Tonight, my sister’s family is boarding a plane that will lead them back to Wewak, Papua New Guinea. They have been doing their work there for eighteen years, and on this furlough, they were home longer than they have ever been – a year and a half – due to a new policy of needing full financial support before returning.
They are Wycliffe Bible Translators – trained in linguistics to use the blueprint of the Roman alphabet to produce a written language for a small village known as Pouye. This is one language of the 1,000 languages in PNG, out of the 6,000 languages in the world.
At the start, my sister and brother in-law learned to speak Pouye, then determined which letters are used in the language. After this map, they comprised the written language, taking into account cultural differences. Then they began the process of teaching the people to read and write, and of course, instilling them with their faith.
I could tell numerous stories about their time there, but I’ll never know what it’s really like to live the way they do. Each time they are preparing to go back, I keep hoping that they won’t go. And each time they come home, I watch patiently as they go through culture shock. It literally takes them a full year to reacclimate and catch up to all that they have missed.
Because my nieces are often so isolated, I didn’t really think that my oldest niece, Cynthia, would become a full-on teenager. But it’s happened – she’s fifteen and begging for a new phone every year. In that phase where she’s not fully present, rapt over social media, selfies, and games on her phone. Half young woman, half slightly awkward – but next time I see her, she’ll be eighteen, and that last half will probably be gone.
I was so amused, this time around, that the girls are at the age where they’re developing their own opinions. Mom and Dad are no longer the ultimate end-all be-all. They had journals of secrets and a complex magic club. Cynthia told us, “There are more pros than cons to the witch doctors where we live.” Being a super herbalist healer myself – due to years of no medical insurance – I had to agree. Though you wouldn’t want to be the unfortunate tourist who purchased the wrong kind of wooden statue – the one with a hex on it to keep the tourists out. The only way to reverse the hex, she told us, is by burning the token.
I’m trying to hold it together as I think about all of the memories I have with my nieces. All the times they spent the night and we ate ice cream and pizza, made paintings with watercolor and gouache, went to the museum where Cynthia pointed out the blonde voodoo doll that looks just like Leah, shopped at my herbal store where we bought pestles and mortars, toured a historic boat that functions as a hotel, went to the zoo, or the park. There is so much more I wish we could have done.
Since Cynthia is in high school, when they get back she’ll be going to a boarding school at a mission base on the other side of PNG. It makes me feel a little uneasy that she’ll be so far away from her family. Being the youngest sister myself, I relate a great deal to Leah. She often feels like the underdog, though she is talented and witty with an incredible imagination. My older sister left home when I was twelve, and now Cynthia is leaving when Leah is almost twelve as well. I keep seeing history repeat itself.
Being apart, they will change a great deal. Leah will come into her own and feel less overshadowed, but she’ll also feel lonely without her sister. Cynthia will become more independent, focused on making her own decisions, forming her own thoughts through her love of writing and art.
If this is the last term for my sister and brother-in-law, I also wonder what the next phase of their lives will be. What will they do? Will they teach? My sister has shown that she can acclimate, and has been working as an assistant Spanish teacher. But my brother-in-law seems more uncertain of his place outside of missionary life. He is known there as a leader, but here, he hasn’t had the opportunity to establish himself in that way. It seems important that he find his footing here in the states, eventually.
All four of them have kept moving so constantly that gypsy life is ingrained in them. They all fear the idea of staying in one place for more than a year. In that constant movement, there is little chance for a complete life to take root. I only say this, because for a long time, I lived that way as well. It’s the “Hello, Goodbye” lifestyle. We’re never able to completely work out our issues because there is never enough time together.
I get nervous being one on one with my sister. I attempted to have lunch with her once – the second time we were alone together since she got married. Her silence makes me want to fill the air with words. I wonder if she expects me to ask her questions, but I don’t know what questions to ask, and I prefer that she fill in the blanks without my prodding. She told me that I talked too much. I am an open book, and she is a closed one – she knows me so much better than I will ever know her. I have no idea how to solve her mystery.
