The definition of heritage in West Africa must adopt a wider perspective of incorporating tangible and intangible heritage as recognized and defined by UNESCO. Generally, the West African region does not feature monumental heritage as in Europe and the Americas. The few monumental heritage properties belong to the historic period and are located in the Sahel zone (Mali in particular), while the coastal regions possess monumental heritage properties that were essentially relics of the period of European contact and colonialism (Benin Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal). Heritage resources in West Africa are therefore essentially discrete and nondiscrete prehistoric and historic archaeological sites which include rock shelters, relics of ancient settlements, mounds, earthworks, industrial relics such as furnaces and surface finds, isolated historic buildings and spaces, and tangible (traditional architecture and artifacts) and intangible (language, poetry, songs, dances, festivals, beliefs, and value systems) ethnographic resources. Some studies in the 2010s have included heritage resources of all archival materials such as recorded audiovisuals of events and entertainments of the colonial and early postcolonial periods. Heritage management in the West African region has been problematic due to various factors that could be both historical and attitudinal, which include colonialism, intrusion of foreign religions and ideologies, economic and social conditions, insufficient and noneffective legal and policy frameworks for protection and conservation of heritage resources, and a general lack of awareness and interest in matters of heritage by the populace. In spite of these factors, some efforts have been made toward managing heritage in ways that can be interrogated. Government efforts at promoting heritage are more evident in the areas of cultural festivals, dance, and music with the establishment of cultural troupes at various political and administrative levels, thus creating the impression that heritage is limited to intangible cultural resources. Museums are few and far in between, priceless artifacts are still looted and illegally exported to foreign museums to join those looted during the colonial era, and facilities are limited and not standard, while the staff is poorly trained and unmotivated. In the face of expanding infrastructural developments and urbanization, the most appropriate management strategy and practice would be conservation through recording archaeological sites and historic properties.
There are many different and distinct types of religious waters: holy, sacred, neutral, and even evil. The ways various divinities invest waters with specific qualities and capacities depend upon a wide range of ecological, theological, and eschatological factors; some are shaped by the environment while others are purely ontological and concerned with otherworldly realms, and often there is an intimate relation between the mundane and the divine. Rivers, rain, lakes, springs, and waterfalls are some specific forms of religious water, which also relate to seasonality and changing hydrological cycles. All these variations create different dependencies not only to ecological factors but more importantly to divine actors. Religious water may heal and bless individuals and be a communal source for fertility and plentiful harvests, but may also work as a penalty, wreaking havoc on society as floods or the absence of the life-giving rains in agricultural communities. Given the great variation of religious waters throughout history where even the same water may attain different qualities and divine embodiments, divine waters define structuring practices and principles in ecology and cosmology.