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D. S. Ford, Printer, 729 George Street.



Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006

[3] Theological Terms in Native Languages.


THE scope of this enquiry is strictly limited to the translation of theological terms into native words. It is recognized that where this can be done it is the right thing to do. It is only because we so often are unable to find any way of doing it, that we fall back on transliteration. The methods of transliteration are important; but we do not want to use them unless we must. We are not going to discuss them in this paper.

And yet, it is unwise to translate ecclesiastical terms too freely. For by translation the ideas we personally attach to them become fixed. And we may generally say that the ideas thus fixed are limited, whereas the transliterated word can always be re-defined. It is quite possible to use both the translation and the transliterated word. In the English language, love and faith are one, charity and creed are the other. For many such words, the Roman Catholic Mission in New Guinea use similar double designations. On the other hand, many introduced words become so naturalised that only deep investigation can prove their foreign origin, i.e., save from salvus, right from rectus.

I am concerned primarily with the Melanesian languages in New Guinea, and take for comparison the work done in the Melanesian Mission (Anglican). Bishop Patteson's work in the latter is worth studying, as his system has been followed by his successors in his Mission. There are also some Papuan languages concerned, which are not apparently of Melanesian origin. But for the purpose of this enquiry, they may be classed together. A few Polynesian examples have also been taken from an old Tongan book.

My chief authorities are as follows:

In Wedau, my own study, and reference to Rev. H. Newton, B.A.
In Mukawa, Rev. S. Tomlinson.
In Manapi, Rev. J. Hunt.
In Banandere, my own study.
          Words in these languages are not always mentioned when they follow Wedauan.
[4] In Daui, Rev. C. W. Abel.
In Motu, Rev. W. L. Turner and the late Dr. Lawes' Dictionary.
In Hula, Rev. C. Beharell.
In Moru, (Toaripi), Rev. E. Pryce-Jones.
In Mailu, Rev. W. J. V. Saville.
In Namau, Rev. J. H. Holmes.
In Mekeo, Rev. Frs. Desnoes and Van Goethem.
          Fr. Desnoes has also inserted Roro, Kuni and Mafulu words, which I have not always treated separately.
In Mota, Melanesian Mission, Rev. Dr. Codrington's Dictionary.
In Saa, Ulawa, etc., Rev. W. G. Ivens.
In Bugotu, Mr. J. Bourne.

Rev. C. Bice has also given me information as to Mota and Bugotu words.

To each of these gentlemen who have so kindly assisted me thanks are due, not only from myself but from all those to whom these pages may be useful.

I will now take certain words in alphabetical order, and discuss the way they have been translated by the different Missions.


Hula, naanaa--platform on which pigs are killed.
Motu, ihaboulaina pata--shelf of offering.
Bugotu, sape havugagi--sacrificial table.

If there are special words like these they should be preserved. I gather that the languages in which the word used is translated "table" have no definite sacrificial terms, e.g.,

Mailu, walateva.
Wedau, kepakepa.
Banandere, tenemba.
Mukawa, raunabonabo.
Menapi, kemakema.
Namau, atarau. This is introduced by Rarotongan.
Maru is peculiar in transliterating, thus, alitara.


Wedau, gudui, Mailu, siposipo, Mekeo, ava onge, Namau, kavani awkuai are all words giving the idea of a price paid. The English word is used in this sense, but [Note at bottom of page 4: NOTE--In this paper, ng is pronounced as in "sing."] [4/5] its primary meaning is "reconciliation." Other translations are:

Hula, veva ha maino--to make peace.
Motu, davana henia--to compensate, to punish.
Moru, onopa totoeai--to mend the breach.
Mota, ge pul tuwale--to make friendly together.
Manapi, vaisagoi--to make one.
Mukawa, kapui--to join, baiturana--to makes friends.


This important word is one of the most difficult. We must first of all rule out all words whose proper meaning is, to hear, or, to understand. Such are,

Wedau, notai; Banandere, kotembari--to understand.
Motu, kamonai; Mailu, naninani--to hear.

These may, however, be the only ones available, and they may have after long use adopted a connotation similar to believe.

Then on the other side we must not accept a word meaning trust, like the Motu abidadama henia. Putting these aside we have,

Mota, nom tup--to think sharp.
Saa, hiwalaimoli--to feel true,
Mekeo, opoko angia--to think true.
Daui, sunuma--to wait for, expect; ara mapai--I hear and accept.
Moru, suku erere aita--a mind habitually trusting, to intercept, to accept.
Namau, nai pirimaroakona--to have confidence in.
Wedau, vianonei (vi, causative; anona, shell, kernel, substance), therefore--to have confidence in.
Mekeo uses fide in composition for faith, e.g., fide aina, to direct faith towards; fide laina, to make an act of faith.
Wedau uses Giu--history, teaching, for "the Faith."


