|A chorus is sung before Father Niccomed Mudumatana (centre) blesses the boxes containing the Anuki versions of Genesis 1-11 and the Gospel of Mark|
On the last day of the National Book Week (6th August, 2010) what better story to tell than the one about book launching somewhere in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea such as the Anuki Country in the Rabaraba District of the Milne Bay Province.
On Sunday, July 25, a book launch was held there, at Woruka village from 9.30am to 2.05pm. The Anuki Bible translation team based at that village and the rest of the community have a story to tell that goes well with that book launching. And this is how they tell the story.
When Doboro Parata was being baptised in 1951 as Mark Parata at Pem Mission Station by Father Amos Paisawa, there was heard a sudden clap of thunder even on a bright and clear day, as if confirming that the new religion had finally taken root within the Great Anuki Country.
Doboro Parata was feared, dreaded as much as revered and respected as the greatest sorcerer there was within the Anuki, Are, Doga, Dimdima and Gapapaiwa speaking areas of that region (Rabaraba) of the Milne Bay Province. Equally so was his counterpart, Father Amos Paisawa. Both men, though holding different views and beliefs in life, were history makers in the Anglican Church of Eastern Papua.
But the choice and act of christening Parata as Mark was no coincidence, however, as that symbolises what missionary work in general is all about. In Mark’s Gospel (5:1-20) we hear of a man possessed by a thousand or so demons which are cast out by Jesus and sent into a mob of swine which in turn rushes down to the sea to drown. The man, now healed, asks Jesus if he can join him and his disciples carry on the good work they do, but is refused and instead is asked to go back to his relatives (who are gentiles) and share with them the good things that had happened to him. That man, according to some of our well respected preachers of the word, becomes the first missionary ever to be appointed directly by Jesus in order to carry out the wonderful work that Christians do throughout the world.
The story of Doboro Mark Parata’s baptism is regarded as an important event in that sense. Mark Parata died soon after, of course, but not without seeing some of his own relatives receive the calling to go out and work as missionaries – in the Highlands, the New Guinea Islands and many other parts of the country. Among these were the Paipairas, the Kamokabas and the Kerinas.
Until 2000 such missionary work as carried out by this same group of families continued to survive, usually restricted to small-scale worship and sacramental observations at given parishes of the Anglican Church – but in direct competition, one might say, with modernity and all the influences that modernity brings with it. Interest in church and generally missionary activity began to dwindle a little then, some five decades after Mark Parata’s baptism, and it is true that even today the Church itself can barely maintain a parish not only within the Anuki Country but elsewhere in Cape Vogel and the Rabaraba District, including the Great Dogura Diocese itself.
Today, a strange turn of events and what might be regarded as a miracle, is beginning to take place with promises of some more good things to come. SIL-PNG (Summer Institute of Linguistics), along with a partner VITAL (the Vernacular Initiative for Translation and Literacy), has stepped in to render support and assistance. Though limited in resources and manpower, this group of missionary workers is to be commended for the great work it does in helping strengthen one’s faith in Christianity as well as providing vital educational services at rural level through its translation and literacy programs. Workshops are conducted two or three times a year, and these enable the villagers to participate in setting their thoughts down on paper as well doing all that is necessary to translate the entire Bible into their respective languages.
For the Anuki people work had begun in 2006, a year after the launch of VITAL to (in the words of Karla Sligh, Post Courier May 28) “meet the needs of language communities and dialects of Milne Bay and Oro Provinces that have no other way to begin a translation program in the near future.”
The prospects so far look good. Chapters 1 to 11 of the book of Genesis, along with the whole of Mark’s Gospel have successfully been translated into the Anuki language. With Karla Sligh at the helm as VITAL Coordinator, and Joanna Frampton as SIL translation consultant and full-time VITAL mentor for the area’s translation and literacy team, one can only marvel at the ease with which the Anuki project is progressing. There is word doing the rounds that with every Anuki speaker lending a hand the entire translation of the Bible should be completed in less than 15 years.
The author of this article felt exceedingly pleased be present at the book launch at Woruka. Food, as it is a favourite pastime for the Anuki people, was provided in abundance. Beautiful speeches were made as part of the launching ceremony, and by late afternoon, soon after the SIL and VITAL party had left for Alotau, the dancers stepped out to perform a birikio like those ancient times gone by. It was a wonderful day indeed.
Speakers at the book launch include the following: Jacob Igara (Pem, MC); John Garfield Kamokaba (Tototo); Kipling Borewa (Pem); Benson Rugabuna (Tapio-Woruka, Councillor); Cecil Bogerara (Woruka); Karla Sligh (United States, VITAL Coordinator); Joanna Frampton (New Zealand, SIL translation consultant and full-time VITAL mentor for the Anuki team); and at one point this author (Tototo-Port Moresby). Other people who did not speak but who equally deserve mention are Fathers Niccomed Mudumatana (Bogaboga) and Bevin Nanasia (Garabuna), who celebrated Mass earlier that morning and who blessed the books before the launch; Tuula Kaija (Finland), the technician in charge of audio-visual equipment and through whose work participants as much as respective communities can be able to listen to recorded scriptures in their languages; Hazel Kerina (Tototo), one of the key players in the Anuki translation team; and, of course, the people of the Anuki Country.
All that has been said here is by no means a “success story” in the vein of those other stories we hear about books and literacy in our country. This is a story about the most remote regions of Papua New Guinea where terms such as infrastructure, equal sharing of the nation’s wealth and government granting systems, better health and educational reform structures and the like are virtually unheard of. Yet the Anuki do manage to survive, year in year out, and that in itself is quite a story to tell.
Recently, it has been reported that there was a break and enter incident observed at the VITAL office in Alotau, thus denying this group of NGO and non-profit missionary workers 15 lap tops which were assigned for use not only in the Anuki project but for the other Milne Bay language projects as well. It will take time before these items are replaced. We do believe, however, that there are good people out there reading this story who will consider lending a hand in whatever way they can.
And the dancers step out to spice up the celebrations at the launch with a performance of the biriko, the traditional Anuki ring dance. Photos by Tuula Kaija and Karla Sligh of VITAL, Alotau Office.