Tome. That is the right word. says it means “a very heavy, large, or learned book.” I do believe that this book qualifies.  And if the size is not enough to make it a tome, look at the title:

The Impact of Vernacular Bible Translation on the Dabomba and the Konkomba of Northern Ghana in the Light of Lamin Sanneh’s Conception of Mission as Translation

Sounds like the title of a doctoral thesis. Oh yeah, that’s what it is. So, I am not going to try to talk you into reading it. But, I have been given the job of scanning it and that is a tedious job. So if you want to come help …

So, why am I doing something crazy like scanning a dusty old tome? We,ll, buried in the academic-speak of this imposing, but unappetizing volume, is some startling information. It documents the dramatic impact the translation of the Bible has had in two languages in northern Ghana, the Konkomba and Dagomba. Before the translation, both peoples rejected Christianity, seeing it as a faith of outsiders. Numerous attempts to evangelize them failed. But once the Bible was translated, many Konkomba and Dagomba put their trust in Christ.

But (just like in the TV commercials) there’s more! The gospel of Jesus Christ has transformed these communities. It has broken down relationships of servitude and brought peace to tribal disputes. In 2010 I talked with the author of this tome. He told me that his research shows that Bible translation “creates more positive transformation than all government programs combined and for much less money. See my blog About GILLBT for more details.

There are only a handful of copies of this thesis, so I am scanning it in preparation for publishing it. More people need this information! The bad news? It will be published as is for scholarly consumption. The good news? We are also planning a readable version for everyone. So, I’m off to scan another 50 pages or so.

Ghana-style birthday

In Ghana, they sing happy birthday four times, with different words each time, and some of you might not like it.

Friday the 14th was my birthday. So Dayle threw a little party and invited the staff of the Ghanaian organization we are loaned to.  The sang Happy Birthday to me, just like the folks back home. But then, things changed. They sang it again, this time with the words

How old are you now
How old are you now
How old are you now-ow
Yow old are you now?”

See, I said that some of you wouldn’t like it! Fortunately I had seen Ghanaians do this one other time. So I knew the right response. This time, I sang the tune of Happy Birthday to You, but a bit reluctantly and with the words,

I’m 59 years old now
I’m 59 years old now
I’m 59 years old  now-ow
I’m 59 years old now

In response, the group sang back to me:

May God bless you now
May God bless you now
May God bless you now-ow
May God bless you now

This Ghanaian twist on Happy Birthday To You is a manifestation of a huge cultural difference.  Here, age is revered, valued and considered synonymous with wisdom.  In Ghana, getting old gets you respect. And now you know the real reason I came to Ghana. (Not really. Well, maybe a little.)

Afterwards, our wonderful colleagues, Naana and Sylvester Nkrumah took us out for Chinese. It was a global birthday. At your next birthday and if you dare, I would be glad to come and lead the party in singing you Happy Birthday Ghana style. Of course, I would insist that you participate in full Ghanaian fashion.


(Click on a photo to enlarge it)

Eternal life

From 1978 to 1980 Dayle and I worked in the Cerma (pronounced Care-Mah), language in Burkina Faso. We lived in a place named Niangoloko.  The official language of Burkina Faso is French, but it was only used in government offices.  There are over 70 languages spoken in Burkina Faso.  Cerma was only spoken by about 70,000 of the then 7 million people in Burkina Faso. So, on the street people who did not speak the same mother tongue used a regional language called Jula.

Donkey cart on Niangoloko street

We were cooperating with a mission which had been in the area for quite a few years.  They were doing church planting and evangelism while we did Bible translation.  There were few Christians among the Cerma.  At one point, the mission announced that they were going to organization an evangelism campaign in Niangoloko.  We offered to help how we could.  In the end, we housed a missionary couple in our small place for a week.

Email helping Ed figure out the Cerma langauge

The evangelism campaign was being put on by American missionaries and pastors from Burkina Faso.  The main activity took place in the evening.  There was preaching and sometimes the showing of a film in the main town square. Quite a few people came and listened.  Some responded to the message, but not a lot. Because none of the missionaries or national pastors spoke Cerma, all the preaching was in Jula.  We were even told that ,”Everyone speaks Jula”.  Neither Dayle nor I spoke it at all.

During the week of the campaign, we continued working on language learning and analysis of the Cerma language in preparation for translation.  We were working with a young Cerma man name Emile.  One morning, he told said that many people were asking about a word which had been used in the preaching in Jula the night before. He wanted me to find out what it meant.  When I suggested that he ask directly, he insisted that I ask.

So I wrote down the Jula word and in the course of the day I posed the question to the missionary staying at our house. He was surprised.  The Jula word meant “eternal life” and that had been the subject of the preaching the previous evening.  Well, I guess that was one sermon no one understood!

In the course of my years in Africa, I have come to realize how precarious communication can be when one depends on a regional language like Jula.  People may speak it fluently for everyday matters – family information, shopping, farming – but lack the vocabulary for other topics which never come up when speaking the regional language.

If you liked this, you might also like:
Jesus walks on bonesNot just anyone can translate

Learn more about Africa and out work there on our website, subscribe to this blog, talk with us on Facebook, or sign up to support us through prayer or finances.

Translating obsolete measures

How much is a “seah” and how would you translate it into a language in Ghana? Stumped? I would be too. A “seah” is a measure of volume found in the Bible.

And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” (Genesis 18:6 ESV)

The footnote says that a “seah” is about 7 quarts. Anyone out there up for kneading 21 quarts of flour to make bread? Abraham had decided to throw one big party!

Recently the Ghanaian organization Dayle and I are loaned to, GILLBT, got together translators from ten different Ghanaian languages to help them better translate the book of Genesis. I was not there, but my friend and colleague, Naana Nkrumah, told me about it. One of the subjects was weights and measures. (You see the weird stuff we Bible translators think about?) Here is Naana talking about the option of using standard weights and measures and illustrating that with the 500 milliliter bottled water one finds most places in Ghana. The problem with standard measures, Naana pointed out, is that they may not be well-known in some rural areas. That raises an interesting translation question. Is a term accurate if nobody understands it? While an English speaker could pick up a dictionary or Google a word, many Ghanaians won’t have that option.

So the translators talked about the measurements of volume that are common in their areas. A number opted to use the “olonka” tin which is widely used in markets to measure grain and other farm products. It holds a little less than a gallon. So three seahs equals five olonka.  And no one else would have told you that today!