Friday, January 13, 2012

Challenges and tasks of theology in the Andean region from the perspective of indigenous theology

by Sofía Chipana Quispe

Text of Bolivian indigenous theologian Sofía Chipana Quispe's presentation at the Jornadas Teológicas Andinas in Bogotá, Colombia, October 21, 2011.


In this sharing, I want to evoke the memory of the ancestors who lived in our Andean region, who left us a legacy: wisdom, spirituality, personal experiences, art, rituals, sacred and ancient myths that help us to see ourselves as descendants of cultures thousands of years old.

To address the challenges and tasks of indigenous theology, I will use the method of Latin American Theology: SEE, JUDGE, ACT AND CELEBRATE, a method that somewhat reflects the indigenous perspective, that goes to the source, to rethink how we are today, and to lead to an inspired, dreamed and desired future. Moreover we are regaining the celebratory dimension that is very strong in indigenous spirituality, but there's no celebration as long as there's no reason to, which is why it's important to look inward, to measure the extent to which one has passed through the Qapac Ñan, the path of wisdom that enables Sumaj Kausay, Suma Qamaña .

I. The emergence of indigenous peoples

"We realize that we are a massive force and we are increasingly more aware, and the awakening of the sleeping giant is inevitable after being under centuries of oppression and humiliation."

Political Declaration. VIII ampliado de la CSUTCB (1). Sucre, February 27, 1986

It seems appropriate to use the metaphor of the giant to express the significant presence of indigenous peoples. It's not a recent awakening, but it's the experience of people who didn't cave in in their daily fight for survival, silent and anonymous struggles that kept alive the hope and strength of many generations who passed on to us the dream of a land without evil.

In these times, we can not deny that we are witnessing the emergence of many indigenous peoples who have been marginalized and exploited for centuries, and today their voices and presence are felt strongly because they are demanding their collective rights, the right to be themselves, to preserve the polyphony of their languages and cultures, to care for and defend their lands and territories, to preserve their self-determination, to fight for quality education, to look out for the recognition of their own spirituality and religious practices. And, as Xavier Albó asks, "should their awakening be a cause for panic or hope?" (2)

However, the awakening of the indigenous peoples doesn't happen the same way, so it is important to remember what is stated in the introduction of the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples: "situation of indigenous peoples varies from region to region and from country to country and that the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical and cultural backgrounds should be taken into consideration."(3)

Therefore, one shouldn't limit oneself to looking at the large indigenous populations, but at the significant presence of indigenous communities throughout the world who are demanding their rights within society and are demanding a theological reflection within the faiths that takes their spirituality into account.

In turn, we can not ignore the resistance of many indigenous peoples in recent times against the threat posed by transnational companies, hydroelectric projects, the mining, agro-forestry, oil and other companies supported by the nation states on behalf of an alleged "development" for a few at the expense of the life of indigenous communities.

And another reality that can not be overlooked is migration and the search for a decent life, since the presence of indigenous people bearing their cultures has burst into various urban areas. While enriching these spaces, they run the risk of experiencing being uprooted from their native lands and the loss of ancestral values.

II. The challenge of the Church in the face of the indigenous presence

The process of opening and change for the Catholic world was undoubtedly the Second Vatican Council (1965) which proposed opening the windows of the Church to let in fresh air that would revitalize the life of the faithful and that encouraged the re-creation of church life of the Western world, in the Asian, African and Latin American worlds.

Moreover, liberation theology put the poor as a subject of theology on the screen of theological tasks. In this theological process, we indigenous men and women were classified as poor, so that our cultural and spiritual situation wasn't considered. However, the identification process as historical subjects became evident as the indigenous analyzed their social and pastoral situation after a process of reflection within the various churches, concluding that their cultural oppression was crying out for liberation.

Although an effort was made, because of recognizing the cultural differences of indigenous peoples, a much greater challenge has emerged -- moving from an acknowledgment of multiculturalism that tolerates and harmonizes differences to an intercultural dialogue that enriches our life together, without there being a dominant culture but a symmetrical relationship in which there is an appreciation of and sensitivity to indigenous spirituality, which was long regarded as popular religiosity, syncretism, or in some cases "idolatry." But because of what our peoples are experiencing, we dare to suggest that it isn't religious syncretism in the Andes, but a shared religion. Many of the indigenous could not reject the prevailing religious values that were critical to the structure of colonial society that excluded them more and more, so they accepted the official religion, but their hearts were still firmly attached to their spirituality, and they lived it out in secret. And over time some Christian practices acquired their space and importance, just as indigenous spirituality has its times and its spaces.

