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Kumina and Dancehall in the Church?!!!!!!

Theology has the responsibility of explaining how God, absolute in essence, encounters humans within their own experiences and cultures. In other words, we cannot simply approach theology as the philosophical discipline that determines how God views creation but we must also show how the human being encounters and understands God through experiences. Theology necessarily becomes: "Faith, seeking understanding."

I attempt to engage this blog from a theological perspective because of the influence the church seems to have as an agent of socialisation. Whether or not it uses this influence for the common good is a separate issue that may be addressed in another blog.

The church has been the moral and spiritual conscience of many modern-western societies. Its tentacles have reached into and influenced policy makers; the establishment of NGOs and other special interest groups and has even led in crusades against others who seemed or dared to be revolutionary or reformist. Because of the church's influence in society, there has been this constant tension between that which is perceived as sacred and that which is perceived to be secular. There is sacred music (music deemed appropriate for the worship of a most Holy God) and secular music (music that glorifies Satan and therefore must NEVER be used in our solemn assemblies...[all sarcasms very much intended]). But does this tension between the secular and the sacred reflect a real conflict?

I am a Caribbean man, of African ancestry. I am very much appreciative of the eclectic cultural heritage that is represented here. What we accept as our indigenous culture is really a melting pot of world cultures - that is the Caribbean distinctive. Somehow, growing up in church, some of these cultural representations were obviously treated as superior to others. We sang very slow, mournful hymns (that is what they sounded like to me at the time), a sharp contrast to the high energy soca and groovy calypso (kaiso) that I was so drawn to. The church was very adamant that such music (which glorifies Satan) should never be played in a church.

That dogmatic stance would affect my worship experience for many years as I had not yet learned to appreciate the hymns that were being sung. I believe that many persons in church today are having similar difficulties in the worship experience because they have not been able to bring their true selves into the experience. Though God is the object of worship, it is necessary for there to be truth as one engages Him in the whole experience. My own theological reflections have led me to define worship as "When all of who man is encounters all of who God is. . ." My case for the inclusion of Kumina and Dancehall (among others) in the worship experience of the Jamaican church is premised upon this reflection.

Secular versus Sacred
It's difficult 2 engage dis debate without realising dat de sacred has been greatly affected by sectarianism (in other words a group of people sit down and decided what gwine be considered good enough for church use). Consequently, that which is sacred--or secular, for that matter--becomes a subjective religious construct that is meant to highlight the various religious symbols, deemed acceptable, while stifling/demonising other cultural symbols. Over time, this subjective construct becomes absolute and this absolutising . . . religious and traditional but NOT biblical. The tension is really about perceptions of superior and inferior culture. In this case, the "piety" and "superiority" of the European retensions within the culture versus the "abominable" and "inferior" African expressions within the culture. Donna P. Hope, in her book, Inna di Dancehall, highlights this struggle as one between the: "'superior' European culture and the African culture in the negotiation of Jamaican Identity. European cultural values continue to be elevated while African cultural values are denigrated," (a possible influence of the church). Consequently, our thoughts have been skewed into seeing Kumina as demonic (coming out of the Great Rival experience of 1861 [see book: Our Cause for His Glory by Shirley Gordon] and Dancehall music just a little better but still altogether worthless.

Why Kumina and Dancehall?

Assuming that every culture is fundamentally neutral (meaning that no culture is inherently good or evil), on what premise do we assume that one is superior to the other or more desirable by God than the other? The Bible, a largely culture specific book, is riddled with stories and practices peculiar to various cultures. For example, the very sacred Christian tradition of baptism was borrowed from the pagan practices of the ancient Romans. Yet, today, baptism remains so sacred to the church's soteriology (doctrine of salvation). This historical fact goes to support my position that the function of the cultural expression is more important than the expression itself.

So often there are people who are exempt from our worship experience because they are asked to bring a self that does not encapsulate who they really are, into the experience. I was expected to always bring my European self while my African self was stifled and denigrated. Certainly this kind of environment is not conducive for worship in truth (since people cannot be true to themselves). There are many who can relate to the Dancehall and Kumina sounds and it may augur well for the Jamaican church to cater to those who feel drawn to that form of expression. This is not to say that there is not room for the hymns. I am only humbly suggesting that in order to bring all of who we are into an encounter with all of who God is, we must be allowed to embrace all that our culture fundamentally represents.
Let us stop the cultural discrimination and the schizoid behaviour of "secular" vs. "sacred". I applaud those who have already begun to accept this expression within the church. What I seek more, though, is a reformation in the worship experience of the Jamaican, and by extension the Caribbean, church.


  1. on. I am proud to have been your lecturer (at least one of them). Here's a question though, because I must ask for those who will be afraid to do so...Is it everything about culture that is neutral and thereby usable by the Church? If your answer is "no" then you will need to give some other justification for the use of Dancehall and Kumina in the Church. If your answer is "yes" then I have some other questions.

  2. I am Afraid that your Question is not one that can simply be answered "yes" or "no". Let me, however, attempt to bring some clarity to that point on neutrality of culture. As I defined my use of the word "Neutral" I explained that there is no inherent good or evil in it. Further to, I made the point that the function of the cultural activity (what it is used for) and the object of same (who it is geared toward. In this case God) are more important than the cultural expression itself (dancehall). whenever that cultural expression is perverted to go against the Word of God, however, there will be a difficulty with its applicability within the church. For example, Abraham's sacrifice was modelled after pagan a pagan practice but its symbolism was applicabe in his worship to God. However, if Abraham were to have done so to the other Gods or Israel were to have sacrificed their children it would have been against the word of God and therefore, not fit for the church to use. However, the principle of sacrifice in worship to God through sacrifice is what remains the neutral part of the culture. I trust that I was a little clearer Uncle David.

    By the way you CAN feel proud. Other lecturers may have passed on information but u allowed me to express my own theological explorations and reflections as troublesome as they may have been for most people. Keep doin what you are doing!

  3. Marcus the contention of sacred and secular is important to this inclusion. U say that a set of ppl sit and decide wats sacred and wats not. I add a few question: who or wat decides wat in culture is inclusion worthy? wat about da content of dancehall and cumina that are disruptive to another who is trying to meet God wid all of who he is? There are more but ponder those.

    ps. christianity has traditionally barrowed pagan practises. christmas and easter, are just the beginning

  4. Secular and sacred debate was exactly wat the pharisees specialised in. Jesus resisted that. Paul in his teachings in Colossians repudiated that kind of behaviour as asceticism. It is important to know that that which is considered sacred many times is not necessarily "spiritual" or God breathed. As I said before in my answer to uncle David, when culture directly contravenes biblical teachings (not tradition) then we must resist that aspect of our culture. Certainly, my mention of Kumina and dancehall was restricted to the musical artform. It was not written to included the dancehall as popular culture or occultic practises within kumina.Maybe in a subsequent blog we shall engage those further.


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