Reserved for a Special Purpose

This helped me understand a concept not well understood in English.

In the Bariai culture of Papua New Guinea, a mark of ownership, called an ul, can be placed upon something by its owner to reserve it for his or her own special purpose. For example, I can place a mark of ownership on a fruit tree, a section of land, or a pig, to reserve it as a resource for a feast I may host in the future. In an egalitarian society such as this, where one’s relatives or neighbors can lay claim to almost anything one possesses, it’s important to have such a limitation which is honoured throughout the community.


The ul doesn’t necessarily consist of a visible sign. It can be a shown for example by making a cut in the ear of pig, but this isn’t necessary.

When the consultant asked our coworkers what it might mean for God to place an ul upon something, it was a real ‘aha!‘ moment for our team. We soon realised that the word brings out a much richer meaning in translation. We say “God’s mark of ownership is on us” rather than to simply say, “belonging to God”. I’ve been amazed at how useful this expression has been with some other difficult concepts such as sanctification, “we live and show that God’s mark of ownership in on us.”

— Steve Gallagher

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