One of her most famous speeches was “Freedom From Fear”, which began: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”  Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Inheriting Our Mothers’ Gardens:

Feminist Theology in Third World Perspective

Book Analysis

 Vrinda Jamunashakti

PARW 7608

Womanist Feminist and Post Colonial Worldviews: African, Asian & Post Colonial perspectives

Professors: Arisika Razak and Mara L. Keller

November 22, 2010

 Growing up on top of a hill at the border of urban/rural Puerto Rico in the 1950s, I drew strength, comfort and beauty from my mother’s sweetest soprano voice and sharp anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, socialist outlook, while my siblings and I were cradled to sleep in rocking chairs and awakened by the morning lullaby from my father who had breakfast ready for us; this was the daily ritual before taking us to school and going to his office. My mother was an articulate, straightforward woman and my father was a feminist man and lover of Goddess in her. I inherited a Garden where mutual respect persisted in giving me the illusion of an ideal world, until I saw the photos of hunger and genocide. The polarities between my mother’s and our global gardens keep me coming back to work for peace.

The energy of women’s indignation is filled with the unifying power of Love throughout this book. And that unifying power kept ringing in all the authors in Inheriting Our Mothers’ Gardens. The Gardens are presented as a triptych where the theories, life experiences and contributions of feminists theologians are divided in there harmonious parts that emerge from the title’s main idea. The first glimpse from this Feminist Theology in Third World Perspectives triad leads us to Claiming Our Mother’s Roots, and from this threshold I want to gain further insight by concentrating on the honorable and inspiring work of Merci Amba Oduyoye, Be a Woman and Africa Will be Strong; here I want to add that learning from the women of Africa all womankind will be better prepared to contribute towards improving our humanity. The next natural component of the triad in this allegorical garden, which speaks more directly to women in younger nations, is Clearing Our Space, here I explored some of the facets of the familiar Cuban heritage of Ada María Isasi-Díaz’ A Hispanic Garden in Foreign Land. And the last segment of this trilogy, Cultivating a Global Garden, leads me to embrace vivencias (live memories) from My Mother’s Garden Is a New Creation, by Marta Benavides, whose insights remind me of the daily mantras of my life.

As a spiritualist and Spanish speaking woman from colonial Puerto Rico, I felt closest to Oduyoye, a Christianized woman from Akan background, to Isasi-Díaz for being outrageously bold, and to Benavides, from El Salvador, for asserting the value of life over institutions.

Be a Woman and Africa Will be Strong, Merci Amba Oduyoye

A strong Africa in Oduyoye’s terms inspires strength to women everywhere on this earth. Born in Ghana, Oduyoye began to discover that her tradition was well managed by Asenie women to whom she owes a “feminist ancestry.”[1] Though her mother and grandmothers lost their names… they did not lose their own specific identities.” To them she owes “the partial failure of the patrarchalization of what was a mother-centered culture; left to men, the ‘damage’ would have been total.”[2]

What style of Christian theology does Oduyoye favor? “I have appropriated the oral transmission of scripture and theology…” and she “refuses to honor the ex-cathedra monologues.”[3] I can feel her dynamic presence in liturgical leadership. As the church follows the androcentric model for ordaining ministers, her “age-mates… have little time to give to the church misuse.”[4] But, for some reason, patriarchal domination has managed to create the typical doublespeak in Africa, as in other Third World countries, making women who “raise the issue of ordination…” of being “an imitator of the degenerate West.”[5] But it is refreshing to learn that the Nneemafo women “will simply ignore the churches if the churches ignore their charisms.”[6]

Another group of women who can revitalize and inform not only Africa, but the “degenerate” West, are the Mmabaawa. In Oduyoye’s hope on the “strong tradition of sisterhood in Africa” we are left with a far-reaching anticipation that “there is no limit to what women there can do to teach the church the meaning and practice of ministry.”[7] This is an empowered w oman for whom “Gender is no criterion for the lack or possession of wisdom.”[8] And she adds, “…so I have a duty to help forge a relevant theology for a living Christianity in Africa.”[9] Here I see Oduyoye’s theology immersed in matrilineal reverence, perhaps all the ingredients for the formation of thealogy. Informed by her motherline, Mercy Amba shares that, “The only limit I recognize in myself is how well I can perform.”[10] Her words are dynamic and universal, I feel immensely enriched and energized by her catalytic vision.

Oduyoye speaks to my deepest ontological questions when she adds, “I have in my own theology made the difference between sacrificing and being sacrificed.”[11] This rings all the bells in my life when debating Catholic formative notions of abnegation in the context of selfless service to humanity, or Karma Yoga in yogic practices, where service is rendered without egoic expectation of material reward, and it is precisely intended as a conscious effort to diminish ego identity, because it is understood as an inspirational and enriching privilege for going deeper into the meaning of the Living Present. However, the perception of this living privilege in me tends to fluctuate as fulfillment and frustration alternate in my daily life.

A Hispanic Garden in Foreign Land, Ada María Isasi-Díaz

By stating that “Mutuality asks us to give serious consideration to what the other is saying, not only to respect it but to be willing to accept it as good for all.”[12] Isasi-Díaz seems a little bit too naïve, bound by organizational or institutional religion constructs.  Isn’t this another illusion or facet of domination turned inside out?

In her Hispanic Garden in a Foreign Land, she offers an important argument when she states that, “patriarchal understandings of power […] are operative even in the feminist movement.”[13] I find that this is one of her best contributions to the subject. I wonder to what extent the students that enter California Institute of Integral Studies, Women’s Spirituality Program, like myself, still contend with unconscious “patriarchal understandings of power.” Like many social scientists, Isasi-Díaz highlights the importance of women’s contribution in wielding the sharp tool of language “for understanding the power dynamics in society and in the feminist movement.”[14] On this subject, I have followed a few articles by George Lakoff[15] and other progressive authors on how the present extremists have seized the power of popular sound bytes to mold, inform and attract our younger generations into their destructive agendas for profit.

