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Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry

Bible storying for Hupla people

Source: Langmead, Clive 1991, Wings like Eagles, Lion, Oxford, UK, pp 99-101.

[The story is reported as told by Graham Cousins, RBMU missionary, to the Hupla people in Irian Jaya (now Papua)]

The firelight warmed and comforted Moondi.... [With] the intriguing lilt of the pale man's accent (so different even from a Dani speaking Hupla), he was drawn into the story. It was a story about a wandering Hupla.

Gra-Ham's eye sparkled as he told it, adding little touches to the tale as it unfolded, his face and eyes hardening and softening, as rigid or gentle attitudes expressed themselves in the tale. His voice just carried over the low crackling of the partly-spent fire and the background of night jungle sounds.

`A Hupla went on a journey one day,' he began, `down to the tribes of a distant valley, many days' walk along the jungle trail. And as he came to a dark and difficult part of the route he was suddenly ambushed, and gravely woun­ded by a band of renegade warriors who had been turned out of their tribe for stealing pigs. He lay on the path for a long time until by chance there came another Hupla, making the same journey. This man was a warrior, a proud and noble warrior, a man of the forest and of the chase. A man of tribal ambition, even the son of a High Elder.'

At this point Moondi felt a particular interest in the story. `But,' continued Gra-Ham, `when he saw the wounded man on the jungle trail he immediately suspec­ted a further ambush, for he knew the raiders must be near and desperate, so he slipped quickly into the under­growth, and worked his way around the man, by silent and skilful field-craft, back to the trail at a safe distance further along.'

Moondi felt, on balance, that this had not been such a bad idea. But if he had been the wounded man he would have hoped, perhaps, that a confederate of the High Valleys would have taken more risks, and shown some concern over him.

`Next along the jungle path-for it was a busy and much used route-came a Hupla Spirit Talker, one whose job it was to define the patterns of his village life, to whom the loss of a warrior would be highly significant and, above all, a man who knew something of healing.'

Moondi could see quickly that here was a far more appropriate rescuer. What did a warrior know of healing compared with a Talker? [a medicine man]

`But the Talker was not so sure that the omens were right for a healing that morning when he saw the hurt body slumped against the tree-stump across the narrow path. The spirits of his valley were perhaps too distant to help. The location hardly propitious, and the essential personal knowledge as to who had done the wounding, and why, was missing. The Talker, regretfully, though not without a certain concern for his person, took another path through the bush, as the warrior had. He muttered a few verses of a healing song, at a distance, before he went on.'

Moondi now was disgruntled. Two of the obvious possible sources of help had been dismissed. Perhaps the man would be left to die-and his spirit would rise to haunt them all. That would be a good ending.

`Then along the trail came a Yali.'

Moondi coughed out loud. This was going to be a massacre. The Yali would dispatch him and then eat him on the spot, most likely. The Yali were not personable people. Not to the Hupla.

`The Yali took pity on the wounded warrior, and picked soft leaves to bind his wounds, offered him water to drink which he carried from a nearby stream, and made a carrying pallet out of tree branches and grass, and secured the warrior on to it as comfortably as he could. Then, tying the branches to his waist, he transported him to the next village which was- half a day's walk on the narrow track. When he got there he asked a man he knew to open his hut to the patient, and to get his wives to care for him until his health was restored. As payment he left part of his sack of sweet potatoes. Saying "If you feel the obligation is greater, I will give you more on my return."

`Now,' said Gra-Ham, looking around. `A question. Who was friend to the man who was wounded?'

Moondi had been surprised by the turn of the story but could see the point clearly enough. The man's tribal compatriots-from whom help should have come, been expected, even-had ignored him. The enemy tribesman had proved the most honourable.

`The Yali,' he offered from the circle around the fire. `And why do you suppose that was?' said Gra-Ham. Moondi thought. `He was a man of wide compassion - a wise man perhaps. A man to whom tribal loyalties were less important,' he hazarded.