III. Weaving indigenous spirituality with broken and burnt threads

So far we have seen that indigenous theology made a process, which is evident in the diverse experiences in various regions of Abya Yala , strengthened in some regions by the emergence of indigenous movements that have taken stands and questioned the political, economic and religious system. But there are many outstanding tasks to take on and challenges to face.

The Tasks of Indigenous Theology:

- Moving beyond a valuation of what is indigenous that is linked to the rural area, because migratory movements from country to city, a very frequent situation, are causing the need to approach the indigenous spirituality that is being re-created in urban areas, where we find second and third generation migrants looking to value our Andean identity and seeking to experience a reconciliation process with our identity.

- A big task we, the new generations of indigenous theologians, have is, as the Mayan wise woman Ernestina López says, is "rescuing the ancient broken and burnt threads and creatively weaving our indigenous spirituality"(4), in dialogue with Christian spirituality.

- In the process of reflection about Indigenous Theology, one task which we are invited to take on is to dive into the depths of our own wells, to drink the wisdom of our ancestors as expressed in the myths and legends, the still told stories, the songs that are still being sung, folklore, dance expressions, proverbs, taboos, laments, ethical codes, symbols, allegories, metaphors, imagery, maps, and codes that reflect a new vision of life.

- Delving further into indigenous world views and spiritualities, perhaps by borrowing the tools of the Phenomenology of Religion, to be able to sketch out indigenous theology.

The Challenges of Indigenous Theology

- From the perspective of Indigenous Theology, we are challenged to confront the modern individualistic world view that, from a patriarchal, androcentric and anthropocentric way of thinking that is often grounded in the theological discourses of a logic of dominance, has separated human beings from nature and legitimated colonization and the repression of indigenous peoples. Therefore the challenge is for us, from the perspective of indigenous spirituality, to share our world views that perceive the reality of life in an inter-connected and inter-related way. This gives a holistic view that is pluralistic, centered on the life and earth, and that leads to a commitment to the deconstruction of theological constructs that seek to present themselves as the only way to think theologically.

- Recognizing that ancient spirituality challenges us, starting from different cosmocentric world views and wisdom, to rebuild a theology that overcomes dualism -- spirit/matter, black/white, inside/outside, heaven/earth -- through the strong sense of the inter-relationship with the land and the lives of other beings, which gives a holistic view, focusing on life and on the earth.

- Taking on the challenge of rethinking inter-religious dialogue with the spirituality of indigenous peoples in Latin America.

- Initiating a process of mutual understanding and interaction between the indigenous spirituality and wisdom of various areas of our region, which has long acquired an Andean hue and excludes the Amazonian, with the support of indigenous leaders, indigenous theologians and wise men and women.

- Discuss the common characteristics of the different expressions of indigenous spirituality.

- Explore a theological reflection that goes beyond a streamlined theological discourse and creatively interprets indigenous wisdom and spirituality.

IV. We welcome the emergence of indigenous men and women as subjects and not objects

- Celebrate that despite various official pressures from the Church, the encounter between the brothers and sisters of southern Peru and the Aymara and Quechua area of Bolivia is growing stronger, and thanks to that resistance, the XXI Andean Theological and Pastoral Encounter was held this week, meeting in Puno, thinking about the images of God in the Andean context.

- We celebrate the tasty fruits of spirituality that are being gestated by our indigenous brothers and sisters who travel through the various areas of Mother Earth guided by the dream of a decent little house, good food for their families, training of their children, and the many other dreams that fuel their journey.

- We celebrate that on our journey, we found that the ancestral tree had been cut and the branches damaged, but the roots could not be eliminated, which is why the peoples and their plans to revitalize their identity and become alternatives to a globalized world are re-emerging.

- We celebrate the memory of our ancestors who are with us, because we are conscious of drinking constantly from the depths of our own wells the wisdom to teach the new generations, which are now the present and needing to feed on the flavorful fruits of our ancient cultures to weave their dreams and projects of hope.

- We celebrate the hope against hope, of our indigenous peoples who enable the Qapac Ñan to take the path towards the experience of Sumaj Kausay, the Suma Qamaña, in the inter-relationship with our great common home, Earth conceived as Pachamama, Mother Earth who seeks to be nurtured and re-created.

- We celebrate the presence of a God of Life who crosses all religious barriers and can be named individually in different languages.


(1) Acronym for the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia.

(2) Xavier Albó. El gigante despierta. Cuarto Intermedio 77 (2005), 25 – 26.

(3) United Nations. UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 2008, p.1

(4) Encuentro de Teólogas Indígenas de Abya Yala. Berlín – El Salvador. November 29, 2009

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