” Not My Life” American independent documentary film about human trafficking and contemporary slavery.Write a short 1-pg review making connections to the class.I attached the two lecture that related to the movie.
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Stereotypes of Africa tend to depict the continent as an empty place full of wildlife, jungles, and
people living in poverty or in the jungle. But in fact, Africa is the second largest continent in the
world and one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. The region has a diverse
cultures, traditions, beliefs, religions, artistic expressions as well as variety of social and political
structures and levels of socio-economic development. It is because of this rich diversity and joy
of its people that I find this region so fascinating. To understand Africa you must recognize that
it was not only the birthplace of humanity but also that its rich diversity has been impacted by
European colonization and imperialism as well as waxing and waning of different state
An example of the diversity in African is that there are over 1,000 languages spoken throughout
the region! Below is a map of African languages organized into broad language groups. My
personal favorite is “Mambo jambo,” which is Swahili slang for “Hello. How are you?”
One reason why we see many languages along the Niger-Congo/Congo-Kordofanian family
group is due to the Bantu migration. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, these agriculturalists and
metal works migrated from Western Africa to Eastern Africa and then later to Southern Africa.
Although today, the Bantu languages are so different that people from different branches of this
group cannot understand each other, they still share common linguistic roots. In addition to these
traditional languages and as a result of European imperialism, there are several European
languages super-imposed on the countries of Africa, as well as blended into local languages to
create new languages.
In terms of family structures, there is a great degree of diversity too. Amongst the Hausa
community in northern Nigeria, it is not uncommon to witness polygynous, patrilocal households
centered on a patrilineal line, especially in rural areas. On the other hand, you could go to
Kampala, Uganda, a come across an urban nuclear family. Although urbanization has led to new
household structures, most families retain strong ties to kinship groups in the countryside.
Another source of diversity is religion. All the great religions are present in Africa, along with
traditional African religions. Importantly, most Africans are deeply religious, and religion
throughout the region is very dynamic, ever-changing and adaptable to varied circumstances.
Like in Latin America, many people hold several over-lapping religious beliefs from Christianity
to Islam as well as spiritual notions from indigenous African religions.
Here is one of the many creation myths from Africa:
Tortoises, Men, and Stones
God created the tortoise (turtle), men and stones. Of each he created male and female.
God gave life to the tortoises and men, but not to the stones. Noen could have children,
and when they became old they did not die but became young again!
The tortoise, however, wished to have children, and went to God. But God said: “I have
given you life, but I have not given you permission to have children.”
But the tortoise came to God again to make the request, and finally God said:
“You always come to ask for children. Do you realize that when the living have had
several children they must die?”
But the tortoise said: “Let me see my children and then die.” Then God granted the wish.
When man saw that the tortoise had children, he too wanted children. God warned man,
as he had the tortoise, that he must die. But man also said: “Let me see my children and
That is how death and children came into the world.
Only the stones didn’t want to have children, so they never die!
A Nupe story (Nigeria)
Based on your reading of indigenous African religions, you should recognize some of the
similarities and differences between these religions and the universalistic monotheistic faiths of
Christianity, Judaism and Islam. One important difference to recognize is the influence and
communion with the Spirit world. Despite the mixture of religions throughout the continent,
there is very little religious strife even. For example, I was in Ethiopia where there are Islam, the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church (similar to Eastern orthodox churches in Eastern Europe) and
indigenous African religions but very little conflict. Instead most social conflict tends to be
political and based on ethnic differences. In Ethiopia there are issues between the Oromo people
and the central government, or the Kikuyu and Luo (the groups from which President Obama’s
father comes from—in fact, affecting Obama’s recent visit to the country). And in worst case
scenarios there is the genocide that took place between the Hutus and Tutsi. But given the
remarkable ethnic diversity it is surprising that there is not more ethnic strife.
This figure summarizes some of the key traits of indigenous African religions.
MSU African Studies Center. N.d. “Exploring Africa.” Exploring Africa. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
South Asia, Religion, and Caste Systems
There is probably no more diverse country than India. In total this land of 1.2 billion people is
home to 122 major languages and an additional 1599 other languages. The two main linguistic
families, however, are Indo-Aryan predominantly in the North and from which Hindi comes
from and Dravidian language groups of the south.
There is also tremendous religious diversity and toleration for religious differences, although
there are occasional riots and nation-state partitions along religious lines. Still, you can find
mosques, churches, and temples all lined up next to each other. Besides Islam and Christianity,
the region is home to several important religions not common elsewhere. These include the
Sikhism: This monotheistic religion, founded in the Punjab by Guru Nanak in the 15th Century,
combines elements of Islam and Hinduism. Sikhs believe in keeping God in one’s heart and
mind at all times, treat everyone equally, and be generous to others, especially the less fortunate.
Like Hindus, they believe in karma and reincarnation, but more important than rituals are actions
and behaviors. “Truth is the highest of all virtues, but higher still is truthful living.” Sikh men are
recognizable based on the turbans. A Sikh place of worship is called Gurdwara.
