REVIEW: Moving forward into the future requires an honest review and rethinking of the past 500 years

Book: Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging For The Indigenous Wellspring
Author: Karl M. Gaspar, CSsR
Published by t
he Claretian Communications, Inc. and the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples
Online book launch on March 10 at 3 p.m.
Register here: https://forms.gle/bPVUcEkN1mCiDUcj9

 

Depending on who you ask, this year is the Quincentennial of the Victory at Mactan, the Magellanic Circumnavigation, and the Christianization of the Philippines. Every big celebration in our country is a fiesta of grand parades, religious rituals, dances, songs, decorations, souvenir items, and mall-wide sales. The last thing we would ever think of is a book, much less an academic one. But pandemic struck, so the usual Filipino celebratory flare is replaced with a long list of online links to events and infographics. Now, this is when a book comes in handy.

Brother Karl Gaspar’s Handumanan: Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring could not have been more opportune. This book comprehensively revisits the history and legacy of Christianity carried on the wings of Iberian Imperialism to what eventually became the Philippines. At the heart of Brother Karl’s historico-anthropological and theological analysis is the marginalized Indigenous Peoples. Our Church and our country’s future rest in the authentic inculturation of Indigenous Peoples, their ways of life, and their worldviews. Brother Karl argues that this inculturation is the key to address colonial injustices deeply ingrained in our current social structure.

I deem Handumanan as an adroit synthesis and reflexive analysis which essentially calls us to an honest reflection on the “lights and shadows” of our nation’s Christian faith. Handumanan candidly elucidates the shortcomings of an evangelizing mission couched within Spanish colonial ideology and approaches. Handumanan highlights an often neglected legacy of colonial Christianization – the symbolic violence on indigenous belief systems that could have been a “wellspring” in the Gospels’ inculturation.

An Adroit Synthesis and Reflexive Analysis

Handumanan did not forward any novel historical fact or cutting-edge social scientific discovery. Much of the book’s information has been known for quite some time and found elsewhere. Nevertheless, the author provided an adroit synthesis of what we know and rooted it in a reflexive theological analysis; therein lies the strength and novelty of Handumanan. Not even halfway through the book, I was already bursting with reflective questions. How do we reconcile Gospel Truth with the ugly aspects of our Christianization? As a predominantly Christian nation, are we truly living out the message of the Gospel? Have we been worthy of our Christian identity? Are we not a scandal? What are we truly celebrating? After 500 years of our Christianization, critical reflection is what we need. Moving forward into the future requires an honest review and rethinking of the past 500 years.

An Honest Elucidation of Evangelization and Colonialism

Brother Karl candidly and humbly laid out the internal contradictions of colonial evangelization. There was no attempt to whitewash ecclesiastical history, exculpate the Church, and create a triumphalist hagiography of Spanish evangelization. Magellan’s mass baptism in Cebu already prefigured the inherent contradictions of appropriating the Christian Gospel in the Spanish colonial project. Due to the difficulty of reconciling the Gospel’s moral injunctions with the Spanish Crown’s political-economic objectives, the Roman Catholic Church’s missionary efforts left so much to be desired. On the one hand, there were those in the clergy like Bishop Domingo Salazar who deplored and sought to resolve colonial excesses. On the other hand, Spanish friars eventually became complicit in oppressing, disenfranchising, and racializing native inhabitants into Indio, Moro, and Remontado. The Spaniards regarded the Muslims or Moros and the un-Christianized or de-Christianized Remontados with much contempt.

Highlighting the Symbolic Violence on Indigenous Belief Systems

The Spanish contempt for the islands’ non-Christian inhabitants was not only overtly violent. The colonizer’s sense of their civilizational and religious superiority led them to commit symbolic violence. Rather than leverage on the spirituality of indigenous belief systems as starting points by which to introduce the light of Christ, the puritanical fundamentalism of the Spanish Church got the better of it and led churchmen to dismiss and reject them outright. It is sad to note that currently, there are voices in the Church that simplistically reduce indigenous beliefs to the diabolical. They seem to forget that Christianity spread all across Europe thanks to inculturation. Had it not been for inculturation, we would never have carved Celtic Crosses nor intersperse Beowulf with Christian themes. Unfortunately, in our country’s case, much was lost of the intangible heritage of our ancestors.

Conclusion

Our indigenous ancestors’ social milieu before the advent of Christianity was far from Edenic. Slavery, human sacrifices, and ritualized raiding were some of their unjust institutions. Yet the scale and breadth of Spanish and later American colonial abuses, professing their respective brands of Christianity, are scandalous enough to render the Gospel untrue. Despite our Christian faith’s colonial baggage, hope springs from our capacity to learn from the past and act upon such learning. Handumanan is, therefore, a most relevant and necessary scholarly contribution.

(John Harvery D. Gamas is chair of the International Studies Department of the Ateneo de Davao University. He finished his AB International Studies at the same university in 2009; his MA Theology, major in Human and Christic Peace Studies at the Ignatian Institute of Religious Education in 2012 and MA in International Studies at the De La Salle University in 2015.)

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