SIL wanted to fulfill this request from the Dibiyaso people, living around the tributaries of the Bamu River in Western Province. However, with 100’s of languages in Papua New Guinea still needing a translation and not many new translation teams coming to the country each year, this request has been unmet for almost two decades.
In order to explore different ways of fulfilling such requests, SIL Director Paul Minter encouraged SIL personnel in PNG to consider a multi-language initiative. On 20 and 21 January, more than 170 expatriate and Papua New Guinean staff gathered to hear reports of language needs in various parts of the country, brainstorm strategies, and seek God’ direction.
The result was a unified decision to focus their next emphasis on the people groups living around the Bamu River. This proposed cluster of languages will include not only the 2,000 Dibiyaso speakers, and the similarly-sized Mubami group, but also three other language groups in the area, each of which has fewer than 300 people. Sandra Callister, the Director for Language Programs, said, “I’m so glad that the Hoia Hoia, Foia Foia, and the Hoyahoya will be included in this cluster.
The language communities are so small, that they might well have been overlooked when it came to starting new translation programs.. But because they will be included in this cluster, they, too, will have the opportunity to receive God’s Word in their language.”
In a cluster project, related languages work together to translate passages of Scripture. They each work on the same book in their own language so they can encourage one another, share translation resources, and discuss the meanings of difficult passages as they arise.
Although SIL will make it a priority to focus people and other resources on this cluster of languages, they have not forgotten the other areas of the country still waiting for God’s Word. The Markham Valley was identified as a secondary cluster project, and others will be considered later. In addition, Minter made it clear, “Engaging with languages in clusters is not a new strategy in PNG, nor will we stop working in single language programs. But in this initiative we are exploring new approaches to the task of making the translated Scriptures available to the people of Papua New Guinea.”