Polynesia is not so much a geographical entity as a family of people groups and languages. Roughly between 1000 BC and 1000 AD, Polynesians peopled large parts of the Pacific. They came to live in what is known as the ‘Polynesian triangle’ which includes the area between Hawaii in the north, Easter Island in the east, and New Zealand in the south-west. Outside this area various Polynesian communities live on small islands in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and other countries.
Some of the major Polynesian languages are Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan, Tongan and Tahitian. The Bible was translated in these and other languages in the 19th century. Many of the smaller languages, however, never received their own Bible.
SIL teams have been working in Polynesian languages since the late 1970s, serving language communities through Bible translation, linguistic analysis, literacy and Scripture Use. SIL teams collaborate with local churches and language committees to establish community-based language projects. The main focus in these projects is usually on Bible translation, but projects may also include linguistic research, literacy work, production of audio and video recordings, and other activities or materials that the community may request.
So far, three New Testament translations have been completed in Polynesian languages with SIL involvement: Rennell-Bellona, Kapingamarangi and Takuu. In all three, translation work continues on the Old Testament as well.
Currently, SIL teams are involved in language development programs in ten Polynesian languages. One of these, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is part of SIL’s Americas Area. The other nine are part of the Isles of the Sea project. For more information, see www.isles-of-the-sea.org.