Have you ever met someone and they thought out loud, “We must have met in a former life.” Perhaps you did, if they adhere to some African and Asian traditions. Reincarnation is a topic that remains mysterious and unclear, but the lingering thought of it teases us from time to time when we meet familiar faces or come in contact with an “old soul.”
Spirits revisiting the material world is not a New Age concept accepted only by spiritual gurus and hippies. In fact, many African brothers and sisters have deep roots in the subject.
Reincarnation is often mentioned in conversations concerning Hinduism or Buddhism. However, some scholars concede the concept began with our ancient ancestors in Africa.
Molefi K Asante and Ama Mazama, authors of the “Encyclopedia of Black Studies,” write that the African concept of rebirth of the soul is vastly different than most Western and East Asian perceptions.
“African reincarnation is based in the religion of ancient Egypt, as when the priest says that people shall come back millions and millions of times,” they concluded. “The African conception of reincarnation is world affirming, not world renouncing. Souls that are reborn in children may be grandparents returned…. Ancestors may be born in different children at the same time. Humans can return millions and millions of times.”
Unlike Asian traditions, African reincarnation is not something that is considered negative or a cycle to escape. Also, African religions believe reincarnation manifests itself only in humans, not so much in animals or things. African reincarnation is vastly different than that of Asian religions. Hinduism and other Eastern spiritual beliefs weigh heavily on the need to obtain redemption or salvation.
Andrew Rooke, author of “Reincarnation in African Traditional Religion,” an article originally published in Sunrise magazine in 1980, says African people have long believed that at any given period in time, only a limited number of human souls exist, one regard in which he sees reincarnation as logical.
“For example, the Illa people of southern Zambia believe that a certain number of spirits were created and given bodies at the dawn of manifestation. When the bodies wear out during the course of a lifetime, the spirits live on in their own sphere of consciousness and then have other bodies prepared for them at the appropriate time,” Rooke explained.
A common cycle of rebirth exists across the African spiritual sphere. To end the cycle would mean unnatural interference and violation of spiritual evolution or, on the other end, ascension into godhood.
Rooke added that the “spiritual self” seeks to be manifested in a body, regardless of sex. It is the soul’s natural cycle to be reborn.
The Western perspective generally rejects this form of reincarnation. To be reborn is to receive salvation in this earthly life, as in accepting Jesus Christ in Christian thought.
Arvind Sharma, author of “A Primal Perspective on the Philosophy of Religion,” writes: “In Western religious and philosophical thought, a human being is generally supposed to be born once and die once. Thus by life, we mean a single life by birth and by death a single death. There is no rebirth or reincarnation in Western religious thought…”
Sharma also adds that Hindu followers and others find the Western perspective problematic and unjust. Reincarnation, however, in Eastern traditions is based on morality, meaning a soul that has been reincarnated lives a life according to the way it lived its past lives. African reincarnation is based on the continuation of power through ancestry because in many beliefs, a soul is reincarnated into the same family.
Another scholar says that partial reincarnation is also prevalent in Africa, meaning that a part of a soul is reborn through features and personality traits of babies, while the other portion of the soul continues to live in a separate existence.
John S. Mbiti, author of “African Religions” says: “When relatives notice that one of their living-dead has been reincarnated, they rejoice about it and this is another level of keeping warm the relationship between the two parties. Once the living-dead has moved on into the Zamani period and into the state of ordinary spirits, reincarnation for him also ceases.”
The afterlife, a great mysterious concept that we humans have yet to fully understand, is one of those things we can only guess at. But if reincarnation is possible, perhaps that familiar face you thought you met before is actually someone you knew in a previous life.