They say the Bible is best understood in a person’s mother tongue. But in the Caribbean they’ve had to put up with the stuffy English King James version for centuries.
Now, in a mark of its independent spirit, Jamaica has come up with a translation in patois–the island’s own unofficial language.
One of the first stories getting the Creole treatment is the traditional Christmas tale.
In the depiction of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, the New King James Bible’s version of Luke reads: ‘And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women”.’
In the patois version, it becomes: ‘Di ienjel go tu Mieri an se tu ar se, “Mieri, mi av nyuuz we a go mek yu wel api. Gad riili riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu aal di taim.”‘
Proponents of the Jamaica Bible Society patois version argue that since many islanders have difficulty understanding standard English, it is wrong to have the holy book in a ‘foreign’ tongue.
‘Di ienjel go tu Mieri an se tu ar se, “Mieri, mi av nyuuz we a go mek yu wel api. Gad riili riili bles yu an im a waak wid yu aal di taim.”
Most of the words in Jamaican patois are English words filtered through a distinct phonetic system with fewer vowels and different consonant sounds.
Clergy on the island said the patois gospel had gone down a storm. Pastor Lloyd Millen said: ‘People feel liberated. They say they are able to visualize the Bible better.’
A patois translation of the entire New Testament is expected in August 2012, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence.
‘The Scriptures have the greatest impact when you hear it in your mother tongue. So this translation to Creole is affirming the Jamaican speaker’s language, and it is very, very powerful,’ said the Rev. Courtney Stewart, general secretary of the Bible Society of the West Indies.
Last week, a local radio station broadcast the patois renditions of Luke every morning, and its Nativity story translation is popping up at Christmas parties.
Members of a church in Spanish Town, just west of Kingston, have even started to memorize it.
Nearly all Jamaicans, regardless of class, speak patois – a mixture of English and West African tongues spoken by slaves who were brought to this Caribbean island by European colonizers. It rarely exists in written form.
Some Anglophiles on the island call patois ‘lazy English’ and dismiss it as a vernacular.
On a page of the Jamaica Gleaner’s Web site, a critic named Jo Bent said, ‘Patois is not an official language, it has no dictionary, are we to further confuse our youths when most have not mastered English yet?’
The bible society has launched a public education campaign to win over skeptics in Jamaica.
‘Many people are skeptical about the bible translation work until they actually hear it. Then they cease being resistant,’ said Hubert Devonish, a linguistics professor at the University of the West Indies.