Jainism: This ancient religion has approximately 4.2 million followers in India according to a
recent census, but some believe this is an under-estimate since many Jains also consider
themselves as Hindus. Core elements of this religion include the belief in karma and
reincarnation. They strive towards bliss based on renunciation of material desires, and believe
that every living organism has a soul, including plants and animals. They are strict vegetarians
and seek to minimize the use of natural resources.
Hinduism: This religion is one of the oldest on record and has a billion of followers. Unlike other
religions that commonly have a canon or creed, Hinduism is multi-layered, multi-faceted way of
life and philosophy. In fact, the religion includes elements of monotheism, polytheism, animism,
and transcendentalism. Major characteristics include belief in reincarnation and the universal law
of cause and effect, and Hindus strive towards the path of righteous in order to transcend the
cycle of birth and death.
Core Concepts of Hinduism
Atman: Atman means ‘eternal self’. The atman refers to the real self beyond ego or false
self. It is often referred to as ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ and indicates our true self or essence which
underlies our existence.
Dharma: Dharma is an important term in Indian religions. In Hinduism it means ‘duty’,
‘virtue’, ‘morality’, even ‘religion’ and it refers to the power which upholds the universe
Varna: An important idea that developed in classical Hinduism is that dharma refers
especially to a person’s responsibility regarding class (varna) and stage of life (ashrama).
Karma and Samsara: Karma is a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is ‘action’. It refers
to the law that every action has an equal reaction either immediately or at some point in
the future…This process of reincarnation is called samsara, a continuous cycle in which
the soul is reborn over and over again according to the law of action and reaction.
Purushartha: Hinduism developed a doctrine that life has different goals according to a
person’s stage of life and position. These goals became codified in the ‘goals of a person’
or ‘human goals’, the purusharthas, especially in sacred texts about dharma called ‘dharma
shastras’ of which the ‘Laws of Manu’ is the most famous.
Brahman and God: Brahman is a Sanskrit word which refers to a transcendent power
beyond the universe. As such, it is sometimes translated as ‘God’ although the two
concepts are not identical. Brahman is the power which upholds and supports
everything…Most Hindus believe in God but what this means varies in different
traditions. The Sanskrit words Bhagavan and Ishvaramean ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ and indicate an
absolute reality who creates, sustains and destroys the universe over and over again. It is
too simplistic to define Hinduism as belief in many gods or ‘polytheism’. Most Hindus
believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of
deities which emanate from him. God, being unlimited, can have unlimited forms and
Guru: The terms guru and acharya refer to a teacher or master of a tradition. The basic
meaning is of a teacher who teaches through example and conveys knowledge and
wisdom to his disciples.
Elements of a Caste System
What is most striking of this region is the high-power distance of the culture as expressed by the
caste system. Caste is perhaps the most insidious system of social stratification given its deep
cultural roots. Often times, people are socialized into the system and consider that their life
chances are fated. There is no option to change one’s social position.
Closed system: A person belonging to a caste cannot move another one; and it is
hereditary. In contrast, slave and class stratification systems allow for the possibility that
one can leave it.
Endogamous Marriage: Those within a caste can only marry others from their caste.
Rankings: Castes are ranked into culturally distinct groups that are ranked into a social
Apart from India, castes systems have been found in other parts of south Asian and West African
cultures, not to mention feudal Europe. The nobility would not intermarry with the common
people in feudal Europe, for example
Caste System in India
Louis Dumont is one of the foremost scholars on the caste system in India. He delves into the
ideology of the caste system as a unified set of ideas and values and which is in opposition to
Western culture: Modern against traditional, holism against individualism, hierarchy against
equality, purity against pollution, status against power, etc. The binary between purity and
impure plays a central role in the hierarchy of the caste system:
According to Dumont caste divides the whole Indian society into a larger number of
hereditary groups distinguished from one another and connected together by three
1. Separation on the basis of rules of the caste in matters of marriage and contact whether
direct or indirect (food).
2. Interdependent of work or division of labor each group having in theory or by
tradition, a profession from which their members can depart only within certain limits
3. Gradation of status or hierarchy which ranks the groups as relatively superior or
inferior to one another.
Dumont highlights the state of mind which is expressed by the emergence in various
situations of castes. He calls the caste system a system of ideas and values which is a
formal comprehensible rational system. His analysis is based on a single principle-the
opposition of pure and impure. This opposition underlies hierarchy which means
superiority of the pure and inferiority of impure. This principle also underlies separation
which means pure and impure must be kept separate.
Hindu Creation Myth and the Caste System: Purusha
According to Hindu creation myth, all life came from Purusha. Depending which part of this
cosmic being they came from, humans are placed in a distinct caste. From the head came
Brahmans, the Kshatriya came from the shoulders and arms, Vaishyas from the stomach, and the
Shudras from the feet.
The group that is at the lowest part of the caste system is the Dalits or Harijans, also known as
“untouchables” or pariahs. In fact, they are considered so low that they are not even included in
the formal caste system, and thus have been called “out-castes.” They face the most
discrimination in society, even though the Indian government has outlawed the caste system in
the Indian Constitution of 1950. The Indian government has also enacted many affirmative
action policies to support historically marginalized groups, or what are called the scheduled
castes and tribes.
