Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Cakchiquel Translation

This is a story about women Bible translators in Guatamala, from the SCRIPTURE LANGUAGE REPORT 2003, by the United Bible Societies.

In 1993 in eastern Guatemala four Mayan women of humble origin began translating the Bible into their first language, Cakchiquel. Their participation in the project meant an enormous upheaval for them and their families: Mayan society normally depends exclusively on the women to look after children and wash the clothes, not to mention making corn into flour which they then bake into tortillas three or four times a day. (Mayan men, it seems, do not relish warmed-up tortillas.)

"[The women's participation] was definitely not part of the Mayan scheme of things," wrote UBS's Ron Ross in an article in World Report 384. It tested the understanding and commitment of their husbands, and the willingness of their mothers-in-law to care for small grandchildren… It would also test the mettle of the women themselves.

"At times the going was tough," he added. "Often, family pressures were enormous and the endless days exhausting. And the project was to last 10 long years."

It was not the women who gave up on the project, however. At the beginning there were men in the translation team, but as the tedium of long-term translation work began to set in, it was they who began to drift away until, finally, only one remained. In Ron Ross's words, "It was the women who bore the lion's share of the burden and who stayed the course until the project was completed."

In November 2003 they had the satisfaction of seeing the Bible they had lovingly translated being dedicated by the Rev Cornelio Midence RodrĂ­guez, Executive Secretary of the Bible Society of Guatemala. And the Cakchiquel Bible is listed in the section of the Scripture Language Report 2003 headed 'Complete Bibles reported for the first time'.

Stories like this, when they can be found and told, serve to show that the new statistics, valuable though they are for reference purposes, remain, as ever, just a part of a richer, more complex story.

There is an interesting historical sidelight to the story of the Cakchiquel Bible. From 1917 to 1932, Dr Cameron Townsend, who was to become co-founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), sold Bibles in Spanish to the Mayan people in Guatemala . One day one of them challenged him saying, "If your God is so great, why can't he speak my language?" It was as a result of that challenge that Dr Townsend set about translating the New Testament into Cakchiquel. The first full draft of his translation was completed in 1929 and it was dedicated and published in 1931.

No comments: