Archive for February 2007
Last week, I finally downloaded some digital audio recordings I’d made in PNG, and I found some things you might enjoy hearing.
In August last year, I spent one week in the Waima village Ere'ere, a couple hours up the coast from Port Moresby. (See my first post about the Waima people.) I soon discovered that the Waima language uses very few sounds; in fact, the language does not have a “d” sound, a “v” sound, or a short “i” sound. As you may have noticed, that means that my name is virtually unpronounceable in Waima! Now of course, many Waima people have learned English and other languages, so they have become familiar with these sounds. Some even use English names like Donald or Colin. But it was clear that the people were more comfortable with Waima names. Upon arrival, I was christened Anabe.
Though Waima lacks many of the sounds that are important in other languages, it does have one sound of which native English speakers are almost completely unaware. It’s called the glottal stop — that funny little thing you do in your throat when you say something like “uh-oh!” Had you ever noticed that was there? Probably not. In Waima, however, the presence or absence of glottal stops (written as apostrophes) can change the meaning of a word. For example, aniani (food) and 'ani'ani (a small marsupial) are identical except for two glottal stops in the second word.
So in Waima, we can have an entire sentence composed of only four phonemes: 'Ani'ani aniani nianiani. “Ani” rhymes with “Ronnie.” Try reading the sentence aloud as fast as you can. What does it mean? 'Ani'ani is a small marsupial, and aniani is food, as I said above. The last word in the sentence is aniani again, but this time it’s being used as a verb, and it has the affix ni-, which indicates continuing action. A natural-sounding English translation might read, “The small marsupial is eating the food.” Note the word order of the original, however. The subject (the animal) is first, the object (the food) is in the middle, and the verb (”is eating”) is at the end, which is often the way sentences are arranged in Waima.
Now, for the music (had you given up on me yet?):
This first recording is one verse from a Western-style hymn in the Waima language. During the chorus, you will hear the phrase obia paka namona repeated a couple of times. Obia paka is an expression that means “Lord”; it comes from obia (chief) and paka (big). Many Scriptural concepts are expressed using analogies to traditional Waima leadership roles, where the chief is Peacemaker. So obia paka means “Lord,” and namona means “good.” Listen to the Waima hymn (01:11, 1.08 MB).
The hymns were beautiful, but the prophet songs were what really captured my heart during my visit. Prophet songs have haunting melodies and complex harmonies — I’d never heard anything like them. I learned that the musical form came from Polynesia with early missionaries. (Polynesians from Samoa, the Cook Islands, and other island groups were some of the early Christian missionaries to PNG.) The songs often tell Bible stories, and during Christmas and other holidays, people will gather to sing them all night long, which must be fantastic. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a good recording of a prophet song. This sample (which comes in in the middle of the song) will give you only the tiniest taste of what they are like: prophet song snippet (00:39, 617 KB).
To read more about prophet songs and early Polynesian missionaries, you can download Volume 6 Number 1 of the Journal of International Development and Cooperation (a 2 MB PDF) and scroll down to page 150, where the article “Polynesian Hymns in Papua” begins. The section dealing specifically with prophet songs begins on page 154.
Younger Waima people have learned to love more contemporary Western music styles, complete with keyboards and bass guitars. This can be a source of conflict with the elders, just as it can here at home. Perhaps you have noticed that all the styles I’ve mentioned came either from the West or the East (Polynesia), and you may be wondering whatever became of traditional Waima music. The answer is that it has died out almost completely. Apparently, truly traditional Waima music is hardly ever performed and is not even liked by many people today. Their tastes, like ours, continue to evolve in a changing world.
Over the last month, I have been settling in to a new home and way of life in the Dallas, Texas, area. Late last week, my official Texas driver’s license arrived in the mail. Yes, it appears I’m here to stay … sort of. More on that in a minute.
I have accepted a position as a publicity writer with Wycliffe Bible Translators International, and I’ve moved into an office at our headquarters in southern Dallas. I live about 10 minutes away, in a city called Duncanville. I’ve found a church in Duncanville that I think I will enjoy becoming a part of.
My international assignment with Wycliffe means that I will be involved in projects from many areas of the world, not just one. As regular readers know, I spent most of last year in Papua New Guinea, and PNG will continue to be one of my major projects over the next several months. Because PNG contains so many of the world’s languages (more than 10%), it is a major priority in our publicity work.
An international assignment also means that I will be working on materials for distribution all over the world, not just inside the United States. Approximately 50 countries have Wycliffe organizations or Wycliffe-affiliated organizations, and those of us in the international communications office work to help all of those organizations, as well as various other partners.
For example, some of my work has recently appeared in Wycliffe Canada’s Word Alive, in Wycliffe Hungary’s Wycliffe Hírek (see the Winter 2006 edition in PDF), and in Wycliffe Finland’s Sanalla Sanoen (see pp. 10-13 in the Numero 16/2006 PDF).
In December, Wycliffe International Prayer Coordinator Jan Crowell asked me to write a Wycliffe Prayer Focus Bulletin all about PNG. The bulletin is distributed widely both inside and outside the organization, and Jan says it reaches at least one million people who pray. I just discovered that part of that bulletin was converted to a radio spot by Mission Network News. It aired on hundreds of radio stations in many nations: Headway made for audio Scripture recordings in Papua New Guinea.
From PNG, I brought back several thousand digital photographs (many gigabytes!), many of which still need to be sorted and culled. I have interview notes and observations jotted in notebooks, assorted computer files, and in my head. Everything needs to be put into readily usable formats and distributed.
So, most of my time at the office these days is spent at a computer. However, there was some physical labor involved in finishing off the distribution of Living Word in Papua New Guinea, the special booklet commemorating 50 years of ministry in PNG. Some of you came to Dallas in November to help with the first major mailing of the booklets (thanks again!), and we have been distributing them slowly in smaller bits ever since. Just last week, I mailed off the final 628 copies. About 27,000 booklets were distributed; they went to every US state and about 40 other countries. Pray that God will use them to raise up more partners and workers for Papua New Guinea!
Even as I continue working on PNG materials, we are preparing for a new adventure. Later this year, I will spend about two months in Cameroon (west and central Africa) with a photographer from Wycliffe Canada and a friend from LeTourneau University who is exploring service with Wycliffe. You’ll hear a lot more about Cameroon as the time approaches.
Remember, our goal in all of these endeavors is to tell the stories of lives changed through Bible translation, literacy, and language work so that people in many lands will discover ways to pray, give, and get involved in this ministry.