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When extinction rumours denied the Terik a Bible

Terik community led by their Chairman John Bor during an interview at Jeblebuk primary school in Vihiga county on July 6, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Many tribes enjoy reading the Bible in their dialect but the same cannot be said about the Terik community.

A sub-tribe of the larger Kalenjin, the Terik, found in Vihiga County, is one of the smallest communities in Kenya that has fought for recognition for years.

The community embarked on an ambitious mission to translate the holy book into its dialect about 20 years ago but the plan was aborted at some point.

“We even selected a committee to spearhead the process but we achieved nothing,” said the Rev John Chepseba, one of those tasked by the community to translate the Bible.

Chepseba and his counterparts, the Rev Emmanuel Kipchumba and Stephen Kirwa, faced a herculean task and were forced to seek a donor’s assistance to facilitate the project. "We have been through a lot as a community in seeking to have our own Bible. In early 2000, we started the process and in 2020, three of us were picked to spearhead the process," Chepseba said.

They were selected based on their knowledge of their mother tongue and mastery of other languages, including English and Kiswahili. On top of that, the trio had a strong theological background and was dimmed fit for the job.

For many years, the Terik have been using bibles written in a language close to their dialect including the Nandi version. But the elders confide that the Bible they use confuses the faithful because some words mean different things.

"The Nandi Bible has some words that are not in our Terik language, this makes it hard for our people to comprehend the word of God," said Chepseba.

Sponsors who had earlier agreed to fund Bible translation into Terek pulled out at the eleventh hour, causing the initiative to stall, according to the elders. “The donors were told Terik was facing extinction and opted to sever ties with us,” said the Rev Chepseba.

According to the elders, the withdrawal of a sponsor slowed the process of giving the more than 20,000 Terik population (as listed in the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census), a Bible of their own.

After writing a protest letter, the community was able to reinstate one of the sponsors. Terik Council of Elders chairperson John Bor said: “The Bible project will help us reclaim our history and plan our future as a community because our children will be able to read and comprehend the Bible in our own dialect,” said Bor.

According to Bor, they have slowly begun teaching the Terik dialect in schools. "In recent years, migration of our people into Nandi decreased and the position of the Terik language has been strengthened. We now teach the Terik language in schools and Sunday schools," said Bor.

The Kavirondo (Abarondo) clan, a little-known community that has been pushing to be recognised as a separate community from the Luo, is among the few communities waiting for their first Bible.

The community that resides in the vast Nyando plains claims it has been forced to share the Luo Bible despite the fact that it is a separate community.

Joseph Owino, a member of the community says they will only get a Bible once they are recognised as a separate community. The community that has about 110,000 people is mostly sugarcane farmers and is spread across Kisumu and Homa Bay.

In Migori County, the Kuria community, which had lived without a Bible translation, can now smile after getting the holy book in its language after 39 years. The launch of the Kuria Bible was organised by the Bible Society of Kenya, led by General Secretary Elizabeth Muriuki at Kehancha Municipal Stadium in April.

Tobias Werema, a resident in Kuria West Sub-County, told The Standard they were almost losing their language as the young generation didn’t know some terms used by their elders while speaking Kuria.

“Right now our children can read our language and even know how we called God in the native Kuria language,” Werema said.

Pastor Peter Chacha who preaches at International Gospel Ministries church said they started to know their language deeply after the Bible was translated to their language. “The entire community will be able to know their Kuria language. There are some words we didn’t know,” Pastor Chacha said.

Kuria East MP Kitayama Maisori said before the translation of the Bible into the Kuria dialect, most of the community members, especially the old, relied on translators who could translate for them the Swahili and English Bible into the Kuria language.

As a community that lives at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, most churches used the Swahili Bible.

The ACK Diocese of Mbeere Bishop Dr Moses Masamba said translation of the holy book into Kimbeere dialect is a great milestone in Mbeere churches and will play a major role in maintaining social and family values.

"Some Christians are not comfortable with the wordings in Kikuyu and Kiembu but this will also help archive the Mbeere culture and language," he said.

Genesio Mugo, a leader in Mbeere South, said the translation would assist in behaviour change as the clergy will use the gospel in the local dialect. Ben Kanyeji, 70, an elder from Mbeere, said the community has missed a lot. "When done in the local dialect, many Christians and especially the elderly will feel attached to the word."

[Report by Brian Kisanji, Anne Atieno, Harold Odhiambo, Phares Mutembei]