Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Uyaquk was amazed. He had just listened to yet another missionary talk about a faith that was foreign to him in a way that was foreign to him. Each of the missionaries had quoted the same words that their Lord had given to them with impeccable precision. They all used the same words and did so for large and varied sections of the text. These men--they didn't look superhuman, in fact they looked as if they might not survive the harsh Alaskan seasons without much help--could quote multiple passages exactly the same every time regardless of when they were asked or how they coordinated the words. As a shaman, he knew the power of words for forming followers and respected the excellence that these Christians approached the spoken word. However, he was unprepared for his father to join them. His father spoke of conversion and eternal life.
And it was then that Uyaquk learned the secret of their precision in recitation: the leather bound paper they held. Their scriptures were more than oral tradition. The words that told the stories they held dear and told to others were recorded with symbols. For Uyaquk, this was a revolutionary idea. While he studied the idea of a written language from within his own illiteracy, he continued to hear the stories they would tell. Like his father, he could not hear the stories and remain unchanged. He was converted even as he began experimenting with symbolizing his own spoken language.
As a convert, he began sharing the same stories he had heard with others like him. As he learned more of the stories, he began translating them into his own language. Many other languages had followed this familiar path from spoken to symbolic writing but Uyaquk was doing it without any knowledge of languages or literacy. His symbols stood for words, at first, and eventually for syllables that made up words. In a little over five years, Uyaquk had crafted what had taken some languages hundreds of years. He brought the oral tradition that he had bought into--the stories of a slaughtered God who rose from among the dead to bring real life to those whom he loved--into his own language in a way that could be preserved and prepared for others. He traveled among his people and preached forgiveness and salvation while also spreading literacy and written tradition. While many can and should be commended for overcoming illiteracy by learning to read, Uyaquk overcame illiteracy by inventing literacy. For him, it was a small obstacle to be able to present the stories that had changed him and preserve them for generations after him.
Posted by Joshua Hearne at 7:00 AM