As a Puerto Rican, and a Caribbean woman like and unlike the Cuban Isasi-Díaz, I cannot relate to the “internalized oppression and the siege mentality”[16] that she refers to. My experience leads me to feel outraged and a fierce disgust at the system of oppression. Entitled to feel outrage, I release the siege mentality and its energy suppressing trappings. But I do not feel empowered by blaming, so much as in finding out where are my weak spots and the weaknesses of my kind, in order to correct them  and revitalizing a solidarity movement. In self-correcting ourselves we are empowered to stop that in is which perpetrates the monstrous and oppressive conduct in the oppressor(s). And paradoxically, whenever I have seen a member of the oppressor class as an individual in front of me, I see a small, insecure, person with almost sub-human fears and contracted awareness; an infinitely tragic and sad identity. So, how can I turn my rage against such morally bankrupt and defeated individual? Our rage is best directed to the systems of oppression, as other Womanist-Feminists have stated before.

My Mother’s Garden Is a New Creation by Marta Benavides

In contrast to the very cautious Isasi, Benavides is practical and fiery as she boldly states, “We need to educate the citizens of t he United States about the need to search for effecgive peaceful solutions to the conflict in Central America […]  in order to do that we have to change the understanding of what national security is.”[17] What is national security? I also ask myself, is it not all people security? Oh yes, a police state to enforce a military dictatorship that secures the legalized global mafia of the IMF and the World Bank supporting US interests in the name of a corrupt Public Debt? Security at the cost of how many other nations’ sovereignty and their people’s food and water supplies?

I felt immediately at ease with Benavides’ approach to applying what we know into practice, “…gardening is about visioning. It is about faith, hard work, patience, beauty, and sharing. Gardening is about dreaming and futuring. I is one of my mother’s legacies to me.”[18] Here Benavides speaks to my heart and the hears of the people of the Americas (moving away from the false and essentialist attribution of US as the  “America,” familiar to all in common parlance), I say this because we are a people whose dreams have been repeatedly stolen and keep desperately emerging to claim a right to futures.

Benavides comes to us as offspring and offshoot from a very practical mother’s Garden.  “My mother’s definition of spiritual was to care and act on behalf of life, to keep people alive. Religion, she said, is not sacred; people and life are sacred.”[19] She reminds me of John Perkins’ accounts of the Emperor’s New Clothes in US covert handling of loans and funding of a new colonial corporatocracy[20]and the rippling effect of its presence in our “Americas,” the Americas of Benavides and of the people of over 40 sovereign nations and I.[21]

For feminists to address national security as a global concern we need to remove the masks of euphemism and nicety when pointing out at the political-criminal-corporate policies under the guise of “helping bring democracy, war against drugs, missionary’s work…” and similarly repulsive modes of colonial infiltration. For more on the monstrous ways in which so called “developed” nations are exploiting the Third World, I recommend we listen to “The Impact of Globalization on Food and Water,” a talk by Dr. Vandana Shiva at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, July 28th, 2002. [22]

No American, whether from one of the 7 countries in Central America, or from one of the 24 islands in the Caribbean, or from one of the 13 South American countries or from one of the 3 North American countries, should use the gentilic or appellative American to refer exclusively to those born in the U.S.A… The popularization of the term American as an essentialist demonym referring to the U.S. to the exclusion of over 40 other countries in this hemisphere seems to be a result of the Marshall Plan to dominate the North and the South… The U.S. funded and pretext coup d’états keep going on… So, when Benavides puts the U.S. in its rightful place, noting the arrogance and ignorance at the core of its policies with regards to the rest of the Big Americas, I applaud her valor 100%. It may cost us our lives, but we should not yield to “siege mentality.” For even more incendiary and inspiring facts on U.S. imperial invasions in the rest of OUR America, please refer to The Open Veins of Latinamerica, by Eduardo Galeano. Now, as a woman, my job is to help us heal.


Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latinamerica. New York University Press, 1998.

Perkins, John. Confessions of an Economic Hitman. New York: Plume, 2005.

Russell, Letty M., Kwok, Pui-lan, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, Cannon, Katie Geneva, editors.  Inheriting Our Mothers’ Gardens: Feminist Theology in Third World Perspective. Louisville: Westminster Press, 1998.

Shiva, Vandana. The Impact of Globalization on Food and Water. Talk given at the Kane Hall, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. July 28, 2002.



[This essay was written in Chicago style.]


Guru and God, “The Person who believed in me before I believed in myself.” Angelica Herston, harpist


[1] Mercy A mba Oduyoye. “Be a Woman, and Africa Will be Strong” from Inheriting Ouor Mothers’ Gardens: Feminist Theology in Third World Perspective. (Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1988), 38.

[2] Ibid., 39.

[3] Ibid., 45.

[4] Ibid., 47.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 48.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 49.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 50.

[11] Ibid., 51.

[12] Ada María Isasi-Díaz, “A Hispanic Garden in Foreign Land” from Inheriting Our…,( Louisville, KY: The Westminster Press, 1988),  97.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 98.

[15] George Lakoff, Don´t Think of an Elephant (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004).

[16] Isasi-Díaz, 103.

[17] Ibid., 135.

[18] Ibid., 131.

[19] Ibid., 130. (All bolds are mine).

[20] John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, (New York: Plume, 2006).

[21] Isasi-Díaz, 137.

[22] Vandana Shiva, The impact of Globalization on Food and Water, a talk given at the Kane Hall, University of  Washington, Seattle, WA. July 28, 20002.