With Anietie Usen
I was an eyewitness of history earlier today, August 27, 2020. It was the epoch-making occasion of the formal presentation of the first-ever Ibibio Bible translation, in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom.
The Ibibio people are the forth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, with a population of 8.5 million people. They are found mainly in Akwa Ibom State, Cross River State, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. According to historical accounts, authenticated by Wikipedia, the authoritative online encyclopedia, the Ibibio people are reputed to be the earliest inhabitants of south southern Nigeria. It is estimated that they arrived at their present home around 7000 B.C. They are closely related to the Efik and Anang peoples. During the colonial period in Nigeria, the Ibibio Union asked for recognition by the British as a sovereign nation.
It was, therefore, a major milestone for Ibibio people, who jam-packed the Ibom Hall venue of the presentation, to see and read the Bible in their own language or should I say, dialect, published by the 200-year-old, American based International Bible Society (Biblica), the publishers of the NIV Version. Before now, Efik Bible was the only vernacular Bible jointly read by the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Oron and other related peoples of Akwa Ibom and Cross River States.
Governor Udom Emmanuel, who was the Special Guest Of Honour, his wife Martha, who was Mother of the Day, and Idongesit Nkanga, retired air force general, the first indigenous military governor of the State, who was the chairman of the occasion, all spoke in glowing terms about the new brand Bible translation. They all called for the intensification of efforts to preserve Ibibio language and save it from extinction.
I was honoured to be seated on the high table with these top government officials, politicians, Ibibio traditional rulers, CAN and PFN high priests. As a Bible lover, I couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse of the newest Bible translation on earth. When the Bible got to my hands eventually, I rushed to my familiar Bible passages in Efik Bible. My first stop John 3:16. If you grew up in the village as I did, you would know, every village boy and girl in primary school, knew John 3:16 in Efik Bible by heart.
But my first surprise was the spelling of John in Ibibio Bible. In Efik Bible John is John. But in Ibibio Bible John is Yoon, which speaks volumes about the unique consonants and vowels of Ibibio language, for which the translators made no pretension. Now here are some other books of the New Testament that may interest you: Matiu, Maak, Duk, Utom Mme Abösîd (Acts Of the Apostles) and Fidibai (Philippian). Guess what the book of Hebrews is called in Ibibio in Ibibio Bible? Simple: Ibru. And what about the Almighty Name of Jesus? Yisos. Full stop. No stress! After all, Jesus is the English version of Yeshua in Hebrew, the earthly language of Jesus in Israel. And in the Latin version of the Gloria, the name Jesus is rendered as “Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe”. However, in the Latin Vulgate, the name of Jesus is rendered as “Iesus”.
Make no mistakes, Yisos is the veritable Ibibio name for Jesus. And this Bible is Ibibio language literature, at its best. It was amazing listening to “Mma Bröfesö Eno-Abasi Urua”, my contemporary at the University Of Calabar and a Professor of Linguistics, read a two-page review of the Bible in flawless Ibibio. I was not however surprised because she is not just outstanding in linguistics; she simply stands out. She has already completed one of the most comprehensive Ibibio dictionaries and she is a chip off the legendary linguist, Professor Okon Essien, who initiated the Ibibio Bible project and successfully convinced the United Nations to recognize Ibibio language among the 200 largest languages in the world.
When Professor Urua, (sorry Mma Bröfesö Eno-Abasi Urua) completed the review, she got a prolonged ovation. I couldn’t wait to read and compare John 3:16 in Efik and Ibibio translations. Here is Efik Bible: “Koro Abasi akamama ererimbot ntem, tutu Enye osio ikpcng-ikpcng Eyen emi Enye obonde cnc, man owo ekededi eke cbuctde idem ye Enye okutak, edi enyene nsinsi uwem”. Virtually all the adults in Efik, Ibibio, Anang, Oron language group know this particular Bible verse off hand. Now enters the Ibibio Bible: “Sia Abasi akeneeneke ama ederimbot asin anye akeno ukweeñe Ayin keed anye anieeghe mbak awo ake adodo animme anye ke akpaniko akuutak, ado anie nsi-nsi uwem”. Compare and contrast!
One difference I can tell you is that while Ibibio Bible was translated by Ibibio professors, including Professors Margaret Mary Okon, Bassey Okon, Eno-Abasi Urua, Inimbom Akpan, Udo Etuk, as well as Dr. Paulinus Noah, Dr. Effiong Ekpenyong and Rev. Fr. Dr. Donatus Udoette, a theologian who is well versed in Greek; the Efik Bible was translated by a white man, Rev. Hugh Goldie. Goldie was brought into Calabar by a famous Presbyterian missionary, Rev. Hope Waddell. Goldie resided in Calabar for 20 years, learned the native language, wrote the Efik dictionary and translated the King James Version Of the New Testament Bible into Efik in 1862. This was the first vernacular Bible in Nigeria.
When I was invited to speak in my capacity as a Bible lover,I said that much but couldn’t hide my excitement about the adventure into Ibibio Bible. My concern, however, was who would read the new translation of the Bible, in view of the diminishing, if not vanishing species of not just Ibibio readers but other vernacular readers in Africa. Most ethnic languages have been sacrificed on the altar of colonial languages, and most parents, out of distorted mentality, even go the extra length to force their children out of native languages and dialects.
Then I voiced my concern that the Ibibio Bible may not find many readers in the younger generation, unless government introduce Ibibio language as a compulsory subject in the nursery, primary and secondary schools. For now, vernacular churches, preachers, not to mention the ubiquitous prophets in Akwa Ibom, who normally preach and prophecy in Efik language, may have do a rethink. With Ibibio Bible now on stage, God will now have to speak Ibibio language, during prophecy and not “Obong odöhö”. Why not!!!