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Taparoro: Missionary Translation and its Rivals in the Coral Sea Contact Zone

Taparoro: Missionary Translation and its Rivals in the Coral Sea Contact Zone

Ryan Schram

University of Sydney


Presented to the anthropology department seminar at Australian National University

Seminar Room A/B, Australian Centre for China in the World

2 September 2015

Slides available at http://anthro.rschram.org/talks/taparoro

Let's tapwalolo

In Auhelawa, a society on the south coast of Normanby Island (PNG), tapwalolo refers to Christianity as institution, practice, identity, and belief system.

tapwalolo yana hauga The era of Christianity

ita maidoida tautapwalolo We are all Christians

tatapwalolo Let us pray

pada ilaoma itapwaloloweigau The father came and prayed over me

nige tapwalolo hihanapui They did not know Christianity

Wlliam Hanks on translation: A "neologistic process"

As Hanks (2014, 19) says:

Historical examples of languages changing through intertranslation abound, but the clearest are found in colonial contexts in which authoritative texts in a dominant language are translated into a subordinated language, for this process inevitably alters the semantics and pragmatics of the subordinate language. The variety of translation this entails is what I will call commensuration, a neologistic process.

Taparoro: The Anglican mission at Dogura

In 1891, Albert Maclaren and Copland King arrived in Dogura with a man from Taupota named Abraham Dipa, who had recently returned from Queensland and acted as an interpreter. King writes that Dipa gathered locals for nightly services of “what we at the time thought was church hymns. […] He at any rate thought it was all good 'taparoro'” (King 1899, 12).

M. J. Stone-Wigg: “In the early days of the mission a returned laborer from Queensland was possessed with a sense of the great importance of “taparoro,” or religious services. He had picked up very little, if any, Christian teaching but he understood the practice of Sunday observance and instituted in his district imitation services.” (Stone-Wigg 1907, 53)

Taparoro: The Methodist mission at Dobu

Bromilow describes a trip to Ware and Tubetube islands. He reports speaking first to a Ware man:

As one of them said, “Me likee misoneri too much ! altogether Ware man likee whitee man misoneri. Come – what for whitee man go Dobu, no come here? This good fellow place—no kaikai (eat) man, altogether savee taparoro (religion.)” I was much amused at the conceit of the folks, who nearly all speak “pidgin” English. “This place very good, all same Cooktown. Man he savee sail about. He savee too much.” (Bromilow 1891, 5)

Describing his movement to the neighboring island of Tubetube, he then writes:

This gave an opportunity to interview the people, who expressed themselves as very willing to have a “misoneri,” but “what for white man no come? This 'misoneri' he stop here, you go Ware, he no save dim-dim (English); me likee white man, he come!” (ibid.)

Other quotations of taparoro

Our house was literally swarming with natives who had gathered to 'taparoro' (worship). (Field 1891, 12)

The Gospel, or taparoro as they call it, was something they could not understand. (Field 1892, 6)

[T]hey would have 'taparoro' or prayers before going to bed. (Field 1893, 3)

The Sunday services on the whole are well attended, the novelty of 'taparoro' (worship) having worn off, it is found at times no easy task to maintain the work at a high standard. (Australasian Methodist Missionary Society 1895, xix)

"Taparoro is the calico we put on": H. L. Bromilow

Last Monday a question was put to them, “What is taparoro?” and one girl said, “Taparoro is the calico we put on.” In that answer there was a golden opportunity to tell them, “Taparora is not calico or anything else that we use; but Jesus in your heart. Do you know what I mean, little one?” The answer came, “Yes, a little, marama [lady].” Others said, “We can't hear,” meaning, “We cannot understand.” (H. L. Bromilow quoted in Bromilow 1893, 6)

"i.e. the Christian religion": W. E. Bromilow

A child died the other day, and the friends were quite angry because the witches had not heeded the words of the lotu, i.e. the Christian religion Taparoro, and given up smiting the little ones. “These are times of peace,” said they; “why should the child die then?” We, of course, took the opportunity and tried to teach them that sickness caused death without the influence of poor old women. (W. E. Bromilow quoted in Brown 1910, 235–236)

