Enga

Engan men in traditional dress
Enga is the largest vernacular language in Papua New Guinea with approximately 300,000 speakers and nine dialects. Enga is spoken throughout Enga Province, which is the highest province of Papua New Guinea. Wabag, the capital of Enga Province, is located at 6,000 feet and has a population of 4,000 people. It is the only provincial capital in Papua New Guinea where a vernacular language (Enga) is the main language used in town rather than an official language like Tok Pisin or English.

While many Engans who live in Wabag town operate businesses and live in modern housing, the vast majority of Engan people live in huts without electricity or running water. They are subsistence agriculturalists, growing all of their own food. Sweet potatoes are the main staple, but corn, peanuts, pumpkins, bananas, and sugar cane are also popular foods. Most Engans also raise pigs, and a man's status is traditionally measured by how many pigs he owns. Like many people groups in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, the Enga people have a long history of tribal fighting that has often devastated local communities and impeded development.

The first contact the Enga people had with the outside world was in 1934 when gold prospectors made an expedition into Enga territory. Fifteen years later, in 1948, the first missionaries arrived. A translation of Mark and 1 Timothy was published in the Enga language in 1965, followed by the complete New Testament using a mixture of dialects in 1988. (A New Testament was also completed in the Sau dialect of Enga in 1979.)

Although there are prior translations in Enga, they are in need of major revision. While we are thankful for those who have gone before us and translated the New Testament into Enga, we recognize that there are many areas where the translation must be improved and revised in order to be acceptable today. Our task therefore, is to work with a team of Enga speakers who are trained in the basic principles and methods of Bible translation to revise the Enga New Testament into the Central Dialect (which all of the other dialects understand and accept).

We also recognize that low literacy levels are a major obstacle toward Bible use among the Enga people. The reality is that very few people know how to read well, especially in Enga. A large number of Enga speakers have had little to no formal schooling. Those who do go to school are taught in English. Because English is their third language, they struggle to read with a high level of comprehension. Very few people ever learn how to read in Enga or have access to any literature printed in Enga. Furthermore, in the oral cultures of the Papua New Guinea highlands, literacy is not highly valued as it is in countries like America.

A village church in Enga
The Enga people, however, are rapidly embracing new technology. Although the vast majority of Engan people live in huts without electricity or running water, it is not uncommon to find those same people talking on cell phones and listening to music on battery-powered MP3 players. When their phone batteries die, they just go to town or find a local business with a generator where they can recharge their phones for a small fee.

Because Engan people are largely an oral culture, we are creating audio recordings of each book of the New Testament. Those audio records are then distributed in two main ways. The first way is on solar-powered MP3 players. These audio players allow people to listen to God's Word in Enga for hours at a time, and when the battery dies, they simply place the player in the sun to charge. We've heard stories of people saying, "When we read the Bible in Tok Pisin, we never read a whole chapter at a time. But we can listen to an entire book of the Enga Bible in one sitting without getting tired!" Once people start listening to the Bible, there is a tendency for those with basic literacy skills to want to read along with a printed copy as they listen to the recording. In the process of doing so they teach themselves how to read their own language. As a result, we are also release audio recordings of the Enga Bible as an Android phone app that highlights the text sentence-by-setence as the audio recording plays. Even among people who live with no electricity or running water, Android phones are starting to become more and more common. And while an Engan may be reluctant to read a printed copy of the Bible in Enga, they will quite readily sit down and try to read along with the Android phone app. The other benefit of the Android phone app is that the distribution is completely free for anyone who has an Android phone. Technology is truly revolutionizing the way Engan people access God's Word!

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