Part II: Toward Postcolonial Liturgical Preaching: Drawing on the Pre-Columbian Caribbean Religion of the Taínos

Lis Originals 18

In the first half of this article, I introduced a proposal for a three movement Postcolonial Liturgical Preaching: (1) spaces of tension, (2) journeying imaginatively, and (3) experiences of connectedness. I illustrated with the Taíno ritual batey the first movement of the liturgy, spaces of tension. The function of this first movement is to expose imperial dynamics present in culture, society, and politics through the liturgical genres of lament and repentance. I turn now to the second movement of the liturgy, which I call journeying imaginatively.

Journeying Imaginatively

The second movement of the liturgy, journeying imaginatively, consists of proclamation of liberation through preaching. Since this postcolonial liturgy begins with tension and culminates in connectedness, how do worshipers move from one place to the other? Postcolonial liturgical preaching helps with this move. The sermon should bring together these two places, these two Taíno rituals, these two times. It is a companion in the journey from tension to connectedness. The two-fold role of the sermon is to fund the imagination of the worshipers granting them access to the extraordinary realm, and then to inspire their movement from one place to the other.

Jagessar and Burns tie proclamation to the postcolonial perspective of affirming the equal dignity of human beings. The role of preaching within their proposal, which affirms the dignity of human beings by not colonizing the listeners of the sermon, they borrow from Walter Brueggemann and it consists of ‘funding’ the imagination of a new world. They cite Brueggemann’s words from Texts under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination:

“It is not, in my judgment the work of the Church (or of the preacher) to construct a full alternative world, for that would be to act preemptively and imperialistically as all those old construals and impositions. Rather, the task is to fund–to provide the pieces, materials and resources out of which a new world can be imagined. Our responsibility, then, is not a grand scheme or a coherent system, but the voicing of a lot of little pieces out of which people can put life together in fresh configurations.”1

Feminist theologian Kwok Pui-lan also advocates for the imagination as an important tool in overcoming the impact of colonial systems. In her book Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, the author engages critically with postcolonial thought in order to create a “space to imagine that an alternative world and a different system of knowing are possible.”2 This perspective emphasizes the need for another reality. This reality is born of the imagination that has experienced colonial systems. It is an imagination that does not expand the circle to extend the privileges of the colonizers to the colonized; but rather it is imagination that proposes a completely different reality, a different way of being in the world, and of relating to each other.

In addition to imagination, the postcolonial liturgical preaching I propose requires movement from tension to connectedness. Here, the contributions of Pablo A. Jiménez in the field of homiletics are useful because he proposes a structure for postcolonial sermons that has motion: struggle >> empowerment >> celebration. This motion mirrors the movement of the liturgy I am proposing that uses the liturgical genres identified by Jassegar and Burns: lament and invitation to repentance >> proclamation >> celebration and praise.

The first movement of the sermon proposed by Jiménez is ‘struggle’ because its point of departure is the conflicted reality of the colonized. The preacher first needs to understand the reality or situation that needs to be transformed. This is the situation of Hispanic/Latin@s3 living in the United States (born in the U.S. or immigrants), a situation characterized by suffering. According to Jiménez, Hispanic/Latin@s are a complex set of subcultures. Though they are both united and divided by language, all of them have experienced the effects of racism, discrimination, and bigotry—the effects of colonialism. The oppressive practices of colonialism are based on the premise that the colonizer is inherently superior to the colonized. Jiménez states, “Colonialism locks both the colonizer and the colonized into a rigid hierarchy of difference.”4 Therefore, decolonization is not just for the benefit of the colonized but also to provide a better world for all human beings.

The second movement of the sermon is ‘empowerment,’ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jiménez suggests this is important because colonialism taught the colonized to be silent and stay in his or her place. These two notions are in conflict, and require Hispanic theology to address the imperial discourse that renders the colonized as subalterns who cannot speak. To respond to this challenge, Jiménez engages Gayatri Spivak’s question, “Can the subaltern speak?” He summarizes existing answers to this question and adopts the response that affirms that subaltern groups have always found ways to keep their voices through cultural practices and texts, even though the colonial powers disregarded or suppressed these voices. For Jiménez, the subaltern not only can speak but also can preach because of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The third movement of the sermon is ‘celebration.’ Jiménez explains that Hispanic worship is often long and loud because worshipers celebrate having that power of the Holy Spirit; they know that even if imperial powers kill the colonized, there is resurrection. In the difficult contexts in which Hispanic/Latin@s live, Hispanic worship still celebrates God’s mercy and presence among the community. The closing prayer does not end the celebration; the celebration continues as believers go off to their schools, homes, and places of work. Jiménez asserts that Hispanic preaching emphasizes God’s promises to the believers and God’s sustenance in response to our prayers. Through testimonies people share how God has responded to their prayers; they share their stories of survival, empowerment, and hope. This eschatological hope affirms that the status quo is not all there is. There is something else, something that the community must build using the prophetic imagination of prophets in the Old Testament and of current theologians, in addition to their own.

