This book excerpt is taken from “In Search of the Source: A First Encounter With God’s Word,” by Neil Anderson with Hyatt Moore. To purchase the book, visit shop.wyclife.org.
I looked down at the pile in my lap and up again. In the half-light of the place all I could see were eyes and gleaming brown faces catching the fire’s glow. Finally, as calmly as I could, I said, “I don’t know this food. How do you eat it?”
“Let me show you,” Apusi Ali said. He picked up one of the thick, hot larvae and held it up to his mouth. Feigning to take a few tentative nibbles, he said, “You don’t do it like this! That is the wrong way to eat sago grubs.” Then, scooping up a great handful, he said, “This is the way to eat them,” and he thrust the whole batch into his mouth.
He chewed, then he swallowed. As he swallowed, I did too, though my mouth was dry.
Then it was my turn. “Do you eat it with sago?” I asked, stalling as best I could. Sago is no favorite of mine either. Cooked, it’s a rubber, gelatinous mass—like something between tapioca pudding and a sponge. But here I just might need a sponge.
They thought the sago was a good idea. They love it. I thought of dishes I had recoiled from in childhood. What I wouldn’t give now for one of those to trade for any of this.
Equipped with a bite of sago, I took a handful of the grubs, almost like Apusi Ali had done, inserted them in my mouth and chomped down.
As I chewed, everybody watched. I chewed for a long time, mouth closed, expression steady and finally they began to slip down my throat.
As I finished, Hotere leaned across the fire and asked, “Felére? Are they good?”
I paused, then matched his grin with my own and said, “Felérapó. Yes, they’re good.”
With that everybody burst into great cheers. People were slapping me on the back, waving and affirming emphatically, “Of course they’re good. We just wanted you to know they’re good!”
With that came a barrage of offers to taste every delicacy they had. Kayame gave me a piece of braided intestines skewered on a stick. Hotere gave me a bite of boar brains. So pleased they were that I would enjoy their food. But they were especially pleased that I would enjoy o fóe “grubs.” And of course I had to eat some more.
At one point, genuinely interested, I asked, “What are these things, anyway?”
For a moment they looked at me incredulously. Could I be serious? What person in the world would not know what these were? I asked again and Kima leaned forward and said, “Akaoní o foe kaaratapo.”
I only got about half of what he said. I’d heard o fóe in there and akao, the word for a large beetle, but the verb he used confused me. Kaatapo was the verb “to begin,” I knew that, but I had never heard it with the ra in the middle. From other contexts I knew the ra infix, added to the verb “to begin,” must mean “cause to begin,” but I wasn’t sure I had it.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “What did you say?” It had gone by me so fast it was already blurred.
Soké, sitting next to Kima, piped up. Both Kima and Soké are astute with language, and they were always coaching me. Paraphrasing Kima’s message for me, Soké pointed to the grubs on my right then over to the beetles on my left and said, “When these things fly, they fly as these.”
I understood that fine. What they were telling me was that the sago grub is the larval stage of this particular beetle.
“But that’s not what Kima said,” I protested. I needed to hear the exact phrase again.
By that time no one could remember it. It hadn’t been that important. But, groping back, someone finally got it and this time I heard the whole thing good and slow: Akaoní o fóe kaaratapó “these beetles cause these grubs to begin.”
I must have looked like I was catching onto something significant as they were all with me now. “Tell me more about this word, kaaratapó,” I said, and everybody jumped in at once with all sorts of examples.
“You know,” they said, “butterflies begin caterpillars. Flies begin maggots, rhinoceros beetles begin tree grubs.”
When it quieted down a bit, Kima said, “It’s like when the world started.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You know,” he said, “ . . . a long time ago. All this didn’t just come up by itself. It had to have a beginning and somebody began it.”
I looked at Hapele and Isa sitting a little way down from where all this was going on, and they too were listening closely. “We’ve been looking for a word,” I said to everybody in general. “On the first day of translation we got stuck. We were trying to find a word that would describe something like what you’re saying here but we couldn’t find it—I think we’re close, though.”
“If we took the word for God, Kóto,” I went on, “and added ne to indicate God as the one doing the action, then added ra in the middle of the verb, changing it from ‘to begin’ to ‘to cause to begin,’ what you’d have is: Keké nale alimó Kótóné saró haetamo Kaaralipakalepó, ‘In the beginning God caused the ground and the sky to come into being.’”
They nodded in unison.
“Just like that?” I asked. I could hardly believe it was falling into place.
“Just like that,” they said.
Just like that God created the heavens and the earth. And just like that He had just given us a way to say it.