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Nov 16, 2006

Our Kind of Music

old_man.jpgAnimism is deeply rooted
in the Nyole culture. (Uganda)
When the spiritual leader of a Nyole (or Banyole) clan in Uganda dies, a lengthy ceremony is held to replace him. The villages meet together, someone beats an efumbo (a long drum) and the people dance, sing and shout, often for several days without a break, until one of them becomes possessed by the clan’s ekuni (spirit) and climbs high into a tree. This is the sign to all that the ekuni has chosen its new omutuusa (spiritual leader). Due to this particular ceremony, however, the efumbo is considered unsuitable for use in churches. It is taboo. In fact, most Banyole people believe traditional instruments are satanic by association.

New Music

Recently, however, 20 Banyole Christians from several church denominations met with one purpose and a common love: to praise the Almighty God using their own music and instruments, including the efumbo. The catalyst for this workshop was a consultant ethnomusicologist who promotes culturally relevant African worship. In just five days these 20 Banyole musicians composed over 30 songs based on three short passages of Scripture—Jonah, John 9 and Psalm 23—using local instruments played in their distinctive style. They recorded 28 songs on a cassette and called it The Banyole Praise God.

Into the Beat

Music and dance is woven into Banyole culture, even more than football into British culture! They bleed rhythm and beat. But unfortunately, since expatriates first brought the gospel to Uganda in the late 19th century, traditional music has not found a home in the churches. Traditional instruments can be heard in cultural ceremonies day and night, but it is still common to hear beautiful African voices singing Amazing Grace on Sunday morning—in English! They do not connect with either the words or the music, because neither is truly their own. The spirit of worship changes visibly and audibly, however, when a young man takes an efumbo and begins to pound out a familiar beat. Eyes light up, bodies begin to move, the borderline between young and old is erased, and the whole body of Christ is united in spirit. It is truly a joy to behold.

music_in_church.jpgYou can praise God with any kind of instrument.
(Nyole, Uganda)
God is Now Their God

In the past, the Banyole have sung a few worship songs in their own language, but never with their own kind of music. After this workshop, many of the musicians confessed that their eyes were opened. One church leader said, “When the words are ours, it’s one thing, but when the music is ours, we are convinced: God can truly be our God!” Now the God of the Bible was connecting with Banyole culture, not just with individuals in a church building!

Bible translation for the Banyole people is only just beginning. But there are already signs of how Bible translation, and using Scripture—like these musicians singing God’s Word in their own style—will unite the Banyole church.

A United Effort

A Bible translation committee has been formed, representing all denominations—more than ten. For the first time ever, Anglicans, Catholics and Pentecostals are sitting around the table praying, sharing God’s word and working together to produce the Bible in their mother tongue. They forget their denominations as they focus on a common task—Bible translation, music—that benefits all Christians.

The process of translating and using the Bible is already uniting the church in Christ! Enoch Wandera and Aristarchus Gesa began Bible translation full-time in January 2005. Enoch has an MA in Translation Studies while Aristarchus has a degree in Theology. Up to now they have served as ministers of Anglican and Pentecostal churches and have witnessed the indispensable role of the Bible in making disciples.


  • That the churches will be innovative and use the translated Scriptures
  • that the churches will support the language project
  • that the translation team will soon have more than three passages of Scripture
  • that more people will learn to read the Nyole scriptures.

Taken from a Wycliffe UK publication:Words for Life

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