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

Young Chilliwack singer launches career with French classic

Deanne Ratzlaff performs as featured vocalist in La Vie en Rose in Chilliwack, London and Paris

The most h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s spelling bee you’ll ever see in Chilliwack

Secondary Characters Musical Theatre hits the stage with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Hang gliding video gives stunning view of Harrison and Fraser river confluence

Aerial view shows striking difference between two rivers as they meet

RCMP use helicopter and police dog to search for suspect on Sts’ailes First Nation

Man known to police fled an allegedly stolen vehicle and firearm on the reserve north of Chilliwack

Stay safe on the rivers of Chilliwack and don’t become a statistic, says swift water expert

Chilliwack Search and Rescue is putting out a safety message just in time for the summer season

Feds lowered poverty line, reducing the number of seniors in need: documents

Liberals introduced a poverty line that was below the prior low-income cutoff

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs have been sold

Victoria company has purchased BCHL team, but will keep it in Port Alberni

Justin Trudeau’s carbon footprint revealed in ranking of world leaders

Travel company ranks 15 world leaders’ foreign flight CO2 emissions

“Does Kirby care?” B.C. First Nation’s group using geo-targeted ads in Houston, Texas for justice

The Heiltsuk Tribal Council has called out Kirby Corporation for the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill

Trudeau announces $79M investment for 118 more public transit buses across B.C.

Contributions from municipal to federal level to fund more buses in a bid to cut commutes

B.C. woman wins record $2.1 million on casino slot machine

‘That night was so surreal … I wasn’t able to sleep or eat for the first two days,’ she said

After B.C. dad’s death, Technical Safety BC wants changes to trampoline park rules

Jay Greenwood, 46, did ‘a series of acrobatic manoeuvres prior to a fall that caused serious injury and cardiac arrest’

Cars keyed on BC Ferries after alarms bother dog on board

Delta police arrested one passenger on suspicion of mischief

$900M settlement reached in class action on sexual misconduct in Canadian military

After facing criticism, the government moved to begin settlement proceedings in early 2018

Most Read