Taking the Gospel to every tribe and nation — even Patois

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MORE THAN 250 worshippers gathered in the East London borough of Hackney, London, to welcome the first-ever recording of Luke’s Gospel in Jamaican Patois.
Held at Christian Life City Church, it is a foretaste of things to come, with the completed translation of the entire New Testament in Patois planned for 2012. To bursts of applause, the Rev Courtney Stewart, head of the Bible Society of the West Indies, said: “Today we are creating history, you are creating history. This is the first time in our history that a serious work has been expressed in our language.”
He added: “When God speaks my language,” he said, “I am validated – God has come down to me.”
Patois is a form of English spoken in the Caribbean which comprises of words from many of the other languages circulating in the West Indies. It is spoken by five million Jamaicans who consider it a verified language in its own right.
For those unfamiliar with Jamaican Patois, the beginning of Luke’s gospel reads as follows: “Uol iip a piipl chrai fi rait dong dem bes vorjan bout di tingz dem wa apn mongks wi. Dem rait i dong siem az ou dem ier i fram di piipl uu si di tingz dem wa apn.”
In our contemporary English this is translated as: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word.”
The Patois version of Luke’s Gospel is now downloadable in PDF format (www.biblesociety.org.uk/Jamaicanbible) complete with a Jamaican soundtrack. In addition, a full Patois New Testament is planned for 2012 – the year marking 50 years of Jamaican independence.
Lisa-Marie Carr (37) a Brixton social worker and fashion designer was at the event held at the Christian Life City Church. She said: “It’s wonderful to see Patois used in such a beautiful way. It will draw young people in and for people too old to travel back to Jamaica it will give comfort and pride.”
Bishop Wayne Malcolm of Christian Life City Church, said: “It’s going to be very exciting to see how this audio Bible impacts the Jamaican community.”
Translating Luke’s gospel and the New Testament will take four years, since it began in 2008. It was correlated by working in tandem with linguists at the University of West Indies and language experts at the Bible Society. Currently, there are further plans to translate the entire Old Testament into Patois, if the New Testament proves successful.
The word Patois actually refers to any language that is not standard and comes from the French word “to paw, or handle clumsily.” However, Jamaican Patois is particularly complex as it is an amalgam of several languages including Spanish, Latin, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Amerindian and English with some additional African dialects. In this light the Bible Society’s achievement is considerable.
Speaking to The Church of England Newspaper, Mr Stewart said it was essential to have the gospel in Patois. He said: “Patois is 100 per cent a bona fide language and any linguistic community will agree with that. It can do anything that any other language can do. Research has found that the scriptures have their most profound impact when written in the language that a people group speaks, thinks and dreams in.”
He said that, so far, 78 per cent of the New Testament has been translated and the remainder will be ready for 2012. Speaking about this date, Mt Stewart said: “The next step in this project is to focus on 2012, when Jamaica will be celebrating 50 years of independence. Also, the date is significant because it is when we have the Olympic Games in London.”
He added: “We are planning a massive launch event. It will be a time for celebration and for looking forward with hope and a time for realising our full potential. We need to be encouraged and we need a moral compass.”
It is this moral compass that Mr Stewart believes a Patois New Testament will provide for Jamaica. The country has recently come under media scrutiny after 73 people died during a government crackdown on an infamous drug circuit. The violence has now died down but it could possibly reignite in the future. Mr Stewart said: “Things are getting back to normal now. In any situation, as long as there are factors that encourage these sorts of things, such as illegal guns, then there is the potential for violence to flare up.”
He added: “This is one of reasons we need the translation. There is an alternative to violence which can be found in the scriptures. We are creating history for us as a people.”
However, not everyone sees it that way. The project has come under criticism from various sectors. Many feel it is not a real language and that Jamaicans, and the two million members of the Jamaican Diaspora, should read the Bible in English or another translation. Patois is seen as the Creole of the underclass and not worthy of being the vehicle for God’s word. There are also criticisms that the project has cost too much money. Mr Stewart and the Bible Society strongly disagree.
He believes that having the Bible in Patois means Jamaicans will have “ownership” of the scriptures and be freed from the sense that the Bible belongs to another culture. It is important to point out that the revered King James Version is only a translation itself. Regarding the cost, Mr Stewart says: “The whole project has so far cost around £250,000 which has been spent on linguists, consultants and experts.”
He added: “How can you put a price on giving people the scripture in their own language?”
After the high-profile launch in 2012, the Bible Society will assess whether there is enough support to fund a translation of the Old Testament. Mr Stewart is calling for more people to get involved. “Our country, at this time, needs support from Christians and from people praying for this project that we are engaged in. It will be a gift to the people of Jamaica and also to the world.”
For more information visit: www.biblesociety.org.uk