by Jill Riepe
While in the STADI [Sepik Translation and Development Institute - ed.] course, we translated Genesis 18:1-15 where Abraham has three visitors. The translators asked me many questions. One asked me if we had any pictures of the three visitors. I had to say, “No, it was too long ago and no one took their picture.” However, I was surprised at the translators’ questions about where the three visitors were in relation to the tree at Mamre. They made reference to Moses and the burning bush. I thought perhaps it had something to do with the Ap Ma language requirement to know the distance in reference to the person talking. Later, after they had finished their first draft, I realized why they had so many questions.
They had God and the two angels up in the tree when Abraham first saw them. This makes perfect sense in PNG culture where many spirits are known to inhabit trees. They even told me a recent event in the village where two young girls went swimming in front of a specific type of tree known to be inhabited by mobuhli – evil spirits. These girls became very sick and the parents presented a sacrifice and offerings to get the sickness healed. In their context, God had to come from somewhere and since there was a tree mentioned in the text, God must have been up in the tree with His angels before He came to visit Abraham.
When this error was discovered, we corrected it to say that God came close to the tree at Mamre.
Jill is a translator working with the Ap Ma people. Her story here is an example of what has been named by our Director of Language Affairs, Martha Wade, as “Translation Bloopers”. You will be reading many blooper stories here in the future.