The Scripture on their phone is warmly received alongside the Pitjantjatjara Shorter Bible
The Bible is coming to life for thousands of First Nations peoples through a new app in one of Australia’s most used languages. The newly released Pitjantjatjara Bible app enables listeners to pass on Bible stories in their heart language. It also strengthens literacy levels among communities which use it.
“The beauty of the app is it actually highlights the text as it’s being spoken aloud,” says translator Dave Barnett who’s with Bible Society Australia. “So it’s going to be a great literacy aid. If people don’t know how to read [Pitjantjatjara], they can follow along on the app and hear the Scriptures being read aloud.”
The app features a dramatised audio recording of the New Testament in the Pitjantjatjara language. It also allows users to search for and play verses and chapters. In addition, the app includes links to the Pitjantjatjara hymn book, other devotional materials and to Christian YouTube channels.
Pitjantjatjara is the first language of about 3000–5000 Aboriginal Australians, with up to another 5000 people speaking it as their second or third language. “It’s one of the strongest languages in central Australia,” says Barnett, who learned the language while working as a school teacher in remote north-west South Australia, from where the language originates – the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.
Barnett explains how the language has spread: “Because people are so transient these days, they travel far and wide. So you’ve got a large Pitjantjatjara-speaking] community in Port Adelaide, Port Augusta, rural South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia.”
The full New Testament translation was released in audio format in 2018, a task involving more than 40 Pitjantjatjara speakers and 500 recording hours. Barnett has seen firsthand the impact it has made in local communities.
“When we finished the New Testament recording, we put it on these devices called Proclaimers. We were living in Ernabella [APY Lands] at the time, and one day we had 15 local kids on our trampoline, all having a great time. I went outside and just as a bit of an experiment, I pressed play and put [the Pitjantjatjara audio Bible] on. Within seconds, the kids were dead silent, as they listened to the Bible stories. For many of these kids, these were brand new stories. They’d never heard them before, and they were fascinated to hear, in their language, stories about Jesus and the disciples.”
Barnett expects that through the app, which makes the audio Bible easier to access, many more people will hear the Bible in their heart language. “It opens up so many possibilities that we haven’t had in the past. You have people who don’t have the printed word for reasons of cost or access. But even when they’re living remotely, most have Wi-Fi and internet connection, so now they can access the Scriptures.”
The app will continue to be updated, and it’s likely the Pitjantjatjara Old Testament and Prayer Book will be added when their translation work is complete. In the meantime, Barnett and others are rolling out the app in communities by helping people install and share it. You too have the opportunity to support Bible mission work for remote Indigenous communities, from wherever you are in Australia.