An Overview of West African Religions in Canada
While African religions originating from West Africa don’t get a lot of press coverage, they’re critically important spiritual paths for many Canadians.

While African religions originating from West Africa don’t get a lot of press coverage, they’re critically important spiritual paths for many Canadians.

Around two-thirds of Canadians claim to be Christians, but our country’s religious landscape also contains many complexities and nuances. Our religious diversity in modern times has been forged from a fascinating and troubling history, a colonialist legacy with still lingering wounds, and new immigration changing our population’s makeup over the last several decades. While African religions originating from West Africa don’t get a lot of press coverage, they’re critically important spiritual paths in the lives of both newer arrivals and native-born black Canadians.

Roots in the Homeland

Before examining contemporary versions of the West African faiths practiced in Canada, one should understand the collection of civilizations from which these traditions sprang. Modern-day Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast were home to several groups:

  • Akan cultures like the Ashanti, Chakose, and Fanti
  • Yorubaland peoples
  • The Fon people of the Dahomey kingdom
  • Gbe-speaking groups such as the Ewe
  • The Kaybe

As Encyclopedia Britannica explains, members of these civilizations all speak languages from several branches of the Niger-Congo linguistic family. Not only that, they evidence a wide range of beliefs that differ slightly within each culture but share some major similarities:

  • The universe’s creation as a product of divine action
  • The importance of revering and connecting spiritually with one’s ancestors
  • Pantheons of deities or spirits that each govern various aspects of existence
  • A chief deity respected and revered by other supernatural beings
  • The ability of mortals to supplicate and request divine intervention

Tragedy and Transformation in the Americas  

Sadly, the transatlantic slave trade is primarily responsible for bringing West African religions to Canada. While no exact statistics are available, UNESCO estimates that 17 million people were stolen from the region and sold as slaves in the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries. These individuals were shipped to several colonized areas in the Caribbean, South America, and the territories that eventually became the United States. Many European governments issued decrees and laws such as Frances “Code Noir” that prevented slaves from practicing their original religions and customs in these colonies.

Nevertheless, black people found resourceful ways to continue the faiths of their homelands. As they were forced to convert to Catholicism and other sects of Christianity, they syncretized their original West African beliefs with the new religion, producing several variants:

  • Vodou in Haiti and Louisiana
  • Brazilian Candomblé
  • Las 21 Divisionesin the Dominican Republic
  • Cuban Santeria and Lukumí faiths
  • Akan-based Kumfu religion in Jamaica

West African Religions in Modern Times

The African diaspora in Canada is comprised of several populations that include a significant contingent of Caribbean origin, descendants of those who fled the United States, and immigrants directly from Africa. While many of these individuals are Christians, some observe the West African faiths they brought with them, deriving strength and pursuing deeper meanings through community support and private religious practice. At the same time, they also encounter harmful misconceptions about their belief systems. For instance, a 2014 Canadian Dimension article discussed the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s Vodou exhibit held that same year, revealing that the religion’s adherents fight racist stereotypes insisting that their cherished faith is “primitive devil worship.” 

Looking to the Future  

Followers of West African religions gain positive psychological and spiritual benefits while retaining connections with ancestral cultures, customs, and beliefs. Headlines south of the border reveal that some black individuals originally raised as Christians are ditching these faiths in favor of traditional African spiritual paths. Although it’s difficult to derive conclusions about future trends in Canada based on events occurring in the United States, it will be interesting to see if traditions such as Vodou, Lukumí, Candomblé or their original African versions gain new Canadian believers in the coming years.

Deforestation and How the Church Is Helping
Deforestation in action.

Deforestation makes a bigger impact on the planet than people care to believe.

Canada is no stranger to deforestation, in which trees are cleared to make land available for non-forest use. The deforestation rate in Canada is 0.02 percent, making Canada a leader in sustainable forest management. Most people believe that deforestation occurs through harvesting trees or forest fires, but the reality is that deforestation only occurs when forests are permanently removed. The government regulates forests on public lands, about 94 percent of the forests in the country. When trees on public land are harvested, the land must be reforested, typically through planting. And it’s not urban development that is the biggest contributor to deforestation. It’s actually converting forested land to agricultural land.

