demon

The Hebrew and Greek that is typically translated/transliterated in English as “demon” is translated in Central Mazahua as “the evil spirit(s) of the devil” (source: Ellis Deibler in Notes on Translation July, 1967, p. 5ff.).

In Sissala it is translated with kaŋtɔŋ, which traditionally referred to “either a spirit of natural phenomena such as trees, rivers, stones, etc., or the spirit of a deceased person that has not been taken into the realm of the dead. Kaŋtɔŋ can be good or evil. Evil kaŋtɔŋ can bring much harm to people and are feared accordingly. A kaŋtɔŋ can also dwell in a person living on this earth. A person possessed by kaŋtɔŋ does not behave normally.” (Source: Regina Blass in Holzhausen 1991, p. 48f.)

In Umiray Dumaget Agta it is translated as hayup or “creature, animal, general term for any non-human creature, whether natural or supernatural.” Thomas Headland (in: Notes on Translation, September 1971, p. 17ff.) explains some more: “There are several types of supernatural creatures, or spirit beings which are designated by the generic term hayup. Just as we have several terms in English for various spirit beings (elves, fairies, goblins, demons, imps, pixies) so have the Dumagats. And just as you will find vast disagreement and vagueness among English informants as to the differences between pixies and imps, etc., so you will find that no two Dumagats will agree as to the form and function of their different spirit beings.” This term can also be used in a verb form: hayupen: “creatured” or “to be killed, made sick, or crazy by a spirit.”

In Yala it is translated as yapri̍ija ɔdwɔ̄bi̍ or “bad Yaprija.” Yaprijas are traditional spirits that have a range presumed activities including giving or withholding gifts, giving and protecting children, causing death and disease and rewarding good behavior. (Source: Eugene Bunkowske in Notes on Translation 78/1980, p. 36ff.)

In Lamnso’ it is translated as aànyùyi jívirì: “lesser gods who disturb, bother, pester, or confuse a person.” (Source: Fanwong 2013, p. 93)

In Paasaal it is translated as gyɩŋbɔmɔ, “beings that are in the wild and can only be seen when they choose to reveal themselves to certain people. They can ‘capture’ humans and keep them in hiding while they train the person in herbalism and divination. After the training period, which can range from a week to many years, the ‘captured’ individual is released to go back into society as a healer and a diviner. The gyɩŋbɔmɔ can also be evil, striking humans with mental diseases and causing individuals to get lost in the wild. The Pasaale worldview about demons is like that of others of the language groups in the area, including the Northern Dagara [who use kɔ̃tɔmɛ with a similar meaning].” (Source: Fabian N. Dapila in The Bible Translator 2024, p. 415ff.)

In the still widely-used 1908 Tswana (also: Setswana) translation (by Robert Moffat, revised by Alfred Wookey), the term badino or “ancestor spirit” is used for “demon,” even though in the traditional understanding there is nothing inherently negative associated with that term. Musa Dube (in: Journal of Society of New Testament 73, p. 33ff. ) describes this as an example of “engaging in the colonization of the minds of natives and for advancing European imperial spaces. The death and burial of Setswana culture here was primarily championed through the colonization of their language such that it no longer served the interests of the original speakers. Instead the written form of language had equated their cultural beliefs with evil spirits, demons and wizardry. This colonization of Setswana was in itself the planting of a colonial cultural bomb, meant to clear the ground for the implantation of a worldwide Christian commonwealth and European consciousness. It was a minefield that marked Setswana cultural spaces as dangerous death zones, to be avoided by every intelligent Motswana reader or hearer of the translated text.”

In Kachin, the term Nat (or nat) us used for “demon” (as well as “devil” and “unclean/evil spirit“). Like in Tswana, the meaning of Nat is not inherently negative but can be positive in the traditional Nat worship as well. Naw Din Dumdaw (in The Bible Translator 2024, p. 94ff.) argues that “the demonization of Nat created a social conflict between Kachin Christians and Kachin non-Christians. Kachin converts began to perceive their fellow Kachins who were still worshipping Nats as demonic and they wanted to distance themselves from them. Likewise, the Nat-worshiping Kachin community perceived the Kachin converts as betrayers and enemies of their own cultural heritage. (…) The demonization of the word Nat was not only the demonization of the pre-Christian religion but also the demonization of the cultural heritage of the Kachin people. When the word Nat is perceived as demonic, it creates an existential dilemma for Kachin Christians. It distances them from their cultural traditions.”

See also devil and formal pronoun: demons or Satan addressing Jesus.