Original Research

Re-envisioning Tangintebu Theological College in the context of climate change: An emerging model of coconut theological education and ministerial formation

Tioti Timon, Chammah J. Kaunda, Roderick R. Hewitt
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 1 | a5169 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i1.5169 | © 2019 Chammah J. Kaunda | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 June 2018 | Published: 25 March 2019

About the author(s)

Tioti Timon, School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Chammah J. Kaunda, United Graduate School of Theology, Yonsei University, Seoul, South, Korea, Republic of
Roderick R. Hewitt, School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa


This article engages through an interdisciplinary approach to re-envision Tangintebu Theological College’s (TTC) model of theological education in the context of climate change in Kiribati. It utilises the anthropological theory of symbolic interactionism within missiological, cultural and, theological studies of climate change. It argues for the coconut tree as an appropriate cultural conceptual metaphorical idiom for translating and understanding Christian faith and shaping a theological pedagogy within the Kiribati context of climate change. The coconut image is an indigenous, holistic way of knowing and learning informed by Kiribati cosmology embedded within people’s experiences and understanding of the coconut tree. Its life-centeredness has the potential to contextualise the theological curriculum and teaching methodology to assist in equipping theological students with climate change-sensitive approaches. The qualitative method was utilised to allow participants to reflect on their experiences of climate change in relation to the mission of the church. The data that informs this article was generated through unstructured interviews and focus group discussions with members of the Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC). The data was analysed using symbolic interactionism. The results suggest that the Kiribati people symbolically interact with God through their understanding of the coconut tree, which is conceived as the embodiment of God’s presence. It became clear that while this world view informs the faith of members of the KUC, the TTC curriculum has sidelined it, resulting in miseducation of pastors because this omission means they are not equipped to engage with the challenge of climate change. The participants argued that there is an urgent need to understand theological education and ministerial formation within the indigenous framework of Kiribati coconut imagination that is embedded in the promotion of justice and equitable society not only for human beings but for all of God’s creation through symbolic interaction with the presence of God in the coconut.


Symbolic Interactionism; Kiribati; Coconut Imagination; Climate Change; Tangintebu Theological College; Kiribati United Church; Missiology


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