The Unfortunate Truth about Deforestation

The rest of the world isn’t quite as fortunate. Experts report that over 13 million hectares of forest around the world have been cleared to make room for alternative uses. Trees are cut down for many reasons:

  • Agriculture – farmers need more land for crops and livestock.
  • Logging – trees are cut down for wood and paper requirements.
  • Biofuels – palm oil is becoming more popular, and many forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are being harvested to produce this biofuel.
  • Fuel – trees are harvested for firewood to heat homes and for cooking.
  • Roads and highways – forests are being cut down to make roads.
  • Mining – forested areas have a lot of minerals, making them vulnerable to mining operations.

How to Fight Back

The loss of forests contributes to a loss of habitat and an increase in global warming, as well as more erosion and flooding because the trees do not hold the soil down. As a global society, we must do our part to prevent deforestation around the world. We have to:

  • Plant more trees
  • Put pressure on companies that are destroying forests to manufacture products by not buying from brands that are not eco-friendly
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Support non-profit organizations that are fighting deforestation
  • Take a stand on political issues
  • Look for green products that reduce your use of natural raw materials

The Anglican Church Steps Up in Burundi

Burundi, a small country in Africa, has lost about 22.1 percent of its forest habitats through deforestation from 1990 to 2005. The government has decreed that people should act more responsibly toward the environment, and to that end, it has a goal of planting 10 million trees over the next five years.

The campaign is called “One Person, One Tree.” The Green Anglicans have been promoting tree planting for a number of years in the area, but now, the church and government are working together to improve the environment. Episcopal Relief & Development, the US-based arm of the Anglican Church, has set up nurseries in the country. The goal for the first year is to plant one million trees on both public and private land. Many ceremonies have already taken place, with civil organizations joining the church leaders and government officials to kick off the campaign. It’s a good way to start the new year.


Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.


Marriage Equality in Scotland
Gay / lesbian wedding icons set

The fight for marriage equality is one that is being fought on a global scale.

Next month, the Anglican Church of Canada votes on marriage equality in the church. As the ULC has reported in the past, this topic is hotly debated within the Anglican Church. The Episcopal Church in the United States changed their canon last year. They were given a “time out” by the international church, but have held to their beliefs that marriage equality is for all of their members. Now, the Scottish Episcopal Church has taken small steps toward changing the canon on marriage within their doors.

The Status of the Canon in Scotland

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church passed a first reading of the change. Currently, in Canon 31, it states that marriage is understood to be between a man and a woman. The proposal is to remove that statement from the canon. This is just one step along the process, because it should be noted that the proposed change is not the final decision. Now that the General Synod has made this proposal, it goes to the seven dioceses within Scotland for more discussion and opinions.

Next year at the General Synod meeting in June, the proposal will get a second reading. To pass, it must get a two-thirds majority of votes. Bishops, clergy and laity are included in this vote. Individual churches send representatives to the General Synod. The first reading received a vote of 5 for, 2 against from the bishops; 43 for, 19 against from the clergy; and 49 for, 12 against, 3 abstentions from the laity. The proposed change does seem to have a great deal of support from the church leadership.

The General Synod is the church’s legislative body, kind of like you might think of Parliament. The Synod members oversee the work of the church and vote on policy. They also might work on national and international issues. A diocese is made up of a group of churches in a particular region. This lets church members and leaders have input into the final canon of the church.

The proposed change would allow clergy to solemnize weddings between people of the same sex. However, there would be a conscience clause for clergy who are opposed to the change. They would not be forced into blessing a same-sex union.

The International Debate in the Anglican Church

Just recently, Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, married her girlfriend. Although South Africa recognizes same-sex marriages, the South African Anglican law does not. The church has made it clear in the past that gay clerics must remain celibate. Shortly after Tutu van Furth’s marriage was celebrated, the diocese withdrew her license to practice as a priest in the church. The South African Anglican Church is also looking at new guidelines for church members who are entering same-sex unions.

It’s been suggested that there might be consequences from the Primates and Archbishop of Canterbury, the international governing body of the Anglican Church, if countries move forward with changing church canon concerning same-sex marriage. Some countries with an Anglican church still have laws on the books that make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Other countries, such as Russia and Lithuania, simply have repressive laws that prohibit a propaganda of homosexuality. The leadership from some of these countries does not approve of the changes in other countries.

Pushing for same-sex marriage equality in the church is becoming an international issue. We’ll continue to watch how things in the church become more inclusive for all the members, not just heterosexual individuals. The Scottish Church is taking positive steps, but there is still a long way to go. It will be interesting to watch the vote at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada this summer to see what happens.