tribe

The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “tribe” in English when referring to the “12 tribes of Israel” is translated in some East African languages, including Taita and Pökoot use the equivalent of “clan” instead.

Aloo Mojola explains (in The Bible Translator 1989, p. 208ff.) (click or tap here to see the rest of this insight):

“A number of Bible translation teams in East Africa have been baffled and intrigued by the use of the term ‘tribe’ in the English translations of the Bible. The usage employed in these translations does not reflect any of the popular meanings associated with the term ‘tribe’ in present-day English. Neither does it reflect popular conceptions of the meaning of this term in East Africa or in other parts of Africa and elsewhere. This raises the question: is the term tribe the best translation of the Hebrew terms shebeth and matteh or the Greek term phyle? What is a tribe anyway? Are the twelve tribes of Israel tribes in the sense this term is currently understood? How can this term be translated in East African languages?

“It is easy to see that there is no consistent definition of the term tribe which applies exclusively and consistently to the communities to which it is currently applied. Why, for example, are the Somali or the Baganda called a tribe, but not the Irish or the Italians? Why do the Yoruba or Hausa qualify, but not the Portuguese or the Russians? Why the Bakongo and the Oromo, but not the Germans or the Scots? Why the Eritreans, but not the French or Dutch-speaking Belgians? Why the Zulu or the Xhosa, but not the South African Boers (Afrikaners) or the South African English? The reason for the current prejudices, it would seem, has nothing to do with language, physical type, common territory, common cultural values, type of political and social organization or even population size. Ingrained prejudices and preconceived ideas about so-called “primitive” peoples have everything to do with it.

“The term ‘tribe’ is used to refer to a universal and world-wide phenomenon of ethnic identification which may draw on any of the following bases: identification in terms of one’s first or dominant language of communication (linguistic), in terms of one’s place of origin (regional), in terms of one’s presumed racial, biological or genetic type (racial), or in terms of one’s ideological or political commitments (ideological), and so on. Communities may choose one or more of these bases as criteria for membership. Any of these may change over time. Moreover forms of ethnic identification are dynamic or in a state of flux, changing in response to new environments and circumstances. Essentially forms of ethnic association reflect a people’s struggle for survival through adaptation to changing times. This is inextricably intertwined with the production and distribution of vital resources, goods and services as well as the distribution of power, class and status in society.

“At the base of any ethnic group is the nuclear family which expands to include the extended family. The extended family consists of more than two families related vertically and horizontally: parents and their offspring, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, and others, extending to more than two generations. A lineage is usually a larger group than an extended family. It includes a number of such families who trace descent through the male or female line to a common ancestor. A clan may be equivalent to or larger than a lineage. Where it is larger than a lineage, it brings together several lineages which may or may not know the precise nature of their relationships, but which nevertheless claim descent from a common ancestor. A clan is best thought of as a kind of sub-ethnic unit whose members have some unifying symbol such as totem, label, or myth. In most cases the clan is used to determine correct marriage lines, but this is not universally so. Above the clan is the ethnic group, usually referred to inconsistently as the tribe. Members of an ethnic group share feelings of belonging to a common group. The basis of ethnic identity is not always derived from a common descent, real or fictional; it may draw on any of the bases mentioned above.

“The Israelites identified themselves as one people sharing a common descent, a common religious and cultural heritage, a common language and history. There is no doubt that they constitute what would nowadays be called an ethnic group, or by some people a tribe. The twelve subunits of the Israelite ethnic group or tribe, (Hebrew shebeth or matteh, or Greek phyle) are clearly equivalent to clans. In fact this is what seems to make sense to most African Bible translators in the light of their understanding of these terms and the biblical account. Referring to a shebeth as a tribe or an ethnic group and to Israel as a collection of twelve tribes creates unnecessary confusion. Translating each of the terms shebeth, matteh, and phyle as clan seems to solve this problem and to be consistent with current usage in African languages.”

evil is in their homes and in their hearts

The Hebrew passage that some English version translate with “evil is in their homes and in their hearts” or some equivalent is translated into Pökoot as mi ghöyityö kisönkökwa: “evil is in their blood.”

helpless, in despair, overcome

The Hebrew that is translated in various ways in English versions, including “helpless,” “overcome,” or “in despair” is translated into Pökoot as akikïmeghanïn mu: “my stomach is dead to me,” a figurative expression meaning “having completely lost all courage.”

