Tribal Theology

Tribal Theology

Tribal theology is one of the branches under Contextual Theology. The Blog post attempts to identify the vision and task of tribal theology, method, issues and perspective of tribal theologies.

Tribal Theology

Contextual Theology is also known as Situational Theology. It takes the context, conditions and situations of the lands, histories and cultures of the people in the society. This is the Church exists as resources for theological reflection and faith confession; therewith constructing a theology. That is able to shape a Christian identity relevant to its context.

The vision and task of Tribal Theology

The vision and tasks of Tribal theology is so vast; and further it is very difficult to have a clear definition from the other contextual theologies. For example, liberation theology, indigenous theology, contemporary theologies; which aim at the fight for justice for the marginalized people.

Tasks of these theologies are more or less similar with one another. So, because of its vastness and features; we may overlap the other theologies because of their similarities.

The main vision and task of tribal theology can be said broadly the liberation for the marginalized people in the world.

WatiLongchar emphatically explains that ‘the task of theology today is to locate the incarnation of Jesus; in the situation of conflict, barbaric atrocities, human rights violation, ethnic conflict, poverty, injustice, low self-esteem, inferiority complex; alienation from earth-centered life; and spirituality, local cultures and traditions of the people.’

The aim of Tribal Theology

In this sense tribal theology deals with vast the human nature; including whether Christians or not; eco-justice and for the good of the people in the world. It can be summarized that the aim of tribal theology is liberation. ‘It is a theology from ‘below’ and from the ‘underside of history’.

The aims of this theology is to liberate them from their inferiority complex; oppression and discrimination; by trying to discover the liberative motifs; within their cultures and religion; and by reinterpreting the Bible and Christian traditions from the attitude of people.

Hence, the tribal theology’s main focus and goal is liberation and transformation. It aims to revive their self-identity; and dignity by creatively partaking the Gospel; and culture in their struggle for social, economic, religious, cultural, political and ecological justice. Justice to creation to liberation and human dignity and fullness of life.’

Tribal woman

From this explanation it is very clear that tribal theology attempts to create the fullness of life; including the ecological issues; which reflects the reality of the people. In ecological issues, the tribal people mutually interconnected with the creation and it must be dealt with each other.

Method of Tribal Theology

The term ‘Tribal Theology’ was first used in a published work by Rev. Rosiamliana Tochhawng; in his book of ‘Towards Tribal Theology: The Mizo Perspectives’ published in 1989.

Tribal Theology is contextual by nature and it aims to liberation the Tribal people from their unfortunate condition; characterized by violence, ethnic crisis, division, underdevelopment, poverty alienation and the suffering of innocent masses.

It could be a system of rules reflection on the theological’s vision and aspiration. Therefore, the struggle of the people for more action.

In the search for Tribal theological methodology, various models of contextual theologies have examined; Thanzauva suggests a ‘Synthetic Praxis’ to be the method of Tribal theology.

In the light of this saying, WatiLongchar gives as ‘Method: not Theory but Liberative Praxis – In dominant theologies, the pattern of theologizing as in many other disciplines has been, first to enunciate a theory and so apply it.

The assumption in this procedure is that pure and true thought about reality can occur only; when it remove from act and practice; doing is an extension of knowing. However, in contextual theologies, liberation praxis is the method of doing theology.

 They create a distinction between theory and follow on the one hand, and implementation on the other. This can be praxis theology.

It involves rigorous theoretical reflection, but it insists that it should emerge from the practice that is oriented to transformation.

It reflects on the difficulty of ethnic, cultural and political identities of individuals from the subject of people, land and the sacred power to grant them hope.’

Synthetic-Praxis as Tribal Theological Method

It is the combination of two models of contextual theology namely Synthetic and Praxis model. The first is concerned with developing a relevant theology by way of synthesizing the Gospel and culture in a particular context. The latter is concerned with ‘right action’ (orthopraxy) for the transformation or liberation of the people.

Thus, the process of doing theology in this method involves rediscovery of liberative motifs in tribal culture and reinterpretation of the Bible and Christian traditions. In this process Thanzauva argues that rejection,, adoption and transformation, to be the basic components as follows.


