Seychelles is a small country in the Indian Ocean with a population of around 92,000. The nation is made up of 115 islands spread out over an area of 455 square kilometers. Seychellois culture has a mixture of African, European, and Indian influences. The unique blend of these influences has given rise to a rich culture with its own traditions, customs, beliefs, and practices.
The Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles recognizes and respects the cultural, religious, and spiritual heritage of the nation’s indigenous people. According to one estimate, there are about 30,000 indigenous people in the country. They are mainly found in the rural areas where they continue to practice traditional spirituality in Seychelles, following their ancestors’ ways.
Traditional Spirituality in Seychelles
The traditional spiritual beliefs in Seychelles are very similar to that of other indigenous cultures. For example, many people believe that spirits can be found in trees, rocks, or waterfalls and that they should be respected. Another example is that some people believe that illness can be caused by bad spirits or black magic spells.
Traditionalists in the country often visit a bonom di bwa or seer who engages in divination practices and provides believers with gri-gri or protective amulets. These seers or sorcerers are quite influential within the community. Religious priests within the country also serve as healers in some instances.
Unfortunately, the traditional practices of Seychelles have been influenced by Christianity, primarily Roman Catholicism. Likewise, they were heavily subjected to colonial destruction and policing to the point that they are barely recognizable according to their original structure. As such, the traditional practices of the land often resemble folk magic systems like Hoodoo within African American communities.
The ancient religion of the Seychellois is known as Ahrjuje. Though there isn’t much published information on this practice, as only a small percentage of the population still adhere to it. Though local practitioners are known to believe in fortune-telling, magic, amulets, charms, and sorcery, as mentioned. While the nation’s constitution prohibits religious discrimination, state and religious authorities often object to these practices.
Bonom Di Bwa
The Bonom Di Bwa can be translated as “good man of the woods.” This role effectively serves as a Shaman as they incorporate both herbalism with spiritualism into their practice. Many Seychellois consult with these magic men about various life issues. In order to solve their problems, the Bonom Di Bwa connects with the spirit realm for answers.
Like many folk magic practitioners, adherents to the Ahrjuje spiritual system are quite superstitious. They have many folk tales that dictate the way they live their lives and interact with the world at large. The indigenous people of the region often place high value on seeing certain phenomena in their daily lives.
Animals, in particular, represent specific omens. For instance, crossing the path of a snake indicates impending bad luck, the presence of a rhinoceros beetle is likewise a sign of a hex or curse. Even mundane activities like sweeping have significance within this culture. For example, sweeping after 6 pm means that you are sweeping away your fortune.
Many other folk tales exist within this culture. They can be linked to taboos that are common for African traditional religion devotees on the continent. However, divorced from their source, they are often communally applied without the aid of divination to determine if they pertain to everyone. In this way, they are very akin to superstitions within African American communities that are connected to Hoodoo or similar traditions.
As with most African-derived indigenous spiritual practices, those who work with the Ahrjuje system regard dreams as otherworldly communication. Many beliefs surround the meaning and interpretation of dreams within this culture. Oftentimes broad-based interpretations are applied to certain types of dreams. For example, dreaming of fishing foretells good luck.
Many examples of this dream interpretation method exist within the culture. But regardless of the dream or its interpretation, the indigenous people believe that dreams are messages from the spirit world. And they believe that dreams are sacred and should not be dismissed or otherwise relegated to non-essential status. According to these individuals, you can avoid omens and find favor if you honor your dreams and the spirits who give them to you.
Traditional spirituality in Seychelles is slowly losing its appeal to younger generations, though some still hold on to the ways of their ancestors. It’s not easy in the modern-day world, but those who hold on understand the reward of doing so. Only time will tell if these culturally-rich islands will restore the heritage of their ancestors from yesteryear.
To learn more about traditional spiritual practices of African people, listen to this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined podcast: