Maljavar: An Indigenous roundtable seminar on the Gospel vs cultures

by Jason Woo

In recent years, churches have always enthusiastically discussed topics such as “gospel vs culture” and “faith vs politics.” In order to create opportunities for a cross-generational dialogue, Heizang Church of Payuan Presbytery held the first roundtable seminar, entitled “Maljavar (Listen and Speak): An Indigenous Round Table Seminar on the Gospel vs Cultures” on 6 February.

Many renowned Indigenous scholars and pastors were invited to deliver their thoughts in the seminar, including Valagas Gadeljeman, Director of Indigenous Students Resource Center of I-Shou University; Rev. Masegeseg Zengrur Gadu, Professor Emeritus of NDHU College of Indigenous Studies; and Rev. Ljegean Tudalimaw, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan Payuan Presbytery.

Gadeljeman reflected on how church believers and tribal people view current Paiwan marriage culture. He pointed out that, due to diverse factors, like cognitive differences of traditional power hierarchies, insufficient knowledge of family genealogy and its subsequent relationships, and religious intervention of church perspectives have made people cast doubts about traditional Indigenous wedding rituals which form the irreplaceable aesthetics of Indigenous culture. He encouraged new generations of the Indigenous to leave their slumber and have more understanding about their own identity, family, and culture.

Gadu explained cultural significance in Indigenous daily lives, for example: wearing a bitter-apple-wreath, setting up a swing, lifting a sedan chair, as well as including the surname when writing a person’s name, as all these things can be used to trace and learn kinship relationships among traditional cultural fields, and help clarify the interactions between social class and power. He also introduced the Payuan’s cosmology, emphasizing that all things related to power hierarchies should be based on the ideal of “love.”

Posing the question: “Can Christians participate in the Indigenous traditional rituals?” Gadu suggested a return to the narrative of Indigenous culture to understand specific actions or cultural behaviours.

“What we need to appreciate is that many values or ideas that need to be restored from the Indigenous cultures were actually written in the Bible,” he reminded, “especially as we had to respect God as a ubiquitous ‘creator,’ because only a humble student of Indigenous culture could recognize the order and sequence of His extraordinarily divine creations.”

Tudalimaw discussed how to view preachers’ political statements. She shared her experiences of being exposed to Taiwan history, women’s theology, and the awakening movement of Indigenous rights when she was a young seminary student. All these challenging issues inspired her to explore her Indigenous ethnic identity.

After her graduation from the seminary, Tudalimaw became a pastor in an Indigenous church and maintained her strong and diverse political affiliations.

She explicitly stated that faith must be practiced in life, and the believers should be called to care about issues closely related to them. Regardless of their political ideologies and leanings, they should at least have a clear thought and stance, so that they would not be slaughtered like a lamb for the lack of one.

Finally, Tudalimaw expressed her hope that the new generation of the Indigenous can work together to build a church that is inclusive and filled with faith, hope, and love.

This is an abridged report. Click here to read the full content.

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