Various African cosmologies, or religious beliefs, relating to death, the afterlife and rebirth or reincarnation, can be cited to explain Africans’ affirmation of human life, health and well-being, and the need to sacrifice one’s own well-being for the good of the collective. In such cases, the individual and his or her family can decide to donate an organ to save the life of another person, since the material form, that is, the physical body, no longer matters in the afterlife, in the spirit world, or in the world of the ancestors.     

  However, study of other African cosmologies, death, mourning and the ancestors, such as the Akan and the Dioula, or the Wolof of western Africa, represent yet another view. The Dioula actually preserve the body of the deceased, dress it and bury it in a sitting position. They place along side of the deceased various articles of that person’s worldly possessions. This demonstrates the opposing view that humans must return from whence they came -- physically intact and accountable for any "missing" body parts.      

While we must be extremely careful in generalizing about cosmological knowledge and the associated behavior in this arena, we know that traditional African religions, Islam, and Christianity, among others, agree and disagree at various points along the continuum when interpreting health and well-being, death, and the afterlife. Indeed, the views of scholars vary widely from Valentin Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa; Gnosis, Philosophy and The Order of Knowledge, which attempts to systematize African knowledge, and Michel Foucault, the French historian of ideas, to Anthony K. Appiah’s In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. Africa, impatient with uncritical generalities, cannot be presented as culturally homogeneous or possessed of a unitary essence.   


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June 2001