a special honor

We have been working with two different language groups in Nigeria for about six years, one of which is Kamo, spoken by about 42,000 people in Gombe State. The Kamo people prefer to call themselves Maa, or adding the word nuba, which means ‘people’, Nuba Maa. The word nyii means ‘mouth’ or ‘language’, and they refer to their language as Nyii Maa. But they are known to the outside world as Kamo, which is a Hausa word meaning ‘catch’, given to them because they are good hunters. The members of the Kamo translation team with whom we have been working are Maryamu Danbaba, Joram Sani, Enoch Tashe, Titus Babuka, and Lot Kefas. The Kamo New Testament translation is nearly complete, and it should be going to press a little later this year.

The Kamo Chief is enthusiastic about having the language written and having the Bible in Kamo. He says it brings recognition and respect to the language and kingdom. The word fáng means something like ‘owner’ in English and is used for a number of different things in the Kamo language and in the translation, and the title of king or chief is in the Kamo language Fáng Maa, or ‘owner of Maa’. Out of appreciation for what is taking shape, Chief Nuhu Adamu sent a delegation of drummers, dancers, ‘kingmakers’ and other Kamo dignitaries to Jos, where we were working on the translation, to hold a ‘turbaning’ ceremony, where I (David) was given the title of Nunge le Nuba Maa a Amirka or ‘Ambassador [literally, ‘face’] of Kamo to America’, and Lynn was given the title of ‘Mother of Peace’. A turban in Nigerian culture is the functional equivalent of a crown, and this ceremony was also referred to in English as a coronation. Besides the turban, we were given royal vestments. This was a very special honor.

Posted in Bible translation, culture | 2 Comments

Gullah Cover Your Cough Poster

Posted in Gullah | 1 Comment

solar electricity for translation team

kamoteamsolarpanelsWe are in Nigeria again, each of us working with a different translation team. The work is going well. Last time I was here, I heard about how the Kamo translators were having a hard time with electricity, such as to power their computers for working on the translation. There is no electricity provided in the village where they live. They have a generator but it is expensive to operate and gives them problems, so they use it sparingly. We shared the need with a church back in the States, in San Diego, and they wanted to help, providing solar panels with a charging and storage system. JAARS has a department that will assemble a compact solar power system for needs like this. We were able to carry this equipment with us in our baggage allowance flying to Nigeria. Today we surprised the Kamo translation team with the solar electrical system, which they can carry back to the village where they live. The solar panels would go on a roof and provide enough electricity for charging laptop computers and cell phones and power an LED light, which can operate at night with the battery that is part of this system. Though the expressions on their faces in this picture may not show it, they were thrilled to get this equipment to enable them to do their work. We set it up on the grass to test it, and you can see a laptop computer in the middle of this picture that is being powered by the solar electrical system.

Posted in culture, travel | 1 Comment

Musika Kriston di Jeremias Sanha


I am posting this with the permission–the blessing–of Jeremias Sanha, a talented composer and performer of Christian music in Kriol of Guinea-Bissau. I have been working with Jeremias for ten years on the Kriol Bible translation project. The songs he composes take their lyrics from the Kriol Bible. Today I will feature a song of his from Acts 17:22-25, which happened to be the chapter we were working on today.

Deus, i garandi, i ka ta mora na kasa ku mon di omi kumpu.

Pabia el ku ta da omi tudu kusas, ate vida!

Abo i jintis ku fia na manga di kusas. Bo ta adora ate deus ku bo ka kunsi.

Ma e Deus ku no na fala bos del, I Deus garandi ku kumpu seu ku tera.

Deus garandi.

No tene Deus garandi.

God, he is great, he does not live in a house that the hand of man has made.

Because it is he who gave man all things, even life!

You are people that believe in many things. You worship even a god that you do not know.

But this God that we are telling you about, He is the great God who made heaven and earth.

God is great.

We have a God that is great.

Click here to hear Banda Jeremias singing Deus I Garandi.

Posted in Bible translation, culture, music | 1 Comment

yagu sabi

Drinking water in this part of the world is commonly distributed in plastic bags like the one pictured here. You bite the corner off of it and drink. What I thought was especially interesting in the ones I have seen here is that they are printed in Kriol, the Creole language that is the lingua franca of Guinea-Bissau and is the language we are translating the Bible into. Kriol is spoken everywhere but not written so much. This package pictured here says YAGU SABI DI LENDEM, “Tasty Water of Lendem,” Lendem being the tiny spot on the map where we are working on the translation in the interior of Guinea-Bissau.

