African Independent Churches

Also known as African Initiated Churches, African Instituted Churches, or African Indigenous Churches, African Independent Churches (AICs) refer to the groups of churches founded by Africans on the African continent, as opposed to those established by missionaries from Europe. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 independent African denominations across the continent, with most being documented in West and Southern Africa.

The oldest AIC, formed around the 4th century, is the Ethiopian Orthodox church, however many others emerged during the colonial era, when Africans denounced European churches and founded their own. Reasons for these splits include a desire to incorporate African beliefs and practices (e.g. singing, drumming, dancing) into religious practices, as well as the need for local leadership, since many European churches at the time forbade Africans from becoming pastors or holding other positions of power. Towards the mid-twentieth century, some AICs played an important role in the independence movements, and today many are involved in national development agendas providing schools, hospitals, and other services for their adherents.

A popular example of an AIC is the Aladura Pentecostal Church which was formed in 1918, in Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria by Sophia Odunlami and Joseph Sadare, who rejected the Anglican church and instead began their own Christian movement. Aladura, is a Yoruba word meaning “praying people,” and its members believed in the power of prayer as against both Western and indigenous medicine. The Aladura movement’s formation coincided with an influenza outbreak, and the group, denouncing all forms of medicine, gained popularity as they were believed to be able to save people from the pandemic through prayer alone. Since then, the Aladura movement has undergone several schisms of its own, spawning the Christ Apostolic Church, the Cherubim and Seraphim movement, the Celestial Church of Christ, and the Church of Our Lord (Aladura).

By Nnenna Onuoha

(Photo: UCT Libraries)

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