Inay Umbahi

Inay Umbahi cutoutInay Umbahi has died.

A beautiful, quiet lady with her gentle spirit and dignified demeanour, she can still fill my heart with warmth just by looking at her photo.

One of the traditional gems of the Banwaon people … Sadly, one by one they pass away … Another generation, another time, a culture changing as “civilization” intrudes.

Every time we leave the village for an extended period of time we wonder who will be missing when we come back.

One of my favourite things in the Banwaon church meetings was surreptitiously watching Inay Umbahi sitting on the split palm floor, always up the front, sometimes cuddling a small grandchild on her lap, her face alert and intent as she chewed red betelnut and focused on the words of the Bible teachers.

The tangle of beloved beads hanging from her neck … the old-style earrings with little pompoms or bells … the fascinating intricate tattooed design on her arms, hands and legs.

I’m so sad she won’t be there when we go back. We don’t know what caused her death, just that she died.

What colossal changes Inay Umbahi must have seen in her lifetime –

from nomadic, jungle dwelling, fear-filled, spirit-worshipping, animal sacrificing lifestyle –

to hearing the Gospel and accepting freedom in Christ, settled in a village surrounded by family.

We pay tribute to this lovely woman of God.

She will be missed, but because missionaries before us came to the Banwaon and shared the Gospel, Inay Umbahi had a chance to hear and accept the message of Life …

And so we will see her again.

Inay Umbahi backPhotos: Janet Banks

The night that we received the text message saying Inay Umbahi had died, I couldn’t sleep.

This is what I wrote that night …

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