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New Oshiwambo Bible translations will take 12 years and N$25 million to complete

New Oshiwambo Bible translations will take 12 years and N$25 million to complete

The translators and the project leader of the new Oshiwambo Bible translations together with the staff of the Bible Society of Namibia at an event held in Ondangwa earlier this month. From the left are Dr. Gerrit van Steenbergen – Global Translation Advisor, United Bible Societies; Mrs. Martha Kanyemba – Oshindonga Translator; the Reverend Sirkka Mwapopi – Oshikwanyama Translator; the Reverend Taarah Shalyefu – Anglican Church representative; Ms. Leilani Riddles – PA to the CEO, Bible Society of Namibia; the Reverend Johannes Nkoti – Oshindonga Translator; Ms. Adreheid Mbangula – Oshikwanyama Translator; Ms. Naemi Fillipus – Oshikwanyama Translator; Ms. Magdalena Shilongo – Oshindonga Translator; Bishop Veikko Munyika – ELCIN church representative; Dr. Martin Ngodji – Exegete and Project Leader; Mr. Pedro Nandesifeni – Oshikwanyama Translator; the Reverend Barnie van der Walt – CEO, Bible Society of Namibia; Ms. Mirjama Jesaya – Bible Shop salesperson Ongwediva; and Dr. Schalk Botha – Programme Manager, Bible Society of Namibia.


A priority project of the Bible Society of Namibia came to life earlier this month when it was announced in Ondangwa that new translations of the Bible in Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama have officially started. The need for new translations were realised and formulated by local churches in conjunction with the Bible Society. The Project Leader, Dr Martin Ngodji, is the former principal of Paulinium Theological Seminary in Windhoek. The existing translations for both Oshindonga and Oshikwanyama were started in the late sixties and only finalised in the middle eighties.These are literal, word for word, translations following the style and technique of Bible translation during that period.

Although accurate, these translations gradually lose their appeal for younger generations as traditions, customs and the language itself, constantly undergo modification.

The Chief Executive of the Bible Society of Namibia, the Reverend Barnie van der Walt told the Economist that the target audience of the new translations is the demographic segment that is now about 16 years old. “When the new translations have been completed in about twelve years from now, this group of readers will be approaching 30. We work on the premise that a translation remains useful for about 50 years before it needs to be replaced, so the project we have started now will serve the target audience into their old age” he said.

The new translations are so-called meaning-based translations where the emphasis is on communicating the intention of the original text and not on a literal word for word translation. The underlying principle is to convey the meaning of the Bible for the modern reader, and not necessarily the words as captured in the original manuscripts. However, the Reverend van der Walt assured that a Bible translation is not signed off by the Bible Society if it is not faithful to the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek texts.

The actual translation is done by a team of seven individuals selected during December last year after a protracted screening and selection process. The translators work under the guidance of the project leader.

This new translations project is jointly undertaken by the Bible Societies of Namibia and Angola, with pledged support from the Bible Societies in Finland and in Germany as well as The Seed Company and the group called “Every Tribe Every Nation”. Translations cost roughly N$1.3 million per language per year, clearly indicating the Bible Society’s reliance on project partners and private sector sponsors. The entire project will eventually run on a budget approaching N$25 million.

The Reverend van der Walt stated that the Bible Society of Namibia is highly dependent on the support of the private sector and of local communities.  A project like the new Oshiwambo translation is not feasible without local financial support in Namibia.

The actual translations take about 10 years with another two years for proofreading, fine adjustments, printing and binding.

The seven translators comprise three Namibians for Oshindonga, two Namibians for Oshikwanyama and two Angolans, also for Oshikwanyama, since it is a cross-border dialect.

The Oshindonga translators are Martha Kanyemba, the Reverend Johannes Nkosi and Magdalena Shilongo. The Oshikwanyama translators are the Reverend Sirkka Mwapopi, Adreheid Mbangula, Naemi Fillipus and Pedro Nandesifeni. The translations team is supported technically by Dr Gerrit van Steenbergen, the Global Translation Advisor of the United Bible Societies.

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