Original Research - Special Collection: Social Memory Studies

The significance of African oral tradition in the making of African Christianity

Valentine U. Iheanacho
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 2 | a6819 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i2.6819 | © 2021 Valentine U. Iheanacho | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 May 2021 | Published: 22 September 2021

About the author(s)

Valentine U. Iheanacho, Department of Historical and Constructive Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


As religious systems are intertwined with social systems, change and continuity in thought and practice constitute a significant feature of Christianity. Thus, African Christianity embodies a distinct socio-cultural stamp of the continent. Considering the historical phases of Christianity, this socio-cultural stamp distinguishes African Christianity within global Christianity. One of the cultural vehicles of this imprint on Africa Christianity is the African oral tradition. Oral tradition is a necessary social antecedent and cultural heritage of Africans. African oral tradition is visible primarily through proverbs, folktales, songs, dances, customs, traditional medicines, religious practices and ancestral utterances. Through a substantial range of literature research on the subject matter, this article contends that African oral tradition is a relevant socio-cultural element in the constitution of African Christianity and its influence cannot be ignored. It sets out to pinpoint certain incontestable contours and marks of African oral tradition on African Christianity. In other words, it seeks to highlight what could possibly be described as the defining or peculiar hues of Christianity in Africa as impressed upon it by African culture and tradition especially in the oral form. By means of qualitative methodology and a multidisciplinary approach in the assemblage of materials and sources, the article argues that African oral tradition, even if not openly acknowledged, has been both essential and instrumental in the making and shaping of Christianity particularly in the sub-Saharan part of the continent.

Contribution: As an observational research, this article painstakingly pinpoints the remarkable imprints of African oral tradition on the evolution and practice of Christianity in Africa. Situated within the confines of theology and history of religion, its major contribution lies in the drawing of attention to the remaking of Christianity on the continent with some obvious African trademarks.


African Christianity; African Independent Churches; Pentecostal and Charismatic churches; indigenous oral culture and tradition; sub-Saharan Africa; healing; prosperity; re-appropriation


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