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It was 1959 and Joice and I were living in a village in a remote area of the Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea. We were living there to do Bible translation, but in the meantime, there were many other things to do first. Our main goal, initially, was to learn to speak the language and there were no books or teachers to help us. We would also need to analyze the sounds and structure of the language, write a grammar, prepare a dictionary, and an orthography (alphabet), and then teach people to read and write their language. It would take us 15 years before the New Testament was published and dedicated.

Our son, Kirk was only a few months old, and we were in a “bush” house, with a grass roof and woven cane siding. We were without electricity, radio communication or any transportation, other than a 5-hour walk to the nearest government or mission station. We had plenty of work to do and we started by formulating language learning lessons, based on what we learned (or thought we learned) each day. At the same time, we were having “fun” compiling a dictionary.

We enjoyed the challenge (for the most part) and one day we decided to work on what people would call something, according to its taste. We started with sugar (actually sugar cane) and we were told that it was rende, which we glossed as “sweet.” Not long after, we gave them some of our commercial salt to taste and, to our surprise, it also tasted rende.

Wait a minute—sugar and salt both “sweet”? A word of explanation: there was no commercial salt for the people, and they traditionally traded for it with other language groups. The best-known salt came from the Enga people, some distance north from the Kewa area. The Enga people leave certain logs in water for several weeks until the salt is dissolved into the wood. They then dry and burn the wood, take the ashes, and strain it for salt. It is not pure white, but grey, and has a distinctive flavor. It is wrapped in leaves and ready for trade.

Although salt and sugar had different names (aipa and waa), both were called rende in taste. We decided to try pepper and, not surprisingly, it tasted “bitter” (rero) and so did the rest of the spices we had on hand. Some of them were just plain “bad.”

The verb for “to taste” in Kewa is nanda, which is similar to na-anda “not seen” and if you are into folk etymology, you might suggest a connection. But, at this stage in our dictionary work, we were not focusing on etymology. But how could we anyway because there were no historical written records?

Regarding “taste,” you might think of Psalm 34.8 (KJV): “O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” But does the Lord taste like sugar and salt, or anything else that we test with our tongue? Most English versions use the word “taste,” but a few have other expressions, like “Find out for yourself,” “Examine and see,” or even “Put God to the test.” The idea, of course, is to find out what God is like and, in Kewa at least, one doesn’t do it by tasting him.

We can say that someone has “poor taste,” meaning bad judgment or if you have “a bad taste in your mouth,” it denotes strong disgust. However, you may come to have an “acquired taste,” even if you didn’t grow up in the South with grits and gravy.

When we taste something, we are not yet sure if we want to swallow the whole thing, so we try a bit of it. If we like it, we might say it’s “a piece of cake” and ask for more.

Isaac had a taste for wild game, but Jacob didn’t, and Rebekah sided with him. On their many years of wandering through the wilderness the Israelites were given mana and it “tasted like something made with olive oil” (Numbers 11.8). Jonathan tasted a little honey with the end of his staff (1 Samuel 14.43). Job said that the ear tests words like the tongue tastes food (Job 12.11) and David found God’s words sweet to his taste, in fact, “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 119.103). To the hungry what is bitter tastes sweet (Proverbs 27.7).

We can always compare or contrast the taste of something new with something we are already familiar with. For example, I have heard it said (about crocodile meat, lizard meat, etc.) that “it tastes like chicken.” A wag claimed, “everything tastes like chicken.”

In communion we don’t just “taste” the bread, we “eat it” because it represents the sustenance we get from Jesus and we “drink” the wine because it represents the suffering and death of Jesus. We don’t just taste the life of Jesus, he becomes what we feed upon in our daily life.

Karl Franklin


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