Thursday, November 19, 2015

Translating "kingdom"...with no king!

Miskum leading the discussion (photo courtesy of Jessie Wright)
 How do you translate “kingdom” when the language has no word for “king?”

Recently, the Tigak people of New Ireland Province discussed this very issue, along with several other key terms to be used in their translation. “Key terms” are words in the Bible that are especially important for understanding its message, such as grace, forgiveness, and salvation, and they are often difficult to translate.
This past May, my two housemates Jessie and Rebekah along with one other translation adviser, joined with Miskum, the primary Tigak translator, to hold a key terms awareness workshop in several Tigak villages to get the people discussing what words are most appropriate for translation, including kingdom.

(You may remember, I worked closely with Miskum and the Tigak language during a Sunday School workshop last year as well as a hymnbook revision a few years back.)

“What about galon?” Miskum suggested.

In traditional Tigak culture, the chief built a house inside a fenced area far away from the village. This fenced area, called the galon, was a secret, sacred place that no one from the outside was allowed to enter. Here, the chief's son would be born and raised, and would only leave the galon under secure circumstances, when it was certain no one could see him. Once he was old enough to marry and take leadership, the village would hold a big ceremony and feast to mark the occasion when he was finally allowed to leave the galon.

Discussing the possibilities! (photo courtesy of Jessie Wright)
After discussing galon, the community was led in a long discussion about the biblical meaning of “kingdom” in both the Old and New Testaments. Together, they considered whether this word was appropriate for the younger generation (as galon is no longer practiced in Tigak culture), whether its specific cultural meaning could be used metaphorically, and whether it could be brought back into usage with a slightly different, biblical meaning. They also pondered borrowing a word from a different language or using several other Tigak words, depending on the meaning of the text.

Although a final decision was not reached during the workshop, the community was energized to continue talking about translation, and how to best communicate key terms like kingdom in their culture and language. 

Thanks to Rebekah Drew for sharing this story with me.