After quarter century, Bible in Gullah finished
Fo God mek de wol, de Wod been dey. De Wod been dey wid God, an de Wod been God. - De Good Nyews Bout Jedus Christ Wa John Write 1:1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. - John 1:1.
ST. HELENA ISLAND, S.C. (AP) - More than a quarter century after the laborious work began, the New Testament has finally been translated into Gullah, the creole language spoken by slaves and their descendants for generations along the sea islands of the Southeast coast.
"I think this makes the language universal," said Ervena Faulkner, the co-manager of history and culture at the Penn Center nestled amid spreading oaks dripping Spanish moss on this island just east of Beaufort.
"People have done Gullah cookbooks, they have done African-American sayings, they have done proverbs," she said. "But for the Bible to go out with the Gullah sends a message. It means we can speak the Word."
The Penn Center, dedicated to preserving the threatened sea island culture, is located on the site of the Penn School founded in 1862 to educate slaves newly freed by advancing Union troops.
Psalm 23 led translators to Gullah's riches January 12, 2006
Descendants of slaves help transcribe the Bible into the language of their ancestors
ST. HELENA ISLAND, S.C. --
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
No matter how often he read Psalm 23, Emory Campbell never could understand that line. "I shall not want: What does that mean?" he'd ask himself.
Then he joined a project to translate the Bible into the language of his ancestors, the language of slaves who toiled for centuries in rice paddies off the Carolina coast.
That first line became: "De Lawd me shephud. A hab ebryting wa A need." I have everything I need.
It reminded Campbell, 64, of his grandmother's way of talking, earthy and frank and deep-down resonant. "Yes, indeed," Campbell said. "`I have everything I need.' That made sense to me."
Campbell had always considered himself above the slave language, known as Gullah. As a boy, he giggled at his grandma's speech. In college, he considered her "dem" and "dat" and "dey" a brand of ignorance. Psalm 23 opened his eyes to Gullah's riches.
He would spend the next two decades struggling to make the Word of God sound like his grandmother.
The result--De Nyew Testament--was unveiled here in November at an annual festival to celebrate Gullah culture. Twenty-six years in the making, the Gullah gospel was written by descendants of slaves under the direction of traveling missionaries.
No more than 10,000 people speak Gullah as their primary language; most are elderly and isolated on the Sea Islands, a chain off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Perhaps another 250,000 coastal residents lapse into Gullah now and then among friends.
The small market doesn't trouble the missionaries who devote their lives to such projects. They consider it their calling to bring the Scripture to every tongue around the globe: to the 4,000 Africans who speak Igo, to the 3,000 South Americans who speak Chachi, to the 1,200 Pacific Islanders who speak Angaatiya."It's my vocation. It's my passion," said David Frank, a linguist who helped finish the Gullah project.
The Gullah project started inauspiciously.
Veteran Bible translators Pat and Claude Sharpe arrived in the Sea Islands in 1979. After years abroad, their health had forced them home, but they weren't ready to retire. They were fascinated with Gullah culture, which is rooted in the fishing and farming communities of 17th Century West Africa.
Language never evolved
Plantation owners began importing slaves about 400 years ago. Because they arrived speaking many different African languages, the slaves had to develop a way of communicating with one another. The islands were so isolated that Gullah never evolved toward standard English.
By the time the Sharpes arrived, Gullah speakers had learned to be ashamed of their native tongue. Locals tried to persuade the Sharpes to drop the translation. "We told them we would not do it," said Ardell Greene, 54, a retired executive secretary.
The couple refused to give up. They explained that Gullah had influenced English through words such as "tote" (to carry), "chigger" (flea) and "biddy" (chicken), and through songs such as the campfire staple "Kumbaya" (sang in Gullah as "come by yah, my Lawd").
In 1980, a year after the Sharpes arrived, Campbell took over as director of the non-profit Penn Center, a community organization for the Gullah people on St. Helena Island.
He found himself as a host not only to the Sharpes but other linguists, historians and tourists from the world over. All had come hoping to learn more about Gullah culture.
Through their eyes, Campbell began to see the importance of preserving Gullah craft, superstitions, song and even the language he had once been ashamed to call his own. Within a few years, he had signed on to help with the Bible translation, along with about a dozen other volunteers.
No dictionaries, No books
Gullah is an oral language; there's no dictionary, no grammar book. So the islanders had to rely on memory and instinct.
To check their work, the translators read verses aloud at senior centers. They'd ask elders to listen for jarring rhythms or phrases that didn't make sense. Then it would be back to the Sharpes' house for another round of revisions.
"Oh, my God, it was hard," said Vernetta Canteen, 61, a hotel telephone operator who worked on the project. "It was so mentally draining; I don't think physical work could have been any harder."
The 900-page volume, available online for $10, was published by the American Bible Society, a donor-supported, non-profit publisher based in New York. It includes an English translation of each verse next to the Gullah text.
From English to Gullah
anoint: pit oll pon (put oil upon)
blaspheme: shrow slam pon (throw slander upon)
fast: ain nyam nottin (don't eat anything)
fellowship: one wid (one with)
grace: blessin (blessing)
kingdom: dey weh God da rule (there where God rules)
reconcile: mek all ting right twix (make everything right between)
sanctify: mek um God own (make them God's own)
Source: De Nyew Testament