Somau Garia language

By Todd Owen

It is cool. The night has been restful and the sun begins to rise over the Finisterre Mountain Range. The village begins to stir. The people of Uria village fan dying coals to life and huddle around the resulting fires. They shiver as they prepare taro, sweet potato, or breadfruit for breakfast. Another day is beginning.

For some of them, though, the night has not been so restful. They have burned the midnight oil (or perhaps I should say the midnight kerosene), preparing literacy materials to be used in the mother tongue preschools which they themselves have started in their language group. This work is usually done at night, after they have spent the day working either in their gardens or working on community development projects, like the cocoa fermentery, or working in the coffee groves.

The Somau Garia people have had a long history of contact with outsiders, beginning as early as the late 1800s. The Lutheran mission established a work among the Somau Garia in the late 1920s.

Yet, through all of the outside contact, they maintained belief in their traditional gods, their rituals to appease these gods, and their secret rites of passage. As time passed, the Lord began to turn the hearts of many; they began to forsake the rituals which kept them in bondage to the gods they had formerly followed. They began to walk away from the demons that haunted them.

And as they walked away, they noticed a void that needed to be filled. Though they had had contact with Christianity for nearly 70 years, the Bible had not yet been translated into Somau Garia. And though they had schools in the area for nearly as long, they still had no writing system for their language and thus, no ability to read their language. They needed that which would give them the strength to stand in the day of trial and temptation—the word of God.

In 1993 David and Ann Judd allocated to Uria, one of the central villages of the Somau Garia people. They helped organize translation, literacy, and checking committees, learned the language, and helped the people to devise an alphabet. In 1995 the Judd family decided not to return to PNG.

What happened in the next few years reflects the heart and attitude of the Somau Garia people. Without an expatriate advisor living in the area, they pressed on. Many groups would have been faint of heart and given up. Instead, with their goal of translation and literacy before them, they went to a missionary in a neighboring language group, the Girawa, for training in literacy. They proceeded to produce literacy materials, start two preschools, and translate the Christmas story on their own. In 1998, five more schools were slated for opening.

Our family came to work with the Somau Garia in July 1997. We have been encouraged by the fervor that they exhibit in the projects they approach. We have been particularly impressed with the motivation behind the fervor. Amos Ligai, coordinator of the literacy project, articulated his motivation well one evening as we were talking. If we do not translate the Bible into Somau Garia, many people will never repent and turn to God. The Pidgin Bible just isn’t clear enough to penetrate their hearts. If the people can hear God’s word in Somau Garia, then they will understand.

For some, the night has not been so restful. They have been working on literacy materials. They will not rest until the work is finished and the Somau Garia can read God’s word in their language.

The Owens worked in PNG from 1997 to 2007, and recently returned in 2015.