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Teresia Hinga Reflection: Ethnographic Fieldwork and Symposium on Women, Religion and Transitional Justice in Africa

I participated in collaborative work involving ethnographic study of “Women, Religion and Transitional Justice in Africa.” We visited several places in South Africa. Here I highlight a visit to the Grail Women’s Group and offer some personal reflections on the very interactive visit on August 5th. Ruth, the Convener of the group and host, was an excellent facilitator. Although we were meeting the group for the very first time and from across the seas, by the end of the session, we were all relaxed (at least I was) in the presence of each other and could share our stories and reflections laughing, crying, and joking. Several moments were even more outstanding for me as I recall this visit with the Grail women’s movement in South Africa.

Theology/Spirituality of the Body in Action

The session was hands on (literally!) We all got a hand massage as an introduction to the group. The Grail women were clearly not satisfied with a mere handshake by way of welcome. It reminded me that much violence has been done to women’s bodies and that therefore the healing touch addresses women’s wounded bodies.  It reminded me also that much of the harm done to women is due to a disdain to their bodies (taboos against menstruation, veiling and surgical modifications of their bodies to suit culturally determined ideals of beauty) It was therefore most refreshing to be invited to a few moments of bodily indulgence, celebrating and enjoying our embodied selves as a part of our spirituality.

The Fragrance of Diversity

An Exercise in Ubuntu

Walking the labyrinth in pairs reminded me of the African perspective of human nature and human destiny. The received wisdom is that a person is a person through others. The African belief says Mbiti is that, “I am because we are.” The ideal in African thought is that we rise and grow and are healed and saved together . We all belong to the bundle of life as Desmond Tutu would say. When one hurts, we all hurt. Walking the labyrinth together reminded me of this aspect of afro-theology, cosmo-vision and ethics.

Naming and Responding to Intergenerational Woundedness

The group facilitated our awareness of the inter-generational woundedness in the context of South Africa and beyond. Many of the stories narrated by women during individual interviews and small groups drew attention again and again to the inter-generational nature of the wounds. Some women mentioned the violence done to their mothers as the reason they left home and are still angry; other times mothers expressed anxiety about their daughters falling into the same traps and cycles of violence that the mothers currently find themselves in. The Grail is commendably encouraging inter-generational soul searching as a step towards more authentic healing. I was touched by this emphasis.

All in all, this was an outstanding model and approach to the much-needed healing and reconciliation in South Africa and beyond. It had a palpable woman’s touch. It was a joy to be in such a welcoming and safe space… Thanks to Ruth and the Grail Women’s Movement, and thanks to Amy and Deidre for facilitating the visit.

Our research group also visited Rwanda and met women in various capacities and places. We met Muslim women, Mormon women, Pentecostal women, women at the University as well as women in Reconciliation villages where Rwandan survivors of the genocide are literally walking the talk of reconciliation and healing in real time by intentionally living side by side—both victims and perpetrators.

We participated in a one day symposium, “Weaving Just Peace: African Women’s Transformative Leadership in Contexts of Transition.”