When you go on a language survey, you never know exactly what new things you will discover. On this survey the team planned for a two week excursion, but was actually five weeks on the road living out of a suitcase, sleeping in nine different guesthouses and driving 2000 kilometres.
Pangwa and Bena
Before starting on this survey we had been thinking about the Pangwa survey done last year. The Pangwa had expressed strongly that their language was basically one with the neighbouring Bena language. The Bena already have a New Testament, even though it needs revising. The question was: might the Pangwa be able to use a modern Bena translation? As the Kinga and Wanji, (the groups we wanted to visit on this trip) live close to the Pangwa, we decided to revisit the Pangwa and do some additional testing.
First we travelled to the Bena area recording a story in modern Bena and translating it into Swahili. Afterwards we played this story to several groups in the Pangwa speaking area and asked people to retell it to us. People enjoyed this but it was obvious that they only understood part of the story. Many details got lost or were repeated differently from the original. The Pangwa and Bena have very close ties and very good relations but their languages are definitely different and the Pangwa will need their own Bible translation in order to be able to access God’s Word well.
After this little “detour” we proceeded to travel to the Kinga speaking area. There we were in for a little surprise. We had heard beforehand that Kinga has three different dialects. However, once we arrived we found out that they are
The Mahanji are a very small group (less than 4000 speakers). They live mainly in four villages and speak a language that is quite close to Kinga. We spent two days in the Mahanji speaking area and came away with the impression that they can probably use a Kinga Bible. Their language is different, but most Mahanji learn Kinga early on and they have quite positive attitudes towards the Kinga.
The Magoma – is slightly bigger (about 10.000 speakers) and they are definitely a separate group with a separate language. Two days in their area made clear that the Magoma would not be able to use a Kinga Bible. They need their own translation. However, the Magoma language is still closely related to Kinga and it might be possible to adapt any written Kinga material.
The Kinga are a large and influential group. Traditionally they are traders and business people who travel frequently and extensively and are found in all bigger towns and cities in Tanzania. There are probably about 150.000 Kinga but only about half of them actually live in the Kinga speaking area. We did research in three different Kinga areas. Everywhere we went we found that the Kinga use their mother tongue very much in daily life even though their Swahili proficiency is higher than in many other places of Tanzania. They are very much interested in Bible translation. The New Testament has already been translated but a long time ago and into a slightly archaic form of Kinga. It definitely needs to be revised in order to be used by all segments of the population.
Translation Will Keep Language Alive
Young Vwanji often prefer Swahili but still find it very important to keep using their mother tongue. They are very interested in a Vwanji Bible, as it will help to keep the language alive. Many older or less educated people don’t understand Swahili that well and would be greatly helped by a Vwanji Bible.
One Vwanji pastor I interviewed had tears in his eyes at the end of our talk. He told me that this was a dream come true for him. Without a Vwanji Bible he said, the Vwanji would never truly grow in faith. He told me I should make sure that our research wouldn’t go the way of so many research projects – ending with some words on paper and nothing else.
Part of Mbeya-Iringa Cluster Project
Vwanji and Kinga are now part of a large new translation project based in Mbeya. In July 2003 bishops and leaders of seven different denominations met in Mbeya and decided to start Bible translation in nine languages of the area. At this point they have already had their first workshops with 54 speakers of those languages and are in the process to recruit future translators out of this group. The Bena are also part of this project. It is amazing for me to see that our work of survey is showing some fruit and that these groups, that I have helped to survey, are now a big step closer to having the Bible in the language of their hearts. PRAISE GOD!!!