“Sabi” was the theme of my last blog post too, which was about food here. It means something like “tasty, delicious, fragrant, pleasing.” It is a word used sometimes in the Kriol Bible translation, such as the following verses:

John 12:3

Maria toma un garafa di purfumu karu, di nardu puru, ku ta cera sabi, i unta Jesus na pe, i limpal pe ku si kabelu. Tudu kasa fika i na cera sabi.

“Mary took a carafe of expensive perfume, of pure nard, that smells fragrant, she anointed Jesus on the feet, she washed his feet with her hair. All the house stayed being fragrant.”

Romans 12:2

Ka bo fasi suma ku mundu ta fasi, ma bo disa Deus renova bo pensamentu, pa rabida bo manera di yanda. Asin bo ta pudi rapara kal ki vontadi di Deus, kil ki bon, i perfeitu, i sabi.

“Not you do like the world does, but you allow God to renew your thought, to turn your way of walking. That way you can recognize what is the will of God, the one that is good, and perfect, and pleasing.”

1 Peter 3:10

Kil ku misti ama vida, ku misti oja dia sabi, pa i frianta si lingua di mal, pa i ka konta mintida ku si boka.

“The one that wants to love life, who wants to see pleasant days, may he cool off his tongue from evil, may he not tell lies with his mouth.”

Today Pedru, who is on staff here, came to my room and asked if I wanted to eat at seven today. Or at least I thought that was what he was asking. I thought it was a strange question, but I said yes, sure. After he left I kept thinking, and I realized he wasn’t asking if I would like to eat at seven (seti) but rather if I would like to eat palm oil (siti), a word I was less familiar with. He must have been asking if I would like today’s meal cooked with palm oil, a local delicacy. I wasn’t too sure about that, because it didn’t sound healthy and I was afraid I wouldn’t like it, so I went looking for him to make a correction, but he had already taken off on his motorcycle to buy some palm oil. Sure enough, lunch was fish cooked in palm oil over rice, recognizable by the bright red color of the sauce. It turned out to be quite good, and I even had seconds. After that, I told Pedru, “i sabi.”

fish cooked in palm oil

Posted in Bible translation, culture | 2 Comments

i sabi


fish dinner

Every meal, twice a day, here in Guinea-Bissau, consists of a large bed of rice topped with fish or meat in sauce. Most commonly we get half a fish, but we have had several meals of gazelle and one day we had chicken that was killed that morning. A good phrase to know is i sabi ‘it is tasty’.


Meals are prepared at ground level rather than on a kitchen counter. That seems to be because cooking is done with charcoal. The traditional charcoal stove here has the same design as the coalpot in Saint Lucia, except here they are made out of metal and in Saint Lucia they are made out of clay.


Caribbean coalpot

This is harvest time for peanuts in Guinea-Bissau; they uproot the plant and pull the peanuts off the roots and put them out in the sun, in the shell, to dry.


harvesting peanuts


peanut sauce over rice

One of the meals we sometimes have is meat in peanut sauce, over rice, of course.

Here is a picture of Lynn’s and my old friend and host Joel enjoying dinner with his younger son, Joelson. (He named his first child David.) JoelJoelson-reduced

Finally, I will show a picture of my home away from home here in Lendem, which is not even a spot on the map in the interior of Guinea-Bissau. My room is the one with the light on. I am glad to have screens on the windows and solar electricity.


I have written a number of times before about Joel and about Lendem, where there is a translation center, and about Kriol. We are finishing up the translation of the New Testament into Kriol, the national language of Guinea-Bissau.


Posted in culture, travel | 1 Comment

rice culture

Pastor Cutsau came to my room a few days ago to get me to come see rice being winnowed. I asked if it was okay for me to take a picture, and he assured me it was. Guinea-Bissau is part of the “rice coast” area of West Africa. Several years ago when Lynn and I were working on learning to speak Kriol, our language tutor Joel told us a story, which we recorded, wrote down and studied, about how rice is grown here. (See a 2012 blog post called Looking Back on Three Weeks in Guinea-Bissau.) It was good both for language learning and for learning about the culture. The subject of growing rice came up again this week when we were working on the translation of Matthew 3:12, His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. I asked again about their vocabulary having to do with separating the grain from the chaff, and I learned the word buanta, which means winnow: to remove (as chaff) by a current of air; to get rid of (something undesirable or unwanted). Except they don’t use a winnowing fork here. The rice is held up in a bowl (kabas) and slowly poured out such that the wind can blow away the chaff (paja). A day after we discussed this vocabulary in going through the Gospel of Matthew in Kriol, I got to see this being done, and take a picture. Actually, the serious buanta had already taken place elsewhere, and this was a secondary buanta before cooking the rice for us. Rice is the main part of every meal here.

