Here we would like to discuss on the topic, “Tribal Understanding of God – World relationship, creation and land- healing of the earth”. Before Christianity came to tribal people, they already have many good social characters, which in a way become a blessing for each community.
It is obvious that good moral characters and care for nature; were already implanted among the tribal people; which in many ways Christian should not condone for their ethical life.
Every tribal activities whether it be religious purpose or superstitious beliefs or social activities. They are always connected because religious purpose can also become the guidance for social activities and purpose.
Here we attempt to highlight their understanding of God, world relationship, concept of land and creation.
Understanding of God in the Indian Christian context
In India, there has been an attempt to state the Christian faith in Indian terms and thought form. Under the spell of growing nationalism and liberal theological thought; conscious efforts have been made to develop a relavant theology for modern India. Indian Christian theology have made an attempt to define the nature of God by using Hindu categories.
However, their approach to the problem of nature of God is Divided along line of various Hindu Philosophical traditions; notably Advaita and Visishtadvaita.
Theologians belonging to the advaitictradition propose the concept of Brahmans to describe the nature of God. At the same time the other theologians belonging to the theistic tradition; or Visishtadvaita propose the concept of Isvara to explain the being of God.
Tribal understanding of God
Tribal people have often been described as animists and looked upon as having no religion of their own. From ancient times, in the Indian tradition there is an intimate connection between man, God (gods) and nature. When man prayed to God for peace; he did not pray for peace for himself alone. But for all – for the earth, the waters, the plants, the herbs and for peace everywhere.
In order to understand the tribal concept of God; human and their worldview. It is necessary to look first the tribal religion. K. Thanzauva said that the tribal religion in general has been described as animism; but animism does not sufficiently explain the belief system of the tribal people.
Tribals have holistic faith in their religion within which they have holistic view of realities.
Tribal Religions (understanding of God)
Their religious life does not make distinctions between sacred and secular; spiritual and physical; heavenly and earthly; all these together constitute wholeness of life. In this sense, for the tribal people’s religion would simply mean living in the spontaneous awareness of; an encounter with, acknowledgement of; and obedience to the active reality of the presence of God.
Tribal religion doesn’t have any written scripture like different religions. But they have myths and legends; folktales and stories in which the whole of their religious ethos are embodied.
In tribal traditional religious belief; there was an implicit idea of a supreme being; which anthropologists generally called high God. Who is Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Most tribals have a masculine name for Supreme God. But there are some tribes who have both; the masculine and feminine names for God.
Most of the tribals in India believed naturally in the existence of a supreme being; a God of all humanity and goodness. That supreme God was known by different names to different tribes – Ukpenuaffu (Angami); Lijaba (Ao); U Blei (Khasi); TartaraRobunga (Garo); Pathian (Mizo, Kuki, Chin); Dharmes (Oraon), Singbonga (Mundas) and Thakur Jiu (Santals) an so on.
Some tribes identify the Supreme Being with natural objects such as the sun, the moon, and the earth. God is perceived by many tribal communities as a person who is concerned with the welfare of every family. Offerings are also given to God in thanksgiving for blessings in the family and for great harvest. The hope the people have in God for protection and deliverance from evil spirit.
World relationship (Understanding of God)
It is quite clear from the preceding discussion; that the tribal concept of God- Human- World relationship is neither derived neither from stick ideas of transcendence nor immense; nor monotheism nor Polytheism. None of these categories reflects adequately the tribal understanding of God –Human-World relationship.
The tribal understanding of God and knowing the relationship between God-Human-World; is seems to be most appropriate with the understanding of Tribal community model. The tribal people believe that God is everywhere and everywhere is God. According to Tribal understanding of God is understanding of relationship between Human and World.
God is never perceived as wholly other. But as the one who become human and participates in the life of the world. Hesselgrave rightly notes that tribal world view transcends the sacred secular dichotomy peculiar to western thinking; and brings together in a single system nature and super nature, space and time; this world and the other world.
Thus unity is not that of monism or pantheism. However, it is rather a unity of continuance in which boundaries between deities, spirit, animals, humans; and natural phenomena are more or less obscure and shifting. If we are going to explain this complex relationship with help of model; it is a community model of God – Human –World Relationship; which would certainly provide the best explanation.
