Salvador and the Indigenous Peoples

By Poma, Eugenio | International Review of Mission, January-April 1997 | Go to article overview

Salvador and the Indigenous Peoples


Poma, Eugenio, International Review of Mission


The Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, convened in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil by the World Council of Churches (WCC) under the theme "Called to One Hope -- The Gospel in Diverse Cultures," was of great significance for the ecumenical movement, and similarly for the Indigenous peoples, whose representatives gathered in Salvador to share the outcomes of regional encounters on gospel and culture processes undertaken prior to the conference. It was unfortunate that the thirty-eight participants in the preconsultation did not stay, but the final statement was shared with all the participants.

Indigenous identity

Indigenous women, men, youth, ministers, lay persons and traditional priests, representing various cultural backgrounds at the conference, affirmed that their cultural and spiritual identity is deeply linked to the principle of balance between the creation, the cosmos and the community, in which the Mother Earth (Pachamama) is the generator and the sustainer of life. The preservation of this gift of the creator is the responsibility of all people, and was clearly exposed in the encontro, the Bible study sessions, the worship, as well as within the group discussions.

At the WCC's assembly in Canberra (1994), the Australian Aborigines manifested that the Indigenous peoples were no longer the recipients of the truth. On the other hand, at Salvador, Indigenous peoples demanded to be heard and challenged the churches to engage in an urgent process of dialogue with which they could identify themselves. This process has to have the full participation of Indigenous peoples in order to develop new expressions of Christian spirituality.

The new plant

With the good news announced by Jesus and transported to new cultures through Christian mission, the church gave birth to new forms of Christian expression, as a result of the interaction between the Indigenous peoples' projects of life (gospel) and the projects of life of the Christian gospel. The presence of Indigenous peoples at Salvador is a clear sign that Indigenous persons participate in the work of the church in general. The conference witnessed that they give their gifts as preachers, deacons, administrators, Sunday school teachers and heads of churches. New plants are growing from old seeds and they are claiming to be subjects in the new dialogue between cultures, spiritualities and theologies.

At Salvador, Indigenous peoples reaffirmed that their spiritualities should not continue to be clandestine, nor be only the recipients of a truth but that instead they want to be subjects and protagonists of their own histories.

Tradition and the old cloth

During the conference it was observed that there is still an effort to keep forms of doing mission that come from the colonial periods. They want to keep the same methods of teaching that support the dominant culture hegemony, assuming that this culture is the owner of the truth, tradition and authority to transmit the truth to other cultures and peoples. However, the results of the dialogue process between gospel and culture that took place before the conference challenge the churches to shake the old cloth woven by the church for Indigenous peoples. There is a sign of willingness to hear and initiate a meaningful dialogue on the part of the church. This attitude inspires hope that the process of dialogue will be based on mutual respect for the cultures and spiritual values of others. Indigenous peoples expressed at Salvador that they want the right to exercise and celebrate their rituals freely and in the manner with which they feel most comfortable.

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