Two weeks ago when I first arrived on this trip, I caught the 1½ hour ride from the capital Bissau with Joel, and we stopped in a town half-way along the route to Lendem where we have been staying and working. Joel said he was hungry, and a woman was selling some kind of cooked root, which she skinned and quartered for Joel to eat.

Guessing that maybe this was yam, I asked Joel what this thing was called that he was eating: Es i ke kusa ku bu na kume? (See 2012 blog post Es i ke?) He answered nyami. This would be the West African origin of the Gullah word for “to eat,” nyam.

Posted in Bible translation, culture, language learning | 1 Comment

experiencing church in Guinea-Bissau

SUNDAY, MARCH 4, LENDEM, GUINEA-BISSAU — Today I had the opportunity to visit a local Balanta church in Guinea-Bissau, out in the countryside where I am working with the Kriol translation team, near the town of Bissora. Let me describe it, but preface that by saying it is always a privilege to be able to experience something outside my own culture. Lynn and I have visited this church before. I knew before going that church would be long and hot and a bit uncomfortable, but it could have been longer or hotter or more uncomfortable. The temperature here today got up to about 104 degrees, but it wasn’t that hot yet in the morning. There was no air conditioning, of course, and no fans. The straight-back wooden pews could each hold about six people shoulder-to-shoulder. Forget about our American inhibitions aginst touching each other (other than family) when sitting in church. These pews could hold six people, touching side-by-side, but there were more people than that, fortunately, and they put about seven people on each pew, so we had to scrunch up. The church was packed, and they had to keep bringing in chairs. That’s a good problem to have.

The first hour and a half of the church service was just music. It was all different groups going up to the front to sing. There was a mixed youth group, a group of little children, a group of young women, a couple of different women’s groups. There was nothing what we would call congregational singing, but it was all kinetic and participatory. The singing up front was accompanied by swaying and clapping and waving of arms and turning of bodies in a coordinated fashion, and stepping and sometimes stomping. Sometimes members of the congregation would spontaneously stand and join in on the action. It was great to see a large group of little children singing so enthusiastically.Click on the picture above to see a video of them. All the singing was energetic and full volume. Most of the singing was in Creole, which is basically the language of the church in Guinea-Bissau. But my favorite group was the women singing in Balanta.

I could tell that the words being sung were Balanta, not English, but what made it really distinctive was the non-western tonality. I’m not an ethnomusicologist and can’t analyze it, but it is definitely distinctive. The Balanta women also had an interesting way of punctuating their song at points with a certain kind of stomping. My impression was that they were telling a story in their song. Click here to see a video of Balanta women singing in church. I would have uploaded more videos of singing that I took on my cell phone, but my internet bandwidth here is limited. Here is another video of the Balanta women singing from last year.

While all of this was going on, I sat still with my hands folded and felt conspicuous, but I tried to keep an approving expression on my face. I did enjoy it.

After the first hour and a half of the service, announcements were given in Creole, and that went on for 15 minutes. Then a man came up and spoke in Balanta for about 10 minutes, and my impression was that he was giving some kind of testimony. I could see that they were asking visitors to introduce themselves, and one man did, but I kept quiet. But I got singled out, and was asked to come up to the front to say a few words, maybe give a little testimony. I hadn’t mentally prepared for this, but if I was going to say anything, I wanted to say it in Creole. So I reluctantly went from my place toward the back corner up to the front and said about five sentences, starting with my name and why I was here, and ending with Es i tudu ku N misti fala, ‘That’s all I want to say.’

Then the sermon began. The rest of the service lasted about half an hour more, and most of that time was the sermon. It was a bilingual presentation like we have seen many times. The local preacher gave his sermon in Balanta, but he took turns speaking with another man interpreting into Creole.

At 12:30, after we had been in church for 2½ hours, some people started going outside, and I understand that was the beginning of Sunday School. I took that opportunity to get up and walk back to the translation center where I am staying. I wish you all could experience this.

Posted in Bible translation, culture, travel | 1 Comment

A common occurrence

It is amazing how frequently this seems to happen here, not that I know of any particular reason for it. The first week I was here on this trip, I heard about two different people dying, relatives of people I knew. One of them was the mother of the wife of my host here, Joel. Joel had to take off a day on short notice to go to the funeral–quite understandable. I found out when someone dies here, they have the burial the next day. I was curious about burial practices, so I asked Joel to give me a text, which in linguistics means that he tells me something on a particular topic that I record and then write down. Texts are very helpful for studying both the language and the culture.

