Eileen held up the picture of a rooster crowing in a treetop. “I am a rooster,“ she said in her own language of I’ai. “I like to crow very loudly in the early morning and wake everyone up. Ko-ko-ro-ko!” The children gathered at her feet laughed as Eddy wrote the I’ai words on the blackboard.
Teachers Eileen and Eddy, together with 20 children from Maipenairu, Gulf Province, were translating simple storybooks into I’ai for use in the schools. A lack of basic materials is a common challenge for many rural schools, so training in creating books is very valuable. Telling stories out loud, rather than first writing them down, results in a more natural and vibrant translation in this traditionally oral culture, and Papua New Guineans are often more comfortable working in groups than on their own, in order to reach a consensus.
The translation process began with a facilitator telling a story in English or Tok Pisin (PNG’s primary trade language) several times, showing everyone pictures corresponding to the words. Then, one of the audience members would take the pictures and retell the story in I’ai, with his or her classmates helping whenever words were forgotten. The whole group energetically discussed difficult translation concepts, such as the number eight (their counting system is specific only to five), until they came to a consensus. Within only two or three repetitions, the translation would be complete, and they could then retell the story as a scribe wrote it on a blackboard. Finally, as the whole group read aloud together, they refined the spelling, punctuation, and phrasing until it met with their satisfaction and was ready for publication.
“I am a rooster,” Eileen’s eyes twinkled as she turned to a picture of a smirking, preening rooster. “Hens like to follow me because of my beautiful feathers! Ko-ko-ro-ko!”