Religious Beliefs. Precolonial religion was based on notions that different religious specialists could, by performance of appropriate ritual, influence different supernaturals to restore or maintain natural and social well-being. Many Sara in contemporary times have converted to Christianity, often opting for some form of Protestantism.
There appear to have been three major forms of the supernatural. Nuba was a sort of otiose god who had created the world. A besi was a sort of "spirit" that was immanent in, symbolized by, and named after natural objects—especially trees—or social activities, such as initiation. Besigi interfere in peoples' lives by bringing misfortune. Some besigi were not powerful; others had the ability to influence entire clans or villages. Badigi (sing. badi ), the dead conceived of in their afterlife, were the third form of the supernatural. A badi, usually a deceased father or mother, can attack people and, like a besi, bring misfortune.
Religious Practitioners. There appear to have been four main varieties of religious specialists in precolonial times: those who owned a besi; those who presided over initiations, who were called mohgi ; those in charge of harvest festivals; and rainmakers. In general, practitioners were not organized into a hierarchical priesthood, except around the mbang at Bedaya.
Ceremonies. Much ceremonial activity was ritual to propitiate besigi or badigi, thereby creating or restoring beneficent natural and social worlds. The most important ceremonies were initiations, funerals, and those following the harvest. Initiations were important for a number of reasons, one of which was that they helped define gender relations. Men became initiated ( ndo ), whereas women and young boys remained uninitiated ( koy ). As a result, men were thought to have learned how to act, a knowledge denied to women.
Arts. Singing and dancing have been and remain an important part of Sara life. Visual arts such as sculpture were little developed.
Medicine. In precolonial times, and still largely today, illness was believed to be the result of supernatural actions—either those of a besi, a badi, or a practitioner of sorcery ( kuma ). Divination was performed to identify the attacking supernatural and to suggest a manner of diagnosis.
Death and Afterlife. Many Sara conceived of death not so much as a biological event as a modification in social status. Each person was believed to have something like a soul ( ndil ). At death, this separated from the body. Provided the proper rituals were performed, however, the deceased did not perish but became a badi. Participation in mortuary ceremonies was important as a way of validating a person's membership in a clan.