As I near the end of my culture and language study and my ability to use and understand the Kovol language keeps increasing, I’ve been able to dive into some deeper areas of the Kovol culture. A big, important area for the work we intend to do is that of gods and spirits.

Pictures of me interviewing are boring. Here’s a cute one

This week I finished my fourth round of interviews on gods and spirits, each interview looking at different areas. My first set of interviews was to ask questions about God. What has God done in the past? What does he do today? Is he like people in that he doesn’t know some things? Does he have a body? What kind of behaviour does God have? and many other questions.

The Christian influence on the Kovol people is readily apparent. I’m guessing it was in the 1960s that a Church group was active in the Kovol area, with first contact with white people being 5-10 years before that. The work blanketed the whole region here with Tok Pisin Bibles and teaching alongside it. The effects on the culture have been widespread. Much practical information about sorcery and spirits has gone underground or been let go of. Although we’ll be the first to translate and teach God’s word in the Kovol language, we’re building on top of the work of others.

In answer to the questions from earlier.

What has God done in the past?
He created the world by speaking. He formed the first man and put the spirit into him to make him alive. The man woke up and couldn’t see God, but he said “father” and God promised to be with him. (The man saying “father” is a definite detail included from a Kovol myth on the origin of language). The man broke God’s talk though and was kicked out of the garden and would die. God sent Jesus to die for their marks, then Jesus went to heaven and now God’s spirit has come and is telling everyone what is right and wrong.

What does God do today?
He gives us everything we need, food, pigs and children. He punishes us with sickness when we sin and he’s a voice in our heads that tells us the right way to go.

Is he like people in that he doesn’t know some things?
No, his understanding is above. He knows everything because he can see everything that happens and so he knows.

Does he have a body?
He’s a wind so he doesn’t have a body. Jesus had a body, but then he went to heaven and now God is inside people.

What kind of behaviour does God have?
He was very angry with our ancestors, but he sent Jesus who cooled God’s anger and now he likes people.

I’ll leave it to you as readers to think through the answers given and ponder what of that is in line with the Bible’s ideas, what’s close and what’s dissimilar. That’s going to be our job as we pull all this together and come up with a “culture teaching plan”, but there’s no reason we should be the only ones to have a go 🙂

We introduced table tennis this week

The next set of questions was to figure out what an “hubi” or spirit is. How does the Kovol word “hubi” map to the Tok Pisin word “masilai” and to the English word “spirit” or “demon”. Can we see them? Where are they? What do they do? How many are there? Do they have a leader? Do they need to eat? Are some stronger than others? How does Satan fit into this?

The general picture is as follows. Hubi live in places people can’t go, like cliffs, caves and deep water. They also live in some trees and stones, for example, if an earthquake knocks a boulder loose from a cliff and it rolls to somewhere accessible, that’ll contain one. If people go there and the hubi doesn’t know them, the person will get sick. We can’t see hubi. Their main activity is to give bad thoughts to people. When you think the idea “steal that” or “hit that guy” that’s an hubi giving you bad thoughts. If you listen and do the bad deed then you’ll be sure to get sick, and possibly die. In the past people used to leave a part of any game they caught for the hubi to eat, and one group suggested the idea that hubi eat people’s dead bodies which is why they want them to sin, get sick and die. That was only one group though, so it needs further follow up to see if it’s a common idea.
People don’t need to be afraid of hubi though because if you don’t listen to them you’ll be fine.

All this explains one time a dad came to me saying “My son is sick”. While visiting the coast the son had climbed a tree, fallen down and then was sick. “Did he get hurt when he fell down?” I asked, “No, but afterwards he was sick”. “Is he sick now?” I asked. “No”.
It makes sense now. The dad was thinking that an hubi had attacked his son causing him to fall down and was concerned about that.

On the other hand, I’ve also heard the idea that hubi are just bad thoughts, and they don’t really exist. So it seems there are two ideas out and about, both held simultaneously. That’s going to take a little while to get to the bottom of.

Satan is also hubi, so the word functions as both the singular for Satan and plural for all the hubi, with the relationship between the two groups being ambiguous. A lot to dig into here, and I’ll continue to ask follow-up questions and listen out for thoughts on this topic.
It’s an uncomfortable topic for people. Their grandfathers left all this hubi thinking behind and now they aren’t supposed to follow it. It makes for uncomfortable questions as I probe and investigate!

Snack anyone?

With several hours of Kovol interview audio from this week under my belt, I can confidently say that I’m scratching the surface. I find with culture study that I’m investing barrels of time and effort into it but I’m coming out the other end with guesses, and probable misunderstandings. I’m afraid to think of everything I have inevitably missed!

The good thing about this language-learning process and the huge amount of time it takes is that there will always be more in the future. The process continues and at some point down the road, I’ll run into these ideas again and be able to improve my understanding.

Alongside these interviews, I’ve been working on other topics and I started looking into the phrase “going into the garden”. They’re referring to God’s garden in Eden with that and the result of our ministry is going to be that we’ll “take them into the garden”. I’ve been looking into it, but the meaning isn’t clear yet. This concept seems very important. It ties into some of the big Kovol cultural themes. Be praying the right conversations would come up that shed light on this. What does it mean to be in the garden? What will life be like there? Will there be sickness? Are you talking about now or an afterlife? What do you mean when you say people in England are in the garden? Does the idea have an element of material prosperity to it? Is it for everyone or just for some? What do you think counts as being in the garden, and what counts as being out?

Also this week the humidity killed our wall clock. We’re disappointed, because it’s not like there’s a store here to get a replacement!


Lois S. · 11/04/2024 at 11:14 pm

Thanks for sharing. Sounds challenging!

Daniel T · 22/04/2024 at 7:31 pm

Praying for you guys. Thanks for the interesting info. I know God will continue to lead you guys in all your work there. Sorry about the clock. Will pray for a new one, although maybe God has answered that already. 😉 God bless.

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