Native Bible app has 57 varieties

A new Bible app containing 57 Indigenous languages ​​represents 20 years of compilation from diskettes and manuscripts and reflects a seismic shift in attitudes towards the importance of Indigenous scriptures.

The Australian Bibles app, available on both android and iOS phones and tablets, contains almost all the scriptures translated into Australian Indigenous languages ​​and Indigenous English, in text and audio format, as well as Auslan Sign Language.

Stuart Cameron began collecting Native scriptures in 2002 when he discovered an air-conditioned room containing telephone equipment and floppy disks at the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) center in Darwin, where he was then working.

“They basically had digital copies of various and miscellaneous things and there was a lot of scripture there, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ So I started my collection of vernacular Australian scripture at that time,” he says. Eternity.

“Over time, I became more and more involved in Aboriginal work. I then began to compile the scriptures and take note of what was in digital form and what was not. At some point we decided to list and make a poster of all the Bible publications that have ever been made in Australian Indigenous languages. And then I thought, ‘Okay, this is serious.’

“Basically, the app represents 57 languages ​​from which some scriptures have been published. –Stuart Cameron

Stuart and Maryanne Cameron first worked in Southeast Asia as Bible translators. After moving to Darwin in 2002, they began working with Aboriginal people and supporting translators and teams in Australia. Now based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Stuart provides IT support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and translators for AuSIL (Australian Society for Indigenous Languages) and Bible Society Australia.

“Over the years I have compiled information on what is available and what is not. And then if there was a publication – say, a gospel in Awabakal, which is north of Sydney – I scanned it and proofread it, and put it into Paratext (Bible translation software) so it could be processed into various products. I remember months working alone on the Luritja Bible, a substantial publication. And for some years, other linguistic publications. These recent posts, however, I have been very grateful to the volunteers who have helped me.

Cameron then discovered that over the past 200 years the Bible Society Australia had sent copies of everything it produced to England for long-term storage. And there was a group linked to the Bible Society and Wycliffe UK called Mission Assist who were willing to retype old Bible manuscripts.

“They do it in a special way. They ask two people to type the same thing. And then at the end, they just compare them. They then look at the areas where there are errors and correct and refine it to be very, very precise. »

Currently, Mission Assist is retyping parts of Gumatj’s Old Testament because “there have been conversations about the reliability of digital texts. I was like, ‘Oh, well, let’s get back to the keyboard. And then we will know.

I mentioned that when I went to the library of Nungalinya Theological College in Darwin, I saw an impressive array of native Bible translations in printed form, some of which looked like they hadn’t been opened for many, many years. I had thought at the time what a huge job it would be to digitize all of this. Well I don’t need to worry as almost everything has been scanned and put into Paratext format which is the main software used by Bible translators and from which it is easy to produce a PDF for publication .

“So basically the app represents 57 Australian languages ​​that have some scriptures that have been published,” Cameron says.

“Now some languages ​​might just have the book of Jonah or the book of Ruth or certain passages from, say, the Christmas story, versus whole Bibles, whole New Testaments, all that kind of stuff. Thus, the application represents all this text as well as all recorded sound. »

“A lot of it is in sync, which means when you play the audio it highlights the text, which is very good for literacy.” –Stuart Cameron

When asked if there was any overlap with the Global Recordings Network’s 5Fish app, Cameron said yes, but 5Fish is purely audio and in a story-by-story format, whereas the Australian Bibles app uses a chapter-by-chapter format.

“The app has both text and audio and a lot of it is in sync which means when you play the audio it highlights the text which is very good for literacy. Many Aboriginal people cannot read their own language – they are more literate in English than in their own language.

Thanks to Cameron’s work, there is also a new North Australian lectionary app featuring liturgies and devotions in the five indigenous languages ​​of the territory’s Anglican communities. This is only available on Android, but Cameron plans to put some of the content in the Australian Bibles app to have it on both platforms.

Asked what could be the biggest barrier to adoption of the Australian Bibles app, Cameron replies that most language groups around the world prefer to have their own app, but that doesn’t make sense for smaller language groups. .

“I’ve produced apps for some of these small groups and there’s no adoption, and there are social and technical reasons for that,” he says.

“First, their phones are always full of pictures and stuff and the natives usually renew a phone every year. So maybe it was on an old phone, but not now. At Katherine Christian Convention, people would come and say, “Where is our language? And basically we hadn’t made an app for that. And I was like, ‘Well, let’s do one app with all 57 languages ​​so you just have to download this one app and you can find anything in your language. It may not be your own language app, but any published scripture in your language is there.

“I spoke to the Guugu Yimithirr Mafia in North Queensland. They don’t actually have any scripture, but they do have liturgies and hymn books and video sermons from the local people. And so I put them in the app and they’re so excited about it.

“When we came from Indonesia to Darwin in 2002, even then there was still a lot of resistance from the Christian community for Aboriginal things.” –Stuart Cameron

Cameron says he has witnessed a big change in the attitude of Australian Christians towards Indigenous Bible translations over the past 20 years.

“When we came from Indonesia to Darwin in 2002, even then there was still a lot of resistance from the Christian community for Aboriginal things, but in just 20 years it just turned around,” says -he.

“I think people in secular and non-secular society have started to say ‘It’s not fair – we should value our countless thousands of years of cultural history.’ And I think people now see that racism is actually wrong and anti-Christian. But it’s a slow grind. There’s still a lot of resistance out there, especially in some parts of the country. But justice does part of who we are as Christians.

Cameron said there were only 20,000 speakers of the Indonesian language group he worked with, but their language was used every day in the community, despite being bilingual.

“When we were translating something from the national language, which they could speak, they were like, ‘Oh, wow, is that really what it says?’ And they would go and have a hard thought and it would sink in their heart.

“I remember one guy said he had just listened to a sermon preached in the local language on the walk to Emmaus, and ‘for years I had it in my head that these people were just far and right strangers, but while the sermon was being preached, I could see them outside the church, coming down the road here!’”

Anyone who downloads the Australian Bibles app to their phone can receive one verse a day at noon in the Plain English (Aboriginal English) version. You can even click on a verse and then send it on an image to someone. “Native people love it,” Cameron says.

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