A flurry of Bible translation activity is happening in the Top End, with the Indigenous Yolŋu people of Arnhem Land celebrating the dedication of the Gospel of Mark in the Dhuwaya language at Yirrkala earlier this month. It is the first time any book of the Bible has been completed in the Dhuwaya language.
There also is eager anticipation in the Top End about the publication of Mark in Djapu, with a draft already completed.
Mrs Wunungmurra, the key Indigenous Bible translator on the Dhuwaya project, sadly passed away last year. Her death came when she was just three chapters shy of finishing the book of Mark, which she had painstakingly translated almost entirely on her own. Since then, two other women from her clan have stepped up to finish the work.
“We’re doing this Bible translating so [the new generation] can read in our own language …” – Nancy Ngalmadjimadj
They now have further plans to begin translating other books of the Bible into their language.
Mrs Wunungmurra had said the Dhuwaya language was one that all people in her area could read and understand.
Local schools have teaching resources in Dhuwaya, official recognition that children in areas such as Yirrkala are speaking and thinking in the Dhuwaya language. A lack of learning resources in their “heart” language was putting them at a severe disadvantage.
The same can be said of the lack of Bible resources in Dhuwaya and other Yolŋu languages, say other local Yolŋu Bible translators.
“For our new generation who are growing up … and for everybody in the community too … we’re doing this Bible translating so they can read in our own language, so they will understand more about God,” said Nancy Ngalmadjimadj, a Maung translator in a recent video from the gathering at Yirrkala. Ngalmadjimadj is from Warruwi Goulburn Island in Western Arnhem land.
In 2008, the Djambarrpuyŋu New Testament was published to great fanfare in the Top End. Since then, translators who worked on the Djambarrpuyŋu NT have expanded their efforts and recruited other local translators.
Their vision is to help other clans and spread the knowledge that the Djambarrpuyŋu language need not be the only East Arnhem language with the Bible.
Yurranydjil Dhurrkhay is a lead Indigenous Bible translator among the Yolŋu languages. people, working primarily on the Djambarrpuyŋu and Wangurri Bible projects.
She stepped up to help the Dhuwaya project in the final stages before it was published, and attended the dedication in Yirrkala.
“It was very moving to see the family of the main Dhuwaya translator all present at the dedication,” Yurranydjil told Eternity. “They were very emotional.
“But it is wonderful to see others from [Mrs Wunungmurra’s] clan step up to finish the very big job she undertook – and amazing to watch as they received a part of the Bible in their own language for the first time.”
“How much we have done. But how much have we left to do!” – Yurranydjil Dhurrkhay
Translation teams from seven language groups amongst the Yolŋu people gathered in the small Indigenous community of Yirrkala – on the eastern coast of Arnhem Land – for two weeks this month to learn how to use translation software called ‘Adapt It’.
Using the dominant Yolŋu language, Djambarrpuyŋu, and its completed New Testament as the source text, Yurranjydjil says she hopes the software will quicken their efforts to have the Bible translated into other Yolŋu languages.
“How much we have done. But how much have we left to do!” she said. She told Eternity there were plans to begin work on the Djambarrpuyŋu Old Testament, beginning with Genesis.
The Dhuwaya gospel of Mark was the result of collaboration between AuSIL and Coordinate from the Uniting Church in Australia, with publication help from Bible Society Australia.