One way to see the importance of culture studies in terms of tribal ministry is to look at a specific example. Acts 8:26-40 tells about Philip and the Ethiopian government offical. Philip witnessed to that government man, and then the Holy Spirit took him and he appeared somewhere else. “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” (v. 39). The Hewans would say, when they first hear this story, “Hey! I know how Philip did that! He had the jawbone of his dead dad or mom in a little bag hung around his neck. Some bad spirit must have been about to attack him, so his dead relative’s spirit in the jawbone took him and put him down somewhere else to save his life.”
This is what the Hewans practiced before we arrived, and some still do this:
Before, when a person died, his body was not buried in the ground. Instead, a little scaffold sort of frame was built with a little roof, somewhat like a very small house up on stilts. The body was tied into a sitting position and placed inside the tiny house on stilts. The body was then left to rot. Relatives would come back to the site and keep the weeds from growing up and plant different kinds of vegetation that supposedly kept evil spirits away.
After a lot of time passed and the flesh of the corpse was rotted, a relative would come and burn all of the bones in a big fire. He would take only the skull bone and the jaw bone and return to his house. The skull would be hung up with other ancestor skulls on the wall of a big singsing house.
A woman of the dead relative would make a little string bag and a man would take the jaw bone and put it inside the bag. When that man would go on trips, or go hunting, he would take that bag with the jaw bone in it and carry it wherever he went.
If the man’s life was in danger because a bad spirit was in the area, or an enemy was coming, the spirit of the jawbone would cause the bag to jerk, or make the bag very heavy. When this happened the man carrying the bag would know that there was danger close by so he would hurry and get out of there.
If the man was in extreme danger, however, it is believed that the spirit of the jawbone would actually physically take that person and transport him through the air to a totally different place. For instance, it would carry him and his dogs and whoever else was with him back to the village that they were from.
Through culture study, we now know the word for someone that gets carried away to another spot by a spirit. Now we know that the Hewans will understand this concept. They will automatically assume that someone is carried away by a spirit because that person is carrying a jawbone of a dead relative with them in a little string bag. It would be terrible if the Hewans assumed that the way that Philip was able to be carried away by the Spirit was because he had a string bag with a jawbone around his neck.
The menu on the left side of this page has links to more culture stories listed under “Hewa Tribe.”