See also despair and see Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”

proverbs

The Hebrew that is rendered in English as “proverbs” (or “Proverbs” as the title of the book) is translated into Pökoot as ngötïnyö (or Ngötïnyö), which refers to use of figurative language that is used in such a way that things are being said in an indirect way. At the same time they communicate general wisdom.

image

The Greek that is rendered as “image” in English translations is translated in Pökoot with körkeyïn, a word that is also used to translate words like parable and example.

See also parable.

harden heart

The Hebrew that is translated into English as forms of “(to not) harden heart” is translated into other languages with their own vivid idioms; for example, Thai uses “black-hearted” (source: Bratcher / Hattoon, p. 272), Pökoot as makany kwoghïghitu mötöwekwo: “do not let become hard your heads” (source: Gerrit van Steenbergen), or Anuak as “make liver strong” (source: Loren Bliese).

See also hardness of heart and see Seat of the Mind for traditional views of “ways of knowing, thinking, and feeling.”

kiss

The Hebrew and the Greek that is usually directly translated as “kiss” in English is translated more indirectly in other languages because kissing is deemed as inappropriate, is not a custom at all, or is not customary in the particular context (see the English translation of J.B. Phillips [publ. 1960] in Rom. 16:16: “Give each other a hearty handshake”). Here are some examples:

  • Pökoot: “greet warmly” (“kissing in public, certainly between men, is absolutely unacceptable in Pökoot.”) (Source: Gerrit van Steenbergen)
  • Chamula Tzotzil, Ixcatlán Mazatec, Tojolabal: “greet each other warmly” or “hug with feeling” (source: Robert Bascom)
  • Afar: gaba tittal ucuya — “give hands to each other” (Afar kiss each other’s hands in greeting) (source: Loren Bliese)
  • Roviana: “welcome one another joyfully”
  • Cheke Holo: “Love each other in the way-joined-together that is holy” (esp. in Rom. 16:16) or “greet with love” (esp. 1Thess. 5:26 and 1Pet. 5.14)
  • Pitjantjatjara: “And when you meet/join up with others of Jesus’ relatives hug and kiss them [footnote], for you are each a relative of the other through Jesus.” Footnote: “This was their custom in that place to hug and kiss one another in happiness. Maybe when we see another relative of Jesus we shake hands and rejoice.” (esp. Rom. 16:16) (source for this and two above: Carl Gross)
  • Balanta-Kentohe and Mandinka: “touch cheek” or “cheek-touching” (“sumbu” in Malinka)
  • Mende: “embrace” (“greet one another with the kiss of love”: “greet one another and embrace one another to show that you love one another”) (source for this and two above: Rob Koops)
  • Gen: “embrace affectionately” (source: John Ellington)
  • Kachin: “holy and pure customary greetings” (source: Gam Seng Shae)
  • Kahua: “smell” (source: David Clark) (also in Ekari and Kekchí, source: Reiling / Swellengrebel)
  • San Blas Kuna: “smell the face” (source: Claudio and Marvel Iglesias in The Bible Translator 1951, p. 85ff.)
  • Chichewa: “to suck” (“habit and term a novelty amongst the young and more or less westernized people, the traditional term for greeting a friend after a long absence being, ‘to clap in the hands and laugh happily'”)
  • Medumba: “suck the cheek” (“a novelty, the traditional term being ‘to embrace.'”)
  • Shona (version of 1966) / Vidunda: “to hug”
  • Balinese: “to caress” (source for this and three above: Reiling / Swellengrebel; Vidunda: project-specific translation notes in Paratext)
  • Tsafiki: earlier version: “greet in a friendly way,” later revision: “kiss on the face” (Bruce Moore [in: Notes on Translation 1/1992), p. 1ff.] explains: “Formerly, kissing had presented a problem. Because of the Tsáchilas’ [speakers of Tsafiki] limited exposure to Hispanic culture they understood the kiss only in the eros context. Accordingly, the original translation had rendered ‘kiss’ in a greeting sense as ‘greet in a friendly way’. The actual word ‘kiss’ was not used. Today ‘kiss’ is still an awkward term, but the team’s judgment was that it could be used as long as long as it was qualified. So ‘kiss’ (in greeting) is now ‘kiss on the face’ (that is, not on the lips).)
  • Kwere / Kutu: “showing true friendship” (source: project-specific translation notes in Paratext)

See also kissed (his feet).

peace offering

The Hebrew that is rendered in English versions as “peace offering” is translated into Pökoot as pöghisyö: “gift of peace/fellowship”. This term has the connotations of fellowship, wholeness, restored relationships, etc. The word pöghisyö is also used as a common greeting (much like Shalom in Hebrew).