Living amongst the Kewa people, as we did off and on for 15 years, and then continuing to maintain contact with them, I have long been interested in their concepts of borrowing and lending, as well as buying and selling.

It was not unusual for a Kewa man to ask me for a loan of some money. The word that he would generally use in West Kewa (WK) was yago, for example, ni yago mealua-ya? “Can I get (from you) a loan?” The word could also apply to giving credit (i.e., a loan) to someone: neme yago meda nina baani kaato “I am extending credit (a loan) to my sister” or  neme yago talo “I am paying back the debt (or loan)”. In the Kewa idiom, If I extend the loan or credit, I “give” it, but if I pay it back, I “hit” it.

Another word which I sometimes heard was rudu, which literaly meant “short”, as in ni rudu aayo “I am short”, but it could also be used idiomatically to mean that “I am short of money”. The pig stakes in large ceremonial “pig kills” were also called rudu-nu (-nu a collective suffix because there were many of them).

In addition to rudu and yago the words yano and yoto were also used. Here is an example of the former: Niri yano ora adaapu mepulu nimumi ora ni koso loa aditalo pimi. “Because I have a large debt, they want to take me to court and jail me.” The other (yoto) occurred in contexts that usually referred to the worth of something:  yoto mulalo “to get a payment”, as in  Go situwa madaare nina oye mulalo yoto waru teme “When I go to that store to get something they want a lot”.

These were the main words that were used in the translation of the Kewa scriptures. Now for examples of the use of yago and yano, consider the following from Romans 13:8: “Be under obligation [debt] to no one—the only obligation [debt] you have is to love one another. Whoever does this has obeyed the Law”. In West Kewa (WK) it comes out like this: “Don’t get [take/receive] debts (yano) from anyone. Your one debt-like (yano-like) thing should be that you love your brothers and sisters. In Tok Pisin (TP), the language which most PNG Highland (and elsewhere) national translators consult, it reads: “You should not allow even one debt (dinau). There is just this one debt (dinau) and that is that you love everyone else…”

Now does this mean that the Kewa people should not have debts and consequently loans, a feature upon which much of their culture depends and thrives? No, of course not, and we can go elsewhere in the Scripture for confirmation. Notice, for example, the story in Luke 7:41 and 42 about the moneylender and two of his preys. One man is in considerable debt to him, the other less so and yet he cancels the debts of both. In WK it is expressed as both men having a yogo (debt), in both East Kewa (EK) and South Kewa (Pole) as a rudu (debt), and in TP as a dinau. There is no indication by Jesus that it was wrong for them to have a debt—the point was that their debts were forgiven (another interesting concept and word study).

The important point of these verses is to show that, although there may be different words to express a concept, like loans and debts, arising traditionally from borrowing and trading, the cultural feature was quite proper and one should not use the Romans verse to suggest otherwise.

When we first went to the Kewa areas, buying and selling were more recent ideas. In their traditonal realm people made loans, took debts, all within the context of trading, which was rome or ropo, as in the WK sentence nemere go aa raapu ropo papa “I am trading things with this man”. That would change when money and goods became available.

In the Bible trading begins in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament and is indicated in the story of the shrewd manager (Luke 16) as well.

But to actually purchase something with money was new to the Kewa people when we arrived there in 1958. After all, they had no money and there were no stores. Items of trade were preferred for their work, so we gave them soap, tins of fish, bush knives, and so on in payment. Soon, however, they wanted to buys such items and wanted money (aana “stone” for change and yo “leaves” for bills).

A purchase was different than a loan or a trade. It meant that the relationship between the people was not in focus and consequently the word kamba (literally, to cut off) was used, as in: Niaa kara ora roboa oyade-pulu niaame kara rado kabalima “Because our car is ruined we will buy a different one”.

However, if the buying or selling was done within the clan, where relationships are important, the people most often talked about it in terms of yano, yago, and rudu. They did not “cut off” their own clan.

The cultural context dictated the schema applied. Times have changed, of course, but trade is still important—and so are relationships that are indicated with lending and borrowing.