God Sings, "My House is Wet"

   The relationship of the indigenous Ngöbe with “water” is an intimate one.  As says the ancient song of creation… “And Ngöbo (God) made the house (earth). And how did Ngöbo make the house? Ngöbo made it wet!”

As a people who live in the tropical forest of the western part of the Isthmus of Panama, water defines where the Ngöbe live and how they organize socially.  The heavy tropical rains, the rivers and streams, the springs and wells – all have their place and significance, and “wet” is never a distant experience.  Water is a symbol and experience of God’s abundant blessing of life; it is a symbol and experience of the forces of death, which are never far off in Ngöbe life.


     In this paper, I will look at “water” from the perspective of Catholic Indigenous Theology in the Ngöbe context.  The goal of this reflection is to come to “see” water through Ngöbe eyes (as much as is possible for an ‘outsider’), and let that vision guide Catholic Pastoral Ministry in several respects.  As our pastoral vision as a Catholic Mission Team is a holistic one – approaching the whole person in their full dignity and seeing the Ngöbe as protagonists of their own development - the reflection will be divided into three main parts:


I.  Catholic Indigenous Theology as the lens through which to “see” water.

     I will first speak to the contemporary movement of Teología India (Indigenous Theology), of which we are a part as a mission team and Ngöbe catholic community, which gives recognition to the reality of indigenous synthesis and search for continuity in regards to the “God of the ancestors” and Jesus Christ.  Immersion in this theological perspective should color the reflection on the more concrete evaluation of water issues that arise in the following two sections.

II. The “Right to be Different” in regards to water “use.”

Here, I will address a mega project (mineral mine) proposed on Ngöbe lands that threatens the ability of the Ngöbe to hold together their worldview that primarily sees water as a blessing from God and not a commodity.  I will then suggest Catholic pastoral practice in regards to accompanying the Ngöbe in this situation.

III. Local Water Development that flows from cultural identity and worldview.

     Finally, I will reflect on local water development in the midst of a rapidly changing social structure that has disrupted traditional Ngöbe water organization.  I will speak to the place of Catholic pastoral practice in accompanying the Ngöbe in the reassessment of the local water reality from the perspective of Ngöbe culture, faith, and worldview.
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José Fitzgerald, CM,
Oct 31, 2009, 12:19 PM