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The hills are alive

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Earlier Religions Reflected Earlier Cultures

An important concept in the religions usually associated with gathering and hunting societies is animism.

The word derives from the classical (Greek and Latin) word “anima” which means life force, fire or soul.

The belief includes the idea that all natural things, mountains, rocks trees, rivers animals, are possessed by some anima, or living supernatural force.

In First Nations (Aboriginal Canadians) beliefs is the idea that the world is built upon the back of a giant turtle.

The importance of animals in their beliefs cannot be underestimated.  Creation myths often refer to a time in the past when there was no time, when the great spirits (gods) were those of animals.  The live animals of today are merely small mortal manifestations of those ancient giant Animal Gods.

Canadian First Nations, unlike the agricultural and industrial societies of Europe, Asia and Africa, did not see themselves as in conflict with nature, but in harmony with nature.

This notion is consistent with the beliefs and practices of other gatherers and hunters, such as the Pygmies, Australians and the Khoisan.  While dependent upon game for their livelihood, hunters pray to the great spirit of the animal they are about to kill.

Occasionally we can find some evidence that some supernatural entities had their origins in physically present beings.

The mmoetia are an example.  The Akan believe in little beings that are poorly translated as “dwarves.”

They are described as being short, reddish in colour and having knees on backwards.  They are said to live in the rain forest, are vegetarians, and can cause some minor mishaps and bad luck to happen to humans.

Some bananas and perhaps other fruit and eggs are often set out at night as gifts to entice them not to bring bad luck.  In that, they resemble the hobgoblins of Europe, and the “trick or treat” traditions of Halloween where little gifts of sweets are given to ensure they do not perpetrate tricks.

Now it appears that the mmoetia were historical residents of the rain forests, genetically related to the Khoisan peoples of the Kalahari and the Pygmies of Uganda and Congo.

They are gatherers and hunters who once inhabited the whole of Africa, and were pushed into marginal areas because of the expansion of the agricultural black Africans of today.



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