Religious Beliefs. In traditional religion, the spirit of a deceased person returns to the community and the deceased heads of extended families (the ancestors), have a powerful influence on family life. The spirit ancestors are usually only two or three generations back from the living generation and are the people who passed on the custom of honoring their ancestors and the traditions of the community. They are honored in ceremonies to celebrate a good harvest and in appeals to deal with misfortune. When a spirit becomes angry, it communicates through a medium, or a diviner diagnoses the anger and cause, and appeasement follows. Families seeking to avenge a death or enforce debt payment may consult diviner-healers ( n’anga ). Witches are thought to have the power to raise angry spirits, and the anger of a spirit may or may not be justified in the view of the affected family.
Many Christians continue to believe in spirits and the power of witchcraft and seek spiritual guidance from both belief systems. The largest churches are the Roman Catholic and the Anglican, and the Apostolic Church is the largest independent church. Independent churches tend to interpret the Bible more in accordance with traditional values, and faith healing and savings organizations (for example, burial societies) feature strongly in their activities.
Death and the Afterlife. Customarily, the dead are buried close to home, and people in urban areas may bring the deceased back to rural areas for burial. Graves are prepared close to the family homestead and are both sacred and feared for their association with death and spirits. A diviner may be consulted to determine the cause of death and prescribe a ritual action; this is followed by ceremonies to settle the spirit and mark the end of mourning. After one year a final ceremony is held at which the spirit becomes a spirit guardian of the family. These ceremonies generally combine traditional and Christian practices.