[FOR NEARLY TWO WEEKS I HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO RECEIVE OR SEND EMAILS, OR WORK ON MY COMPUTER. AFTER 25 YEARS OF USING LAPTOPS DAILY, I FINALLY SUFFERED A HARD DRIVE FAILURE. THE LAPTOP WAS A NEW ONE, SO THE REPLACEMENT IS UNDER WARRANTY, BUT NEEDING TO WORK WITH A BORROWED COMPUTER AND A BACKUP FILE UNTIL LATE NEXT WEEK IS MOST INCONVENIENT.]
Last week I left you with a cliff-hanger, How are Jack and Jo going to translate “Jesus is the Lamb of God” when the Canelas have no concept of sacrifice? How will they ever understand the idea of Jesus offering Himself to suffer the death mankind deserved?
Here’s the rest of the story. Years passed as we translated other parts of the Bible, developed more learn-to-read materials, and prayed for a solution. The solution came when we returned from a furlough in Canada, arriving in the middle of a major Canela festival.
Hundreds of Canelas were gathered in the central hub of the village. About fifty young women stood shoulder to shoulder in a long line singing and dancing. The dance and song leader shook his rattle energetically, stomping out a good strong beat. Dozens of young men, their bodies painted in red and black, waved spears and clubs above their heads as they danced and showed themselves off to the young women. The old men sat in small groups, smoking, chewing and spitting. The older women sat behind the line of dancing women, and gossiped. I dashed here and there taking pictures. It was so good to be back!
Suddenly I noticed one of the elders jogging very determinedly from his house down one of the radial paths towards the center hub. He was chanting loudly, and carried a muzzle loading shotgun. When he arrived in the midst of all the merriment, he pointed his gun into the air and BLAMM!!
Instant silence. Everyone stopped and looked at him. He handed his gun to another elder, then, waving his clenched fists, he started to rant. I heard words like Lazy! Good for nothing! Disobedient! and I thought, Oh, oh, some of this old uncle’s nephews are really going to get it. I had seen this ritual before.
At the end of his rant, he stepped into the crowd, grabbed one of his nephews by the arm and pulled him back to the open centre where everyone could see them. He said nothing, just looked the young man in the eye, then stomped heavily on his foot. The nephew winced and limped away.
I had seen uncles punishing nephews in a variety of ways, by lifting them up by their hair, rubbing peppers in their mouths and even putting stalks of sawgrass in their nephews armpit and jerking it out. Ouch!
I had witnessed this traditional Canela method of publicly shaming and punishing on other occasions. But then something happened that I had never seen before.
The uncle had just led another nephew out of the crowd and was about to yank him off his feet by the hair, when suddenly a young woman ran up out of the dancing line, stepped in front of the nephew and faced the uncle.
The uncle looked her in the eye and grabbing the hair on both sides of her head, yanked upwards several times, making her jump. She winced in pain and walked teary eyed back to her place in the dancing line where she stood rubbing her scalp, while the young man turned and walked freely back to his group. After that, no matter who the uncle tried to punish, some young woman ran out of the dancing line and took the punishment for him.
I knew what the relationship was between each of these young men and the young women. It was called the kritxwy [kreet-TSWUH] meaning ritual substitute—a person assigned to stand in for someone else. Every Canela has a kritxwy partner. Even I have one.
Once during a ceremony on the plaza it was my turn to sing and I forgot some of the words of the long song. When I faltered, I stepped aside and my kritxwy stepped up and finished my song.
Over the years I had seen this happen scores of times in all sorts of social situations, but I had never seen a kritxwy take the punishment for their partner. But when I saw that, I couldn’t wait to get back to the translation desk and translate all those passages that, for years, I had put aside.
The next day I came to the central hub and told the group of elders gathered there, Jesus Cristo pe mepahkritxwy, ne tamari mepancwyrjape ty! “Jesus Christ is our Kritxwy and it was He who died in our place!”
When we began using this term to describe Jesus and what He had done for them, it was like a bomb went off in the village. The Canelas suddenly began to realize who Jesus was, and many decided to follow Him.
God Himself had imbedded this redemptive analogy right in the culture and rituals of the Canelas many centuries before. He did this because He has always loved the Canelas and wanted them to know Him.
And now you know the rest of the story.