By 10 a.m. Saturday, the floors of the Anacostia storefront room are already crowded with barefoot worshippers. Dressed in traditional African garb, they gather here at the Temple of Nyame every Saturday and Sunday to practice the traditional African religion or way of life called Akan.
The religion, which predates Christianity and Islam, according to their cheif priest, recognizes God Almighty as its head, much like western religions, Members also venerate lesser deities and ancestors, but the are secondary to God.
O Saturday, their sabbath, the group gathers to worship God. On Sundays they venerate their deities and ancestors through ritualistic dance, music and prayers.
"Actually we don't believe in anything you don't find in Christian or Eastern religions," said Nana Kwabena Broan, chief priest at the temple (nana means priest at the which is part of the African Cultural and Religious Society (ACRS).
On a typical Saturday, 20 to 30 people can be found in the stark front room which serves as a temple. They sing songs like "Sweet Chariot," pray and perform some rituals similiar to yoga.
They don't seem to notice the stream of traffic on Martin Luther King Avenue just 20 feet from their green double doors, nor the occassional passerby who stops to stare. Their attention is focused on Brown who sits on the floor in front of them leading the songs and prayers. Some take notes as he explains complicated religious thought.
Brown said he, like most blacks, became interested in black culture in the late 1960s during the civil rights movement. With his mother, Ida-Mae Austin, and wife Nana Enyo, a priestess, Brown in 1970 opened an African art stoe in Washington.
"It was a tremendous time for African art," he said. "At that time many black people were searching for origins of black practice. Because we were intersted in African art, we also became interested in African religion because all of it represents some religious expression. Customers wanted to know the significance of pieces they bought."
"I began to do some heavey investigation into African history and art," said Brown. "I began assimilating all kinds of things dealing with the culture and took my first trip to Ghana in 1971.
"I was trying to find what God had given the black man in terms of a religion. All cultures have their own religions. I was trying to find indigenous ways for a black man to approach God. When I found it, it made me feel comfortable. I was able to see this was a religion God created for a group."
Brown began holding meetings at his home in Nancostia to discuss his findings with friends. Then he and his wife both 35, traveled to Ghana to become priests in the Akan tradition.
In 1972 the society incorporated and moved into the building it still rents for use as a temple and classrooms.
"It took two years for us to become fully recognized; we're probably the only recognized organization of this kind here," said Brown.
The group now has 16 adults and 18 children who are initiated members. Initiation occurs after members study the religion and go through various rites. The adults make annual pledges of financial support and pay monthly dues of $5 to $10.
According to Nana Enyo, there are about 20 noninitiated people who attend services at least twice a month. Special rites such as baby namings, weddings and festivals usually draw more than 150 people she said.
"There isn't as much interest in African culture now as there was in the early seventies," said Austin, 56, the oldest member of the temple. "Some people don't join even though they're very interested, because a lot of study is involved. They're not used to it."
"As a black person I often wondered where we began. I had a feeling we were not awakened by the missionaries, that we had a feeling of God before tha. So did my father. He used to teach me a certain amount of pride in who I was and teach me we were people who had values and skills. Black peeople were not encouraged then to have a feeling of pride like the children today."
Abena Walker, 31, joined the religion in 1972, after studying black culture in college. "We were one of the first families to get involved," she said. "At that time it was more of a study group. I grew up in the Methodist Church, but this gave us a better knowledge of ourselves and a better understanding of religion," said the D.C. high school teacher (currently on leave).
"Nana Kwabena is not only an authority of African religion, but many religions around the world. He teaches us comparative religion, too."
Walker is coordinator of the ACRS Saturday school, which teaches children of members and neighborhood children African culture as well as math, English and science. She said as many as 30 children, aged 3 to 15, attend each week.
The society also offers a recreation program and afternoon tutoring for neighborhood youth and an evening school to teach adults the culture and the Twi language spoken in Ghana.
Oyinfo Barclay of Oxon Hill is the recreation program coordinator. Tuesdays through Thursdays he supervises 12 or 13 children in arts and crafts, Ping-Pong and occasional field trips to museums. He also offers them informal counseling.
The tutoring programs are "part of our effort to reach out into the community," said Walker. "Many parents have said their children have done better in school. It seems their attitudes change, that they're more turned on to learning. Most of us are teachers by trade and we try new things to improve on the programs in the public schools. They get to express themselves more."
Lucille Daniels, 49, a retired government employee, became a member five years ago. "We are like a family," she said. "We are a family as far as I'm concerned. Maybe I might not be able to get out to the grocery store and maybe I can call one of my brothers or sisters and they will go for me. If I need financial aid, one of my brothers and sisters would help me."
"I had been going to different churches and then I came here," she said. "I was searching for a certain thing and I believe I found what I was looking for. It's a way of life not just dogma, and that was what I was looking for." CAPTION: Picture, Members of the Akan traditional African religion hold Saturday sabbath services at Temple Nyame in Anacostia. By Vanessa R. Barnes - The Washington Post