‘Simply, and in a Malagasy way of thinking …’

14 November 2014

The Africa Bible Commentary for Madagascar

On Sunday 12 October 2014, the Malagasy translation of the Africa Bible Commentary (ABC) – Hevitenin’ny Baiboly – was launched with a colourful ceremony in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Pieter Kwant, Luke Lewis and Solomon Andria from Langham Literature attended the launch.

Photo © Ramaroson Seta

Photo © Ramaroson Seta

Especially since visiting the island, Pieter says, he understands how important a local translation is for the Malagasy people, and particularly for pastors.

Malagasy is the common language of all 18 tribes on the island and key to their national identity. It is a literate language – and the Bible has been crucial in preserving it: in 2015 they will celebrate 180 years of the Bible in Malagasy (the oldest mother-tongue translation in Africa)!

Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world. About 50% of people are Christian, but with big denominational divides: Roman Catholic making up half, with Reformed Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican and Pentecostal denominations making up the other half. Hevitenin’ny Baiboly is a unique resource in their own language. As such it has great potential to draw believers together across their denominational divides. This was shown at the launch, organized in conjunction with the Malagasy Bible Society, Fikambanana Mampiely Baiboly Malagasy (FMBM), who is also the official distributor in Madagascar.

The amphitheatre filling up for the launch event

The amphitheatre filling up for the launch event

People started filing into the open-air arena soon after 13.00 hrs. Large trees provided some shade. Eleven church choirs had been invited – some denominational, others from rural areas, representing different tribes. Skilful conductors drew songs in an exuberant variety of musical styles from the enthusiastic singers. The joyful spectacle reminded us of John Stott’s observation in The Birds our Teachers about how unique among the religions of the world the singing of Christians is!

In the audience were dignitaries, such as the Mayor of Antananarivo Mr Ny Hasina Andriamanjato, and two Malagasy Academy Members, Dr Frédéric Randriamamonjy and Mrs Esther Randriamamonjy.

Rev Yvette Rabemila, translator and member of the Committee of Reference of the Malagasy ABC Project, referred to Philip’s words in Acts 8 – ‘Do you know what you are reading?’ This is exactly the purpose of Hevitenin’ny Baiboly, she explained: ‘It helps us understand the meaning of the Bible for ourselves!’

Then Dr Solomon Andria, editor of the Commentary, spoke. As a Madagascan by birth, there was no doubt that this translation was close to his heart.

He spoke passionately about how the vision for this book had started, way back in 1974 at a gathering of African theologians who asserted that the Bible is not just a book ‘for the North’ but also for Africa:

‘This book explains simply, and in a Malagasy way of thinking, the word of God. Some comments in the original ABC were difficult to understand, others had no meaning in the context of Madagascan life. But these things have been attended to by the local team of translators during the 4 years it took to complete. This is not just a commentary using Malagasy words, it uses Malagasy meanings!

Prof Christiane Ravelomanana Randriamampionona, senior lecturer at the University of Antananarivo, had led the team of translators: ‘As a group we did not know each other when we started’, she said, ‘but God put us together and he gave us the ability to do this work.’

She explained the rigorous selection criteria for participants, and the strict process they followed:

‘Those who have worked on it know how difficult it is to translate into Malagasy from a Western language – from a Western way of thinking to an Eastern … Also, there are not yet clear and exact rules for Malagasy grammar – and there are regional differences. This all made it difficult … I can testify we received God’s grace during the execution of this work. To God be all the glory!

Coordinators of the Malagasy ABC Project, (back l to r): Solomon Andria, Pascal Ratovona (IFES coordinator, and retired lecturer from the ISTE theological institute in Antananarivo), Christiane Ravelomanana; front: Yvette Rabemila

Coordinators of the Malagasy ABC Project, (back l to r): Solomon Andria, Pascal Ratovona (IFES coordinator, and retired lecturer from the ISTE theological institute in Antananarivo), Christiane Ravelomanana; front: Yvette Rabemila

Rev Charles Walter Randriamampianina, is a Lutheran Church pastor and member of the Committee of Reference thanked Langham Partnership for their support.

He also thanked the FMBM for a special ‘event’ discount – rural pastors travelled to the city specially to be able to purchase a copy at this price! [The local price is 70,000 Ariary ≡ $23, but on this Sunday copies were sold at 65,000 Ar; the official minimum monthly salary is 100,000 Ar; more than 90% of the population live on less than £2 per day!]

People talked excitedly afterwards, several were dreaming of projects they could write in Malagasy … with so little to read in their own language and originated in their own context.

Hevitenin’ny Baiboly is not just a gift to the Madagascan church but also blessing the wider culture; and it is inspiring a new generation of Malagasy Christian writers.Picture 3 300

To God be all the glory!

by Langham Literature