Scripture in an Oral Culture: the Yali of Irian Jaya

Scripture in an Oral Culture: the Yali of Irian Jaya
Author: John D Wilson
Publisher: PapuaWeb (1999)

“The occasion in Yali culture which became the natural opportunity for initial and continued transmission of Scripture — basically in the form of Bible stories — was in the evening hours which traditionally were given to nunung and dindil ale story telling. Here was a time when the community was used to gathering, and ready and eager to hear a new story.”

This paper highlights some of the assumptions about Scripture that can limit or hinder its communication in an oral culture. The author examines orality (as opposed to non-literacy) with a view to demonstrating the capacity and capability of oral media (stories and songs) for the effective transmission of Scripture.

“The same basic assumption that has been common in the Protestant missionary tradition — namely, that Scripture as a book, with all that that implies, must be given to each and every church in the vernacular language — also formed the basis for evangelism and church planting among the Yali. No conscious consideration was given to modifying the presentation of Scripture to conform to oral learning styles or by use of oral media. Nevertheless, lessons can be learned, and the Yali case shows the importance of understanding orality and of consciously using, or encouraging the use of, oral media.”

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