'Returning to Our Spiritual Roots': African Hindus in Ghana Negotiating Religious Space and Identity
by Rev. Abamfo Ofori Atiemo
Department/Faculty: Study of Religions/Faculty of Arts
Hinduism, in its contemporary transnational form, has been widely noted as a phenomenon present in America, Europe and other parts of the world, including Africa, especially, East and South Africa. Discussions of the phenomenon with regard to Africa have, generally, focused on the Indian Diaspora. However, the developments that occurred in the 19th and the 20th Centuries, which resulted in the growth and spread of Hinduism through its reform movements in India and the Western world, also affected West Africa. The impact of these developments was not restricted to Indian migrants in the region; it extended to the indigenous Africans as well. In Ghana, for example, there are indigenous Africans who identify with Hinduism, professing and practising it as their own religion. Several Hindu movements have been established in the country. They include the Divine Life Society, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Brahma Kumaris and Sri Satya Sai Baba. There are also movements of Buddhist and Sikh origins such as the Maha Bodhi, Nichiren Shoshu, the Soka Gakkai and Guru Nanak. The presence of these traditions has significantly changed the religious landscape of the country. Previously, the religious space was occupied by only three traditions - the indigenous religions, Christianity and Islam.
All the movements of Asian origins have, to different degrees of success, attracted indigenous Ghanaians. The Hindu groups appear the most successful. For example, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has established a number of branches, and runs a basic school that is well-patronised by both Hindus and non-Hindus. There is also a Hindu Monastery of Africa (HMA), headed by an African Swami, who studied Vedanta at the Forest Academy of the Shivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India. The latter has established more than seven branches throughout the country and two other branches in neighbouring Togo and the Ivory Coast. In 2010, it was reckoned that there were more than twenty thousand Hindus in Ghana, out which a little over two thousand were Indian migrants.
In this paper, I examine the phenomenon of the ‘African Hindu’ within the context of current discussions about the so-called ‘neo-Hinduism’ and ‘transnational Hinduism.’ I also discuss how these African Hindus resort to a reinterpretation of the history of their traditional religion and culture, in their attempt to find religious space in the almost choked religious environment of Ghana and, also, how they attempt to negotiate their new religious identity in relation to their identity as Africans (Ghanaians). I conclude with a prognosis of the form that Hinduism is likely to assume in the near future on Ghanaian soil as its African converts attempt to live their faith in the context of their local culture.