The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories, and Trends

By Gerald O. West; Musa W. Dube | Go to book overview

THE SWAHILI BIBLE IN EAST AFRICA FROM 1844
TO 1996: A BRIEF SURVEY WITH SPECIAL
REFERENCE TO TANZANIA
Aloo Osotsi Mojola

Christian missionary presence in East Africa has its roots in the 19th century beginning with the work of two German missionaries, Johann Krapf and Johann Rebmann. These two Lutheran missionaries came as representatives of the Anglican, Church Missionary Society (CMS). Krapf arrived in Mombasa Kenya in 1844 and was joined by his colleague Rebmann in 1846. Their aim was to establish a continental missionary system beginning from the East African coast and stretching to West Africa. Professor Roland Oliver in his classic work The Missionary Factor in East Africa (1952, 1970) while observing that these “sad and otherworldly men achieved no great evangelistic success” (Oliver 1970: 6), acknowledges that they, “who set in motion the missionary invasion of East Africa” (Oliver 1970: 7).

There is no doubt that their pioneering linguistic research and publications as well as their work in Bible translation laid a lasting foundation for subsequent work. It is not surprising that Bishop Steere said of Krapf, “Bible translation, like geographical discovery and almost everything else in the recent history of East Africa, owes its beginning to Dr. Krapf” (quoted in Bedford 1954: 19). Krapf 's translations of Genesis (published in 1847) and the New Testament in Kimvita Swahili (completed in 1846) laid a basis for further work in Swahili. Krapf 's decision to use Kimvita Swahili as the main dialect for his translation work was well founded, for at that time this was the dominant language of the East African coastal region and moreover the language of a long tradition of Swahili poetry, including the poetry of Muyaka bin Haji one of the most celebrated nationalist poets of the East African coast. The future however did not favour the Kimvita dialect. The wind of standardization which started blowing in the 1920s overlooked not only Kimvita but also its important northern cousin the Kiamu dialect in favour of the Kiugunja dialect spoken in the town of Zanzibar.

It is a pity that Krapf 's translation of the New Testament into

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