By Erin Almand
The tribes in Papua New Guinea speak over 1/5 of the world’s languages. One of the biggest tribes in the mountainous area is the Moni Tribe.
The other night a missionary named John Cutts came by our house to talk to my family and some friends. John lives with the Moni tribe in West Papua. He has lived there since he was 2 years old (his parents were missionaries there, and eventually wrote the Moni language and translated most of the Bible into Moni). He speaks their language fluently and continues ministering to them today with his wife. Here are some of the stories he told us. All of them are true.
These tribes had never seen a white person before missionaries in the 20th century arrived, and yet they had a strange legend in their culture. For generations the chiefs taught their tribes a legend about the white people like ghosts who would come someday. These ghost people would teach Hazi (eternal talk). They would tell the tribes how to live forever. I got goosebumps when John told that story! No one knows how that legend started or why it was circulated for so long, but it was a permanent part of their culture before the first white man ever showed up.
The first time a white person showed up on the island, the news spread like wildfire. The chief of the Moni people heard that a white ghost had arrived and was speaking to a nearby tribe. He walked for 3 days through the jungle to see the white ghost. Of course, this was another tribe, so the Moni chief couldn’t understand everything that was being said. After the missionary was done talking, the chief tried to ask him to come to their village. The missionary couldn’t understand him, so he gave the chief a bar of soap and a glass bottle of merthiolate, which is like iodine, some of the best medicine of the day.
The chief walked back to his village and called all the people around him. He told them that a white ghost had given these gifts to him, and they were going to let his people live eternally. He shaved off a piece of soap and gave it out to the tribe, telling them to eat it. They did, but there wasn’t enough soap for everyone. So then he gave the people who didn’t get any soap a sip of the merthiolate, but there wasn’t enough of that either. So then he took a rock and smashed the glass bottle of merthiolate, and gave a little piece of glass to everyone who didn’t get some soap or merthiolate, and they ate it. But the people kept dying and the missionary never showed up.
Until John’s parents walked into the village years later.
John’s parents lived with the Moni people, learning their language and culture. They were eager to share the Gospel with the Moni people, and eventually, God showed them the perfect way to explain the Good News. It’s amazing how the Gospel reaches people of all nations and languages.
To the Moni people, the Gospel just makes sense. There is a tradition within the tribes of West Papua. When two tribes war with each other, there has to be an equal number of deaths on each side. So, if side A has 4 deaths but side B has 6 deaths, they have to keep fighting. Maybe the next day, side A has 6 deaths, but now side B has 7 deaths so they have to keep warring.
But there is a way out of it. If the tribe with fewer deaths decides it doesn’t want to fight anymore, they can have the Ceremony of the White Pig. What this means is that the tribe that has the fewer deaths will pick one of its warriors to sacrifice. The tribe selects the warrior, binds his hands, ties him to a spear, and hands him over to the other side as an offering of peace. It is called the Ceremony of the White Pig because pigs are the most valuable things in their culture. Pigs are a sign of wealth, used to buy brides, and during times of festivities. The White Pig (the chosen warrior) is given to the other tribe, and they kill him. Then there can be peace between the tribes again.
So, the idea of Jesus as a sacrifice makes perfect sense to them. God wants peace with mankind so badly, He gave His best warrior and only son as a sacrifice so we could have peace. How amazing that such a concept makes perfect sense to people in one of the most remote places in the world!
An Actual Ceremony
John gets invited to an actual Ceremony of the White Pig. It’s a really big deal for him to be invited. So John arrives at the place where the ceremony is happening. The two tribes are hooping and hollering and dancing around because they are so excited to enter a time of peace.
The warrior who has been chosen as the White Pig is in the center of this giant celebration, hands tied to a spear that’s stuck in the ground. John is watching all of this, thinking, What am I supposed to do? Do I cut the guy loose? Do I stop them and tell them its wrong? Do I say to take me in his place?
As he’s thinking and praying, all of a sudden, all these warriors come running into the clearing screaming and celebrating up a storm! In their hands are giant sticks, and they are carrying large boars tied to the sticks. They lay out the boars, one after another in front of the other tribe. There are 63 boars! The tribe that caught the pigs asks the other tribe if they can give them the 63 pigs instead of their warrior as a sacrifice. They say that they know now that they shouldn’t sacrifice their own because of Jesus, and even though it’s a serious tradition, they’d like to give 63 boars in his place. The other tribe huddles together and thinks about it for awhile. They finally decide to take the boars in place of the warrior. And they cut him free.
How amazing is that? We are like the warrior, tied to a spear, about to be sacrificed because of our sin, and Jesus takes our place (like the boars) and cuts us free of our bonds.
If you liked these stories and want to know more and/or support John, you can visit his website.
Erin is a student at Saint Louis University. Her passions include theatre, singing, photography, kids missions, horseback riding, and anything “outdoorsy.” A theatre major and Education minor, Erin continues to be amazed at how God shows up everywhere and anywhere. She also enjoys dressing up as snails for Halloween. You can visit her on facebook, or check out her blog.