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Bible in own language inspires Cheyenne

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2007/01/26/news/state/20-bible.txt Published on Friday, January 26, 2007. Last modified on 1/26/2007 at 12:49 am Bible
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 27, 2007

      Published on Friday, January 26, 2007.
      Last modified on 1/26/2007 at 12:49 am

      Bible in own language inspires Cheyenne

      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,
      Busenitz said.

      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
      best work.

      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?"
      he said.

      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.
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