Posted by: BSM

Buku Lopatulika turns 100


As Buku Lopatulika ndilo Mau A Mulungu turns 100 this year here is the story behind the translation.

The work of translating the Bible into the vernacular began as early late 1800. Rev David Clement Scott of Blantyre Mission was the first to translate scripture portions into the Chinyanja. In 1893 the gospels were printed and following year the letters of Paul were printed. And in 1896 the entire New Testament had been published into Chichewa. When Scott left the mission in 1898 and transferred to Kenya, the work slowed down. Until then, this was largely the work and initiative of Scott. By 1898, Robert Laws of Livingstonia Mission had also translated the New Testament in Chinyanja.

In May 1900, a Bible Translation Commission was formed following a meeting of the missionaries in Mangochi. It consisted of representatives from the Blantyre, Nkhoma, Livingstonia and Zambezi Industrial Mission. The Commission recommended a review of the work done by Scott in order to come up with an improved version of the New Testament which could be used by all the Chinyanja speaking communities, and after that proceed with the entire Bible.

Between 1900 and 1903 the progress was very slow. This was due to the fact that each of the missionaries were also busy with their daily mission work. Therefore, in 1903, Rev William Murray of Nkhoma Mission was assigned to work on the project on full time. Initially he was reluctantly to leave the mission work and that of preaching the gospel – something he was passionate about, yet following the advice of his friend who said, “Murray, if there is one thing I envy about you, is that you can translate the Bible and I cannot. Just think of it, now you have preached the gospel to hundreds, but now by means of the Bible in their language, you are going to do it to thousands” he decided to take up this great work. After the New Testament was finished, Murray went to Blantyre to meet with Rev Alexander Hetherwick of Blantyre Mission to review the work.

The following African translators Thomas Maseya and Jonathan Sande from Blantyre; Samson Bogozi and Wilibesi Chikuse from Mvera as well as Ishmael Mwale from Mlanda were the ones that greatly helped in this work. The typing of the first New Testament translation was done by Anderson Kadziche while the Old Testament was typed by Gersom Janda both of Mvera. And in 1906 the New Testament was published by the Bible Society of Scotland in collaboration with the British and Foreign Bible Society. Murray actually had to go to Scotland to oversee the work of Printing the New Testament whose initial 10,000 copies arrived in Malawi the following year and was sold out in no time. This meant another lot 10,000 copies had to be printed two years after the first edition. The major base of his work was on Kaso Hill, not far from the Mvera Mission, a quite place that was devoted and chosen specifically for the task of translating the Bible.

Murray and the team continued with the work of translating the Old Testament. Iniatially the progress was slow such that by 1911 only the Psalms had been translated and printed. This was a huge concern to Murray who wanted the Bible to be presented in the hands of the native speakers. By 1915 the work picked up again and this time Hetherwick and Henry Napier also translated some of the Old Testament books. The work was finished in 1919 and it was only in 1922 that the Buku Lopatulika ndilo Mau a Mulungu (literally “The Holy Book is the Word of God”) was finally printed by the National Bible Society of Scotland. The first print run was 15,500 copies were published and only reached in Malawi in 1923. There was great excitement among thousands of Malawians who came to see the Bible in their mother language for the first time and very soon all the copies were sold such that a reprint was done in 1924.

The first edition did not have section headings and textual references. This was done inorder to save costs. However, it became apparent that these should be a second edition with other improvements to the texts so that Murray gives to “the Church, a thing that will be a heritage for generations”. And this statement stands true until today, 100 years later.

Therefore Murray continued to work on the revision of the Buku Lopatulika inserting Section headings and the textual references as well as comments from those who were involved in the work. By 1931, this work had been completed. But a change in the orthography the following year meant going through the whole Bible again and making necessary changes. By this time Murray was approaching retirement and wanted to make sure the work is finished before he retires. The revised version finally was published in 1936 when Murray was 70 and ready to exit the stage. The new Bible had a huge impact on the people such that it was recorded that the “Chichewa Bible, gained wide acceptance, not only inside but also outside Malawi. When our young men left our country to find work, and adventure elsewhere, the Chichewa Bible went with them – to the government offices, mines and farms of Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, the battlefields of North Africa, Asia and Malaysia. It became the cornerstone of the Church in Malawi.” As far as language was concerned, it was noted that “the influence of the Chinyanja Bible spread beyond the Church. It brought into being the standardized language which broke through barriers and made the different tribes conscious that they were one.”

A second orthography revision was made to the Buku Lopatulika in 1966 and largely stayed like that until in 2014 when another major orthography revision was effected. This revision also comprised the addition of book introductions, illustrations, some missing verses (which were inserted as footnotes), new section headings, consistency of key terms, replacing of obscure and archaic words among others. The revised Buku Lopatulika of 2014 and the old Buku Lopatulika are both printed and available so that Christians can choose their preferred version.


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