Thursday, April 26, 2007

What is Tribal/Indigenous Theology?

My wife and I went looking for a house. We consider our present house to be too big and expensive for missionaries like us. Our friend recommended a house near their neighborhood and offer to go with us and talk to the house owner for us. When we came to the house, our friend talked to the owner and I noticed that the owner was looking at us in a weird way. After a short talk, the owner refused to give us the house, which was alright because we also didn't like the house. Our friend told us the reason for a quick refusal, the owner thought we were from particular tribe. I asked my friend what made her think that we are from that tribe. He said because of the bag that wrapped around your body. The obviously tribal looking bag was the owner's criteria for refusal. It identified us with a particular tribe that crossed the border either legally or illegally. The bag is a gift from our pastor. I could almost feel the discrimination that these tribal people are experiencing from the general population.

But who are the tribal people? The United Nation Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities gives us a working definition of who they are.
Indigenous communities, people and nations, are those which having an historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generation their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institution and legal system.

Tribal people are the most exploited and divided people in the world. Theirs is a history of defeat, suffering and oppression. Throughout generations they suffered discrimination, genocide, exploitation and alienation. They lost their self-esteem because of conquest and slavery. And in recent years, globalization make the situation worst, it causes further marginalization to their continuity as people.

Longchar cites two example of the causes of the tribal people suffering. First is displacement. In different parts of the world the tribal people have become victims of development. They are evicted from their ancestral land because of mega projects--dam, wildlife sanctuaries, mines, reservoirs among others. And these are being done without due compensation. They are simply ignored, silenced and despised.

Second, indigenous people suffer from suppression. Dominant societies do not listen to their cries and do not acknowledge their human rights and dignity cause them to resort to arm struggle. The dominant government instead of recognizing the movements as a struggle for justice attempts to silence the movements by hostility. Soldiers killed innocent people, raped their women and burned their villages to ashes. One may think that these atrocities are not happening today but such human right violations has been going on and on.

Tribal theology came out of these experiences of various forms of injustice and exploitation. Their theology is an attempt to express Christian faith in socio-cultural, traditional and liturgical thought patterns of people. Tribal theology can be considered as resistance theology. It is a resistance to the destruction of the dignity of life, dances, songs and tribal people's spirituality.

Tribal theology is a contextual theology. Like liberation theology it is a theology from "below" and "underside of history." Longchar says that it seeks to reflect on the faith experience of the tribal and aims to liberate people from their inferiority complex, from oppressions and discriminations. To achieve al this , it attempts to rediscover the liberative motifs in the tribal culture and reinterpret the Bible and Christian traditions. Hence, the focus and goal of tribal theology is liberation. It embraces the social, economic, cultural, political and ecological dimensions. In the process of working their own liberation, the tribal people pursue the liberation of both the oppressors and the oppressed. It is, therefore, a theology that includes liberation of the whole humanity and of God's creation."

A. Wati Longchar, An Emerging Tribal/Indigenous Theology: Prospect for Doing Asian Theology.

Picture from


Jayred said...

"Tribal theology" that's interesting. I never encountered this term in our world missions course. Thanks for the simple-to-understand explanation, Joey.

Hope you'll be able to find the right house soon.

Joey said...

Don't know much about it either until I read this theological journal. I have to learn about it because I might spend the rest of my life with them. hahaha

Yes, we are hoping to find the the right house sooner. But maybe God wants us to stay in this house for a while because He is providing for the rent. We might as well enjoy it! But we keep on looking!

Thanks!!! Best wishes and blessings!

keropok lekor said...

Wow! How can Christian mission respond to the injustices faced by the tribal people?

ma said...

For such a people like us who experience the needy and signature of tribal theology, this is the opinion that this is a touching description for every one who read willingly to get inspiration about God's poor people!

Lisu Naw said...

Great, I am also writing a Tribal theology from Myanmar Christian Perspective. Thanks for your thoughts