Friday, August 20, 2004

From war machine to Pinoy "home on wheels"

On July 7, 1940, the US Army requested the War Department for an all terrain reconnaissance go-anywhere vehicle that seated three and had a mount for a 30-caliber machine gun. Tens of thousands of these vehicles were used in World War II. For many Filipinos the jeep was, and—with the continuing presence of American troops in the islands—still is an imperializing “text.” The jeepney, the Philippines’ most popular mode of mass transportation, resists this “text.” A jeep becomes a jeepney when it ceases to serve its original purpose and is transformed into something else, like beating swords into ploughshares. Jeepneys are unexpected readings of a jeep. Filipinos did at least three things to the jeep: they removed the machine gun mount, increased its limited seating capacity from three to sixteen-plus-passengers, and transformed the military vehicle into a “Filipino home on wheels.”

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Jeeps and Jeepneys...

Mark Lewis Taylor, during the 2000 Annual SBL/AAR meeting, celebrated the publication of the Dictionary of Third World Theologies and called it "A Dictionary for Resisting Empire." For him, the volume summarizes critical reflection arising from people's movements in resistance to "empire," i.e. to the hegemony of Western powers whose metropole centers seek an ever-strengthened global power to subordinate and control each and every facet of the lives of masses of peoples. For him, the book preserves and marshals the archival power of Third World peoples' own discourse of resistance and liberation. To this developing archive I would like to contribute one model of Filipino decolonizing reading, jeepney hermeneutics. If the Filipino jeepney is a “resistant reading” of the U.S. military jeep, then jeepney hermeneutics is a resistant reading of the Bible.

Biblical Studies is one area that remains a stronghold of colonial scholarship, especially among Protestant Churches. Filipino social scientists call this collective condition of the Filipino psyche as colonial mentality. Renato Constantino traces it to the systematic mis-education of the Filipinos. Eliezer Fernandez argues that the Philippines can be called a "mental colony" of the United States of America. Carlos Abesamis remarks that nothing is the matter with foreigners doing foreign theology (for themselves). The issue is that Filipino theology is a photocopy of Euro-American theology.

Jeepney hermeneutics challenges this colonial mentality in biblical studies by drawing on the Filipinos’ legacy of resistance. From mortar shells to church bells, from implements of death to instruments of music, from jeeps to jeepneys, Filipinos have turned weapons of mass destruction to symbols of mass celebration.

The colonization of biblical studies, especially in the field of hermeneutics, among Protestant communities in the Philippines requires no special pleading. Thus there is the need for a decolonized hermeneutics—a jeepney hermeneutics. Jeepney hermeneutics acknowledges the depth and the breadth of meanings represented by the Filipino Jeepney as symbolic of a people’s ability to beat swords into ploughshares.