Wait and See

"We can always kill them later."

Wuninip sat with the other Dani tribesmen in the smoky darkness of the hut. The once bright fire was nearly out, but the men were hardly aware of it as they talked about the new creatures who had entered their world.

"Do you think they are the promised ones who bring us the secret of nabelan-kabelan (eternal life) so that once again we can live forever?"

"No, no. The would have to be snakes to bring us that good word, because it was a snake that knew the secret from the first days."

"I think they are cannibals and they will eat our babies," a third suggested darkly.

"That cannot be. Did you see how their hearts are joined to the two little ones they call their own? My brothers, it could be that Ndeka is not a spirit but is a man like us who takes a woman just as we do, and that she has young as our women do. Yet, his skin is not like our skin. I have seen him rub himself with a white bar and pour water over his body. Perhaps this is what makes his skin white."

"You are all wrong!" Wuninip's brother spat out the words angrily. "They are demons. We must kill them before they bring trouble to us!"

The mention of demons sent a shudder through the group. Only a week before, Wuninip's brother had been struck by demon spirits and lay dying. Or was it a woman's black magic? They all knew that sickness and death came from the other side.

The few remaining embers blinked and burned out, as though to confirm the gloominess of the conversation. A hush filled the dark hut as they contemplated the awesome power of the demons.

"What then is to be done with this man Ndeka and the woman and children he brings?" Another Dani impatiently broke the silence. "Are we going to kill them?"

"My brothers," Wuninip reasoned, "if we kill them, we will get no more shells, no more shining axes, no more sharp-tasting salt. They may bring us other wonderful things as well!"

Wuninip's voice reflected his excitement as he continued. "Did you see Ndeka's little box that has very small people inside so that he can talk to others like himself over the hills? Let us wait and see."

"Yes, yes, let us wait and take every advantage we can, get all we can. We can always kill them later." With this reassuring thought, the meeting broke up.

Wuninip was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. Although he was young, his Dani brothers recognized his ability not only as a warrior but also as a leader. His body was strong, and he carried himself like a leader. He was well-dressed by Dani standards. The net holding his long hair was positioned high on his forehead, with two wild-pig tails on each side of the headband. His armbands were fashioned from boar genitalia. The long ceremonial gourd was topped with a plume of fur, and his body was greased to a dusky luster. As he walked to his hut, he reviewed the events of the day.

That morning he had watched as the steel bird circled twice and landed. A white man had stepped out. Wuninip recognized him as Ndeka, who had come to Kanggime earlier with Kondabaga. Ndeka had only stayed three days that time, but Kondabaga had remained and built the dirt strip that the great steel bird had landed on today. Wuninip remembered how Ndeka had returned to Kanggime later and asked for poles and bark to build a small house. Ndeka had paid him and other Danis with cowrie shells.

He helped me pay for my bride! And he gave me a shining ax after working only two moons. Now I can quickly chop down trees for firewood and trim poles for fences and houses. With a shining ax—abok! (it's done). And ayee! The salt he gave us! Never have I tasted such salt!

His reverie had been interrupted when a white-skinned woman and two little white creatures came out of the great bird. Are these our ancestors coming back to life with lighter skin? He dismissed that idea. Our people came from a hole in the ground. These have come from the sky. Ndeka and the woman with white skin held the little white creatures. Could it be that they have children, too?

Being a man of action, Wuninip had made his way through the noisy crowd to greet Ndeka and the others—whoever they were.

Now as he lay in his hut, he struggled again with the question, Why have they come to live among us?

Sleep didn't come easily.

In a pole house not far away, the white-skinned objects of Dani speculation were spending their first night in Kanggime. Missionaries John and Helen Dekker, with Paul, sixteen months old, and Eva, one month old, had arrived to live among the Danis of the Toli Valley in New Guinea. They knew nothing of the temporary reprieve from death granted them by the Dani council that night in the smoky hut. They knew that their mission was not without risk, but John and Helen had never considered the possibility of dying at the hands of these Stone Age people.

As they settled into their unfinished house, the Dekkers had their own questions and anxieties—about the Danis—but they looked ahead expectantly because they were convinced that God had led them as individuals, and more recently as a couple, toward this time and place. Their preparation had begun years before. Now, they were here by appointment. This knowledge gave them assurance and confidence.

From Torches of Joy by John Dekker with Lois Neely, copyright 1999, YWAM Publishing. All rights reserved.

 

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