When my co-translator and I had finished drafting Jonah in Zanaki (our mother tongue), I went on a trip to Nyasirori village in the Zanaki language area to test our translation. I arrived in Nyasirori village and collected a group of people who were willing to listen to me read Jonah aloud and answer questions.
One of the men in the group was a Christian and had been attending church for years. However, when I read Jonah, he looked at me in surprise and asked, “How is it possible for a person to be inside a fish? I have never heard of such a thing!”
I asked him, “Have you ever heard this story before? Have you read it in the Swahili Bible or heard it at church?” I thought that a Christian would be familiar with the book of Jonah, so I was amazed that he was surprised.
He answered, “Well, I have heard it talked about and read in church, but it did not make sense to me in Swahili. So although I have heard the story, I didn’t understand it well enough to even realize that Jonah was inside a fish. The Zanaki words reached deep inside me and grabbed me like the Swahili never has before.”
Then I tried to answer his question about how a person could be inside a fish, which was a difficult question to explain, since the Zanaki people have only ever seen very small fish in rivers and Lake Victoria! He was very interested in what I had to say and asked if I would come back someday to help Christians in his area know more of what the Bible says, since they didn’t understand much from the Swahili Bible. He said, “It would be very good if someday we could gather Zanaki believers together to read the Zanaki Scriptures together and study them. For example, the part in Jonah chapter two when Jonah prays to God and trusts in him even though he is drowning and near death, that was a very good part of the story. Christians could learn a lot from his prayer. But first we have to be able to understand it, and we need it in Zanaki to know what it’s really saying and so it can touch our hearts!”
This story was told by Zanaki translator Willy Futakamba to Misha Sandeen. She edited the story and translated it into English. Misha is also a blogger.