Isolated Brazilian group translates Bible into their language

Staff report


While Rio de Janeiro prepares for the Olympics in August, members of a Brazilian gypsy group called the Calon have launched a project that will have repercussions long after the Games end: translating the Book of Genesis into their own language, Chibi.

The goal of the project is to complete an audio version of Genesis in one year. Although there is already some Bible content in Chibi, this is the first translation project to use a new kind of software called Render that streamlines the process of translating the Bible for oral cultures.

“This project is history in the making, and I don’t use that phrase very often,” said Jonathan Huguenin, vice president of language recording and global partnerships at Faith Comes By Hearing, one of the three ministries that developed Render.

Eleven Chibi speakers had a two-week workshop in June with representatives of Faith Comes By Hearing, an audio Bible ministry; Seed Company, an affiliate of Wycliffe Bible Translators; and three Brazilian organizations to learn how to use Render. Although the workshop took place in Dourado, more than 400 miles west of Rio, the 800,000 members of the Calon are scattered across Brazil.

The Calon, descendants of gypsies who immigrated from Europe beginning in the 16th century to escape the Inquisition, isolate themselves from Brazilian society, even refraining from sending their children to school to guard against outside influences. Not surprisingly, literacy is a problem, and Calon believers looked at the translation project as a way to preserve their language.

“The Chibi speakers embraced oral Bible translation and the principles of Render,” said Robin Green, the Render project manager. “Watching them work was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.”

Experts say there are more than 1,800 oral cultures like the Calon – representing perhaps 1 billion people – that don’t have the Bible in their own language, and many of them don’t even have a written language. Historically, Bible translators have had to create a written language for these groups before creating an audio Bible that people could use, lengthening the translation process by years.

“The oral process requires no compromises to achieve high-quality oral translations of Scripture,” said Ralph Hill, a consultant in oral translation with Seed Company. “It is now possible to translate and record first and, if desired, print later.”

Pioneer Bible Translators partnered with Seed Company and Faith Comes By Hearing to create Render. Faith Comes By Hearing records audio Bibles and relies on its partners to do the translation.

Render is an example of translation and recording coming together to create a tool that allows oral peoples to gain access to the Bible in their own language.

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