- Found in Translation: Many Meanings on a North Australian Mission by Laura Rademaker
There are hundreds of stories of cross-cultural encounter between missionaries and Indigenous peoples around the world that share themes of disenfranchisement, benevolent assimilation, and conflicts of language and culture. These accounts are often researched, written, and retold from the perspective of the anthropologist, historian, linguist, or other academician looking to contribute to discourses about Indigenous peoples who have been imposed on by outsiders. Found in Translation by Laura Rademaker works to unpack and develop more critical interpretations and perceptions of what has been learned, talked about, alleged, or conspired.
In this book, Rademaker examines encounters between the missionaries and the Indigenous Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt in Australia’s Northern Territory, specifically focusing on the translations, mis-translations, and misinterpretations between the missionaries and the Indigenous people. She “asks how Indigenous people have used translation—of language and culture—to maneuver strategically in their engagement with missionaries. . . . It is not always clear where misinterpretation ends, and evasion begins. So translation created opportunities for selective hearing. Sometimes what was lost in translation was better off discarded, and what was found was more valuable than what either party ever intended” (3). Supplemented with captioned photos and extensive notes, the book’s chapters take the reader on a journey through language and place, faith and imperialism, interpretation and misinterpretation, song, and identity, all against a backdrop of Christian expansion that provoked a host of challenges in Australia in the mid-twentieth century.
There were many missionary societies across the Pacific that found success in establishing congregations. In chapter 1, Rademaker references missions in Tonga, New Zealand, Sāmoa, Fiji, Rotuma, Vanuatu, New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and other places in the Pacific to show where variations of Christianity infused with Indigenous cosmologies spread quickly, in contrast to mission efforts in Australia specific to the Anindilyakwa people. While the missionaries did not approve of the mixed doctrines, they had little control over how Christianity was being practiced [End Page 630] or linguistically and culturally translated by local communities. Rade-maker delves into such interactions between the Anindilyakwa people and the Church Mission Society (cms) missionaries, analyzing how the people used language to accept, reject, and resist Christian notions, particularly in the context of their own cosmology and beliefs.
Vernacularizing the gospel was a common practice in missions around the world. Thus, for missionaries, translation was imperative; listening to Indigenous peoples was not a part of their plan—at least not until many decades later. Tensions between Indigenous communities and Christian missionaries soon became apparent, stemming from how the former incorporated their own beliefs and practices into Christian doctrine. If the vernacular was the instrument of indoctrination, then Indigenous voices were embedded in biblical texts, songs, and prayer. As a result, new meanings were created that were neither wholly Indigenous nor what missionaries expected. In Groote Eylandt, an Indigenous brand of Christianity emerged among the Anindilyakwa community of converts, and while the missionaries dismissed this brand of Christianity as inauthentic, they accommodated it because the people had found meaningful ways to integrate Christian beliefs into their own way of life (171).
Exercising a deep understanding of Aboriginal culture, complimented by her time spent in an Evangelical mission during her formative years, Rademaker argues that the converts of Groote Eylandt desired to remain connected to their land, history, and values and that their language was at the core of doing so. It took decades for missionaries to resign to the fact that goodwill, in the form of learning the languages of various Aboriginal peoples, was central to spreading Christianity. Rademaker further articulates that the Anindilyakwa people desired to adopt the Christian doctrine while still maintaining their cultural practices and identity, so they found ways to combine the two. For example, native ceremonies endemic to the Anindilyakwa people, as well as those of other Aboriginal tribes, found their way into Christian practices. In chapter 6, through a...