"Observe the Sabbath, etc.": J. T. Field

At the close I asked the people if they were willing to give up these evil practices and observe the Sabbath, etc.; they answered that now the missionaries had come to Dobu, they were going to adhere to 'taparoro.' I then told them to bury the skulls on Monday morning. This they promised to do. (Field 1891, 15)

Translating with taparoro: New words

Copland King: “Is it right to take a native word, and graft the idea of GOD on to it? Does the experiment succeed?” (King 1913: 6-7)

William Bromilow reflects on his decision to use the invented word Eaubada as a name for God in Dobu. He writes that he would have preferred to use the Dobu term for a powerful sky-being, saying that it would be wholly appropriate, but only if it could be “cleansed” of its original meaning (W. E. Bromilow 1929, 298).

Translating with taparoro: Parallels

Taparoro in Bromilow's 1904 mission vocabulary

(Bromilow 1904)

Stanley Iatara: The Panaeati jubilee, 1941

How many times did they ring the bell to-day, calling you to worship, and yet many of you were late. Is that being “full grown”? Are you willing to let tapwaroro rise and fill your hearts and let other things decrease? You spend your strength and your wealth for pigs. What do you spend for tapwaroro? (The Missionary Review 1942, 8)

Auhelawa Christian translanguage

Yeisu Jesus

Sabate Sabbath, Sunday

ekalesiya congregation (from ecclesia)

mesinali missionary, teacher

parapita prophet

mulolo offering (from Tubetube love-gift)

masula communion (from Dobu feast)

tabu holy (from Polynesian languages for sacred and forbidden)

Loise's "sermon"

walo teina ana mwalae

This is the end of this talk.

na nige mata yaguguya na ambenalei

And I'm not going to preach and you listen to it.


hava yaluyaluwa ana ve’ita aliguwai na hava yaluyaluwa ana mohe aliguwai yamohegomiu na alimiyai

What the Spirit has showed to me, and what the Spirit has given me, I give to you all and it is with you.


yaluyaluwa ana ve’ita ainaiena ya’aiyauya alimiyai ahubena teina vehabana

I have shared the teaching of the Spirit with you for today. (Loise, Sowala United Church, April 23, 2006)


Bromilow, William E. 1891. “Three Weeks in the ‘Dove.’” The Australian Methodist Missionary Review (Sydney), December. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

———. 1893. “Letter from Mr. Bromilow.” Australasian Methodist Missionary Review, January 6.

———. 1904. Vocabulary of English Words, With Equivalents. Geelong, Vic.: H. Thacker, Printer.

———. 1929. Twenty Years Among Primitive Papuans. London: Epworth Press.

———. 1910. Melanesians and Polynesians: Their Life-Histories Described and Compared. London: Macmillan and Co.

Field, J. T. 1891. “Report from Dobu.” The Australian Methodist Missionary Review (Sydney), December. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

———. 1892. “Extracts from My Journal.” Australasian Methodist Missionary Review, April 4.

———. 1893. “Extracts from Letter from Rev. J. T. Field, Tubetube.” Australasian Methodist Missionary Review, February 4.

Hanks, William F. 2014. “The Space of Translation.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (2): 17–39. doi:10.14318/hau4.2.002.

King, Copland. 1899. A History of the New Guinea Mission, 1891-1901. Sydney: W. A. Pepperday and Co.

Stone-Wigg, M. J. 1907. “The Papuans, a People of the South Pacific.” In Mankind and the Church Being an Attempt to Estimate the Contribution of Great Races To the Fulness of the Church of God, edited by H. H. Montgomery, 51–69. London: Longmans, Green and Co. http://anglicanhistory.org/aus/hhmontgomery/mankind1907/stone-wigg03.html.

The Missionary Review. 1942. “Text of Sermon Preached by Stanley Iatara in Connexion with the Panaeati Jubilee Celebrations, Sunday September 7th.” The Missionary Review, February 5.

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