What is Aladura?
Aladura ("Prayer People") is a Yoruba term for various prophet-healing churches that have developed in west Africa since about 1918.
- Date founded: c.1918-1930
- Place founded: West Nigeria
- Founder: various
- Adherents: approx. 1 million
History, Sects and Beliefs
Anglican communities flourished among the Yoruba between 1895 and 1920, after the arrival of missionaries. The Aladura movement began about 1918 among the younger elite in the well-established Christian community based on dissatisfaction with Western religious forms, European control of the churches, and lack of spiritual power. The were also influenced by literature from the small U.S. divine-healing Faith Tabernacle Church of Philadelphia.
The 1918 world influenza epidemic precipitated the formation of a prayer group of Anglican laymen at Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria; the group emphasized divine healing, prayer protection, and a puritanical moral code. By 1922 divergences from Anglican practice forced the separation of a group that became known as the Faith Tabernacle, with several small congregations.
The main expansion occurred when a prophet-healer, Joseph Babalola (1906–59), became the center of a mass divine-healing movement in 1930. Yoruba religion was rejected, and Pentecostal features that had been suppressed under U.S. influence were restored. Opposition from traditional rulers, government, and mission churches led the movement to request help from the pentecostal Apostolic Church in Britain. Missionaries arrived in 1932, and the Aladura movement spread and consolidated as the Apostolic Church.
But problems arose over the missionaries' use of Western medicines—clearly contrary to doctrines of divine healing—their exclusion of polygamists, and their assertion of full control over the movement. So in 1938–41 the Babalola and (later Sir) Isaac Akinyele formed the Christ Apostolic Church, which by the 1960s had 100,000 members and its own schools and had spread to Ghana. The Apostolic Church continued its connection with its British counterpart; other secessions produced further "apostolic" churches.
The Cherubim and Seraphim society was founded by Moses Orimolade Tunolase, a Yoruba prophet, and Christiana Abiodun Akinsowon, an Anglican woman who had experienced visions and trances. In 1925–26 they formed the society with doctrines of revelation and divine healing replacing traditional charms and medicine. They separated from the Anglican and other churches in 1928. In the same year the founders parted, and further divisions produced more than 10 major and many minor sections, which spread widely in Nigeria and to Benin (formerly Dahomey), Togo, and Ghana.
A smaller movement, the self-help Aiyetoro ("happy city"), was built on piles on a lagoon mudbank east of Lago by a group of persecuted Cherubim and Seraphim in 1947. Men and women lived separately, strict morals were enforced, a radical economic communism and diverse sophisticated business activities resulted in great prosperity for more than 2,000 members, and death was believed to have been conquered. But by the 1970s internal dissension had appeared and the original utopian impetus had faded.
The Church of the Lord (Aladura) is the largest Aladura movement. It was founded by Josiah Olunowo Oshitelu, an Anglican catechist and schoolteacher, whose unusual visions, fastings, and devotions led to his dismissal in 1926. By 1929 he was preaching judgment on idolatry and native charms and medicines, uttering prophecies, and healing through prayer, fasting, and holy water. The Church of the Lord (Aladura), which he founded at Ogere in 1930, spread to north and east Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and beyond Africa—New York City and London—where several other Aladura congregations also meet.
Developments since the 1970s have been replacing the Aladura form with Pentecostal Revivalist movements influenced by American models, such as the Church of God Mission in Benin City, and with "spiritual science" movements. The latter meet similar needs as the Aladura by offering semi-secret knowledge of how to acquire spiritual power, and are modeled on examples outside of Christianity such as Subud and the Rosicrucians, which have been long present in Nigeria.
The Aladura movement continues to grow and includes many small secessions, ephemeral groups, prophets with one or two congregations, and healing practitioners in west Africa, Britain, and the United States.
Aladura practices are a mix of Anglican and African rituals. In the Church of the Lord (Aladura), for example, ministers are given an iron rod about two and a half feet long, looped in a handle at one end, as part of their insignia of office. It symbolizes the powers of the prophet. A prophet touches the objects he consecrates brought by people who come for prayers and healing sessions. Rosaries are used to consecrate water or to pray the psalms. Vestments and gowns are widely used.
References & Sources
- "Aladura." Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2005).
- "Aladura." John R. Hinnels, ed., The Penguin Dictionary of Religions, 2nd ed. (Penguin Books, 1997).
- The Church of the Lord (Aladura) Organization
- Aladura - African Christianity Homepage, Bethel University
- Aladura - Overview of World Religions, St. Martin's College