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  • Kevin Shorner-Johnson

The Wisdom of Metaphor and Embodied Place

Updated: Jul 6

This week’s podcast on Filipino peacebuilding with Dr. Wendy Kroeker has me thinking a lot about the wisdom of embodied place in postcolonial contexts. Filipino histories carry profound narratives of resilience across the traumatic, colonial histories of Spanish, American, and Japanese conquest and control. I have been reflecting on how a colonial history of domination is a history of tactics to reconstruct spaces for purposes of division, economic extraction, and political/military power.




In many ways, the story of tensions between Indigenous, Muslim, and Christian peoples is a story of deliberate attempts by colonizers to insert division and mistrust into society and relationship. The repair of that division, mistrust, and the traumas of resulting violence is part of the profound work and legacy that peacebuilders hold on the Island of Mindanao.


Power of Metaphors for Creative Thinking

Peacebuilders seem to understand the power of metaphor as a tool to promote creative acts that break through the restrictions of domination thinking. In The Moral Imagination, Lederach uses metaphor as a tool of imagining and as a generative force that juxtaposes contrasting ideas and images. Lederach employs metaphors of rivers, Tibetan singing bowls, and spider webs to image, listen for, and sit with new ways of being.

He writes, “Sometimes I find that rather than moving quickly to understand the metaphor, it is much better to sit with it for a while. Let it roll around in your head and heart. . . In conflict conversations I don’t just listen for metaphors, I watch them. They take on lives of their own and they speak to conflict, to the problems, and to the ways forward.” (Lederach, 2005 p. 72)

What if dialogue is a process of watching and listening for metaphors and listening to how they illumine “the ways forward”?

In conflict conversations I don’t just listen for metaphors, I watch them. They take on lives of their own and they speak to conflict, to the problems, and to the ways forward.”

Bamboo Metaphors


In Multidimensional Peacebuilding, Wendy Kroeker holds Filipino metaphors of “bamboo” and “hip-hop tinikling.” These metaphors, especially when grounded in local language, shed new light on approaches to peace in a rooted context. The metaphor of bamboo speaks to notions that peace dialogue is constant swaying, moving, and bending. In imagining the “clumping” and the “root patterns” we might imagine how community members move amongst and together with one another.

Kroeker writes:

“Yet, each person indicates a commitment to working with others while striving to bring about a context that is life-giving and supportive to each community member, all while listening to the inner nudges of the moment. This bamboo continues to sway, moving back and forth between contexts of need, all in the hope of finding paths for reconciliation.” (p. 124).

each person indicates a commitment to working with others . . . all while listening to the inner nudges of the moment. This bamboo continues to sway, moving back and forth between contexts of need, all in the hope of finding paths for reconciliation. ~ Kroeker

As I watched a TED talk by Joseph Arroyo, I was fascinated by how even he used the metaphor of bamboo to speak of the rhythmic flow of Lupang Hinirang. He claims bamboo as being a fundamental part of the Filipino sense of being. That swaying metaphor has been helpful to me as I have sought to imagine how I might lean into the give and take, process of change, and community within difficult dialogues.





Tinikling Metaphors


Kroeker lands upon the metaphor of “Hip-hop tinikling” as one that resonated with her participants in describing the movement of peace work in a post-colonial context. Tinikling is a form of dance in which a dancer swiftly navigates the metrical movement of bamboo poles by kneeling participants. An excellent dancer has mastered the rhythmic sequence and the flow of his or her body such that the ankle is never entrapped by the colliding tap of bamboo poles.


This dance is a metaphor and symbol in and of itself, one that is said to be symbolic of the movement of the Tikling bird in and out of traps, and one that symbolizes the resistance of Filipino laborers to the power structures of Spanish hacienda owners.



Today, this dance has been reimagined yet again with the layering of hip-hop music and beats upon tinikling dance structure. This reimagining shows us that culture is always an ever-changing sense of being. As a culture is lived and humanized, it is always changed, constructed, and reconstructed within a "swaying" and "bending" process of change.


As I have watched video after video of tinikling dance, I have been inspired by how tinikling is a space of coordination, relationship, and entrainment. A group of practitioners must synchronize their vision, their feel, and their being to effectively construct rhythm, sound, and movement. This artistic practice constructs spaces that are relational, intentional, and coordinated. What a profound countermelody to colonial spatial structures that fragment, distract, and divide.



Closure

Kroeker cites the influence of seminal thinkers like Butler, Mahmood, and Lefebvre to note how cycles of transgenerational trauma might be interrupted by a revisioning of embodied spaces. Lefebvre opens ideas that physical spaces are constructed and realized in through social practices and mental representations. In today’s world of violence, disconnect, and consumerism, we are all too often familiar with spaces that seek to fragment and disconnect to extract economic or political benefit. May we all lean into the sway of bamboo, and the imagination of coordinated dance as a way of revisioning space and our being in space to build communities of care, consideration, compassion, and peace.


References

Kroeker, W. (2020). Multidimensional peacebuilding: Local actors in the Philippine context. Lexington Press.


Lederach, J. P. (2005). The moral imagination: The art and soul of building peace. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (trans. D. Nicholson-Smith). Blackwell Publishing.


Mahmood, S. (2012). Politics of piety: The Islamic revival and the feminist subject. Princeton University Press.



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