Village Report Part 3: Translation Work in the Village

Over the past year, we’ve been writing about various aspects of life in the village (Part 1, Part 2).  Now it’s time to talk about the work we came here to do, the ministry of Bible translation.

Oscar presents about Mamusi negative clauses at a Luke Partnership course

I (Aaron) am serving as translation advisor to the Mamusi translation team, who have gained an incredible amount of knowledge, skill, and experience at translating in just two short years.  This is largely due to the Luke Partnership Project, a multi-language translation initiative, focused on bringing sustainable translation skills and practice to the Islands region of PNG.  Through the Luke Partnership, our team works alongside teams from all around our area at our regional center in Kokopo town.  Joined by instructors and mentors (of which I am one) from Ukarumpa and the US, we meet together for two month-long training sessions a year.  In these workshops we work on language skills, study Bible backgrounds, learn how to use the resources at our disposal, and explore best practices of translation.  All these areas of study culminate in actually working through the translation process in the Gospel of Luke.  From these times of intensive work, the Mamusi translators are able to go back to the village of Sivauna and work on their own, further honing and practicing the skills they’ve learned in Kokopo.  Since I can’t always be in Sivauna with them, it’s critical that the translators are confident in their abilities and are equipped to work without me.

Working in the village has the huge advantage of putting us in close proximity to more of the experts – the speakers (especially elder ones) that use Mamusi in their daily lives.  Traditional cultural knowledge, and therefore knowledge of specialized vocabulary, is slowly going away as Western influence spreads, so sometimes it’s difficult to find someone who can accurately define a Mamusi word we’re not sure about or think of a word the team has trouble coming up with.  For example, we recently came to Luke 12 which in English mentions words like ‘court’ and ‘judge’ several times.  There was a traditional practice of arbitration a couple generations ago that has gradually shifted into a more structured procedure mandated by the Australian-influenced PNG government.  These days, speakers – even when speaking Mamusi – use the word kot which is the term in Pidgin, the trade language, because that’s the language that local courts are operated in.  When we came to the passage in Luke,  none of the team members could remember the Mamusi word for the traditional practice, so we asked some of the ‘big’ (older) men and women until we found it: turungapa.  Concerned that this whole realm of knowledge has passed out of usage, making this word unintelligible by a large part of the population, we did some testing around the village.  In the context of Jesus’s sayings, turungapa was clearly understood to mean ‘court’, and kemana le lolongnge turungapa faithfully represented ‘the man who hears the court’ or ‘judge’, both carrying appropriate connotations to the passage in question.  It doesn’t work out nicely for everything, since many words and concepts are too far gone from the collective memory, but in this case we were able to help preserve something identifiably Mamusi instead of having to borrow a word from outside the language.
Another part of the translation process that benefits heavily from working in the village is that of community testing.  After we check and revise a draft as a team, but before we check it with a specially-trained translation consultant, we hold a community testing session, or village check.  This is when we get tremendously helpful feedback from community members, who often bring varied perspectives, specialized knowledge, and creative thinking into the mix.  In the very first days of the program, we would hold community checks at night in one of several meli, or men’s houses, around the village. The translators would read a verse or two out loud, in Mamusi, from their writing pad where they had drafted and checked the passage.  Only a couple people sitting close by (often there would be a dozen or more men in the building) could actually see the draft, and the guys would have to repeat the text aloud over and over again.  As suggestions were floated and changes were made, the handwriting on the paper would become less and less legible because of being erased and written over many times.  This made for a very slow process, and the couple of flashlights at hand would gradually fade or die completely.  I think our first village check lasted about six hours, and we got maybe half a chapter checked.  In addition to the pace and the physical difficulties, we realized that we were missing the important female voice by holding these sessions in a meli, where women are generally forbidden to enter.  These difficulties are some of the chief reasons we were keen to build the village house sooner rather than later.  Now that it’s finished, we have dedicated space for this crucial work, where women are welcomed, and where we have electric lights, seating for as many as want to come, and now even a projector so we can all see the text as it’s updated.  During our most recent session we checked an entire (long) chapter in about three hours.  Other important factors – better quality drafts as we better understand and practice the translation process, increased understanding and willingness in the community members who come – also contribute significantly, but the new house is helping us increase both the rate and the quality of the translation work being done.

The Mamusi Bible App

Perhaps the most exciting thing about being in the village is actually sharing newly translated portions directly with the community!  Portions of Luke have been read in the local church, read and discussed informally in the village, and distributed to numerous young people on their mobile phones!  Through tools developed for Bible translation, we can easily create, update, and distribute Scripture apps with audio that reads along with the text.  This is a great tool for those who are comfortable using technology, who also happen to be the people who are using some of the language skills of their parents’ generation.  By being able to hear the text as they read it, their language skills are being strengthened as they hear God’s word!  So far we’ve only been able to share in our village of Sivauna, but early next year the translation team has plans to travel to several nearby areas.  We will be raising awareness of the translation program in these areas, sharing our progress so far, recruiting representatives to a Mamusi Translation Committee, doing community testing, and showing the Jesus Film.  Please pray with us as we prepare for this next major step in the program.

Unfortunately, due to weather and other factors out of our control, the cost of building our house in the village went well over budget and this has caused financial stress on our Wycliffe ministry. Pray for wisdom for us as we deal with this situation. If you want more detailed information, please send us an email.  Additionally, we are receiving around 88% of our monthly budget, and are praying for the Lord to send new financial partners who can commit to giving regularly to our Wycliffe ministry. God has always been faithful to provide, and we are confident He will continue to do so through this season.  We’re so grateful to our prayer and financial partners who have loved us and supported our ministry through our first 2 1/2 years of Bible translation with the Mamusi people.  Thank you for being a part of what He’s doing in Papua New Guinea!

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. Colossians 3:16

One comment

  1. […] now, two of our translators (Jack and Oscar) are with us in Kokopo for the fifth workshop of the Luke Partnership Project. Please pray for Nick, who is still recovering in Sivauna from illness. In just two more weeks, we […]


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