Following are three different models which can help us to understand the community model of God Human World relationship.
Monarchical or Transcendental Model:
This model as mentioned above; maintains a sharp distinction between God and all other creatures.
The Tribal understanding of God concept is developed from the monotheistic concept of God; where a person believe in Supreme Being. Supreme Being, who seeks a total and unqualified response from his human creatures.
Organic or Immanently Model:
The most best way to explain the nature of “God- Human world relationship” is Organic or Immanently Model; where emphasises the inter-connectedness of all else and uses the self body analogy.
The relationship of the body and self is transposed to relationship of God as the self of the universe which is his body. From this perspective an organic model seems to be the most appropriate; to express both the immanence of God in the entire creation as well as God’s transcendence of it.
An organic model means that human and other living creatures live together; within the body. They are part of each other and can in no way exist separately.
This model affirms the common origin and inter-connectedness of all creation. But maintains unlike the organic model. The distinctive identities of all creation; in the created order the position of human acknowledgment is unique; and that uniqueness is certainly not in ontologically discontinuity. But by degree of development in the evolutionary process in which human become more capable, rational free and powerful.
Creation and land
The land occupies a very central place in the tribal worldview. The tribal people perceived the land as sacred and co-creator with God. The land is the only one who gives an owns identity to them.
It is also a temple in and through which people becomes one not only with the Supreme Being. But also with their ancestors, the spirits and creation.
Land as ‘temple’
In the tribal worldview there is no dichotomization of sacred and secular. But they have a holistic worldview centered on the land. They don’t have any particular appointed place or visible structure as temple or church for worship.
But the whole earth is sacred and holy. Therefore, the whole earth is a temple to worship God. Unlike any other religion, there is no saving figure in the tribal religious belief to be worshipped. They rather acknowledged the Supreme Being; and their concept of the Supreme Being is viewed in close association with the land.
Together with the soil they worship the Supreme Being. This can be proved by the observance of various festivals such as, festival of purification of forest; festival of the purification of the soil, festival of the dedication of seeds, festival of the earth’s day; festival of thanksgiving etc.
Land as ‘mother’
There are tribal myths that tell the origin of different tribal communities from the earth. So, for them the earth is their mother. As a mother sustains her child. So, the land is sustaining the human beings. This is the concept of the tribal’s.
Many Naga tribes, the Mizo’s and the Garos believed that their fore parents emerged from the stone. Some even have the myths relating their origin from the big hole of the earth or from the bowel of the earth. The land is our mother, we never leave her, where will we go? What will we eat? This earth, who is mother she provides us with crops and food. We won’t give her up so easily.
Land as ‘spouse of the Supreme Being’
Some tribal communities believed land as the spouse of the Supreme Being. Aos and the Sangtams of the Naga tribes have this belief. They call the Supreme Being as Lijaba.Li meaning ‘land’ and jaba meaning ‘real’. It has also other version which understands Li as ‘soil’ and Jabaas ‘enter’. These portray the Supreme Being to have entered into the soil and rises again with crops.
The interpretation is that the whole creation is the manifestation of the Supreme Being; and the Supreme Being is the integral part of the land.
Healing of the Earth
Land and its natural resources belonged to the Community;The land belongs to every individual.The resources are for the benefit of the community and not for individual.
Communal land itself created each individual to possess a way of community and individual personality is subordinated to community identity. “A stranger, instead of telling own name, tells the name of village.” Hence, every individual encompasses a sense of place and gave priority to the community instead of to own personal wants. Therefore, the village sounded like an enormous family.
Therefore, the tribals of Northeast India are people of communitarian society. They have a great sense of belongingness to a community which basically becomes the formation of their own identity.
To the tribals, God-Human-World are all interrelated and cannot be separated ontologically but functionally. Human beings are a part and parcel of creation. Their existences are essentially in relation to other creation.
If it is necessary the understanding of God concept to the Tribal, then look first the tribal religions. The tribal religions are as animism; but animism does not sufficiently explain the belief system of the tribal people.