The Beruga people normally do not enjoy reading; books are a foreign means of getting information or enjoymentoeven for those who are bright and well-educated. As members of an oral culture,the Beruga traditionally passed on stories aroundthe fire at nightoretellingthem untilthe hearers knewthem as perfectly asthe storytellers did. They learn new information by talking to each ther or observing, never by researching or reading. Thus, storytelling, audio recordings, music, drama, video and ther visuals are necessary to helpthe Beruga people remember, apply, and recognisethe truth ofthe Scriptures.
While working withthe Beruga women on literacy last year, Joan Farr (SIL) decided to focus ontheir comprehension skills. A literacy teacher would read a story about a familiar topic, written by a Beruga team member, andthen ask some simple comprehension questions. The first timethey trlied itoAna, one ofthe teachers, read a rther funny story. Though Ana readthe story fluently and expressively,the ladies listening seemed puzzled and sat stone-faced –they didn’t#39;t laugh, identify withthe story, or even respond. So Ana readthe story again. There was a long pause. Suddenly Eileen, one ofthe older ladies sitting inthe back, burst out with a summary ofthe story – and faces all overthe room lit up; everyone was laughing and making comments. What had happened??
Whenthe story was read fromthe printed page, with no eye contact,there was no response; but when it was told by a storyteller, it’suddenly became “real”– a story which demanded a response. Storytelling is more than just reading from a book: it is an entire process including facial expressions, eye contact and social interaction.
With a new understanding of oral cultures, Joan Farr and her husband Jim are considering howthey can best include orality inthe final stages ofthe Beruga New Testament translation project.