Friday, July 29, 2011
This is my body: what elements are essential in indigenous aboriginal communion?
I am on a research quest:
What are the elements used in indigenous aboriginal (Australian) communion? Is it bread made from wheat based flour? Or does it involve any indigenous food products? And what was the theology – specifically the initial theology – that shapes the elements?
When I asked the ACD librarian, she looked suitably intrigued and impressed. And then said she needed some time to think, and suggested I come back on Tuesday.
Why my question? Well, I am working on a paper for a conference in early 2012, “Story Weaving: Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology”
A number of thinkers have suggested that the eucharist is a key resource for living both Christianly and humanly in a post-colonial world. These include William Cavanaugh in Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology). The argument is that the colonial notions of global and local, universal and particular, are fundamentally disrupted in the eucharist. A similar, but even more tightly focused argument has been offered by John McDowell, in his exploration of the Narrative of Institution in 1 Corinthians 11 (“Feastings in God at Midnight: Theology and the Globalised Present,” Pacifica 23 (October 1010)).
This argument, that the eucharist is a key resource for a post-colonial world, stands in striking contrast to an example by Susan Dworkin in The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest. She notes that when the Catholic church arrived (colonised) South America, they brought the belief that in Christianity, wheat flour rather than the (indigenous) corn flour could be used to bake communion wafers. In other words, in practice, the eucharist becomes complicit in processes of colonisation, rather than a key resource in resisting globalisation.
What is intriguing is that Dworkin’s next paragraph, however, provide an example of a way in which colonisation can be deconstructed. She describes how in order to provide such colonial bread, wheat needed to be imported. It was grown around local churches. It self-seeded. Through natural processes of selection, the wheat that survived developed genes more uniquely adapted to local environments.
In the late 20th century, scientists realised that such wheat might have enormous potential in safe guarding food production. They began to search through isolated churches in Mexico, seeking genetic material, plants that had adapted and evolved. In other words, what was originally imported wheat was now highly prized indigenous wheat.
This raises a fascinating set of questions, not only around ecclesiology, eucharist and the Narrative of Institution, but around the very elements. What should constitute the very body of Christ? How is it’s composition, complicit in, or resistant to, processes of colonisation?
Hence my research question in the library this morning. Here in Australia, what communion elements did indigenous Aboriginal cultures employ? And was the underlying theology a colonial imposition? And how does this disrupt, or endorse, the work of Cavanaugh and McDowell? And how might the resultant practices, even if unintentional, contribute toward something that might in fact be a unique emerging indigenous gift for a hungry world?
So, I’d be grateful if any readers, especially Australian readers, might suggest any research leads. Because indigenous Aboriginal culture is wide and varied. And because both I and my librarian suspect that the search will be less that straightforward, but mighty, mighty interesting.