Bible in own language inspires Cheyenne
Published on Friday, January 26, 2007.
Last modified on 1/26/2007 at 12:49 am
Bible in own language inspires Cheyenne
By BECKY SHAY
Of The Gazette Staff
BUSBY - Hearing and now reading the Bible in her own language has changed
Verda King's spirituality.
"A long time ago I tried to read King James," King said. "It wouldn't make
sense to me until I heard it in Cheyenne. It struck home with me."
King, who is among a group of people who have worked on translating the
Bible into Cheyenne, said reading the translation has motivated her to "dig
deeper" in her spirituality and made the Bible more meaningful.
"It's helped me to have a deeper relationship with God," she said.
Willis Busenitz, pastor at White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church, said that
deeper understanding comes from learning in one's "heart language."
"It's the language deep down inside of here," Busenitz said and put a hand
on his chest.
People have been working on the translation for about 30 years. Their
cumulative effort has resulted in the translation of at least part of most
books of the Bible and the entire books of Luke, 1 John, Philippians, 1
Peter and James.
The work, Ma'heonemoxe'-estoo'o, which is Cheyenne for Bible, is available
in soft- and hard-bound editions and also recorded on cassette tapes and
The translation is idiomatic, meaning it is done more in ideas than
literally. For example, in the scripture where Abraham made the altar, the
translation into the descriptive Cheyenne language is roughly that he piled
There are markers in the translated Bible in English, so that readers will
easily be able to locate a book's name or a well-known story. And, not all
of the words were translatable, such as "Egypt" and people's names.
The Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have done unto you -
translates to the equivalent of "Be nice to people the way you have been
nice to. It is written that way by Moses and also by the prophets."
That translation falls in line with the closely held Cheyenne tenet that
one should treat others as they wish to be treated, Busenitz said.
"The principle is still very strong in the Cheyenne community - to not
argue but turn and walk away," Conrad Fisher said.
Generations of stories of native language and culture have not been given a
place in churches. In many churches that is changing and it is frequent now
to easily use a native word for God or Creator and to see physical
attributes such as darker skin or beadwork in artwork, said Conrad Fisher,
one of the newer members of the committee.
"There is a sense of security and a sense of comfort to be able to come to
a religious institution and feel welcome," Fisher said.
Fisher said the Bible translation is an asset.
"Spiritually, you have a closer understanding of what the Bible is trying
to say," he said.
The translation is based on a solid foundation of more than 100 years of
work, Fisher said.
"This has been a continuum of language preservation and translation," he
Mennonite missionaries, including Rudolphe Petter, started working on
translations in the late 19th century, Busenitz said. Petter translated the
New Testament as well as stories from the Old Testament.
In the 1960s, Northern Cheyenne Ted Risingsun and others sought to create a
more modern interpretation with fewer literal translations, Busenitz said.
Wayne and Elena Leman, linguists who lived on the reservation for about 30
years, helped train Cheyenne speakers who completed the translation,
As part of the Cheyenne Christian Education Project, Busenitz and others
have created Cheyenne songbooks, storybooks and dictionaries. There are
even animated videos and books of Bible stories done in Cheyenne.
Busenitz said the Bible translation project is ongoing. Modern publishing
techniques make it likely that future, more complete translations can be
The process starts with a rough draft of the translation that is "revised,
refined then checked," he said.
Each new effort makes the translation better, King said, as those involved
come up with the right words. Worrying about having the best translation
has been one of the difficulties of the project, she said. But that
attention to detail and concern about being correct also has led to the
Floyd Fisher said one of the challenges has been filtering through similar
Cheyenne words to find the best translation.
"You got to know your Cheyenne language really good," he said.
Translation is difficult, Conrad Fisher said, in part because language is
based in culture. A joke that is hilarious to Cheyenne speakers can be
translated to English and a listener will ask, "Where is the punch line?"
Another struggle is that some words in the Bible aren't used today.
"You try to come as close as you can," Conrad Fisher said.
In addition to helping preserve language, the process also improves and
tries to continue the language, Conrad Fisher said.
"Cultures are dynamic and we've go to continue to try to have
sustainability within the Cheyenne language," he said.
Contact Becky Shay at bshay@... or 657-1231.