Presentation of the New Testament in the Northern Gumuz Language in Ethiopia


Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Saturday 11th February, 2023 has been a memorable day for the Gumuz people. The Bible Society of Ethiopia has officially presented the New Testament in Northern Gumuz, the language of the Gumuz people living in Metekel zone, whose main administrative town, Gilgel Beles, is situated 525 kilometers North-West of Addis Ababa. The work of that so much awaited New Testament translation took more than ten years to be finalized and eventually to be offered to the people, whom God loves and wants to speak to through his own Word using their language.

We could notice the shinning faces, full of joy, of those who attended the official ceremony. Indeed, the big hall of Gilgel Beles Teachers’ Training College was packed with hundreds of people who came from different areas of Metekel to receive the Word of God in their own language. Among the attendants were Bishop Lisanu-Christos, Eparch of Bahr Dar-Dessie, the Comboni priests working in the parishes of Gilgel Beles and Gublak, Pawe’s Franciscan Parish Priest, the Comboni Sisters working in Mandura (ten kilometers North of Gilgel Beles) and the Franciscan Sisters Missionaries of Christ working in Gilgel Beles. There were many Orthodox priests and Protestant pastors as well. The representatives of the local government gave a speech to welcome the new translation and to congratulate the team that worked without cease, despite many difficulties, as to offer to the Gumuz this heavenly gift.

The team, formed by the Bible Society of Ethiopia, was composed by Jane Kiwi, a Catholic catechist from Gilgel Beles Parish, Deacon Thomas, from the Orthodox Church, and Worku, a Protestant, all Gumuz. All of them received, during the meeting, a certificate of recognition for their endeavor that lasted for more than a decade.

We had also the pleasure to see on the stage the choirs of the three different Christian denominations — Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic — that attended the event, performing Christian songs both in Gumuz and Amharic.

This New Testament in Northern Gumuz language will certainly be of help also for us Comboni Missionaries working in this region of first evangelization, though the translation — as clearly stated by the translators — was done from the Amharic text, not fully complying with the Catholic criterium of faithfulness to the original texts. It has come to accompany the work started at the very beginning by the Comboni Sisters in Mandura (in 2000) by Sr Yamileth Bolaños, with the help of Gumuz informants, and taken up by Fr Marco Innocenti (MCCJ), first Parish Priest of Gilgel Beles since the foundation of the Comboni Mission in Gilgel Beles in 2003.

Fr Marco concentrated his attention in the study of the language, especially from the grammatical and lexical perspectives: thus, the publication of the very first grammar of the Northern Gumuz language of Mandura variant, with a short glossary, came about in 2010 by Arada Books Publishing House (Note elementari di Grammatica Gumuz. Varietà di Mandura).

Fr Marco has been translating from the original texts in Greek and Hebrew the festive and the three-year-cycle Sunday readings of the Catholic lectionary since the beginning of our missionary presence. He has translated a short catechism, a booklet with the main prayers of the Catholic tradition — including Rosary, two Ways of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration — and the Holy Mass, so that the teaching, the liturgy and the prayers are carried out in a language understandable to the Gumuz people. We are grateful to all of them for the great job they are doing with a lot of sacrifices for the sake of the Good News, which all of us are invited to spread according to our Comboni charism and spirituality. For such a people Comboni would surely hand over his life if he were still alive.

Finally, let me recall that the Comboni mission in this area was opened in 2003 following the decision taken by the Provincial Assembly of the Ethiopia Province. In 2011, the huge missionary territory served by Gilgel Beles was split into two, giving birth to the mission of Gublak (Dangur Wereda), 50 kilometers from Gilgel Beles, with a new Comboni community continuing the same work of evangelization among the Gumuz people.

We face a lot of challenges: the conflict which broke out in this region two years ago and obliged the temporary suspension of Gublak community, the shortage of personnel in order to cover all the outstations (more than 27 only in Gilgel Beles) and to reach more villages, the challenge of getting catechists well prepared and living according to the teaching of the Church, the lack of good and sufficient structures (schools, formation center) and of chapels (absent in many villages or collapsed) in order to allow our faithful to pray peacefully.

Despite all these challenges, we keep on hoping for a better future for our mission and for the Gumuz people who is among the poorest and most abandoned to whom we, Comboni missionaries, are called to dedicate our lives.

Fr Mbala Topa André, mccj