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Language & Literacy

Imagine being given the task of communicating with a group of people unable to comprehend your language. You initially can’t speak their language and you have the opportunity to teach them work skills and literacy (read and write). It sounds like quite a challenge…

This is exactly what Pastor Carl Strehlow faced when he arrived at the Hermannsburg Mission in 1894. Not only did missionaries work tirelessly to create and upkeep a mission, their main concern revolved around spreading Christianity. Using the bible as a teaching tool, people could also be taught to read and write from its pages.

Strehlow began the arduous task of learning the Arrernte Aboriginal language. He then translated the New Testament into Arrernte and also wrote several important works of the Arrernte people. Now they were able to comprehend the foreign words and symbols.

Imagine being given the task of teaching the ideas of Christianity to Aborigines with different spiritual beliefs. Carl Strehlow researched and studied the Arrernte culture. He familiarised himself with their stories. The Christian scripture was then altered as he taught it to the Arrernte. Strehlow rewrote biblical passages recreating parables from the New Testament. The parables were written incorporating Aboriginal customs with main characters from the New Testament.

Also, instead of translating the text word for word, he adapted some of the stories to be more palatable to the Arrernte. For example, instead of having Jesus lead the 12 desciples from the front, as is stated in the New Testament, the Arrernte bible has him leading from the back. This is because a person must have absolute trust in someone walking behind them, especially if they are weilding a spear.

Suggested activities: Retell a story using symbols or sign language. Create your own language symbols with a partner. Write a story to share with a group ‘speaking’ or ‘writing’ in another language.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 13, 2001 3:16 PM.

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