Recovering and Redeeming Our Culture
By Mary Jones
India - Kalai Kaviri and Christu Dance Centre
India is another country with many different styles of both classical and folk dance and where dance has traditionally been a widely used and popular means of telling stories mostly associated with Hinduism. The Christian community, however, has mostly rejected the use of dance because of its association with Hinduism. In 1999 I was able to visit Kalai Kaviri, a Catholic college in Tiruchirapalli, Southern India, where hundreds of students have studied classical and folk styles of dance and where their dance troupe has used these styles to tell stories from the Bible, to teach the gospel and Christian values and to discuss social problems.
Kalai Kaviri was established in 1975 starting with an extensive radio broadcasting department, recording studio, film unit, cassette department and communications unit mostly to reach the rural areas. The Dance Troupe was formed in 1978 as part of the vision to bring the Gospel and human values to the people through the cultural art forms of India, showing that Christianity could be a part of India as Christians were often viewed as strangers in their own land. It started with two Hindu girls because Christian families and communities were very negative about dance because of its associations. By 1984 the Troupe had grown to be a professional group of eighteen performing in several classical and folk forms.
The twenty-five or so members of the Troupe today are mostly students studying for University Diplomas and Degrees. The first Degree students will graduate this year. TheTroupe is asked to travel extensively both in India and overseas. They are invited to Christian churches and celebrations, Hindu temples and community events. Because of their use of indigenous dance and music they are welcomed by different classes of society, Hindu as well as Christian. For Hindu occasions they will perform dances that show social problems and values together with a few that present bible stories and the gospel message. There are seventy-five full-time dance students and several hundred part-time. 60%of the full-time students are Christian and 35% are Hindu. About half of the students are from rural areas as one of the visions of the College is to train teachers from the lower stratas of society who do not have many opportunities for further education and to send them back as teachers.
Another exciting development, this time in the Protestant church, is a Christian dance school, Christu Dance Centre, in Chennai - the dance centre of Southern India. The Centre was started by Dr Anjala Richard as a development from a student group at the Madras Women's Christian College in 1985 where she was Vice-Principal. She was convinced that Bharata Natyam and the folk dances of India privided a rich source for presenting Christian themes and concepts. A number of dance dramas were presented on Biblical and Indian Christian personalities. (Nicholls 1991 p.89). In the previous generation of Dr Angela's family one of the women had presented her Arangetram in Bharata Natyam, the main classical dance of Southern India, in the traditional way with Hindu themes. Then her sister started composing music using Christian themes and three girls in the present generation have completed their Arangetram for the first time using Christian themes, the first one being Dayamani Sajini in 1990 (Nicholls p.90). The Centre puts on a presentation each year, usually at Christmas, but it is hard to get most students and their parents to set regular time aside for classes because dance is still not acceptable or valued in churches.
Ghana - Seth Newman
A strong advocate for the redemption and use of indigenous dance and music in Africa is Seth Newman, Co-ordinator of the Christian Dance Fellowship of Ghana. Seth holds degrees in dance from Ghana and California and is a lecturer in African dance at the University of Ghana. He has been pioneering in this area for many years and has slowly seen the resistence to dance which came from the teaching of the early missionaries breaking down. This has happened more easily in independant African churches and most of them use drums and free-style dance which includes steps found in traditional dance forms (Nicholls 1991 p.74). There are many different tribes in Ghana each with their own dances and Seth has found that when he takes a dance and puts it to Christian music it communicates powerfully, especially to people from that tribal group. With his troupe of young people Seth has found these dances to be a very effective form of outreach as well as a way to indigenise worship. If the tribal dance is one of praise to the tribal chief he will put it to a song about Christ as King. If it is a war dance it will suit a Christian song of spiritual warfare. The dances themselves rarely involve worship of the spirits - this will be mostly in ritual surrounding the dance.
Philippines - Kaloob
The Philippines is a country rich in the folk dances of many tribal peoples. Many of the dances and music were being neglected or lost and Christians tended to use Western music almost entirely because of the association of traditional culture with paganism . Ed Lapiz, founder and head pastor of Day by Day Christian Ministries established Kaloob (gift/revelation), a cultural praise and worship team committed to the research, study, preservation, reinterpretation and promotion of indigenous Filipino music and dance for Christian worship and outreach. In their theological basis for the ministry (Lapiz paper) they state the following four principles:
- Created arts, especially music and dance, come from God and must be used for God's glory. Deut.10:14 states "To the Lord your God belong the heavens..the earth and everything in it."
- Satan does not own anything. He is not a creator but only a thief and a destroyer". As Jesus said (John10:10) "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
- Creative arts, like most of creation were only grabbed, distorted, and misappropriated for himself by the evil one.
- God's people, who were themselves redeemed by the blood of Christ and who are inheritors of the earth, must repossess such arts for Christian use and God's glory". Paul exhorts us (1 Cor.10:31) whether we eat or drink or whatever we do to do it all for the glory of God; and make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Eph.5:16).
- Philippine music and dance forms are neither "pagan" nor "evil". As non-living things, they are incapable of morality or immorality. It is the heart of the musician or dancer and the object of worship that define the morality of the art form.
In the process of this redemption Kaloob thoroughly researches and documents the music and dance, going to the tribal owners wherever possible to be taught first-hand and to get permission to use the music and dance. They study not only the material itself but the context in which it is used and the correct costumes, props and instruments. This is fully documented on video, audio and print. The results of this research are then passed on through lectures, seminars and training sessions. A new dance is first "prayformed" in church by the Kaloob dance troupe and is prayed over for its dedication to God's glory. Programmes are presented in Christian events and gatherings and community events. In 1998 the government appointed Kaloob as the official dance company for the Expo. to celebrate the Centenery of the Philippines' independence from Spain.
Through their work with the tribal dances Kaloob aims to help return to the tribes what was lost, including their sense of self, personhood and dignity and restore credibility to the church which has unwittingly robbed them of their self-worth by rejecting and destroying their cultural heritage. Their economic recovery will also be assisted through the increased demand for traditional arts. Kaloob's vision is also to see indigenous music, dance and other arts integrated into the worship of the Filipino church as a whole so it takes on a Filipino character and is not just a copy of the West.