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Evangelical Africanist

A visit with Robert Baum, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies

By LuAnne Roth
Published: - Topics: religion religious studies indigenous religion fieldwork Africa

Diola Religion

Topics: research fertility cults

Baum has been studying Diola religion in Africa. Centered around belief in a supreme being, Emitai, literally “of the sky,”the Diola see Emitai as “the creator of all life and the bestower of rain.” Emitai elal is the Diola word for rain, “part of the essence of God that is seen as giving life during the rainy season and sustains the Diola.” Lesser spirits deal with specific kinds of problems, including family cults (hupila), as well as cults for women’s fertility, men’s initiation, blacksmithing, fishing, and hunting. Like other religions, the Diola have a concept of judgment after death. On the one hand, Baum explains, “those people who had life-enhancing lives (who helped other people, were good members of the community and good parents) become ancestors. They appear to their living descendants in dreams and visions and are seen as living right in the village. It is said that they are so close you can feel the warmth of their cooking fires at night.” On the other hand, those people who led a destructive life, “are condemned to the bush, forced to live outside the village.”