’ aims either. From occasional cross-confraternity brawls, it escalated into the ruthless use of weapons, claiming lives and tragically representing the very opposite of what was hoped to be achieved. With the influence of the older generation, there was soon the added feature of the veneration of natural creatures (voudou) as a source of mystical powers. This is the genesis of cultism in Nigerian Universities.