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Central Australia’s Arrernte people can now read the Bible in their own language

Arrernte aboriginal bibles

United: Indigenous people participating in Mass in Alice Springs.

ABOUT 5000 central Australian Aborigines are now able to read the Bible in their own Arrernte language.

“It’s a project that has taken more than twenty-five years,” Divine Word Missionaries Father Prakash Menezes, who is assistant priest at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Alice Springs, said.

“Having their own language Bible allows people their own identity now. And to read the Word of God in their own language has made them happy.”

Completion of the “Angkentye Mwerre” Eastern and Central Arrernte Shorter Bible was recently celebrated at a NAIDOC Week Mass in the OLSH Church in Alice Springs.

The project is the result of a long-term collaboration between indigenous elders in Alice Springs and Santa Teresa community, and linguists from the Lutheran community and Australian Society for Indigenous Languages (AuSIL).

They have translated the whole of the New Testament and parts of Genesis, Exodus and Ruth into Central and Eastern Arrernte language.

“It is a phonetic language, so many are still learning to read the Bible in their own language,” Fr Menezes said.

Originally from India’s Kanataka province in south-west India, Fr Menezes has spent the past two-and-a-half years in central Australia.

He believes the new Bible will help breakdown cultural divisions in Alice Springs.

Fr Menezes said a recent example of parish reconciliation was when indigenous elders decided to celebrate their Sunday Mass in Arrernte language in the “main church”.

Within the parish, Aboriginal Catholics have their own community known as Ngkarte Mikwekhenhe Mother of God.

“… The Aboriginal community of Alice Springs always worshipped in a small chapel (at a different site), except for the major celebrations in the mainstream church, like Christmas,” Fr Menezes said.

He said, through dialogue with elders, indigenous parishioners started trialling celebrations with the rest of the parish, with parts of the Mass in Arrente language.

“It was heart-warming to see that about ninety-nine per cent of the members decided to continue the Mass in the ‘main church’ as they felt welcomed and respected,” Fr Menezes said.

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