Serving God in translation


THROUGH God’s amazing astronomical grace, ultimate plan and purpose, missionaries have come to spread the gospel in Papua New Guinea.

As a result, we declare ourselves in our constitution to live as a nation guided by Christian principles. This was made possible through the effort of missionaries doing Gods will.
One organisation that still exists among the many missionaries is the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). SIL works tirelessly throughout the country in many rural areas of PNG in translating the Bible from Englishinto local vernaculars.
This is the story of the translation of the Bwanabwana New Testament (Buki Tabu Waluwaluna) in the Samarai-Murua District of Milne Bay.
Buki Tabu Waluwaluna in the Bwanabwana language means the New Testament Bible.
The arrival of the Canavan family from Australia in September 1987 on Tubetube Island had a great impact on the lives of the Bwanabwana people.
The Bwanabwana language is a spoken vernacular within the Bwanabwana Island groups (Engineering group of islands) situated approximately 60 miles south east of Alotau the provincial capital of Milne Bay. The islands include Tubetube, Ole, Anagusa, Kitai, Basilaki (parts), Wale, Tewatewa, Buyali, Koyagaugau, Naluwaluwali and Kwalaiwa.
Other language groups that surrounds the island groups are Dobu, Tawala, Misima, Duau, Suau which have many words in common. There are two common dialects in the Bwanabwana language group, namely Tubetube and Wale. The language varies between the two groups in terms of dialect and grammar.
The original request for SIL to come to the Bwanabwana islands was from Rev James Paul of Kwalaiwa Island. Dr David Lithgow (translator from Woodlark and Dobu) found Steve and Jerri Gunderson to begin the work for the Bwanabwana language group. Dr Lithgow chose Tubetube island for the Gundersons to begin the work due to its central location to the other islands. Besides, its dialect had ‘prestige’ because of the Tubetube hymnbook and local Pastor Panetan was happy to look after the expatriates.
However, after four years the Gundersons had to leave because of their son’s illness. So Alan and Faye Canavan came with their children in 1987 and continued the translation work at Tubetube.
“We all welcome the arrival of the missionaries because it was good news too that they will be translating the Bible into our language,” says elder Rubin Abiu from Tubetube island.
It took four years for Alan Canavan to learn a good amount of language and do grammatical analysis before he began doing the actual translation work.
“We always had good relationships with the Tubetube people, teachers, school children, pastors and all of the church people,” says Alan.
The original translation team in 1988 consisted of Pastor Panetan, Fred Boita, Luka Banaba, Simi Gwalahi and Alan Canavan. A few years later Simi left and Rubin Abiu and Peola Wadapiyai joined the team. Additional help in some books was provided by Rev Aiseya John.
“Bible translation is very hard work. But my Tubetube translation team were very hard working,” says Alan.
The Bwanabwana New Testament was checked by a number of highly qualified expatriate translation consultants and was considered by them to be an excellent translation.
“I have found the Bwanabwana New Testament to be a very good translation and very clear and understandable for the Kitai people,” says Rev Edi Sekonia.
The translation for the New Testament was completed and dedicated on three islands in 2004 and all copies were soon sold out.
The first dedication was at Tubetube on July 7, 2004, the second at Kwalaiwa on July 10th 2004 and the third at Kitai island on July 17, 2004.
The Bwanabwana New Testament has proven to be a valuable asset for the spiritual life of the people.
Villager, Aikova Banaba testified that the Kwalaiwa people enjoy reading the Bwanabwana New Testament.
Preachers have made good use of the preacher’s index of sermon topics and found the book to be a good resource for preparing sermons. It has been continually used on all 11 islands in the language group.
The book includes 16 full-page good quality colour pictures and 80 black-and-white pictures.
Elder Malona from Anagusa island said that the Bwanabwana New Testament has been a much-appreciated book.
Many people in the Bwanabwana area bought the books for themselves. Pasi Kaisa of Wale Island said he bought a copy of the New Testament for himself, his wife and his two children.
In 2006 a New Testament reading competition was conducted at the Tubetube School for Grades 3,4,5 and 6. The results were astonishing. The competition demonstrated that the book could be read in a short time by primary school students with one month’s practice.
The Bwanabwana hymn book was published in 1991 and revisions were done in 1998 and 2004.
In 2006 a book containing 25 per cent of the Old Testament was published.
In addition, six manuals for Sunday school were published and distributed to the teachers, Pilgrim’s Progress in the Bwanabwana language (Ekalesiya ana kamwasa) was also published in 2006. A book for pastors and a fish book for fishermen were also produced.
Apart from Alan’s translation work, the Canavan family assisted the Tubetube and Bwanabwana people in many different ways. The Canavan family assisted in building the Tubetube Church building.
Alan and Faye also helped publish the Bwanabwana language dictionary as well as three editions of the Bwanabwana hymn book which contain more than 400 songs, traditional catechism and Bible questions.
“Our relationship with our Tubetube friends was excellent. We became like friends; they were like family to us. Over many years we shared our food, our medicines and our tank water with the Tubetube people. Our children became good friends with the Tubetube children,” says Alan.
The Bwanabwana New Testament was reprinted again and sold out in May, 2016.
July 7, 2016 marked the 12th anniversary of the Bwanabwana New Testament Bible dedication on Tubetube island in 2004.
The Canavan family moved back to Australia after translating the Bible in Bwanabwana language in 2007.
They now live in Australia but occasionally visit the Tubetube people. Alan’s last visit to Tubetube Island was in May 2016.
Recently, the SIL published certain books in the Old Testament in Bwanabwana language.

  • Kim Allen is a freelance writer.


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