Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Greetings from Mongu, Western Province, Zambia

(L-R: Me, Cosmas, Mercy, Innocent, Mboozi, Orbet, Cathy.)

(L-R: Me, Cosmas, Mercy, Innocent, Mboozi, Orbet, Cathy.)

Mbuti! This is how the Fwe tribespeople greet one another. The right response is 'Nenja' ("I'm well"). Clapping your hands with cupped hands twice before and after shaking is also polite and customary.

It has been the most amazing last few days meeting 23 people from all over the Western Province of Zambia who've come together here in Mongu to work together for 3 weeks. The end goal is for each 4 languages to have created a consistent, accurate and clear alphabet with which they can begin to translate the Bible.

Cathy, another consultant from Australia, recorded her thoughts of our first day on her own blog, Babelwise.

The four languages are: Fwe, Mashi, Makoma, Kwanga. Each language has chosen 5 or 6 representatives to come here to Mongu to begin the translation project. These people are members of society highly thought of and well-respected. They are Christians and have been well-educated according to their standards usually having finished primary school with some even completing secondary school.

For the first few days we have been discussing what sounds they use in their languages. To ensure that this process is as hands on and as user-friendly as possible, it all begins with a story. The translators decide on a story that they wish to tell and firstly voice record their story. Then as the recording is played back each translator writes down what they hear in whatever spelling system they like. They are then able to compare their texts and begin to decide which symbols best represent the sounds of their language. This is a great practical way to start that initiates ownership of the alphabet right from the beginning.

The text of the story is then useful for further stages like charting consonants and vowels, deciding on where to break words and understanding tonal systems. Today my group, the Fwe tribe, decided that they had 45 consonants in their language. For comparison's sake, English has 24. We also began to compile a mini dictionary finding nouns for each consonant.

It is very exciting work and the translators are all incredibly dedicated. At present they only have a Bible in Lozi, the local trade language, that uses older language and is thus difficult to understand for today's readers. There is also a lesser used Catholic Bible which does have more modern Lozi but is perceived by non-Catholics as containing suspect theology. It would, of course, be much better to have these people read and understand the Bible in their own language.

It is an amazing privilege to be here with these people at the birth of their alphabet. They know it is going to be a hard slog - at least 4 years to get just the gospel of Luke. But as Mboozi, one of my Fwe translators, said, "God first." Their dedication, conviction and determination is to be admired and puts us English speakers to shame. How much can we say that we would give up work, give up our salary and give up our comfortable homes to see God's word more clearly understandable to those around us in our society?

For the Fwe it is a 'dream come true'.

We, consultants and translators, here in the Western Province of Zambia are God's instruments. May he use us to bring him glory and honour among the Fwe, Mashi, Makoma and Kwangwa.