A common practice in Papua New Guinea is the passing on of important stories from one generation to another. These stories are retold to certain custodians in good faith that the stories will live on orally.
It is a practice that lives on in the kind of society that indulges in small talk instead of reading books during their leisure time.
In light of the Bible Translation movement, relevant organizations have realized the significance of storytelling. The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) through its Sepik Partnership and Engagement Strategy project partnered with the Papua New Guinea Bible Translation Association (PNG BTA) to host an Oral Bible Storytelling Workshop here in Wewak earlier this month. SIL language workers from 6 language groups in East Sepik and Sandaun Provinces participated in the course.
Within two weeks, selected Bible stories and its twists are learnt orally and retold with poise and tact. This is all it takes. A checked version of the story is then saved in a voice recorder which the participants can replay and listen to wherever they are. These will help story tellers to keep their story straight.
The significance of Oral Bible Storytelling comes in two fold. Firstly, it tackles the problem of illiteracy and secondly, it takes up the challenge of positively affecting people’s lives. Since each story is retold orally in a local language, people will get to hear the whole passage, no reading is required. It is desired that Oral Bible Storytelling can spark interests within language communities to have these stories written in their languages thus initiating their own literacy programs. The impact in people’s lives is achieved when the people see themselves in the story and feel what each character feels. As a reference material, the Bible does not often have this effect on its readers. However, when orally presented, the events and emotions are clearly perceived.
Testimonies of past storytelling encounters have challenged both pastors and laymen who attended the closing ceremony at the SIL Wewak Centre. Even the workshop participants themselves were amazed at how a story told orally helped their understanding. Many invited pastors and church workers were impressed by the impact this simple method of storytelling can have. Oral Bible Storytelling Workshops are coordinated and funded by another missionary organization called The Seed Company.