Indigenous faith is as diverse and as colourful as a garden full of flowers, all diverse, fragrant and beautiful, ready to be shared with whomever is capable of embracing them. Where are theologies gestated? How are they born and how do they grow? Do they multiply and die? Are their days like those of humans, or do they enjoy eternal life? Do theologies have a body and feel in their skin the nearness of other skins/theologies? Do their noses smell and do their palates enjoy? Do they fight the struggles for justice? Whose justice? Where are the theologies ...?!
If we start with the last question of those listed above, we could say that we are referring to "theologies" in the plural, and not to "theology" in the singular, because our starting point is the recognition that each theology is contextual. Besides, we could say that the use of the term in the singular tends to legitimize the theology that was used in the conquest of us, the indigenous peoples. From the emergence of contextual theologies in the 1980s, growth has been observed. This growth questions the occidental cultural character of theology, although not the fundamental core of the Christian message, such as the incarnation. In particular, feminist theologies, (1) indigenous theologies and the theologies of religious pluralism strongly question the occidental, androcentric and white character of "normative" theology, as well as its continual North-Atlantic (2) point of reference.
On the other hand, in the different histories of the conquest of our indigenous peoples, certain Christian theologies legitimize the violence of the conquistadores. The metaphor of the "cross and the sword" coming to the Americas exemplifies the manner in which our peoples analyzed the arrival of Christianity and its theology. The sword murdered the bodies of the indigenous people who rebelled, while the cross did the same with the souls of the survivors. The greatest known genocide of "history" probably occurred in the Americas; it continues every day throughout the world, against the so-called indigenous peoples--aboriginal, native, first or original nations. Today this takes place through state laws of cultural neo-colonialism and the consumerist logic of neo-liberal capitalism. We can say that we continue to observe and suffer theologies that affirm themselves as universal, and affirm the universality of a type of bodies and manner of being that are considered normative. To some extent, we can talk about racist theologies, which claim to be inclusive yet omit criticism.
To be affirmed as universal, theology must decontextualize and disembody itself as it expands in a hegemonic pattern, even in the name of praiseworthy human and communitarian values. Thus, theology forgets that it is a reflection on our faith in a God who is incarnate, a reflection that starts from a reality that we experiment with our real bodies, moving in the complexity of society, geography, culture, sexuality, religion, ecology, economy and specific political participation. Our theologies necessarily express the manner in which we perceive and act in the world. Therefore, theologies have and give life. They have body and take postures in the face of all that happens in the lives of real persons. Inevitably, they are present in our daily formulations, which respond to the most diverse situations: from daily meal preparation to the consecrating of bread at the Holy Dining, participating in a protest march against the price increase of bread, or against the incarceration of leaders due to criminalization of protest marches. Theologies make up part of that air sometimes fresh and sometimes corrupt, but always complex--which, every time we breathe it, configures our lives.
Even more, some theologies have so much life that they convert human beings into objects; they reify us. Theology ends up by analyzing the life of communities and their practices, then it judges. More than a few times, indigenous communities have feared accusations of being "animists" or "idolatrous", and have feared violent attacks in the name of the "pure" faith. Indigenous theologies strongly question this reification of people and of nature--of everything that surrounds us and, in the end, is all that ensures human life. In this case indigenous theology, on par with theologies of liberation, is the Second Act. The First Act is, fundamentally, the spiritual connection with the land, the experience of daily indigenous life, with its values and contradictions, interpreted in the referential horizon of the indigenous cosmic vision and cultural decolonization efforts, in the frame of political processes in search of self-determination. Indigenous theology reflects in that ancestral indigenous faith deeply rooted in the day to day; from there, it proposes its categories for rereading Western theology.
Indigenous theologies are indigenous wisdom and a deep form of spirituality. They are gestated in the womb of indigenous cultures; they are fed by the ancestral wisdom based on the profound spiritual relationship with Mother Earth, with the elements of Nature, with the air coming from the four cardinal points. Indigenous theologies are born in the warmth of sharing communal food and are rocked with the music that inspires the struggle for rights denied. They create music and dance for the long wait of those who lose their freedom or life when their communal protests are criminalized. They grow in accompanying the daily activities of the women, the men and the young, the children, and in the council of elders. They multiply by generations while helping in the re-encounter of identity, while embracing and receiving those who parted when they learned to deny themselves. Indigenous theologies are found in the voice of the wisdom elders, in their language of listening, telling stories, performing rituals and celebrating life; these are resilient and subversive languages that hegemonic theology does not listen to. They are conscious of finitude and are reinterpreted from generation to generation; each time is the moment to move on or to circulate in this spiral of time that is human life. Indigenous theologies are deeply rooted in the Earth, as a geographic and spiritual reference. They are political theologies that deconstruct "the" universal and Hellenic theology--not one but many flowers, complete gardens full of fragrances. They are theologies that construct an infinite variety of bodies and peoples--indigenous peoples, ancient and ever-lasting bodies-in permanent movement, in continuous process of recognition: ornaments and substance of the peoples walking.