This three-fold movement of struggle-empowerment-celebration is found in Latin@ preaching, teaching, and worship. As Jiménez notes, “The person who arrives in utter despair is ushered into this movement, which seeks to help every person face his or her situation, receive the necessary tools to address it, and find joy in the process of struggling for life.”5 According to Jiménez, Hispanics are not the only ones who resonate with and preach in this manner; every person from a persecuted or marginalized group will appreciate this sermonic structure. Indeed, this common approach could help different oppressed groups to build bridges and work together.

The role of the sermon does not end in the worship service. The sermon provides pieces that fund the imagination of the worshipers and inspire them to act. Imagination and inspiration go with them as they face daily cycles of struggle, empowerment, and celebration. The sermon reminds them that they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to imagine and generate different kinds of relationships. The sermon reminds them that they have the power to generate hybridity that leads to connectedness.

Experiences of Connectedness

The third and culminating movement of the liturgy, experiences of connectedness, I illustrate with the areyto, a Taíno ceremony of unity and social continuity characterized by synchronized music, song, and dance. Symbolically, it was held in the central square of the village. The songs served as history books for the Taínos, in that they narrated the genealogies of their caciques and their mythologies.6 Fray Ramón Pané describes the areyto in these terms:

“In fact, just as the Moors, they have their laws gathered in ancient songs, by which they govern themselves, as do the Moors by their scripture. And when they wish to sing their songs, they play a certain instrument that is called mayohabao.7 … To its sound they sing their songs, which they learn by heart, and the principal men play it; they learn to play it as children and to sing with it, according to their custom.”8 Through storytelling, the areyto functioned to foster unity and to celebrate the history of the Taínos.

The areyto required synchronization to physically demonstrate unity. The reward of the unity and harmony of the community in the areyto was to transcend the ordinary and experience the extraordinary, sometimes under the influence of mind-altering substances.9 The Taínos believed that only under an extraordinary mindset would a person be able to experience and communicate with the extraordinary world. As previously discussed, I propose imagination as the igniter of the extraordinary mindset needed to transcend the ordinary. Transcendence then was experienced via an altered mindset and unity was expressed bodily.

The areyto was also a space where different realms converged. Oliver analyzed the structure and dynamics of the symbolic and ceremonial space of Caguana and found that the iconography of the central square followed a cyclic and timeless logic. One half of the central square represents the primal cosmos and the other half the ordinary cosmos. The iconography expresses the Taíno cosmos as one “that is simultaneously constituted by the sacred and the profane, by the visible and the invisible, the primal and remote, and the terrestrial and near.”10 Hence, the central square serves as a place where the two realms converge and multiple complementary dualities are manifested as one. This should not be surprising, since topologically the central square marked the primordial cosmic axis or vertex – axis mundi – through which the numinous forces of the ancestors invoked by the areytos were channeled and projected onto the ordinary world.11

The central square was also a space in which different categories of time converged. According to Oliver, the central square was oriented astronomically towards the solstices and equinoxes of the sun, and towards the exit of main constellations. This probably served the function of marking the calendar times. That is how the Taínos measured ecological time, a cyclical non-linear time, and the cycle of eternal return.12 Bordering the central square were the cemíes, the sacred images that connected the mythical and the historical times.13 Their position represented mediation between the ordinary space and the extraordinary space, but also mediation between the space below the ground and the space above the ground, thus making both horizontal and vertical connections. Therefore, this ceremonial space served as the point of connection between opposite and complementary times and spaces.

