Aloo Osotsi Mojola (St. Paul’s University): Some key conjunctures and moments in retranslating the Bible into Kiswahili – 1890 to 1996

This paper is intended to focuse on “Some Key Conjunctures and Moments in Retranslating the Bible into Kiswahili – 1890 to 1996”. It is a reflection on issues arising out of the history of translating and retranslating the Bible into Kiswahili, spanning a period that begins in 1844 with the arrival of two German Lutheran missionaries in Mombasa via the spice island of Zanzibar and their attempts to render the first Bible into Kiswahili to the present period marked by the translation and retranslation of the Bible into modern standard Kiswahili. The paper draws from research conducted over three decades on translations of the Bible into Kiswahili. Kiswahili is spoken by some 100 million or more people mainly in the Eastern half of the African continent, but mostly in the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern DR Congo. There are some 10 or more translations of the whole Bible into Kiswahili and more than 15 New Testaments translated into Kiswahili covering the period between 1844 to the present. These translations provides a window into its vicissitudes as well as configurations of this dynamic language. They also represent the interplay between the various dialects of Kiswahili, diachronically and synchronically.  The interactions between Christianity, Islam and the traditional African Religious heritage is a key part of this story. The paper is intended to highlight some of the historical, political, social, cultural, religious, linguistic, postcolonial and imperial factors, among others, that need to be factored into the problematic of retranslating the Bible into Kiswahili, in the context of East Africa. The ideological and missiological presuppositions as well as skopoi of those who commissioned the translations will be brought into discussion. The idea will be to get behind the translations to better appreciate their raison d’etre.