Australia – Paul Eckert, a 60 year old missionary of the Bible Society living in Adelaide, Australia is currently translating the Old Testament into Pitjantjatjara, a language traditionally spoken by the Pitjantjatjara people who inhabit the Western Desert of Australia. The translation of the bible, which is still half way through, was started by Reverend Bob Love and Ronald Trudinger around 70 years ago, when Pukatja was called Ernabella. The New Testament has already been published with the name of Tjukurpa Palya, the name chosen by the Church to refer to the Pitjantjatjara Bible.
Past and Present
Tjukurpa Palya, meaning “the good message” or “the good law”, is the first text ever written in Pitjantjatjara, a language which remained solely spoken until Love and Trudinger decided to take on the task of translating King James Bible into it. But today, in the north part of South Australia, Aboriginal languages have been decreasing as more and more children grow up speaking only English. Bible translation, which contributed in fostering and maintaining traditional languages, has also been dwindling since the Church ceded control to local communities in the 70s.
The Translators behind the Project
Paul Eckert is a fluent Pitjantjatjara speaker who has been involved with the communities in the Western Desert since 1973. He spent 34 years living in this area, mainly in Pukatja, until he moved to Alice Springs in 1993.
Eckert is currently working with Yanyi Bandicha, an 62 year old Aboriginal woman who was raised as a Christian and educated by the missionaries to read and write in both English and Pitjantjatjara. She is now one of the several translators in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands working on translating the remaining two thirds of the Bible, made up by the Old Testament.
The Bible Society is 200 years old and has already published 20 Bibles and Scriptures in rare indigenous languages, most of which have too small a readership to make the process a profitable one. The translations are generally sold for around $20, although each one costs far more to produce. The Society and Eckert’s missionary work is, in a way, trying to highlight the least acknowledged advantages that the Church has brought to Aboriginal Australia, after years of being in the spotlight for the way the Aborigines were treated by some missionaries in different parts of the country. Missionaries have long been in charge of documenting the communities’ culture and providing written forms for traditional languages in order to teach children how to read and write in their own tongue.