Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Fingers of the Man Cow-Pig

“Sister, we have a question.”

I was slouching in my metal folding chair in the tiny room at the back of the shed, my mind drifting as the five men on the Kamano-Kafe translation team waved their arms in a deafening shouting match in a language I didn’t know, impaling sticky notes and thumping Bibles onto the table until the computers shook. We were checking the second draft of Leviticus, deep into the many repetitive verses dealing with sheep’s entrails and fat covering the kidneys and the lobe of the liver and the specific rituals and rules of sin offerings and guilt offerings and peace offerings.

There are some concepts of that everyone expects to be difficult to translate. Guilt, for example. Consecrated. But more often than not, at least for the book of Leviticus, it was things like the distinction between skillet and frying pan for the grain offerings that was causing more challenges (not having the words in Kamano-Kafe).

And now they all were staring at me.

“Okay,” I said, “What’s that?”

“When the man cow-pig’s body is dumped outside the camp, do they throw away his legs or his fingers?”

A few man cow-pigs I saw when visiting a cattle station in the Markham Valley

(In traditional Kamano-Kafe society, they only interact with one large mammal: the pig. Thus, “pig” is also the word for “large mammal.” So, when they have to translate terms for other large mammals in the Bible, they tag on “pig” at the end, to indicate this animal fits in the same class as a pig; hence, they have horse-pigs and cow-pigs and goat-pigs and sheep-pigs.)

“What do you mean by fingers?” I had a pretty good idea of what he was referring to, but it’s always wise to confirm we’re on the same page.

Nathan stood his arm on the table, curling his fingers into the shape of a cow’s hoof. “This part, the bottom of the leg.”

“Okay, well...they dump both his legs and his fingers. It’s the whole thing that gets burned.”

They nodded and looked at each other. Loud arguing erupted for a few more minutes, as they continued to gesture emphatically. Obviously there were now two sides to this discussion.

Suddenly it all went silent, and Nathan turned to me. “Are you sure?”

Some mama cow-pigs and pikinini (baby) cow-pigs
Oh dear. “Yes I’m sure. See, right here where it says legs?” I read the passage aloud again. “In English, that refers to the entire thing, including the fingers.” I pointed down my arm, then my leg. “The whole thing, shoulder to finger. Hip to finger.”

I sat back down as the discussion flowed around me in very exited Kamano-Kafe. Was I explaining this wrong? What was the problem?

James leaned across the table. “Please, look it up in your translator notes. Are you sure they throw out the fingers of the man cow-pig?” The others nodded vigorously.

I clicked through the translator help commentary on my computer program, but for some reason, the authors had neglected to discuss at length if it was the legs or the fingers from the bull that were burned...compared to the lengthy discussion of atonement a few verses earlier, which had been a piece of cake for us.

I turned back. “Umm, well, it’s definitely the WHOLE THING. The only things not burned are those kept for sacrifice by the priest. Everything else, hip, shoulder, leg, fingers, skin....all of it gets burned. Can we say that in good Kamano-Kafe? Do we need to reword it?”

“No, no, we can say that.” The guys chatted a bit more, trying out a few different phrases. James typed a few notes into the computer.

“Okay, Sister,” Nathan folded his arms on the table, “We’ve said the whole leg including the fingers..... but now we need to know, do they throw out the arms of the man cow-pig too?”

You never know what discussions might come up when dealing with the complexities of translation!