Pastor Thomas Niditause and his wife Mary outside the little Presbyterian church where he ministers in Lenakel

Vanuatu: A little pidgin goes a long way

Tanna Island, Vanuatu – The breeze drifting in through the open windows did little to alleviate the stifling heat, so most of the congregation were fanning themselves with their hymn books.

In the rafters of the tiny Presbyterian church, mynahs and kingfishers played tag, swooping down now and then just above the heads of the clergymen and the elders.

But the playful birds weren’t the only things that set this service apart from what we in North America would consider normal. For a start, the average clergyman doesn’t begin by asking the outsider (in this case me), “Yu stap wea?”

That’s pidgin English, here called Bislama. It’s the official language of Vanuatu, and Pastor Thomas Niditause was asking where I came from. (“You stop where?”)

There would be a lot more Bislama in the one-hour service, including a sermon about two brata (brothers), one of whom spent his mane (money) on nogud gel (loose women) and grog (strong drink). Picking out these phrases, I recognized the parable of the prodigal son.

And I knew that the congregation was praising the Lord when they called out, every so often, “Jisus, yu numba wan.” They sang to the accompaniment of a piano, or as they call it, “Bigfala bokis blong waetman, tut blong em sam I blak, sam I waet; taem yu killim emi singaot.” (“Big white man’s box with some white and some black teeth; when you strike it, it cries out.”

This was Sunday morning in Lenakel, the chief town on Tanna, one of the most southerly islands in the republic of Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides), an archipelago of about 350 islands and keys, 74 of them inhabited, about 1,500 kilometres north of New Zealand. Eighty-five per cent of Vanuatu’s population is Christian, with Presbyterianism predominant.

Pasta (pastor) Niditause began the service with a salutation to the local bigman (chief) and included a prayer for Prince Charles—“Numba wan pikinini blong Kwin”—meaning Queen Elizabeth’s’s eldest child. (Vanuatu was once part of the far-flung British Empire and there’s still tremendous respect for the royals).

Something like 106 languages are spoken in Vanuatu. English and French are spoken in the towns, but the local dialects are spoken everywhere else. Officials say there is a distinct language for every 1,200 inhabitants, possibly the highest density of languages in the world. This means there would be no communication at all if it weren’t for Bislama. Everyone, native and ex-pat Westerner, speaks it.

The people are avid churchgoers. On Sunday mornings the women exchange their grasket (grass skirt) and basket blong titi (bra) for a Mother Hubbard dress; the men, meanwhile, doff their shorts or loincloths for a suit and head out to worship.

In the church this Sunday, Pastor Niditause ends with these words, “Glad hat blong God papa, pls blong Jisas Krias pikinini, follosip mo kampani blong tapu spirit I stap wetem tufala tete, mo ol taim, koko ino save finis, Amen.” (“May the blessing of God the father, Jesus Christ the son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.”)

 

Explore More:

For more information visit the Vanuatu Tourism Office website at vanuatu.travel.

Just Posted

Unique treasures to be found at Chilliwack Christmas Craft Market

The 44th annual event is the Chilliwack Community Arts Council’s largest fundraiser

Chilliwack toy drive brings in gifts, money to Ann Davis Transition Society

People dropped by Superstore to donate toys and more for those in need this holiday season

Seven Days in Chilliwack

A list of community events happening in Chilliwack from Nov. 18 to 24

Chilliwack RCMP find chemicals and cannabis extract in illicit lab

Marijuana may be legal but altering it using chemicals violates the Cannabis Act

Chilliwack RCMP seek suspects in rash of poppy donation box thefts

Incidents at four different locations in Sardis in the days leading up to Remembrance Day

Saving salmon: B.C. business man believes hatcheries can help bring back the fish

Tony Allard worked with a central coast First Nation to enhance salmon stocks

High-end B.C. house prices dropping, but no relief at lower levels

But experts say home ownership remains out of reach for many for middle- and lower-income families

Worker killed in collision at B.C. coal mine

Vehicle collision occurred at approximately 10:45 a.m. this morning

UPDATE: Hells Angels on scene after body found in Maple Ridge

Body was discovered beneath the Golden Ears Bridge

Mountie left with ‘significant’ injuries after driver attempts to flee traffic stop

Richmond RCMP are looking for a dark coloured Mercedes Benz

B.C. asking for tips on ‘dirty money’ in horse racing, real estate, luxury cars

Action follows a Peter German report on money laundering in B.C. casinos

Canadian dead more than a week after plane crash in Guyana: Global Affairs

Global Affairs said it couldn’t provide further details on the identity of the Canadian citizen

Children between 6 and 9 eligible for $1,200 RESP grant from province

BC Ministry of Education is reminding residents to apply before the deadline

Victoria spent $30,000 to remove John A. Macdonald statue

Contentious decision sparked controversy, apology from mayor

Most Read