There are many things we never say. We never bring up the fact that I didn’t become the Super-Christian that she so wanted me to be (including the time that she tried to send me to a rehab camp in Texas for straying Christians). They’ve read some of my writing, but no one ever brings it up. And we never discuss that I have mixed feelings about what they do for a living.
In Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond, the course of our evolutionary development is traced through the conquest and spread of civilization. His book offers a total education in how human society functions through the game of winners and losers. At one point he asks, “Why was proselytizing religion (Christianity and Islam) a driving force for colonization and conquest among Europeans and West Asians but not among Chinese (Diamond, 419)?”
As countries, empires, languages, and people groups have come and gone, China has remained Chinese, with an unchanging language and power structure for longer than almost anywhere. It is an insular large land mass, and though as a culture they have made leaps and bounds in technology and invention, an absolute leader has always stalled the process, causing a sort of catch-up game hundreds of years later.
In Europe, however, there are many small countries with open communication. If one leader is not buying a concept, another one will. If the concept is successful, the other leaders have to adopt it or risk getting swallowed up by the more successful country. This model pertains not only to countries but to corporations, organizations, governments, and religion.
Christianity is a conquest religion. First come the missionaries, then comes the government. The big businesses are drawn by untapped resources and cheap labor, which leads to total cultural take-over.
In the past eighteen years, a lot has changed in Papua New Guinea. Its resources have encouraged development – and if you want to rent a home there, $4,000 a month is on the low-end. I wouldn’t be surprised if land gets bought up right from under the feet of the natives. It’s the same old story.
In the 1970’s, the highlanders had been farming with stone tools for thousands of years while those in the swamp areas existed on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Before humans ever arrived, large mammals existed there, but since then, there has been so little protein, that cannibalism existed until modern Australians threatened the human-eaters with guns. Society there developed in utter isolation from the original Asian population that first founded it (certain people groups that looked much different back then than they do today).
“… difficulties of terrain, combined with the state of intermittent warfare that characterized relations between New Guinea bands or villages, account for traditional New Guinea’s linguistic, cultural, and political fragmentation (Diamond, 306).”
This fragmentation and geographic isolation kept New Guinea from developing as a civilization, though until three thousand years ago, it was actually more advanced than Australia, the islands of Bismarck, and the Solomon Archipelagoes.
To most Papua New Guineans, technology is “white man’s magic.” Western medicine and an encouragement to decrease warfare has improved the population. Is it patronizing to ask that a culture remain untouched so that we can enjoy the Stone Age from afar? Is it patronizing to take over? Rather than answers, there is the inevitable progression of globalization.
Quickly, the old traditions disappear, replaced with our customs, our food, our business, our religions. The first thing they are given to read is the Bible. Not their own stories, but the stories of a once tiny tribal religion that began in the Fertile Crescent – a place so raped of its natural resources that it is now only a dessert.
Within my family, there are eight different people with differing life experiences, belief systems, and lifestyles among three different generations. Maybe all of that difference keeps us balanced. When we come together, it can be a challenge. There is always an awkward moment, or the thing that someone says that makes me angry. In a sense, we understand more fully who we are when confronted with the opposite point of view. It seems to work for us – the small groups with mostly open communication that create innovation – kind of like Europe, or Microsoft, or Capitalism. In all of that difference, we find success.
5 thoughts on “Lessons On Conquest”
I loved that book. Initially, I thought I’d be bored, but it piqued my interest quickly, and then I couldn’t put it down!
When I was in anthropology, I researched Papua New Guinea as my final project (Trobrianders.) I recently saw a documentary about it, and I couldn’t get over how much it’s changed.
I’m sorry that you will miss your family.
You write very well and make excellent points.
For my part, I am opposed to cultural imperialism and would not be
hitting anyone with the ‘Good Book’.
I’ve heard about the Trobriand islanders and would like to learn more about them. Their belief system is interesting and I’m intrigued by the matrilineal society.
