Kurt, Johanna, Kassia, Lukas and Matthias

Our family in Papua New Guinea | 2012

Ukarumpa and Aiyura Valley

Ukarumpa is SIL's center of opperations in Papua New Guinea and where we live and work.

Miniafia New Testaments from the dedication in 2010

"God is a Miniafia Man," the loincloth-clad speaker exulted! "Before He was English, and American, and Australian. But today He has become Miniafia!"

Doini Island

Photo by Tim McIntosh (SIL PNG's boat manager in 2008) | Many of the 100's of islands in PNG can only be reached by boat.

Where do you play when you live on an island?

Children from Nubwageta village playing near the shore.

Miniafia New Testament Dedication

New Testament dedications in PNG usually include elaborate processions to welcome the Bibles.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

No-one bothers to write down the ancestors of spirit beings

by John Hamilton

Papua New Guinea

As a student at Trinity College Dublin, I used to pop into The Old Library to look at the current page of the Book of Kells which was always on display. I may have seen Matthew’s Genealogy of Christ. I may have admired the beauty of the lavish calligraphy of the 9th century manuscript. But I would never have dreamed that this passage of the Bible would lead anyone to faith in Jesus Christ.


Book of Kells: Matthew’s Genealogy of Christ

But it has done – and I’ve since heard the story below – but never in such detail. It’s well worth a read as we remember Paul’s words that all Scripture is useful for teaching…

When Des told Jenny, ‘We finished the last of Matthew today,’ she replied, ‘What about the first seventeen verses.’

Oh yes. Those uninteresting verses that told of Jesus’ ancestry back to Abraham. They had to be tackled before he had really finished the book.

Surprisingly, Sisia [his language helper] sailed through the long genealogy without a trace of boredom. He made no comment on the translation as he often did. But when he rose to go, he said with some deliberation, ‘There’s going to be an important meeting in Nameepi’s house tonight. I want you to come and bring what we’ve done today.’

Des wondered, What’s he up to? Why a meeting tonight? Perhaps he wants to celebrate finishing Matthew. But why does he particularly want me to bring what we’ve translated today?

That night, Des took the lantern and walked the short distance to Nameepi’s house, just above his own.

He walked into the central room to find it already filled to capacity. All Sisia’s family were there around the fire. Two other rooms, off to either side, were also packed with people. Des had never seen so many packed into a house before. There was also an odd sense of tension in the air that made him nervous.

He was led immediately to a seat on the floor beside the fire. Sisia took command and spoke in his usual authoritarian voice.

‘I have asked Mata’a Des to come and read what we translated this morning. I can’t tell it to you. I want you to hear it for yourselves.’

The room became extraordinarily still. Des was conscious that all eyes were focussed on him. He cleared his throat and began to read: ‘These are the ancestors of Jesus Messiah, a descendant of King David and of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac; Isaac was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers; Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah; … ’

Des could not look up. His eyes were glued to the text. He was trying to read as naturally as Sisia has spoken the sentences to him that morning, but the tense atmosphere in the room made this difficult.

He did not see Fofondai’s eyes grow wider and rounder, as did Maraa’aro’s and several others near him. He could sense, though, that every word he spoke was being grabbed and critically examined by the listeners.

He became conscious that Yawo was moving near to him. So were A’aaso, Aaka and Yaa’a. He was aware Sao watched his lips unblinkingly. As he continued reading, more and more people began pressing. The people from the other rooms were pushing into the central room. Fofo was so close that his beard almost touched the written page. Yawo’s arm was rammed right against Des’.

Des suddenly felt scared. He had a sense of being crushed. It was not only the pressure of bodies; it was the uncanny silence. It seemed that not a dog barked, not a baby cried, not a person released his breath.

He did not know if the list of names offended some ritual taboo about which he knew nothing. If so, and the people were angry that it was being so blatantly publicised, he was in an awkward position. There was no way of escape, hemmed in as he was. And with the atmosphere so charged, he felt he dared not ask a question. These people were so volatile; they could erupt in a fury so easily.

So he kept on reading. ‘Matthan was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Joseph (who was the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus the Messiah). There are fourteen generations from Abraham to King David; and fourteen from King David’s time to the exile in Babylon; and fourteen from the exile to Christ.’

They had heard him out.

Des raised his eyes to look at those within a breath of his face—and saw, not anger, but incredulity. ‘Why didn’t you tell us all this before?’ Yaa’a demanded.

Des recoiled instinctively as if he’d been struck.

‘No-one bothers to write down the ancestors of spirit beings,’ Fofondai stated.

‘It’s only real people who record their genealogical table,’ A’aaso added.

‘Jesus must be a real person!’ someone else cried, his voice ringing with astonishment.

Then everyone seemed to be talking at once. ‘Fourteen generations, that’s two hands and a foot, from Abraham to King David …’

‘And two more hands and a foot, to the time of the kalabus (the captivity) …’

‘And another two hands and a foot till Jesus’ time …’

‘That’s a very, very long time.’

‘This ancestry goes back further than ours.’

‘Yes, none of ours goes back two hands and a foot three times.’

‘Jesus must have been a real man on this earth then. He’s not just white man’s magic.’

‘Then what the mission has taught us is real.’

Yes real. Des pondered on that as he made his way home. The ancient list of names which he had always found boring and pretty well meaningless had ratified Jesus as a real person to his unlettered friends. He possessed a genealogy like their own! To the Binumariens, the truth of the scriptures was now beyond doubt.

Des and Jenny Oatridge were members of Wycliffe Australia and worked with Binumarien colleagues in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 70s to translate God’s Word into the local language. Their story has been written up in a book by Lynette Oates called Hidden People: How a remote New Guinea culture was brought back from the brink of extinction.

Text and image source:  “No-one bothers to write down the ancestors of spirit beings” (November 2, 2012) in John 20:21, a blog written by John Hamilton, Wycliffe UK.

John Hamilton currently works as Coordinator for a Church Engagement team in Northern Ireland.

Ethnologue entry for Binumarien | Ethnologue: Languages of the World is an encyclopedic reference work cataloging all of the world’s 6,909 known living languages.

PNG map of language group


That is a great blog! I listened to a man who worked in Papua New Guinea for 10 years with Wycliff tonight. His name was Dennis Cochrane. It was through a class called Perspectives. God bless you and your families ministry!