Yes, indigenous peoples have theology, since they are conscious of being human beings and peoples of the land. This theology is found in our daily lives, in our ancestral wisdom, in our resistance and in our spirituality linked to Earth.
We have theology just as we have values and spirituality organizing our social, economic and political life. Throughout the years of living under domination, these have allowed us not only to survive, but to live. We are resilient peoples, capable of continually proposing alternatives of inclusive life, each time humanity is excluded, each time our planet is hurt and wounded. This is the contribution that the indigenous peoples offer the churches and the Christian theologies of other contexts, bodies and fragrances. These are the flowers that, on this occasion, are offered to the World Council of Churches (WCC) and to its member churches, in remembrance of their long-lasting vigil and their standing in solidarity with us.
The WCC's involvement with Indigenous Peoples goes back to the seventies, when the Programme to Combat Racism (PCR) and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) picked up the issue of the suffering of Indigenous Peoples in two Consultations: Barbados I and II. Barbados I, held in 1971, was a meeting of anthropologists only. At Barbados II, held in 1977, Indigenous people were invited to attend! Since then through symposiums, conferences, studies and teams visits, the WCC governing bodies have called on its member churches to pay attention to the situation of Indigenous Peoples in North, Central and South America, Aotearoa-New Zealand, Australia, Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe. The most significant impetus was received from an international consultation "Land is our Life", held in Darwin, Australia in 1990. The Darwin consultation set new priorities for churches' solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous participants demanded that the churches take specific actions in sharing resources with Indigenous communities, increasing Indigenous participation in church structures and congregations and challenge those retaining Indigenous lands, particularly sacred sites. After the Canberra Assembly in 1991, its statement on "Land and Indigenous Peoples: Move beyond Words" became a significant WCC document quoted in many churches and United Nations forum. It included a commitment to work towards the goal of justice through Indigenous sovereignty, repossession of their lands and a renewed call for a greater Indigenous participation in the life of the member churches and the WCC itself. Since 1995, there have been Indigenous persons working on Indigenous Issues. (3)
Nowadays, indigenous peoples count greater achievements at the UN level, including Convention 169, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169), (4) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). (5) We also note the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Mechanism of Experts on Indigenous Rights, and the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms for Indigenous Peoples. Yet despite all these visible achievements, the situation of indigenous peoples has not improved. What is more, in many contexts the situation has worsened.
After the WCC's Assembly of Porto Alegre in 2006, the work of the indigenous peoples in the WCC has been located within the Programme on Unity, Mission and Evangelism. This new context raises the challenge of articulating the different theological productions that indigenous peoples carry out in their regions. These theological reflections have their origin in the reflection processes on the relation between the gospel and indigenous cultures, but go beyond that area. This time, these reflections are done with a generation of indigenous theologians who know who they are but also know Western theology, who explore the richness of their millenary cultures, searching for the methodological resources, the language, the symbolism and the themes that permit the transformation of Christian theology It is not a new project at all; rather, it is the deepening of the previous process in a creative and interconnected manner. It links what already exists and facilitates the dialogue between indigenous theologians. Responding to this new challenge, the WCC, during the last few years, has facilitated two theological events: one in October 2008, in Baguio City, Philippines, with the theme "Social and Ecclesial Visions of Indigenous Peoples," (6) and another in October 2009, in Geneva, with the theme "The Sources and Resources of our Indigenous Theologies".
This issue of The Ecumenical Review gathers the articles presented in the theological dialogue in Geneva, where a select group of indigenous theologians shared their experiences, feelings and thoughts from their specific geographical and cultural contexts. It was the first time that such a meeting of indigenous theologians had happened. While the meeting proved to be very creative, it also showed that the time for us to reflect on theology--and especially the time to dialogue in a broader space--has begun.
Starting in the so-called Americas, we present an article by Tink Tinker, from the Osage Nation in the United States, who introduces us to this walk of the indigenous theologies from the starting point of his own life. "First of all, our indigenous theologies must be explicitly and unashamedly political", he states, and "must respond out of this ongoing oppression of Indian communities". From this point, the recovery of identities and rebuilding of our communities, he proposes to deconstruct the theological discourses of the "euro-western churches". Tinker's accurate appreciations lead us to continue with the deep transformation of theology, in order to support the continuous struggles for liberation of indigenous peoples in the world.
Eleazar Lopez Hernandez, Zapoteca from Mexico, presents the fascinating history of Teologia India, one of the major movements of pastoral care and theology of indigenous peoples in Latin America. This movement, even with its massive Catholic participation, (7) has achieved an ecumenical impact. He identifies three forms taken by this theology: "Indian theology within the churches; Indian theology within the peoples' own traditions, independently of the churches; and Indian theology within indigenous social movements, in the actual struggles for independence, land, water, and essential community services".
Dina Ludena Cebrian, Quechua from Peru, suggests that indigenous theology is rooted in the history of oppression of our peoples, with daily life a space of ideological resistance. From that point, she affirms the wisdom of the elders and the Pachamama (Mother Earth) as alternative paradigms of life that can finally insist on the necessity of action. As a biblical theologian, she weaves her text with the wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the Andes and the Selva in Peru along with the wisdom of the Bible.