Diamond pens his book from a valuable piece of the paradigm against the backdrop of the history of Adam’s race here on our planet earth.
It gives the reader’s just one of the three sets of corrective optical lens available to see Adam’s race through.
To not just to look from one eye but to see from both eyes( myopic to biopic or 20-20 vision) requires applying the other corrective lenses so that the other eye can see to the full measure of sight that is available.
When this lens is adjusted to correct the view point of the reader a new paradigm, and potentially a new eternal focus may not just be looked at in a myopic perspective but from a biopic one.
According to Webster biopic is defined as “ a biographic movie”.
Here is part of the same view of Diamond’s paradigm except looking at it through the second corrective lens.( List of nations below)
All of the nations listed are responsible for colonizing the globe using a “ Christian Doctrine( READ BIBLES-Catholic and Protestant).
On a closer look a biography of a person who was given charge over the nations and for scattering twelve tribes globally may begin to emerge.
Only one person could have ever orchestrated 12,000 exact days between the formation of these twelve nations. Nations who are all primarily responsible for colonizing the earth with the “good book”( read sealed bible*)
In order for the synchronized reader to see the full focused picture there is another or a third set of corrective lenses to maximize the focus outside and beyond the lines created through the religious lens created from the original Hebrew alphabet morphing under the weight of nation builders.
This final set of prescriptive corrective corrective lenses( below) in essence literally takes what Adam’s race knows as the “good book” which colonized the world and timely re-formats it to become the “ Little Book”. **
6 Oct 1579 OS
Union of Utrecht
13 Aug 1612 OS
Letter/Zemski Sobar/House of Romanov
21 Jun 1645 OS
Treaty of Bromsebro
29 Apr 1678 OS
Treaty of Nijmegen
7 Mar 1710 OS
Treaty of Szatmár
13 Jan 1743 OS
Treaty of Breslau/Treaty of Berlin
1 Dec 1776 NS
US Declaration of Independence
10 Oct 1809 NS
Treaty of Schönbrunn
18 Aug 1842 NS
Law Change/Civil War
26 Jun 1875 NS
Decree/Revolt/Treaty of Berlin in 1878
4 May 1908 NS
Agreement/Turks leave Crete, Greeks remain
12 Mar 1941 NS
Lend Lease Treaty funds WWII
18 Jan 1974
Disengagement of Forces Agreement
Corrective lens prescription:
*But you, Daniel, seal these words and be silent, and seal this book even to the time of the end; many will want to know the end, and knowledge will be increased.
YES this means that even those who use the Roman script to translate the Good Book are still using the “sealed book”
And I heard the number of those who were sealed; and it was 144,000, of all the tribes of the sons of Israel. 5Of the tribe of Judah were sealed 12,000; of the tribe of Reuben, 12,000; of the tribe of Gad, 12,000; 6of the tribe of Asher, 12,000; of the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000; of the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000; 7of the tribe of Simeon, 12,000; of the tribe of Levi, 12,000; of the tribe of Issachar, 12,000; 8of the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000; of the tribe of Joseph, 12,000; of the tribe of Benjamin, 12,000.
** Rev 10:8-11
And the same voice which I had heard from the skies spoke to me again saying, Go and take the little book, which is open in the hand of the angel which stands on the sea and on the land. 9And I went to the angel, and as I was about to say to him, Give me the little book, he said to me, Take it and eat it; and it will make your belly bitter, but it will be sweet as honey in your mouth. 10So I took the little book out of the hand of the angel, and ate it; and it was sweet as honey in my mouth; but as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. 11Then he said to me, You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and the heads of nations and kings.
A synchronized reader( even those using Roman alphabets) may be able to not just look but, to actually see how and who the person is who is featured in the biography when viewing through the biopic corrective lens?
@garryumphress – I’m not interested in biblical conspiracy theories, and being an agnostic atheist, there is no evidence that supports the legend of Adam or any of the other mythical stories in the Bible. I’m open to other points of view, just growing tired of the mumbo jumbo. If you want to make a comment from the real world, be my guest.