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Jan 16, 2006

The First Book in Burunge!

Written by Anna L

The large crowd of people was completely silent while Pastor Emmanuel read to them for the first time from the Book of Ruth in Burunge. After the reading, Pastor Emmanuel preached enthusiastically. Although I don’t know the Burunge language myself, I dare say that it was obvious that he knew his text! Emmanuel’s colleague, Pastor John, later pointed out to me that there were many "amens" coming from the old people in the audience. “You will never hear the old people say ‘amen’ if you preach in Swahili," he said.

This was the main event at an historic open-air meeting held in November 2005 among the Burunge people, who live about 2 ½ hours north of Dodoma in Tanzania. They were celebrating the publishing of the first portion of the Bible –the book of Ruth– in the Burunge language. Burunge is a Cushitic language and therefore very different from Swahili and the other Bantu languages.

Young man blowing a waterbuck hornHave you ever sung a tune to a waterbuck
horn? (Burunge, Tanzania)
I went to the Burunge village of Goima to participate in the festivities together with several hundred Burunge people. There I learned that it is possible to praise God in any language and with any instrument! The most prominent musical instrument of the day consisted of some wooden spoons and a wooden tray turned upside down. The creaking sound that was caused by the friction between the spoon and the tray was accompanied by the sound made by some old women drumming on their calabashes with sticks, while a young man every now and then sounded a waterbuck horn. The youth choir had a more modern approach, though, and kept the rhythm by drumming on an upsidedown plastic bucket. Add to this about ten stamping feet with ankle bells on them. Can you hear what it sounds like? Beautiful!

When the old men started to dance a traditional stamping dance, two of our most respectable linguists were pulled into the performance. Some young girls sitting next to me started to giggle. “They can’t dance. They don’t know how to do it...” Well, it certainly looks easier than it is.

Pst Emmanuel readingPastor Emmanuel reading from
the book of Ruth (Burunge, Tanzania)
It was fascinating to hear the two Burunge Bible translators (Pastor Emmanuel and Pastor John) tell how the book of Ruth speaks to the lives of the Burunge people. Their own traditions are very close to the customs that are described in this short Old Testament book. “Ruth and Naomi left Bethlehem because of a famine. Our people know exactly what that means, as we ourselves left our homeland around Babati for the same reason," they explained.

In the book of Ruth it is explained how, in those times, people would take their shoe off and give it to the other as a sign of change of ownership. I was told that that is exactly what the Burunge people still do when property changes ownership through inheritance. When the Burunge people hear how Ruth’s first child is being taken care of by his grandmother, they will nod in agreement. “It is also part of the Burunge culture that the firstborn is raised by the grandmother."

It is the team's vision that the Burunge people will not only continue to learn of God's care for them through the book of Ruth, but that they eventually have all of His words in their own language.

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