Learning to Love My Language
The transformation of a marginalized Bibleless people group
The Matigsalug people had always believed that there were man-eating giants stationed around the edge of the flat earth. For a time, this people group made their home near the mouth of the Salug River (now called the Davao River) of the Philippines, but as newer immigrants started to take over the coastal regions, they were driven up into the hills. There, the Matigsalugs became farmers, clearing small plots of land within the forest and planting mountain rice, sweet potato, and other crops. There, in the forest, they would remain hidden.
In the mid-1970s, this people group was “discovered” when a logging road was bulldozed into the southern ranges of the Bukidnon province on Mindanao Island of the Philippines. As the Matigsalug’s forest succumbed to chainsaws, outsiders began to use the logging roads to move into the area. School teachers arrived who were taller and looked different to the Matigsalug people. The elders believed they must be the children of the giants, and that they had come to befriend the Matigsalug children and then take them home to be eaten. The elders decided it was safer to keep their children from attending school.
Years later, two logging roads from opposite sides of the ranges met in the middle and busloads of people traveled through the area. Many of the passengers laughed at what they called the “ignorant” Matigsalugs walking barefoot and in single file along the road because they were accustomed to narrow forest trails. Sometimes Matigsalug people heard their comments and realized that they were despised by the lighter-skinned, lowland people. They became very self-conscious about their looks, and their language which outsiders described as monkeys babbling. Yet, unknown to the Matigsalug people, they would be loved through the selfless prayers of those praying for them through Wycliffe’s Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project. Over time, the number of prayer partners asking God to make His Word accessible in the Matigsalug language grew to 25.
In 1989, Bible translators Robert and Margaret Hunt arrived in Panganan village on Mindanao Island. They were excited to begin the process of making God’s Word accessible to the 20,000 or so Matigsalug people in their own language. But nobody had warned them that this people group might not like their own language—in fact they despised it!
Robert and Margaret were confused by the response of the Matigsalug people who said, “We hate our language. Just teach us English.” After two years of language learning, they decided that they would persevere enough to translate at least four books of the Bible into the Matigsalug language. Years passed, and translation progressed along with community development efforts and the start of literacy programs.
The people listened intently to Scripture, to the story of the Tower of Babel and the origin of different languages. They heard how God created diversity and loves every individual no matter how they look or what language they speak. The Hunts also wrote papers about the complex Matigsalug sound system and grammar, and created a computer dictionary with over 5,000 root-word entries.
Twelve years after the Hunts first arrived among the Matigsalug, the people started to see the beauty of their own language. Soon, they believed that they weren’t inferior to everyone else, and they asked for the entire New Testament to be translated—not just a few books.
The next generation of Matigsalug realized the importance of education, and began to participate in school, some even going on to obtain university degrees. They also owned the translation work as three Matigsalug mother-tongue translators took over most of the project, with the Hunts functioning as consultants. On July 21, 2011, this once marginalized and Bibleless people group celebrated the completed Matigsalug New Testament, as well as a newfound love for their own culture and language.
“In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (Colossians 3:11, NLT).
Coming on Day 12: The Persistent Prayer of One