CONTEMPORARY HYMNS FROM TANZANIA
Fergus J. King
John Mbiti emphasized that a full study of African interpretations of the Bible must not just involve engagement with African academicians, but must also engage the interpretative activities in the parishes, cities, towns and villages, for it is there rather than in colleges and universities that the bulk of African biblical interpretation is being done (Mbiti 1986: 9–10). This study is built on Mbiti's advice, and examines how contemporary Tanzanian hymn writers use the Bible in their work. It is not an exhaustive study. Rather, it suggests how such work might be analysed, together with examples from the work of one hymn writer, Motti Mbogo. A full study is beyond the scope of this essay since it would have to involve the comparison of the work of many writers, but I do hope to provide a preliminary analysis that may prove useful for further research.
Nyimbo za Vijana (Youths' Hymns) are a lively part of the life of the Church of the Province of Tanzania. They are used in both primary evangelism and in established parishes and stations (Mhogolo 1996: 31). They are often the work of younger Christians, thus providing a voice in worship for youth who are often marginalised by traditions which discriminate against them (Mtingele 1995: 5–6). Youth choirs, which are found in many parishes, are comprised of men and women up to 35 in age, and often take an active part in the regular worship of the church as well as special celebrations. The hymns sung by these choirs may either be written by choir directors or members of the choirs. Hymns also may be adopted by other choirs. In many choirs members build up a handwritten exercise book of the lyrics which make up their repertoire. Many of these hymns are based on passages or themes taken directly from the Bible. It is with the latter that this study is concerned.
Two cautionary remarks must be made about the sources of these youth hymns. First, although the hymns analysed are referred to in written form, this is really an oral form of communication, and must be treated by different criteria to written materials. In practical terms,