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Gospel Of Saint Luke First Book Published In Eastern Tribal Dialect

Updated: September 07, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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A translation of the Gospel of Saint Luke has become the first book published in the dialect of the dwindling Malpaharia tribe in eastern India.

Salesian Bishop Joseph Suren Gomes of Krishnagar released the book Aug. 28 at Raiganj, 1,375 kilometers southeast of New Delhi. It uses Hindi script to render the Malpaharia dialect.

At the book-release ceremony, Father Vincent Richard of Dumka diocese, who headed the translation work, said his team plans to translate the entire New Testament into the dialect in two years.

The priest worked on the translation for six months, with help from two Malpaharia women teachers and Friends Mission Prayer Band (FMPB), a Protestant group based in Tamil Nadu, southern India.

Eight hundred copies of the book have been printed.

Some 40,000 Malpaharia living in 300 villages of Jharkhand and West Bengal states speak the dialect. They mostly live in the hills and depend on forest products and agriculture.

According to the 1981 census, their population was 79,322 spread over Bihar and West Bengal states. Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2001.

Father Richard and Reverend Jnanam Jacob of FMPB say many Malpaharia have died in the past few decades because of poor health-care facilities.

The priest explained that he translated St. Luke´s Gospel first because it tells about Jesus from birth to Resurrection and "depicts the compassionate Jesus, who has love for the sinners, oppressed, women and children."

The priest, who has worked among the Malpaharia for the past five years, is currently in charge of the Dumka diocesan pastoral center, which trains catechists and lay leaders to form Small Christian Communities.

Reverend Jacob, who has been working among the Malpaharia for 10 years, called the translation "a noble attempt" to help a neglected people.

Church groups started working among the tribe some 20 years ago.

Besides the work done by Dumka diocese and FMPB, Jesuits recently started a primary school and a herbal health center for the tribe near Jharkhand and West Bengal, some 100 kilometers north of Raiganj.

The FMPB started working among the Malpaharia in 1978 but closed the mission a year later after the first missioners died of malaria. It revived the mission in 1982, setting up schools and adult education centers.

Reverend Jacob describes the Malpaharia as "hard working, sincere and a closed group." Their literacy rate increased from 2 percent to 25 percent in the past five years, he added.

The 1981 census recorded Hinduism as the religion of 97 percent of the tribe´s members, with Christians forming only 0.9 percent.

Anthropologist K.S. Singh says in his book on tribes in India that agriculture is the main occupation of the Malpaharia. They also work as construction laborers and menial workers in government offices, and are proficient in mat weaving and basket making.

According to Singh, the Malpaharia consider themselves higher in social status than other hill tribes such as the Sauria-Paharia and Kumarbhga-Paharia. These groups do not intermarry or accept cooked food from each other.


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