Robert Pigott writes in BBC News Magazine that the Bible is being translated for the first time in Creole. Some oppose the move, thinking learning and speaking English should be the priority, but many welcome it.
The sound of the creole, developed from English by West African slaves in Jamaica’s sugar plantations 400 years ago, has an electrifying effect on those listening.
The language is what defines us as Jamaicans, it is who we are – patois-speakers”
Several women rise to testify, in patois, to what it means to hear the Bible in their mother tongue.
“It’s almost as if you are seeing it,” says a woman, referring to the moment when Jesus is tempted by the Devil.
“In the blink of an eye, you get the whole notion. It’s as though you are watching a movie… it brings excitement to the word of God.”
The Rev Courtney Stewart, General Secretary of the West Indies Bible Society, who has managed the translation project, insists the new Bible demonstrates the power of patois, and cites a line from Luke as an example.
It’s the moment when the Angel Gabriel goes to Mary to tell her she is going to give birth to Jesus.
English versions read along these lines: “And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.'”
“Now compare that with our translation of the Bible,” says Mr Stewart.
“De angel go to Mary and say to ‘er, me have news we going to make you well ‘appy. God really, really, bless you and him a walk with you all de time.”
Mr Stewart says the project is largely designed to bring scripture alive, but it also has another important function – to rescue patois from its second-class status in Jamaica and to enshrine it as a national language.
“The language is what defines us as Jamaicans,” insists Courtney Stewart. It is who we are – patois-speakers.”
The patois Bible represents a bold new attempt to standardise the language, with the historically oral tongue written down in a new phonetic form.
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