On July 11, 2017 the Ngudradrekai Presbytery and guests will celebrate and give thanks to God for their new Bible. The PCC is sending Rev Peter Bush (Moderator of the General Assembly), his wife Debbie (daughter of Rev James and Mrs Joyce Sutherland former missionaries in Taiwan), my wife Mary Beth and me to join in the festivities and extend heartfelt greetings from congregations in the PCC who have supported the project.
10,000 Ngudradrekai people live in the southern mountains and foothills of Taiwan, the majority of whom are now Christians. The name is an adjective they use to describe themselves as those who <ngudra> “follow in the line or tradition” of people who have lived in the <drekai> “the colder interior part of the mountain forests”. Their ancestors lived higher up the mountains than their nearest neighbours, the Paiwan people. Outsiders who are unaccustomed to the long words in their language have shortened the name to “Rukai”, 魯凱 (Lu-kai) or “Drekay”, but my colleagues tell me they prefer the full name <Ngudradrekai>.
The combination <dr> is difficult for Anglophones to pronounce and indicates a retroflexed <d> which sounds more like an <r>, hence the different spellings.
The common Ngudradrekai greeting is <sabau>. Its origins go back to a time when everyone lived in remote villages along the sides of steep mountain valleys. If two people carrying heavy backpacks of food or water met on a narrow footpath, they would greet one another and say <sabau> or “it’s tough going”. Nowadays <sabau> is used to communicate “hello” or “goodbye”, but it still has a hint of “life is hard”.
Ngudradrekai people have lived in Taiwan’s southern mountains for centuries. Village life was based on a clearly defined class system of nobles and commoners, each with their mutual responsibilities.
Families built their houses using dark grey sheets of slate and adorned them with wood carvings. Two prominent totems were the 100-pace snake (if it bites you, you’re dead before you can walk 100 paces) and the white lily (a symbol of purity and virtue). Everyone in the village did their part to grow and harvest millet, taro, sweet potatoes, fruit and vegetables. Men hunted for animals such as mountain deer or highly prized mountain boar, while women dyed threads and wove cloth from flax. Traditional clothing was usually black in colour, with carefully embroidered patterns in gold, green and red. The new Bible uses these colours on the outside cover.
When Japan ruled Taiwan (1895-1945), they forced the Ngudradrekai people (and other indigenous peoples) to relocate their homes and villages to the lower mountains in order to “pacify” and assimilate them.
After terrible flooding and landslides caused by typhoon Morakot on August 8, 2009, several Ngudradrekai villages and churches had to relocate to the “White Lily” and “Rinari” subdivisions on the plains where elderly folk look up to the mountains with deep longing in their hearts.
In order to find work in Taiwan’s modern economy, many young families have felt compelled to settle in larger cities, though on weekends they often return to their parents’ homes near the mountains. Family dislocation has been a challenge and has led, among other things, to the loss of cherished cultural values and language. We pray the new Bible will be a means of preserving and promoting the Ngudradrekai language among family members of all ages.
In the 1950s the Gospel began to spread from Taiwanese Christians on the plains, to Paiwan villages in the foothills, to Ngudradrekai people who lived further up in mountain valleys. Gradually churches were planted in remote villages. By God’s grace, today in the PCT there is a close-knit Ngudradrekai Presbytery which consists of 17 strong and vibrant churches. In worship services young, middle and older generations praise and pray to God in Ngudradrekai or Mandarin. Pastors preach in Ngudradrekai and offer their own running translation into Mandarin. Elders and church members are actively involved in community life in their villages or among families who have moved to one of the large cities.
As the Gospel spread, Ngudradrekai people heard it first in Japanese, then in Paiwan. In the 1950s-1970s, as portions of the Bible were translated into Paiwan, bilingual evangelists would preach and teach from them using Ngudradrekai. As Ngudradrekai churches grew and became stronger, they expressed the need for the Bible in their own language. In 1988 a team of seven Ngudradrekai pastors, with help from the Bible Society in Taiwan (BSTWN) and Young Nak Presbyterian Church in Seoul Korea, started to translate the New Testament. A constant challenge was to figure out how to spell words which had only been spoken before. The team used a Romanized “a-b-c” script to transcribe the sounds of Ngudradrekai words into what became the first book ever written in Ngudradrekai.
The BSTWN published the Ngudradrekai (or “Rukai”) New Testament in 2001. Eager for the whole Bible, the translation team continued to work over the next 11 years to prepare a draft of the OT. In 2012 the BSTWN appointed me to come alongside the team as the Translation Adviser for ongoing work on the OT and for revisions to the NT. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has supported this project since 2012 through my active involvement. Young Nak PC has supported both NT and OT projects financially, with prayer, and through the Han family who were Korean missionaries in Kao-siung. We anticipate strong Korean representation at the thanksgiving service to honour Rev Han Sr and his son Rev Han Jr who both died from illnesses during the course of the translation project.
The BSTWN is publishing 3000 copies of the Ngudradrekai Bible. (They were typeset and printed this spring by the Korean Bible Society.) This Bible is 2300 pages long since it is really two-Bibles-in-one: the new Ngudradrekai translation in Roman script, printed in parallel columns with a Mandarin translation called Today’s Chinese Version (the 2017 revision).
We look forward to a joy-filled time of worship and celebration on July 11 when the new Bible is presented to Ngudradrekai churches. We pray that God (“Twaumase” in Ngudradrekai) will be glorified in the thanksgiving service and daily in people’s lives as they read, study and share the whole Bible with others. Through this new Bible, we pray that God will quench the thirst of Ngudradrekai people for God’s life-giving water, satisfy their hunger for every word which comes from the mouth of the LORD (“TAMATAMA”), and strengthen families as they build their houses on the solid Rock. As Psalm 18:2 proclaims:
«Ku TAMATAMA amani ku palakebe nakwane ka alrisapesapeli si kepaleli»
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer” (NRSV)