My second week here I heard about three more people dying, all relatives of someone I knew. One of them was the mother of Pedru, who helps out here at the translation center. We were invited to the funeral late last Wednesday afternoon. When we got there, the grave had been dug in the side yard of the house, the body was inside the house, and some men were working on a coffin (baxa ‘box’ in Creole), pictured above. The box had already been made out of plywood, but they were covering it in black cloth. There were lots of people patiently sitting or standing around in the shade whom you can’t see in this picture. There are cashew trees all around, and you can see a red cashew fruit over the grave in this picture. Finally the coffin was ready and they moved it in front of the house. The next step was to line the inside of the coffin with the woman’s clothes. Then they brought out the body and meticulously wrapped it in the clothes, which were sheets of cloth. They laid the lid on top, but before nailing it on, a brief funeral began.

This was a Christian funeral, and for about half an hour, three pastors read scriptures in Creole, explained death in Christian terms, gave an evangelistic message, and led in prayer. There were other elements as well, not necessarily invited; but in Balanta culture, death rites are normally handled by men who had undergone a secret rite of passage that they call circumcision, which takes place out in the jungle (matu) over a period of a couple of months. Men who have undergone the circumcision rites wear red knit caps. They are not in this picture, but the men in red hats stepped in to make sure the body was handled properly.

At the end of the funeral, as a pastor was starting to pray, a van pulled up in front of the house with some people arriving a late for the funeral. As soon as the van door opened, a man started wailing loudly as he stepped out and slowly walked around the coffin and into the house, his wails competing for everybody’s attention with the pastor’s prayer. I could see by the particular way he was dressed that this man was preparing to do the prolonged circumcision rites out in a remote place. This is the time of year for that, and it is done in groups. Once he has done the initiation rites involving a lot of secret cultural knowledge, this man will wear a red cap too.

The lid was nailed on the coffin and a team of men carried it a short distance to the grave in the side yard and then delicately laid it at the bottom of the deep hole that had been dug, pictured above. This grave is next to the grave of this woman’s husband, which is the reddish mound of dirt also pictured above, who died three months ago on Christmas day.

I watched for a while as the dirt was being shoveled back into the grave and then walked back to the translation center. I consider it a privilege to witness other cultures like this.

As a postscript, I will tell about something that happened several years ago when Lynn and I were both here in Guinea-Bissau, each working with a different translation team. As soon as we got to Bissau, the start of the work was delayed because the son of one of the members of Lynn’s translation team had died. Then the following week another son of the same man died and Lynn attended the funeral. Tragically, shortly after we finished our time in Guinea-Bissau and returned home, we heard that this man himself had died, whose two sons had died. We heard that some members of his family claimed that these things happened because this man had become a Christian and had quit worshiping the idols.

Posted in culture, language learning | 2 Comments

Church in Lendem

I am in Guinea-Bissau doing another periodic check of the Portuguese Creole Bible translation in progress. We are working out in the countryside where we have worked many times before, in a little spot on the map called Lendem near the town of Bissora. This is a Balanta area, but Creole is spoken all over Guinea-Bissau either as a first or a second language. My host here is Joel, pictured above on the left. In 2012 when Lynn and I were here concentrating on learning to speak Creole, Joel was our language coach. See this former post. A former teacher, Joel is now the administrator of this translation center and my host. On the right in this picture is Pastor Forma, who is acting head of the Creole translation team while Pastor Cutsau is on a study leave in Israel. The work is going well here, and they are getting close to the end of the New Testament, except that they want to make this revised edition of the Creole Bible a study Bible, and that means we will be working on adding paratextual materials such as footnotes, extended book introductions, a concordance, a glossary, and maps.

This morning I attended the church about half a mile down the road. The service was a mixture of Creole and Balanta. The first hour was singing. My friend Joel played electric guitar in the music ensemble, and a young woman led the singing. Songs were mostly in Creole, but then they switched to Balanta and another woman led the singing. A couple of times when they were really getting into the music, a couple of women would dance energetically up the aisle to the front, their arms swinging to the side, forward, and up in the air. Here is a picture of a women’s choir that came to the front and sang in Balanta, and if you click on this picture, you should be able to see and hear a video:

The second hour and a half of the service was announcements, message and prayers. Visitors were invited to introduce themselves, and I introduced myself in Creole. The pastor said he would ask me to preach except that he had already prepared a message. It was a bilingual sermon on the theme of repentance, based on Matthew 3:1–11, where John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness. Even though he was capable of speaking Balanta, the pastor gave his message in Creole and my friend Joel interpreted for him in Balanta. After church the pastor was friendly and asked if I would preach next Sunday, and I declined the honor.

Posted in Bible translation, language learning, travel | 2 Comments