‘When I preach in the Nyiha language people get so quiet. It’s because they understand very well. And when they understand, they repent and change.’

So says Wilhelm Mwakavanga, a Nyiha Bible translator and pastor in western Tanzania. ‘So many people ask me to come and preach. They are very anxious to hear the word of God in their language.’

Image of two men with their Nyiha New Testaments

Hearing and reading God’s word in their own language is having an impact among the Nyiha people. ‘I’ve seen God moving in our churches when I preach in Nyiha,’ Wilhelm continues. ‘When preaching is in Swahili or another language, most people just don’t get the real meaning. They go out with many questions and not the answers. But when we preach in Nyiha, it is very different.’


As the Bible translation team has translated more and more Scriptures, so the impact of God’s word on the Nyiha community has grown.

And now, as of 13 May 2023, the Nyiha have the New Testament in their own language – a watershed moment for the community.

As people joyfully celebrated the long-awaited launch of the Nyiha New Testament in the village of Igamba, they did so with loud cheers, boisterous singing, exuberant dancing and lively marching. The atmosphere was infectious, and many passers-by stopped to listen and participate.

Image of the Nyiha New Testament being shown to the people

When the Nyiha chief heard Nyiha being spoken in a speech, he was so happy that he offered twice the announced price for a copy of the New Testament. He also promised to support future plans to translate the Old Testament.

Copies of the Nyiha New Testament flew off the sales desk, and one guest promised several million Tanzanian shillings (about £1,500) to help buy the team a plot for an office building.

That same guest also offered a cow in support. ‘A cow is considered a precious sacrifice in the Nyiha community,’ comments Kassim Mwashilindi, one of the translators. ‘It is often a sacrifice to the ancestors, or paid as a bride price. So for him to offer a cow shows that he values and highly appreciates the translation of the New Testament in the Nyiha language.’

Image of a woman with the Nyiha New Testament

Culture change

Such actions also highlight the change that is happening among the Nyiha people. Ancestors have a powerful place in Nyiha culture. They are believed to exert great influence in daily life and are traditionally remembered through special rituals. ‘Having the New Testament will now impact the Nyiha’s religious tradition, because in the Scriptures the centre of worship is Jesus — not the ancestors,’ says Kassim. As more of the Scriptures become available and God’s word sinks deeper into the hearts and minds of the people, so they and their culture are changing, both among the Christian community and the wider community.

Richard says, ‘I have seen God working through the Nyiha translation project as I see the different church denominations working together. I see church and government leaders working together. God’s word teaches us we should love each other. That’s how this is happening.’

Image of a man enjoying reading his Nyiha New Testament

And it’s not just individuals’ faith and the community that is being transformed: how the Nyiha people view and use their language has changed.

Richard Yalonde, who leads a project overseeing a number of languages in Tanzania and is himself Nyiha, says: ‘When I started working with Scripture translation years ago I was very discouraged to hear Nyiha people say, “I cannot read my language.” But now many people are reading Scriptures and other materials in Nyiha. This really touches my heart. It is so encouraging to watch people learn that they can use their “heart language” to communicate with God!’

It’s something Wilhelm picks up on: ‘Before this translation work, even while I was in Bible school, I thought maybe God only really speaks the “big” languages like Swahili or English.

‘But now I am happy to know that God speaks to all people in their own languages. He speaks all of our languages!’


Translation of the Nyiha New Testament began in earnest by 2007. The language community numbers around 276,000 in Tanzania, with tens of thousands more in bordering Malawi and possibly hundreds of thousands in diaspora elsewhere. In addition to the New Testament in print and audio, the project team has also published a Nyiha songbook and a translated version of the Jesus Messiah comic book. A Nyiha dictionary is in process, and plans are being made to start translating the Old Testament.

Based on an original article by Kenny Grindall and published by SIL Tanzania.


Image of the front cover of the State of the Bible 2023 report

The Nyiha New Testament – part of the bigger picture

The Nyiha New Testament was one of 53 launched in the past year – that's a record-breaking rate of one a week! To find out how many Bibles were launched last year, and what other records were broken, download our State of the Bible 2023 report.

Story by: Jeremy Weightman

Date: 14/09/2023

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