From a postcolonial perspective the coming together of the opposing forces cannot be unified into a whole that merges the different parts making them lose their particularities. Rather, postcolonial theory would identify this space in which opposing forces meet as a hybrid space. Hybridity denotes mutuality and interdependence instead of integration into sameness. It is an in-between-space that allows the coincidence of opposites and difference without assimilation into a “monolithic cultural whole.”14 The exchange between groups in tension when they come together into the hybrid space is not a one-way process in which colonizer subsumes the colonized. The mutuality in the process allows “a means of evading the replication of the binary categories of the past.”15 The notion of hybridity in postcolonial theory leads to the reframing of the coincidence of opposites of the Taíno worldview.

Besides providing a mechanism for opposing forces to coincide, the areyto was a presumptive celebration of the realization of the will of the cemíes.  The ceremonial practices of the Taínos reflected their understanding, specifically that batey and areyto complement each other; and they structured the ritual movement from competition to unity, and from discernment to celebration. The pair batey-areyto required physical movement from periphery to center via the discovery of the divine will for liberation. The movement culminated by celebrating the already-acquired and yet-to-be liberation.

That the Taínos used the periphery for discernment and then moved to the center for celebration is illustrated in what is known as the ‘case of Sotomayor.’16 In this case, a Cacique wanted to kill the colonizer Cristóbal de Sotomayor as a solution to the negative effects of the Spanish colonization. In order to make the decision, he consulted the cemíes through a batey. The outcome of the game would decide the fate of Sotomayor as well as the fate of the Taínos.

The result of the game was as follows: “It is presumed that victory by one of the baseball teams gave the prerogative of carrying out the act of war and execute Sotomayor, whom the indigenous people perceived not only as an enemy but as representative of harmful forces and unbalancing of the cosmos: the Spanish conquerors.”17 The Taínos understood as divine will the idea of killing Sotomayor. Their understanding of the cemíes’ support for the task led them to celebrate as if Sotomayor were already dead. Therefore, they moved to the central square and celebrated an areyto, telling of the death of Sotomayor as if it had happened, even though they were planning to execute the plan the next day.18 In such a way an imagined past joined the stories of their past as they celebrated a future event in the present moment allowing past, present, and future to converge. The powers of the Cacique-Cemí ritually accessed the power of the extraordinary realm and in turn the community celebrated this with extreme confidence, as if that liberation were already a reality.

This presumptive celebration echoes the eschatological hope of Latina Evangélica theology. From this perspective, eschatology is about the fulfillment of God’s vision. The fulfillment of God’s vision is not about another place – going to heaven after death or the Second Coming of the Lord. Instead it is about the advent of a new and just order.19 The principal elements of the areyto of song and dance, that are still present in Latina Evangélica’s spirituality and modes of worship, show an intimate joining in a dance of salvation, where salvation is “the coming together of God, humanity, and creation,” not an individualistic decision or an event at the end of times.20 Spatiality takes precedence over temporality in the belief that “God is present in sacred spaces, which continue to be holy throughout time. These spaces are the intersection of divine space and kairos with creation. They are border crossings, eschatos moments, and places in the midst of us.”21 These eschatological moments of convergence of human and Divine may happen at any time and any place. They do not happen exclusively in formal worship. They may happen in the kitchen, in the ladies restroom, or in the Laundromat, as we learn from Latina Evangélica theology. The final movement of this prophetic postcolonial liturgy is then the celebration of coincidencia oppositorum, the coincidence of the divine and the human in the present moment and in a timeless eternal moment, not something to wait for, but rather something to be experienced already now during worship as the Taínos did during the areytos and also in other moments in life.

Like the Taíno areyto and the eschatological hope of Latina Evangélicas theology, celebration is the third postcolonial perspective that Jagessar and Burns address. They tie it to the liturgical genre of praise. In particular, the postcolonial perspective on which they focus celebrates subaltern wisdom, creativity, and resistance to dominant norms.22 Celebration of a new order and of the convergence of forces in tension embodies unity in these experiences of connectedness in worship, the unity of the body of Christ. This unity is characterized by hybridity instead of uniformity and comes as a result of reconciliation between colonized and colonizer. This reconciliation generates an experience of connectedness and results in wholeness that arises out of shedding the affliction of colonization and imperialism. The celebration of reconciliation and wholeness is also a celebration of particularity and multiplicity in the experience of connectedness.

