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RITE OF PASSAGE: Kunas and Culture

I just returned from a trip to Panama. While I was there, I worked with a group of indigenous people called the Kunas of Tribaldi. When we arrived, the tribe contained only 12 believers. By the time we left, God had added 33 more Kunas to his Kingdom.

The Kunas are an interesting group of people. When a Kuna father wants his son to get married, he approaches the father of a young girl around 13 to 14 years of age. This happens without the young man’s knowledge. If the two fathers make a deal, the boy’s father goes to his son’s friends. They kidnap the prospective groom, bringing him to a hut where the girl waits in a hammock. The boy gets into the hammock. There, he and the girl visit for two hours while the villagers surround the hut. Next, the young boy goes into the jungle to work while the girl and the villagers celebrate the upcoming marriage.

Three days later, the boy comes out of the jungle, and the wedding ceremony begins. Afterwards, he goes to his house, gathers his belongings and moves into the home of his mother-in-law, where he will spend the rest of his life.

Another interesting thing about the Kunas is that they think the most beautiful thing about a woman is her nose. Because of this, they like to adorn their noses with golden rings. One lady told me the ring made her look more beautiful. Another Kuna distinctive is that the women wear bright, beautiful dresses in vibrant greens, oranges and reds. The women also wrap strings of beads around their arms and legs. They call these beads “weenies.”

As I prepared to spend time with the Kuna tribe, I began to learn some of their language. First, I had to learn how to do a proper greeting so I could meet the chief. Kunas use the same word to mean “hello,” “goodbye,” “welcome” and “thank you.” To my Oklahoma ears, this word sounded like, “new Eddy.” So I just pretended that everyone’s name was Eddy and they were all new to me. I walked from hut to hut saying, “Hi, new Eddy!” Then I learned that if I really wanted to express my thanks or say how glad I was to meet someone, I would put the word “dog” in front of “new Eddy.” My team of students thought that was funny, because one of the words they use for “friend” is “dog.” When we arrived in the village, the Kunas had a sign to welcome us posted on the front of a hut. The sign said, “God Bless You Dog New Eddy.” I didn’t know if they wanted God to bless us or . . . our dog.

In hundreds or even thousands of years, very little about the Kuna culture has changed. This means they don’t have to deal with radical shifts and transitions. Every day, you and I face the challenge of the multiple cultures found within our own families. For example, a dad born in the 1960s and a mom born in the 1970s represent two different cultures. Often, each additional child adds an additional culture to the mix.

The Kunas find security in knowing what comes next in each phase of life. When a girl reaches puberty, she gets her hair cut short to announce that she is ready for marriage. There is no guessing, “When do I become an adult? When do I take responsibility for my own life?” Each phase is defined exactly as it has been for many generations.

In our modern culture, each generation changes and shifts what is acceptable or expected. Children become very confused as they try to figure out society’s boundaries. Often, they either rebel against their culture or define new boundaries of . . . their own.

That is why I think it so important for the church to become a culture within the culture. Its norms and expectations should not shift like the sands of the seas. This church culture should be just as Jesus said: “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Our culture needs to get back to the idea that the church is the rock for the family.

This is why I believe that the Rite of Passage message I teach is so important. The Bible should be the foundation of our family-not shifting norms, cultures or ideologies. In fact, if you don’t raise your children according to the Word and will of God, you might as well get up each morning and greet them with “Hi, New Eddy.” No, make that “Dog New Eddy,” because they will look and act as though they came from . . . a different tribe.

Walker Moore

Author: Walker Moore

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