Walking like a Christian

Roads, translation, and gendered bodies as religious infrastructure in Papua New Guinea

by Courtney Handman

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Homologies between so-called soft infrastructures like language and hard ones like roads depend on ethnographically variable metaphors of circulation. In these homologies, speakers understand language to propel or inhibit forms of physical movement, affecting the embodied experiences of transportation or locomotion. In the case of Guhu-Samane Christians in Papua New Guinea, people focus on language as a kind of infrastructure as they grapple with postcolonial feelings of disconnection from divine powers that were once manifest in a New Testament translation. They channel this sense of disconnection into ongoing complaints about their lack of a vehicular road and the pain of walking, particularly walking like a heavily burdened woman. If a road were built into their valley, this would signal the New Testament's transformation into Christian infrastructure.

Long sampela hap ol i ting olsem rot bilong kar na toktok i wankain: tupela samting i helpim ol long mekim dispela kain koneksen. Na tu, ol i ting olsem ol kain konekson bilong toktok i ken kamapim koneksen bilong rot na senisim pasin bilong wokabaut. Ol Kristen manmeri long Waria veli i save tok: taim ol lain bilong SIL i tanim tok bilong Nupela Testamen i go long tok ples Guhu-Samane, dispela em i opim rot i go long heven. Tasol nau sampela lain long hap i wari olsem dispela rot i pas na God i no ken harim tok bilong ol. Ol i save tok olsem long wanem planti yia i go pinis na God i no helpim ol long wanpela rot bilong kar i go insait long Waria veli. Dispela ol lain i wok long singaut long pen bilong wokabaut long lek tasol na ol i sori long ol mama i karim draipela bilum pulap long kaikai. Sapos God i wokim rot i go insait long veli, orait dispela em i mak olsem rot bilong Nupela Testamen i stap op yet na rot bilong Kristen toktok inap long kamapim rot bilong kar. [ol rot samting, toktok, wok bilong tanim tok, pasin bilong man na pasin bilong meri, koneksen wantaim God, ol Kristen, Papua Niugini]