Extracted from the Master’s Thesis of Serumaga Peter Lumbuye (MTH. St Paul’s University)
On 4th November, 1986, Canon Benezeri T. Kisembo, the then General Secretary of The Bible Society of Uganda, wrote the first letter to Rt. Rev. Nicodemus Okille the then Bishop of Bukedi Diocese requesting for two names of Lusaamia speaking people to be trained as translators at Eldoret in Kenya.
In his letter, Canon Benezeri indicated that Rev. M.D.V. Hatende of Africa Inland Church of Uganda, was chairing the Lusaamia-Lugwe Bible Translations before it was taken over by The Bible Society of Uganda. On November 21st, 1990, Bishop N.E. Okille wrote to The Bible Society of Uganda committing the Diocese of Bukedi diocese to supporting the translation project.
This letter was following the visit Dr. Aloo Mojola and Can. Kisembo had made to Busia and advised the local community to write their request for Bible Society involvement in the translation.
The Bible Society of Uganda approved the first budget to work on this project in 1990 and was expecting to join hands with Bible Society of Kenya in the budget year 1991/92.
On 13th August 1991, a joint meeting of 28 church leaders from Church of Uganda and Pentecostal churches met and formed a translation committee comprised of Rev. Peter A. Okumu as chairman, and the following members: Rev. George Samuel Okambo, Rev. Fr. Wabwire, Rev. J.B. Oguttu, Rev. Alex Baraza, Rev. Sam Okumu and Rev. Aggrey Ogema.
This same meeting elected members of the administrative committee and the review committee. However by 8th September 1995 the General Secretary of BSU wrote to the translation advisor BSU indicating that he had met the General Secretary of Bible Society of Kenya Rev. Henry Kathii who had indicated that he needed more time to prepare if the project was to be a joint one, that is being sponsored by BSU and Bible Society of Kenya. At this stage nothing was translated or published yet.
In January 1999, Justice James Munange Ogoola handed over 3 diskettes and hard copies of the New Testament in Lusaamia-Lugwe, to Canon Benezeri Kisembo, the then General Secretary of The Bible
Society of Uganda. Its title was “Endagano Njiaha”.
On February 6, 1999, Canon Benezeri Kisembo held a meeting with the church leaders in Busia who accepted to form a committee to edit this translation and form a team of reviewers to deal with Justice Ogoola’s translation. Justice Ogoola accepted this advice from Bible Society.
The churches demanded to have at least one of the Gospels published so that they can test the translation. Unfortunately when these diskettes were sent to Dr. Peter Renju in Nairobi (Translation Consultant), they could not open in any of the UBS computers at the regional offices.
The letter of 20th September 2000, written by Dr Dapila N. Fabian (the then Translation Consultant) to Mr Henry Kalule (the then General Secretary), indicate that the draft gospel of Matthew was given to a sample of Youth in Busia who were unable to read it claiming that Lusaamia-Lugwe was not taught in schools and churches were using English, Luganda and Swahili.
The Youth that were picked from the Cosmopolitan Busia could speak a new form of Lusaamia mixed with Luganda, Kiswahili but could not read it.
The meeting of church leaders that sat on 26th July 2000, resolved that the Ugandan Saamia writing system was not good and was not developed, so they agreed to use the writing system of the Kenyan Saamia that was being used as medium of instruction in schools.
However, participants admitted that the Saamia of Kenya and the one of Uganda have some difference. Like Justice Ogoola, Mr. Joseph P. Ayieko, a Kenyan, had started the translation process all by himself and had translated most of the New Testament books into Lusaamia.
These were to be checked by consultant before they could be launched for testing. In November 2000 a team of translators was interviewed and Rev Okambo George passed the interview and was released in January 2001, by Rt. Rev. Dr. N.E. Okille to join the translation team.
The Catholic Church recommended Rev Fr. Augustine Odaro to be recruited on full time basis as translator. The team was to start translation on 1st May, 2001. They started with the translation of Biblical Key Terms as they benchmarked with the work that was translated by Joseph P. Ayieko and Justice James Ogoola.
In 2011, The Bible Society of Uganda launched the Lusaamia-Lugwe NT in Busia with the hope that it would serve the needs of Christians in the Lusaamia-Lugwe speaking region.
However the Saamia of Kenya felt that, the Lusaamia-Lugwe NT didn’t speak to them effectively. During the translation it was hoped that this New Testament would serve the Saamia speakers and Bagwe of both Uganda and Kenya.
When Bible Society of Uganda noticed the slow moving stock of the published Lusaamia-Lugwe NTs, they contacted their sister society in Kenya to promote this Testament across the border. Efforts of promoting the NT have been made to the extent of partnering with the Bible Society of Kenya on the translation of the Old Testament.
The Saamia of Kenya claim that they feel the dialect used to translate the NT was influenced by Luganda. In order to solve these queries BSK and BSU decided to form a joint team of translators and reviewers to do the translation together.
Sample copies of the book of Joshua, Ecclesiastes and Jonah were printed to test the translation and the translators are gathering community feedback to help them improve their translation.
As if the slow movement of the stock was not enough, the Bagwe community in Uganda under the leadership of Pastor Wilson Waswa with the backing of the Bagwe cultural leader “Omwenengo”, went ahead to start drafting their own translation, claiming that the current NT and the portions so far published of the Old Testament don’t speak to them.
They feel they don’t understand Lusaamia very well and they would rather solicit for resources to make a new translation in Lugwe dialect than read the ‘so called’ imposed Lusaamia-Lugwe translations.
Those advocating for a Lugwe translation argue that, the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda recognized Lugwe as a separate language. Continuing with Lusaamia-Lugwe Bible translation makes them feel marginalized.
Pastor Wilson alleges that it is like pushing them back to the colonial days. The only difference now is that the seeming ‘colonial master’ is on linguistic grounds. So as the BSK-BSU joint translation is running the Lugwe parallel Bible translation has finished translating the whole of the NT minus technical help from qualified translation experts.
They are soliciting for money to publish it. On the side of the BSK-BSU joint translation, the completed portions of the Bible translated using a standardized dialect were received and accepted well by the community of the Basaamia but the Bagwe and some of the Kenyan Saamia are finding it hard to accept the terms borrowed from Swahili and Luganda respectively.
The challenges this project is facing are similar to those faced by some of the inter-confessional Bible translations. Lusaamia-Lugwe is also an inter-confessional translation project. In such projects translation teams usually look for terms that are acceptable to most of the intended audience. This approach has not been embraced well by some churches in Busia region.
Some terms are associated with certain churches and this complication adds to the dialectical challenges of the translation. Thus putting into consideration the linguistic differences and any other biases will determine the future and reception of this translation.