The Bible in the Bush: The First 'Literate' Batswana Bible Readers

by Musa W. Dube

In Laura Bohannan’s “Shakespeare in the Bush” the Tiv took  Hamlet from her and retold the story from their own cultural worldview, to the point where she could not recognise  it.  Tiv creativity in the cultural translation of Hamlet highlights empowered mother-tongue communities, who prioritized their cultural worldview in the translation process.  In biblical translation, tradition has long persisted that the so-called source text should have the lion’s share, an approach that served to suppress and colonise indigenous cultures.  From modern colonial times to the contemporary global era, biblical translation theories and agenda have remained largely steeped in the colonial ideology of muted recipient communities. The Tiv translation of Hamlet models a different approach. In Robert Moffat’s translation of Setswana Bible in 1840-1857, it is clear that the indigenous people had not even asked for the translation nor were their voices valued in the process. Almost three decades later, Batswana began respond to a completed translation, demonstrating that a written document does not surpass the power of the oral canon, which is held in the memory of the indigenous community.

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