Wedau, vitagogianana--causing to be one.
Binandere, doregari--meeting together.
Namau, lai monou a'a oro--men of one mind; kaupa monou a'a ore--men of one company.

Other words denote friendships more or less of a special nature, e.g.,

Motu, hetura--friendship involving reciprocal presents.
Daui, ava heriam--mouth (profession), mate (friend).
Hula, veha--friendshop.
In Mekeo the native word kaifounga and the introduced word komunio are both used.

[6] 5. FORGIVE.

This is distinctly the place in which a compound phrase is needed. The Melanesians set the way.

Mota, nom viltag--think away (adv.).
Lau (in Malaita), manatu luge--think loose (vb.).
Saa, lu hesi--let go.
Bugotu, taluta voga--to put away.
Following the Motu [sic], the Binandere word is satisfactory: kotembedo doari, thinking (part) to stop from.
Following the Bugotu, the Wedau word is tere tawanei--to put, throw (vb.): thus, to put away.
Other attempts are,
Motu, koauatao--to forbid, rebuke.
Daui, riba gigiri. This is said to be equivalent to the Motu word, but a native generally adds tausuara murimuri eai--to intercept or turn aside.
Mailu, osilobo--to break off speech, say no more about.
Moru, sasukai--to wipe out.
The Methodists in News Guinea use a word meaning "Not to punish."
Wedau till recently has used vinuanainei--not to know.



There is no reason why this word should give much difficulty. In St. Luke ii, 9, Glory shone around. In xvii. 18, Give glory to GOD. In one case the word means brightness, splendour, and in the other, praise. ii. 14, combines these two meanings. The word "brightness" may be used for this, though the word praise may be used where the simple idea is required. The words given by the correspondents generally agree.

Mota, lengas--brilliancy.
Wedau, boruma--brightness, shining, polish.
Mailu, larema--great beauty; sosorusosoru--brilliancy.
Moru, diaridiari, from diari--light.
Namau, evaoevao--brightness; kepoia--praise.
I believe the first teachers in Milne Bay used to say gelori; the Tonga word is goloria.

7. GOD.

Here we are up against the question in its most definite form. Is it right to take a native word, and graft the idea [6/7] of GOD on to it? Does the experiment succeed? This was the question I asked in my paper written for the L.M.S. Committee. The Motu Dirava is the sort of word that outsiders would have a prejudice against.

Mr. Holmes suggests that the root of the word links it with dina--sun, and that Harisu the Moru word has a similar etymology. But does that outweigh the disadvantage of the word meaning spirit, or ghost? Is it not true that many teachers delight in adding the Names of GOD in their prayers, and may they not do it as a corrective to the idea that Dirava gives them? Harisu at Maru has now been dropped in favour of Siahu vita--the Powerful One.

The Lutheran Mission at Yabim at C. Cretin use Anitu, which corresponds with the Eastern Eaboaine except for the fact that originally Anitu the Creator was not worshipped. The use of Eaboaine by the Methodists has been given up. They have now joined with Daui in using Eaubada, which is interpreted, in Daui, to mean "I the Great One."

The Roman Catholic Mission in Papua uses Deo, and the Anglicans in Melanesia and Papua retain the English word GOD.


The locus classicus is Rom. xi. 6, If by grace it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. The Dictionary meaning of the word is, exercise of love or kindness towards one.

Motu, harihari seems to be a good equivalent.
Moru, meru, Daui, ainauia, Mota, sogov, and Mailu, minigabani, all seem to mean a free gift.
Namau, amuaumu--a love gift.
Binandere, kondade--taking someone's place to relieve him, and tonembari--assisting, by sharing his load.
Wedau, agu--help. I recommend iviaiaina, from ivina--footsteps, aiaina--good. The word means kindness.
Manapi, i gana baibaina--well disposed, but vaivaita--help, is generally used.
Heula, veuga--to show pity.

NOTE. The Tongan kelesi and the Mekeo kalasia show two systems of transliteration. All our languages accept the Continental system of vowel pronunciation. So in Tonga, English "a" becomes native "e." Mekeo retains the original vowel and gives it its proper force in pronunciation. Compare the word Amen. It is spelt in [7/8] English as in Greek. But English people were accustomed to pronounce the first vowel as in acorn; and to retain that pronunciation in many languages the word has been written "Emen." Surely the spelling should be retained rather than the pronunciation.


