Religion in West Africa:
Cosmopolitanism, Faith Communities & the Social Fabric
West Africa’s Women of God
A lecture by Professor Robert M. Baum, Dartmouth College
On Thursday, March 2, 2017, WARA in conjunction with the Boston University African Studies Center, hosted its semi-annual Religion in West Africa lecture series. Robert Baum, former WARA board member and Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College spoke on women and the prophetic tradition among the Diola of West Africa.
Professor Baum’s lecture explored the life of the Diola prophet, Alinesitoue Diatta. Frequently portrayed as a secular political figure whose critique of colonial policy—particularly agricultural policy—and its impact on the Diola made her somewhat of a resistance figure, Alinesitoue was also a prophet of Emitai, the supreme being. The message she conveyed identified colonial agricultural policies with their focus on cash crops and peanut production as eroding the Diola way of life, creating disparities in wealth in what was essentially an egalitarian society, and eroding the community practice of religious ritual—all in turn contributing to the ills besetting the community. Her critique of colonial policy has made of Alinesitoue a sort of culture hero in Senegal for this resistance.
Professor Baum focused on Alinesitoue’s role as a prophet, someone who consciously receives messages from God and who consciously and intentionally conveys those messages to a larger community—this, in contract to seers, or others who serve as mediums for the divine message. Alinesitoue made it clear that Emitai, the Diola supreme being, had given the message directly to her and commanded her to convey it to others. Alinesitoue is distinct also in being a female prophet, a tradition that has become largely female, although it was, in its origins, exclusively male.
Professor Baum also noted that Emitai, the supreme being worshipped by the Diola, contasts sharply with received ideas about African traditional religion, in which God is seen as a distant creator, not involved in the day-to-day lives of humans.
Professor Baum’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion with the audience, composed of faculty and students.