Connectedness in this proposal is the effect of the convergence of forces in tension overcoming the spaces that separated them. It builds on the unity sought by the areyto filtered through a postcolonial lens resulting in hybridity. It is the coming together of forces in tension generating hybrid experiences in any chronological time and physical space. In these hybrid experiences there is “continual and mutual development of independent” particularities.23 As a hybrid experience, connectedness is characterized by mutuality and interdependence.

This culminating movement of the liturgy embodies celebration and praise to demonstrate connectedness. The dynamic of this part of the worship service should be synchronization and conjunction in opposition to the confrontation and disjunction experienced during the first movement of the liturgy. During this part of the liturgy, celebration and praise could take the shape of the celebration of the Eucharist, prayers at unison, affirmations of faith, testimonies, and praise songs, for example.

Conclusion

Drawing on the tradition of the Taíno religion and building on the work of postcolonial theologians, I have developed a postcolonial liturgy in three movements: (1) spaces of tension, consisting of lament and repentance; (2) journeying imaginatively, consisting of proclamation; and (3) experiences of connectedness, consisting of celebration and praise. This liturgical dynamic moves the community from tension to connectedness in order to alleviate the segregation of the colonized and the colonizers.

The liturgy proposed here begins at spaces of tension by naming and engaging the conflict that characterizes colonization and ends in experiences of connectedness by celebrating the convergence of all peoples in Jesus Christ. To move us from the one place to the other, preaching plays a particular role; it funds the imagination of the community and facilitates the journey. These liturgical movements will look different in a Euro-American congregation than in a congregation of immigrants or descendants of colonized social groups, or even than in an intercultural congregation. The hope is for this kind of postcolonial liturgical preaching to provide a mechanism for interaction and coordination between colonized and colonizers, culminating in the imagining and celebration of a new order characterized by connectedness. Perhaps one day Sunday morning will be the time of greatest unity in Christian America. Perhaps one day we will be able to embody in worship that in Christ we are one.

 

(The first half of this article was published in the past issue, vol. 3 no. 1)

 

Lis Valle, PhD Candidate

Vanderbilt University

Note: The article originally appears on Homiletic.

 


  1. Michael N. Jagessar and Stephen Burns, “Fragments of a Postcolonial Perspective on Christian Worship,” Worship 80, no. 5 (September 1, 2006): 430. 
  2. Pui-lan Kwok, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 3. 
  3. Latin@s is a shorter way to express Latinos and Latinas. 
  4. Pablo A. Jiménez, Preaching God’s Fiesta: Toward a Postcolonial Homiletic (McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, 2014), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6WmVu357_s&feature=youtube_gdata_player. 17:34-17:46. 
  5. Ibid., 40:20–40:43. 
  6. José R. Oliver, El centro ceremonial de Caguana, Puerto Rico: simbolismo iconográfico, cosmovisión y el poderío caciquil taíno de Boriquén, (Oxford [England]: Archaeopress, 1998), 94–100. 
  7. This was a particular kind of drum. For a detailed description, see Sebastián Robiou Lamarche, Mitología y religión de los taínos, (San Juan, PR: Editorial Punto Y Coma, 2006), 84. 
  8. Ramón Pané, An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians: Chronicles of the New World Encounter, A new ed. / with an introductory study, notes, and appendixes by José Juan Arrom; translated by Susan C. Griswold (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 20. 
  9. Oliver, El Centro Ceremonial de Caguana, Puerto Rico, 96. 
  10. Ibid., 193; my translation. 
  11. Ibid., 99. 
  12. Robiou Lamarche, Mitología Y Religión de Los Taínos, 46–47. 
  13. Ibid., 76. 
  14. R. S. (Rasiah S.) Sugirtharajah, The Bible and the Third World Precolonial, Colonial, and Postcolonial Encounters (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 249. 
  15. Bill Ashcroft and Gareth Griffiths, The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (London; New York: Routledge, 1995), 183. 
  16. Oliver, El Centro Ceremonial de Caguana, Puerto Rico, 116–118. 
  17. Ibid., 116; my translation. 
  18. Ibid., 117. 
  19. Loida I. Martell-Otero, Zaida Maldonado-Pérez, and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2013), 117. 
  20. Ibid., 113. 
  21. Ibid., 118. 
  22.  Michael N. Jagessar and Stephen Burns, Christian Worship: Postcolonial Perspectives, (Sheffield: Equinox, 2011), 11. 
  23. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, (London: Routledge, 1995), 184. 


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