Dehumanizing and oppressive elements in tribal culture as well as in Christian tradition must be rejected. For example, subordination of women in both of them, headhunting in tribal tradition, and individualism in Christian tradition must rejected.


Liberation elements in both traditions must adopted, affirmed, and articulated. For example, tribal altruism (Tlawmngaihnain Mizo, Sobalibain Ao-Naga) must be adopted.


Some elements neither totally reject nor accept. But they are transformed. For example, the practice of community singing and dancing in tribal tradition can be transformed.

Dancing of Tribal people

This Synthetic-Praxis model may not be totally relevant for all the tribals in India but it may meet the need of the general tribals in North-East India because of their similarities.

‘This method is without question a viable model that can applied in the construction of tribal theology for three reasons.

First, it takes seriously people’s cultures and their distinct socio-economic and political contexts.

Second, it allows for critical interaction between Christian conditions and the tribal people’s cultures and values, that results in a new form of Christian expression of faith and theology.

And, third, it requires reclaiming past cultural traditions and values.’

Issues and perspective of Tribal Theology

There are so many issues and perspectives involving in tribal theology. Due to its vastness in nature and wide concern in tribal theology, but we may deal only the major issues in tribal theology in a broad way. Some of them are Identity Crisis, Cultural Hegemony, Eco-theology, Gender Crisis.


Ecology is the main concern in tribal theology. Especially, the land mutually interconnected with the tribal people in the world. Due to modernization and development, the ecosystem has degraded and the most sufferers are again the tribal people. Eco-theology is the issue in tribal theology.

Cultural Hegemony

In the name of development, the tribal peoples are the marginalized in the society. So, cultural hegemony is one of the issues in tribal theology.

Heredia clearly defines this issue in this way. ‘Modernization and development have everywhere been a very real threat to the cultural identity and human dignity of indigenous people, even where in countries like ours there is anofficial policy of protection and promotion.

More than others tribal peoples are under threat from the dominant communities. They are assimilation of the bottom of the social stratas; as even now they are being displaced from their traditional lands; in the name of a “development” too alien for them to understand or accept because they are still so alienated from its benefits.’

Identity Crisis

Identity crisis is one of the major issues for the tribal theology. Due to the geographical isolation from the mainland the tribal people do not totally get their due rights. This creates the problems in the mind of the people.

Apart from this, due the nature of the low status in the society. The tribal people do not enjoy their rights. One of the main consequences to get the due rights is first and foremost violence.

The insurgencies being broke out to fight their due. For example, the Naxalite in central India and many more insurgency groups in North East India. ‘Identity and Dignity are crucial and sensitive issues; particularly for peoples at the margins of society; whether their marginalization premise on religion, race, ethnicity or caste.

Identity and Dignity both intimately connected. Identity answers to, ‘who I am?’ dignity to, ‘what respect am I do?’’ In any other region, the tribal peoples are the marginalized in the society due to their identity.

Gender Crisis

Subordination on the basis of gender challenge by the intellect persons. It can be said that this issue is the contemporary one in the tribal community. The women still oppressed, but the key players in society are women, and their importance is neglected.

In fact; they are not giving their due to society. One of the main tasks of tribal theology is to upgrade the individual, but without the up-gradation of women, there can be no total up gradation in the society; ‘When it comes to the issues of women and the ecology. It is also crucial to remember that the liberation of women and nature from the clutches of patriarchal domination; and control cannot envisage without the struggle for the transformation of the whole society.

It means that men also need to liberate themselves from the bondage of patriarchal stereotyping; and power struggle dictated by market forces. In this way, the praxis of liberation theologies, including Ecofeminist theology, becomes particularly significant.’


We have already come across that the vision and tasks and the issues and perspectives of tribal theology in brief. In this short paper it is impossible to include all those because as mentioned earlier its broad and vast issue. The main purpose of tribal theology is the up gradation of the marginalized people and to give their due.

It is still a challenge for the contemporary people particularly the theological students have the biggest responsibility in this regard.

We have come to know the real issues of the tribal people in our surroundings; how they marginalized; the victims in the name of development; and within the community itself the subordination of the fellow human being especially women in the society should become the real issue for the contemporary people.