MOTIVATION AND RESEARCH DIRECTION Introduction It is no longer sensible for Africans to continue reading the Bible from the alien
perspectives.1 This is how Ukachukwu Manus begins his book.2 The reason behind this statement as he explains in his book is that, while for Africans the Bible is read as the Word of God which they must personally receive and encounter in their own cultural context, at the moment, Africans have no culture which they can claim to be purely African.3Similar voices that echo the fact that African culture is lost are legion.4 Such voices do not come from academicians only. Even the practical life that Christians have at the grass-root level shows that the gospel they encounter in churches does not help them holistically. Although it is held that the gospel, the good news to human kind, liberates the hearers from problems they encounter, social, political, economic, and religious unfairness are common phenomena in African societies today. Civil wars, HIV/AIDS, corruption, and poverty are issues that colour African societies today. 5 So, if Africans have the gospel and yet these problems abound, one must question why Africans fail to counter their enemies though they have the weapons. Indeed one comes to find that these problems encountered in African context cannot be fought using foreign perspectives. African theologians should apply methodologies that are culturally informed and relevant
Manus 2003, 1. The book is titled Intercultural Hermeneutics in Africa: Methods and Approaches. 3 Manus 2003, 7. 4 Here are, but, a few of them: Mahali 2006, 14; Marcio 1978, 5; Nyagawa 1999, 132; Padilla 1990, 626; Raum 1965, 200. 5 Njoroge 2001, 307.
2 to their context and yet faithful to the Christian faith6 in order to address the issues that inflict the African societies. Since the culture that Africans have today is so much influenced by western culture,7 before attempting to interpret the gospel into the African perspective, one has to reconstruct the ruined culture. The reconstruction process demands revisiting pre-colonial societies in order to see how African culture existed before the arrival of the Christianity and colonialism.
1.2 Problem Formulation The Bena are known by neighbouring tribes8 as a peaceful tribe, famed for love and embracing peace,9 and for living in accordance with ideals of peaceful coexistence with other tribes.10 This characteristic of the Bena as a peace loving tribe is witnessed even by foreigners who visited Ubena land before colonialism. 11 Such a characteristic was fostered by their philosophy, uvwunu. Uvwunu, as the Bena sages describe, is a foundation of success in all aspects of human existence. The philosophy is passed from generation to generation through stories, songs, and special training known as mavungo.12 According to this philosophy, a Bena is expected to live a certain way of life which portrays peace, harmony and unity with him / herself, neighbour, environment, and God. The oral tradition of the Bena reveals that the Bena of the past tried to live according to this philosophy13 and the result was the culture of peace which they enjoyed.6 7
Manus 2003, 2. Mahali 2006, 14. 8 The neighbouring tribes referred to here are Sangu, Ngoni, Hehe, Kinga, Pangwa and Wanji. 9 The use of the term Peace in this context does not mean the absence of disagreements, but rather the attitude of maintaining the harmony even when contradictions between individuals happen. 10 Nyagawa 1999, 51. 11 Thompson 1968, 246. 12 Ngunangwa 1986, 256 13 Interview with Aaron Mgovano 13.07.2007, Makambako; see also Thompson 1968, 246.
3 With the coming of the missionaries and the ultimate colonialism the situation in Ubena, as it was in many African societies, changed.14 The missionaries undermined an important education institution of the tribes.15 Marcio Wright records that some of the missionaries understood that conversion meant an instantaneous change in ones way of life.16 So, through the missionary work,17 the missionaries changed the African way of life. In the missionaries perspective, the proper way of living and the correct philosophy to guide people was the one which they brought. To demonstrate this they took the converts from their societies to other areas where they formed Christian villages.18 It is said that, these missionaries considered the African environments to be pagan environment,19 and their culture uncivilised.20 To rid the converts from pagan life was to separate them from where the non-converts lived. So the missionaries introduced Christian villages for the converts. Life in new the Christian villages was loaded with extra-cultural load of orderliness and industry as the index of Christianity.21This being the situation, we read that the social and cultural background of the missionary personnel defined and determined the direction of the mission work,22 because missionaries carried not only the gospel message, but also the values and perspectives typical of western society. 23 Even the message of the gospel was interpreted in the perspective of the missionaries cultural understanding. Marcio Wright adds that in the Southern Highlands, [where the Bena are14 15
Nyagawa 1990, 132. Raum 1965, 202. 16 Wright 1971, 17 The works that missionaries had are preaching the word of God and teaching secular subjects 18 Iliffe 1979, 231. 19 Raum 1965, 200. 20 Nyagawa 1999, 132. 21 Wright 1971, 5. 22 Wright 1971, viii. 23 Padilla 1990, 628.
