Conversations on Faith and Culture: An Awakening!

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 2.03.59 PM
It was truly an amazing sight. People were raising their hands towards the heavens and standing proudly on their feet, some dancing in their place, while many others were singing in harmony.  It did not matter that it rained hard that day, that their feet were covered in mud, or that there was not enough space for everybody to sit in the house of worship. The warmth within their hearts and the symphony of instruments (a harmonious mix of electric, tribal and acoustic) filled the halls of the tenines of the Teduray. Young and old, men and women, they sang praise and thanks to Creator for their identity, their community, and the sacred connections between them, their Creator, their land and all of creation.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 2.02.49 PM

"This is a time of awakening!" Teduray tribal leader Timuay (Chief) Val Juan exclaimed as he shared how their vision of a unified community is beautifully unfolding before their very eyes. Timuay Val, who is also the head of a Christian organization called Tribes Redeemed Christian Ministries, Inc., described the long and arduous journey of his community in reclaiming their roots. There were many crossroads and challenges along the way. Yet, steadfast in the truth that they are Teduray, the people Creator made them to be, they remained faithful in the path of reclamation.

Timuay Val shared: “Our identity is sacred because God created us to be the people of the Teduray tribe. Our being a Teduray is not an accident but rather, it is part of God’s redemptive plan for us.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 2.00.42 PM
The Teduray is one of the major Indigenous peoples in the southernmost island of the Philippines called Mindanao. The name Teduray comes from the word tew meaning man and duray referring to a small bamboo with a hook and line fishing instrument. In another variation, they are often called “the people of the uplands” or those who are from the upper portion of rivers and streams. Today, they are a diaspora scattered in multiple provinces in southwestern Mindanao living in the cordilleras of Maguindanao and Cotabato.

Many of the present day Teduray are third-generation Christians who have lived in close proximity with Islamized Indigenous and non-Indigenous settlers. In some ways, throughout the years, much of the acculturation happening within the tribe has been one way. Timuay Val expressed this by saying, “Many of the youth can no longer communicate in our own language. People not from our tribe have shunned our beliefs and cultural practices. They say our cultural instruments are not of God’s but of the devil’s.” Despite much acculturation, however, some still practice their Indigenous ways of living.

He further shared, “But all these changed when I met other tribal peoples who also walk out their Christian faith in community. Every culture is created by God and is therefore sacred and unique. Culture is something innate in all tribal peoples and is something we must nurture and preserve because it is our connection to Creator.” To the tribal leader, this genuine dialogue with other Christianized Indigenous people from different parts of the world served as a source of inspiration for them as a tribe to redeem what was and recognize what is.

Many others in their community affirmed this call for restoration as seventy Teduray tribal leaders gathered in the wooden house of worship to listen to and tell stories of faith and culture. For three days, the Teduray people in Upi shared how as a tribe they have always kept a strong physical and spiritual connection with Creator, other peoples and all of creation, and how their way of life weaves these sacred connections together.

Norma, who participated in the conversations and is a fintailan or woman leader, shared that she had foreseen this awakening as a young woman. “I saw men and women of faith gathered together in a sacred land, raising their hands to the skies and praising Creator. I cannot express in words how great it is to see my vision slowly coming true!”

At the end of the third day, one by one, representatives from each village went to the front of the altar and offered a song. An unseen energy or spirit enveloped the people inside the tenines. They were one in message even as they sang in at least three different languages. The experience was a miracle - people from different faiths and churches all together in one purpose. For many, it was fresh yet memorable. It was strong yet gentle. It was rooted and yet it flowed.

One of the youth leaders who facilitated the small-group conversations revealed how these storytelling spaces changed his life. Mark, who has served the same church as that of Timuay Val’s, shared: “It was a personal breakthrough. I appreciated that the process was two-way. I was learning from the elders just as much as they were also learning from me. It is an amazing feeling to know that as a member of the tribe, there is still a lot to discover!”

It was a vision of unity. In many ways, the conversation was a kind of amalgamation of the old and the new. A collective awakening of their desire to reclaim that which gives them a foundation as a people, and the re-expression of this core together with the stories that are now emerging; the Jesus narrative that have become a central element in their communities.

*The tenines is a small wooden house where, traditionally, people would gather to hold rituals and communicate to Creator through the beliyan or Teduray religious leader.