The Anglican Mission in New Guinea retain the word Hades, inserting it the Creed for Hell. Tonga used the form Hetesi. At Mekeo the word Limbo is introduced. On the other hand the Melanesian Mission use the native idea Panoi at Mota, and at Bugotu Tuhilagi. Of course the word Hades itself has been introduced into Christianity from heathen mythology. Mr. Abel considers that Biula is a purely native name. But I do not know its signification. But not all native districts have their name for the underworld, and one rebels against the idea of introducing, say, Wedauan mythology to the Binandere.


Most native languages have a word for sky, and this is generally accepted. Webster says in his Dictionary that Heaven and its corresponding words in other languages have as various definite interpretations as there are phases of religious belief.

Wedau, mara also means sky, day, time, light, etc.
Moru, guba also means sky, squall.
Mota, avunana--the above.
Mekeo, besides ufa--sky, also use anguuma afunga--place of eternal rest, angungama afunga--place of blessing.
Roro, kufa--sky.
and in both of these Paladiso is also used.
One wonders why, in Tonga, Hevani was introduced.

11. HELL.

As a place of torment. Anglican Missions introduced Geena for Gehenna. Roman Missions introduced Ipeli for Inferi. I have no other words with which to compare these.

12. HOLY.

The root meaning of the words "separated, set apart."
Binandere, kotopu answers to this.
[9] Wedau, vivivireina--respected, reverenced.
Mepani, vonavaisiena, used of words which may not be spoken on account of death or dignity.
Moru, hareva--good.
Motu, helaga.
Daui, tabuna.
Hula, palaguna.
Namau, omorope.
Mota, rongo.
Bugotu, tambu.
I do not know the precise meaning of these words.
At Mekeo the word is introduced, santo pronounced tanto.
At Mafulu the introduced word in oli.

13. HOPE.

This is hardly a specially theological word. But that does not make it any easier.

Mekeo gives a list of four ways by which the idea is translated:
opolanga--to think of, with or without desire;
afia amalaina--to expect
fogunga--to wish;
fungunga--to like, love.
But for ecclesiastical use the word is introduced: i.e.,
Mekeo, esperansa. Roro, esperata. Kuni, sepi.
Daui, sunuma vatai--to wait for continuously; abilebelebe--to expect, hope.
Motu, helaro noho--to wait for in hope.
Mailu, sunasuna-- thought or desire.
Moru, tai--to wait for a desired thing.
Mota, maros--wish for; nerei--wait for. The two words are combined for hope in recent usage.
Hula, vealohao.
Wedau, paini--to wait for.
Mukawa, mabainega--to expect.

14. KING.

There are no kings, but there are certain men who have titles and are regarded with exceptional respect.

Mukawa, taupauma--higher than kaiwabo.
Mekeo, lopia: probably equals Motu, lohia.
Motu, gaubada, pavapavana, but hanua--village must be added.
Wedau, wava latona: wava--name, latoni--to say.
Binandere, dao tari, same construction as Wedau.

[10] 15. KINGDOM.

Mota, marana--a place where the monuments of a great man's rank are assembled. In recent use adopted for kingdom.
Bugotu, huguta.
Wanigera, baiaiwab.
Mekeo, lopia (v. sup.)
Kuni, inau--family.
But generally the word basileia is introduced.

16. KNOW (sexually), St. Matt. i. 25, St. Luke i. 34.

In most cases the ordinary "know" has been retained.
In the translations Melanesian dialects say, abide with.
Daui, attend on;
Binandere, sleep with.
A word exists in all languages but it is generally dedicated to vulgar uses.

17. LOVE: a most perplexing word.

Motu distinguishes lalokau henia--agapaw, to love continuously, as a father and his child, and ura henia--filew, a temporary emotion.
Mota, tape, a very complicated idea.
Daui, gado sisi--like; henua, desire.
Hula, veulamagi, of persons; ririwamagi, of things.
Moru, maea foroe--pity; haekakare--an eager mind.
Mekeo shows a variety of translations: angina angi--to wish for possession; ngua angi--to take the heart, to feel for; alongamalaina--to find pleasure with.
Of these ngua angi is the most important. It does not seem to be very definitely settled whether the person who takes the other's heart is the lover or the beloved. In Wedau, he is the lover, i.e., nuanuana a vaia--I took his heart, I loved him. The same in Binandere, dubo bari--to take heart, to love.
Mailu, eriunaunari.
Namau, umu liai.