4 living], the missionary work was so pervasive.24 The missionaries did not tolerate indigenous customs.25 They did away with the indigenous cultural values and implanted what they considered Christian culture,26 though in real sense it was loaded with western culture.27 The Africans who received the gospel were so obedient to what the missionaries preached, they indeed abandoned their customs no matter how good and helpful their cultural values were. The result of abandoning cultural values and customs, and clinging to the foreign culture that was sandwiched between the gospel is still being experienced today. The African Christians, when confronted by problems in their environment, fail to counter them. Among the Bena for example, prolonged conflicts and eruption of violent conflicts have become common phenomena in recent time.28 Since the majority of the Bena are Christians, those who are involved in these conflicts are Christians who hear the word of God in every Sunday. This depicts that the good news of the gospel has not fully been integrated into their daily life. The redemptive message of the gospel has not been linked to the real world of the believers. As a result it has become something superficial. Even when these Christians encounter problems, they cannot confidently address them. They have been taught to hate the culture which has nurtured them, so they cannot address the problems using any of the cultural methods. Similarly, they cannot fight these problems in their context using foreign perspectives. They need their own perspective to address these problems.
Wright 1971, viii. Wright 1971, 5. 26 Padilla 1990, 626. 27 Padilla 1990, 628. 28 Some of the conflict cases are narrated in Appendix II.
5 If nobody dares challenge the above described situation, then there will come a generation of Bena who will identify neither with Christian values nor with the Bena values. This generation will come to hate the Bible because its interpretation does not respond to the questions the Bena face in their daily life. Therefore, this situation motivated me to do research, and the following were the research questions: How did the Bena, in the pastime, manage their conflicts? Are the methods used in the past still applicable today? If those methods are helpful, can the Bena Christians use them? How did the Jerusalem Council resolve the conflict that happened in Antioch which was about culture as the gospel met different cultures? Can the Bena Christians get any support from this text to interpret the text in their own perspective?
Aim of the Study The research aims at showing how Bena Christians can contextually interpret
Acts 15:1-35, the text which narrates conflict management in the early church. In order to reach this aim, I will exegete Acts 15:1-35 for the purpose of interpreting the findings in the Bena perspective. I have chosen Acts 15:1-35 because the main issue there is about the gospel and culture and its relevance is of great use among the Bena today. Like other African societies29 their culture was wrongly interpreted, and so it needs to be newly reflected. 1.4 Literature Review Conflict is seen to be one of the most common phenomena in many societies. This is because, as Andrew Painto writes, conflicts existed, still exist and are yet to continue29
Parratt 1997, 1-8.
6 existing with human kind.30 This is to say conflict is a part of human beings living together. Being a common reality, many people have researched and have written about conflict management or conflict resolution suggesting ways that might restore the broken relationship because of conflicts. In the course of this research, I read books, journals, magazines, theses, and dissertations on conflict management in order to see what is already published. Thus, the paragraphs that follow give an account of the documents I read. Makerere University publishes a journal twice a year titled African Journal of Leadership and Conflict Management. In that journal, many scholars write their articles on conflict management. I used two articles which were seen to be relevant to this study. In her article, Cultural Tradition and Conflict Resolution, Pamela Abuya discusses the role of sages in conflict management. I chose this article because of its concern about the importance of culture in managing