Ferdinand Anno, Bago-Igorot from the Cordillera in the Philippines, starts doing theology with the concrete memory of struggles for identity and self-determination of his own people. From this context, he focuses on rereading the land-centred culture, spirituality and life of indigenous peoples in the context of their struggles, looking for a theology that can properly be ecumenical and liberating. Anno opens the door to the stories of indigenous peoples; from there, he goes to the rituals and liturgy. His approach to the liturgy in relation to the struggles for land refers once again to the political character of indigenous theologies.
Jorunn Jernsletten, northern Sami from Norway, brings to us the dimension of Spirit and spirits, in plural, that surround human life, guiding the daily practices of her Sami peoples. Nature is not empty, nor is it an object. It is full of life, to which we usually do not listen. Jernsletten presents theological work of Sami theologians on the contextualization of theology in the life and faith of their church in both northern and southern Sami. The emphasis on the spirits immediately links to one burning current concern, which is crucial to indigenous wisdom: caring for nature or care for creation, especially in the midst of controversial negotiations of much-needed binding agreements on climate change.
Evelyn Parkin, Quandamooka from Australia, starts with her life experience, then shows the revelation of God in her culture, peoples and the personal life of each individual. Parkin highlights the continuity of the relationship and ritual sacredness between her indigenous people and their Higher Power, Kabul, the Rainbow Serpent. Also, she presents the idea of continuity between the traditional faith of her people and the revelation of the Christian God not only by the missionaries, but also by the word of God through the Bible. This is revelation that her people can recognize through a path of life.
Atola Longkumer, Ao Naga from the northeast of India, introduces us to another face of the theological reflection of indigenous peoples. She challenges not only the process of reflection and the methodology of indigenous theologies, but also the rebuilding of indigenous worldviews, as well as conceptions of culture, wisdom and social organization. Longkumer raises the voice of Ao Naga women and "minorities" in indigenous communities, and insists on the necessary "internal critique" that any indigenous theology needs to do. Another source of internal critique are the stories of the people, which shows that "self-critique is part of the oral stories that instruct the community against the follies of the ancestors".
Marilu Rojas Salazar, from Mexico, summarizes the experiences learned by a feminist theology of liberation in relation to liberation theology and the experience of daffy life of Latin American women. She suggests that indigenous theologies need to reflect the perspective of eco-feminism, because of the close relationship that indigenous women have with the land and the oppression experienced by both women and the land since the times of the conquistadores. The strong cultural experience of the Sacred, related to the land and to the dual presence of the Sacred, brings possibilities of re-creating new epistemologies, such as epistemologies of eco-sofia. Eco-sofia relates to Sofia-Wisdom in the Bible and to the cultural wisdom of indigenous women.
Finally, we present a synthesis in the Ecumenical Chronicle of the dialogue of indigenous theologians on the common aspects they found as key issues when doing pertinent and contextual indigenous theologies.
These articles and the synthesis are presented as a glimpse of the ongoing theological reflection of indigenous peoples in their geographical, cultural, social, historical and sexual contexts. Much is left unsaid, but much more is kept in the memory of indigenous peoples' oral wisdom and spiritual traditions.
May the God of the "Otherness", "of close and of far away", guide us in the reading of this contribution to the theological reflection. May the ancient Goddess, Cihuacoatl, Pachamama and all other, open our hearts to listen to the differences. May the Spirit and the Spirits surround us to perceive the similarities in all human experiences and the differences of each expression. May Jesus be a brother and a friend walking with us in the path of faith, and a symbol that embraces all cultures.
(1) Feminist theologies have been threatened and domesticated by the theological and ecclesial establishment. Despite this, they have the capacity to become real spaces for liberation of theology and human beings.
(2) See the analysis of Marcella Althaus-Reid, From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology: Readings on Poverty, Sexual Identity and God, SCM Press, London, 2004, and Josef Estermann, "La 'Teologia andina' como realidad y proyecto: una deconstruccion intercultural", in ISEAT, Teologia Andina. El tejido diverso de la fe indigena, t. I., ISEAT, La Paz:, 2006, pp. 137-62.
(3) Information is available at http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=2642&L=3; see also http: //www.oikoumene.org/indigenouspeoples. Accessed 20 September 2010.
(4) http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/convde.pl? C169. Accessed 20 September 2010.
(5) http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/docu ments/DRIPS_en.pdf
(6) The final report is available at http://www. oikoumene.org/?id=6893. Accessed 20 September 2010.
(7) In Latin America, Protestant and Evangelical identity is built in contrast to Catholic expressions of faith, particularly popular Catholicism. However, the Protestant and Evangelical identity share many similarities in relation to the daily expression of faith.
Maria Chavez Quispe, Aymara from Bolivia, is the Consultant for the Indigenous Peoples Programme in the World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland.
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|Author:||Quispe, Maria Chavez|
|Publication:||The Ecumenical Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2010|
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