Motu, ihabaulaina gau--offering to deceased ancestors.
Hula, labali, (the same).
Moru, omopa posaseai--food placed before a guest.
[11] Mota, oloolo--the offering made to the man who can influence the spirit, and then, the man who received and presents the offering. In recent use oloolo stands for sacrifice and sacrificer.
Bugotu, pindilagi--votive offering; havugagi--sacrifice.
Wedau, pulo--what is received; verena, aniverena--what is given; apuapunana, aniamapu--what is burnt. In Isa. xliii. 23 and liii., offering for sin is translated, Goa apoapoe guduna--payment.
Mailu, mini gabani--raw giving, cf. grace.


Wedau, vipaipai--waiting, cf. hope.
Mota, toli susule'i--to endure continuously.
Mailu, abuabugonigonini--to wait with restful mind.
Moru, lehea mafai o kao--to be conscious of pain without murmuring.
Hula, vai hau'a.
Motu, ha he auka--to cause to be hard.
Namau, lai kekepa--quietly gentle mind.

20. PITY.

Motu, he boka hisi--to have a belly pain.
Wedau, raunuapoapoe--to have a bad mind (chest).
Mailu, unaunari.
Binandere, do ari.
Mota, magarosa.
Bugotu, rarovi.

21. PRAY.

Dr. Codrington in Melanesian Anthropology, says that the notion of efficacy clings too closely to the form employed. The word actually means incantation, charm. But the meaning of "prayer" has been grafted on. This answers alike for the Mota tataro and Bugotu tarai, for the Mekeo mengamenga and for the Wedau pari. This last has also been adopted into the other dialects in the Anglican Mission. Mekeo also has pinepine--supplicate.

Motu, guria (vb.), guriguri (sb.)

The word used in the South Seas, lotu, is ambiguous. It is used for religion. Mr. Bice suggests that it is a corruption of the English word "Lord." It should do for "worship" in the 2nd Commandment where other languages have to introduce the paraphrase "pray to."

[12] 22. REDEEM.

Hasting's Dictionary says that in the great majority of cases the idea of a money payment falls into the background and the word is used in the purely general sense of "save," "deliver." Thus, in Wedau, gagaloei,--to rescue, is better than gudui,--to pay for.

Nearly all the other Missions use words meaning to cause to live (mauri with a causative)
Mota, tum kal--to purchase back.
Bugotu, hui tabiru (the same).
This is necessary in such cases as I Peter i. 18, 19, where the word has its technical sense.


Mota, nom leas--think change.
Ulawa, adomai oli--think return or change.
Motu, he lalo nege--think abandon.
These all seem to be very good compounds.
In other languages the mind is turned round, e.g.,
Wedau, nuanuana i amvirivira.
Binandere, dubo wareregari.
Other forms are:
Moru, hai iri kerori.
Mailu, sunagiriai.
Daiui, nuabui.
Bugotu, tugu hehe.
Namau, lariliai--to be disgusted with.
Tonga, mamahi--to be sorry.

24. SANCTIFY, CONSECRATE. The word for holy can be used with a causative. e.g.,
Mota, va rongo. Bugotu va tambu.
But where the word used for holy has no religious reference the verb "to taboo," to set apart for special use, may be used.
Wedau, vi airauanei.
Menapi, vi pasiku.
Bionandere, aoari. (precise signification unknown).

25. SAVE.

Nearly all the languages use the causative with the verb "to live," "to be well," to be safe." (see REDEEM.)
Binandere, ari erari--to cause to rise.

[13] 26. SIN.

In the first place the Greek word took a lot of explaining when Christianity was introduced. Even the O.T. ideas needed amendment. It has been suggested than on the first enunciation of the Lord's Prayer the word used was "debts" and this was immediately interpreted as trespasses. By the time St. Luke's Gospel was written the word 'amartia was known and used in this sense. But its original meaning is "miss," and SS. Paul and John take great trouble in explaining the word. So we need not expect exactness of definition in our native words. In some native languages there is a word which apparently means such wrong doing as is condemned by native custom or opposed to tradition. This is easily brought to include the ides of sin against GOD. So,

Saa and Ulawa, oroha'a.
Lau, fua'angaa
Mota, ganganor. The Dictionary says that ganor is malice, ganganor is the word intensified, thence sin in recent us.

A good many languages are driven back on an awkward compound, e.g.,

Motu, kara dika--evil deed, custom, habit.
Moru, mai maealolo--bad custom.
Daui, laulau baaea--bad walk.
Wedau, goa apoapoei--evil deeds.
Binandere, rorae beiae--bad things.
Mekeo, pekate, from peccatum.