According to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Dalits face 140 several types of
untouchability practices and forms of discrimination at the hands of the dominant castes. Here
are a few:
Prohibited from eating with other caste members
Prohibited from marrying with other caste members
Separate glasses for Dalits in village tea stalls
Discriminatory seating arrangements and separate utensils in restaurants
Segregation in seating and food arrangements in village functions and festivals
Prohibited from entering into village temples
Prohibited from wearing sandals or holding umbrellas in front of dominant caste
Devadasi system – the ritualized temple prostitution of Dalit women
Prohibited from entering dominant caste homes
Prohibited from riding a bicycle inside the village
Prohibited from using common village path
Separate burial grounds
No access to village’s common/public properties and resources (wells, ponds, temples,
Segregation (separate seating area) of Dalit children in schools
Prohibited from contesting in elections and exercising their right to vote
Dalits have struggled to obtain their rights. Mahatma Ghandi called them the “Children of God,”
but their most important modern civil rights leader of modern is Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar who
came from a Dalit caste but also was one of the principle architects of the Indian Constitution.
A changing economy, urbanization, and access to modern education appear to be reducing
discriminatory practices. One major source of social change is capitalism. A modern, capitalist
economy requires a labor market. In order to find work, people must sell their labor on a market.
We call this the commodification of labor. In many traditional societies, labor cannot be bought
and sold so easily. Peasants work the land and may give some of their production to a landlord.
Guilds protect craftsman from competition and from too many or too few producers of things
like iron, shoes, etc.
Capitalism changes this system, the very social fabric of a society like India, by forcing a caste
system to adjust to new labor demands in industry and other profit ventures. No longer does
someone work the same job as their parents or determined by their caste. In fact, last names in
India had determined people’s caste and thus their occupation for millennia. But not this whole
system appears to be breaking down. Karl Marx was prescient about this process when we wrote
150 years ago:
All the civil wars, invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines, strangely complex, rapid, and
destructive as the successive action in Hindostan may appear, did not go deeper than its surface.
England has broken down the entire framework of Indian society, without any symptoms of
reconstitution yet appearing. This loss of his old world, with no gain of a new one, imparts a
particular kind of melancholy to the present misery of the Hindoo, and separates Hindostan,
ruled by Britain, from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history.
The counter-argument is that capitalism just creates new sources of inequality. As societies begin
to develop and introduce industry and other enterprises, capitalists reap huge profits by
exploiting a large labor pool and pitting different groups who must sell their labor against one
another. Only later though different welfare systems and compensatory mechanisms does society
seek to reduce high levels of inequality.
Another source of social change in India geared towards correcting the abuses of the caste
system is affirmative action. India has introduced numerous laws and programs called the
reservation policy that establishes a quota of seats in government and elsewhere for the so-called
Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC). Of course,
these include preferential treatment for the Dalits.
As a result of social changes, attitudes towards Dalits appear to be changing. Check out this tabe
of changes over a 17-year period.
Source: Source: Kapur, Devesh, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Lant Prichett, and Shyam Babu. 2010.
“Rethinking Inequality: Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in the Market Reform Era.” Economic &
Political Weekly. XLV(35):39–49.
Untouchability Around the World
It is important to note that “Untouchability” is not restricted to India. It affects some 250-300
million people in the world. This status can be based on family name, place of residence,
occupation, and life style. Here are some additional examples:
Japan: Buraku community (at the bottom of the Japanese class system; traditionally
viewed as filthy and/or non-human)
Burkina Faso: Bellah community within the Tuareg group (traditionally slaves, unpaid
manual laborers, to other caste ‘owners’)
Kenya: Watta community (traditionally considered low, worthless, and consigned to a
life of servitude from birth)
Mauritania: Haratin community (these ‘black moors’ are considered slaves to the Bidan,
or ‘white moors’, in Mauritanian society)
Nigeria: Osu community (traditionally the Osu people are ‘owned’ by deities and
considered as outcaste, untouchable, and sub-human)
Rwanda: Twa community (at bottom of social hierarchy with no legal protections from
discrimination and no representation in positions of power/authority)
Senegal: Neeno & Nyamakalaw communities (largely blacksmiths and leatherworkers,
they are considered impure and face explicit segregation and exclusion)
Somalia: Midgan community (minority outcaste group facing violence, refusal of rights,
and possessing no legal protections)
Module Fourteen, Activity Two | Exploring Africa
Module Fourteen, Activity Two
Indigenous African Religions
While it is true that Africans do not have a word equivalent to the
term “religion” there are a number of terms in African languages
that describe activities, practices, and a system of thought that
corresponds closely to what most Westerners mean by religion.
African religions are often closely associated with African peoples’
concepts of ethnic identity, language and culture. They are not
limited to beliefs in supernatural beings [God and spirits] or to ritual
acts of worship, but effect all aspects of life, from farming to
hunting, from travel to courtship. Like most religious
systems [including Christianity, Islam, Judaism] African religions
focus on the eternal questions of what it means to be human: what
is the meaning of life, and what are the correct relations among
humans, between humans and spiritual powers, and with the
natural world? African religious systems [also] seek …
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