This is the second part of a series of posts about the translation, launch and impact of the Scriptures in the Mankanya language of Senegal. The story is told by Maggie Gaved, a translation advisor for the project.
A monk of devotion: Father Ange-Marie Niuky
In 1995, Father Niuky – a Mankanya speaker who at that time was a monk in a monastery near Dakar – started working on translating the Gospels into Mankanya, working with the help of a cousin. He spent most of every night for five years translating even though he had no training in translation and there was no agreed way of writing Mankanya down.
After a year, another Mankanya man visited the monk’s monastery. While the two men talked, it emerged that this man’s son was studying languages at university and was currently trying to create an alphabet for the Mankanya language. He and a friend had thought that if English and French and Portuguese and Spanish could be written down, couldn’t their language be written down too?
The monk convinced the two graduates that the most important thing they could do was to translate the Bible into their language, and so they started working with him, particularly helping the monk to write it in a more scientific way.
SIL involvement and the official alphabet
More Mankanya people based in Dakar became interested in being part of the translation. Fifteen or so started working together with the monk and formed an association to translate the Bible into their own language.
Between 1995 and 2000, the translators came into contact with SIL Senegal, an organisation specialising in linguistics and translation. Gustave Campal and Georges Kampal, the two graduates, came on a couple of basic linguistic training courses SIL ran and started asking SIL for help with the translation work. In early 2000, just after my husband and I arrived in Senegal, we were asked to help them as they worked on their language.
By then, Gustave and Georges had worked out a basic alphabet so that the Mankanya cultural association, Pkumel, could request that the Senegalese government officially recognise their language. (This is a different association to the translation one, but many people are members of both.) Along with a linguistics consultant from Wycliffe’s partner SIL, we worked with them on improving the alphabet they had developed and helped them submit the necessary documents to the government. In 2001, the written form of the Mankanya language was officially recognised by the government and gained the status of a national language.
My husband continued working more with the cultural association in linguistics and on producing the first literacy books so that people could learn to read and write in Mankanya. I worked on the translation, initially with Gustave and Georges. Georges left to study in Portugal, but Gustave remained working on the translation for the whole time along with a series of other people.
Father Niuky leaves the team (formally)
At the same time that we were asked to work with the team, Ange-Marie Niuky became the abbot of his monastery. He felt that, because his first responsibility had to be to his monastery, he couldn’t keep spending all night working on the translation. He stayed very committed to the translation though, praying for it and encouraging the team, particularly Gustave. The abbot, as he became then, saw the arrival of my husband and me as God’s timing for the project.
The story continues next week, when Maggie discusses how the project came up against some of the frequently asked questions about Bible translation.
Read the previous post in this series: Meet the Mankanya people