In some of the languages the word or expression which has been adopted has been taken by the natives to refer especially to offences against the 7th Commandment, thus following the fate of the English word "immoral."

27. SORRY.

This is nearly always "mind bad," e.g.,

Wedau, nuanuana i apoapoe.
Menapi, nua bero.
Banandere, dubo beiae.
Daui, nuagu i baae.a
Mailu, unari ore.
Mtou, lalo hisihisi--mind sore.
Moru, hae eai--to be straightened in mind; hai soi--to be in a state of fear.
Mota, lolo wono--inside filled up.
Bugotu, hahiningua--made a mistake.
Tonga, mamahi.
Hula, nugavi.


These words must be taken together because their ideas run into each other, and the native lines of distinction do not coincide with ours. Codrington, Anthropology, says, "There does not appear to be anywhere in Melanesia a belief in a spirit which animates any natural object. The native idea is that ghosts haunt the sea and the forest." If this is correct, and I think it is, so far as I have been able to find out in Papua, one source of misapprehension is removed. But, then are our people properly called Animists? Codrington also says, that the ghosts, and the other spiritual beings though called by the same designation are really distinguished in native thought. But Warneck, in Living Forces of the Gospel, says, "The worship of spirits has to do with demons and ancestors, yet the boundary between ancestors and nature demons must not be rigidly fixed."

Mota, vui--spirit; tamate--ghost.
Motu, lauma--spirit and ghost; dirava is also said to have both meanings.
Daui, earua--spirit and ghosts.
Wedau, arua--(the same).
Hula, palagura--(the same).
Binandere, binei--(the same).
Mailu, voi--(the same).
Moru, arahoa--a person long in the spirit world; harisu--a person recently dead.
Mekeo, aungi--spiritual being; laulau--ghost.
Motu, lauma; Daui, earua; Wedau, arua; Mekeo, laulau; together with Namau, avaea, can also be used of the spirit in a living man, i.e., soul. Some of these words also mean shadow, reflection.
Binandere, asisi--shadow, reflection, soul.

It is extremely difficult to realise the native idea of the soul. It is one of the first things the missionary begins to teach about, and the natives themselves are very apt to be confused between what they used to believe and what they have been taught. On the other hand, Warneck (op. cit.) says, "The Animist regards the soul as a separate entity in man, independent of him, capricious and often in conflict with him, and at all times a danger to him, and therefore an object of worship." The account of the Namau word avaea seems to agree with this conclusion.

[15] 29. TRUTH.

This is no trouble in some languages.

Mota, nun.
Bogotu, tutuni.
Gela, utuni.
Namau, miki.
Hula, auna auna.

In other languages there is only the adjective:--

Motu, hereva momokani--true word.
Daui, riba tona, riba mamahoina.
Mailu, egena.

In others again it has to be paraphrased:--

Wedau, riwa kaua--real talk.
Binandere, ge be--(the same).
Moru, okofa.
Tonga, talanoa lelei--good talk.


Wedau, matatapuna--virgin in the technical sense. The word is used in games of a score on one side when there is nothing on the other side to meet it.
Mukawa, sini tupana--whole skinned, innocent.
Mekeo, fofou--untouched, e.g., a loaf of bread uncut, the game on a hill not hunted. The word viliko has been introduced.
Mota, qilowar--unmarried.
Bugotu, kupi.
Binandere, kakara--abstinent as well as continent, temporarily as well as permanently.
In Tonga the Virgin Mary is called Taubo ou ko Mary--the word used for Priestess or Nun.


In the Lord's Prayer, Mota has maros; Binandere has jipapa; Bugotu, heke--heart, will desire, voice; Wedau uses kaua--act, deed.

For law, Mota has lea--word, report, law. Mekeo, aina; Wedau, riwana; Binandere, ge, all mean "word."

This by no means exhausts the list of difficult words, or words in which it should be useful to study methods employed in other languages than one's own. But I have not the material for comparative study of the rest. I may [15/16] mention, however, that the word for "everlasting" in Wedau and Binandere may be translated "endful," not "endless," the native idea being that if the end of a stick is cut off it becomes shorter.

In Mekeo "immortal" is translated imala, a word applied to animals which shed their skins, or moult, or insects which undergo transformations without losing their identity.

But without going any further, I believe that what we have before us has fully justified the work being undertaken. My hope is that it will be useful to those who are revising their old translations as well as those who are studying new dialects. At any rate it will do us good if it makes us study the original meaning of our words, and determine to spend more time in explaining to our people those words whose equivalents seem to be in any way defective.

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