Good Bible translation is not a simple process. Each translated text goes through at least four drafts with various checks at each stage (exegetical checking, internal reviewing, philological editing, field-testing, consultant checking, external reviewing, etc.). But even after the translation is completed and the book has been published and delivered to the region, it still needs to be somehow distributed among its potential readers, which is not an easy task either. Distributing the Bible in areas with a predominantly Muslim population may be dangerous because many people are prejudiced against the Bible and see it as a tool of westernization or russification – a real threat to their ethnic culture and to the worldview foundations of their community.
By the middle of the 1st millennium B.C., an alliance of 26 tribes was formed in the eastern Transcaucasus (at present, the territory of Azerbaijan). They formed the polyethnic kingdom of Caucasian Albania, which in the 4th century A.D. adopted Christianity as its state religion. Parts of the Bible were translated into the Caucasian Albanian, or Agwan, language, which belonged to the Lezgic language family. However, this translation was lost during the early Medieval period, and parts of it were discovered only in recent times. In the 12-17th centuries Islam came to dominate in the region, so nowadays the Lezgic peoples are mainly Muslim. They practice folk Islam, but traces of their Christian past are still noticeable, and in folklore traditions one can still find traces of ancient paganism...
What is needed to become a Bible translator? Among very small ethnic groups that speak an endangered language, sometimes it is enough to simply have a good command of one’s mother tongue, even if it is only the spoken form of the language. But for larger languages with a well-developed literary tradition, IBT’s translators are usually professionals in the spheres of linguistics or literature. Such is the situation in IBT’s Dargi (or Dargwa) project. The team presently consists of two translators and a third, potential translator, all of them specialists in their language. But professional language interest alone is not what leads someone from a different religious tradition into a project to translate the Bible. What motivates those who become Bible translators to choose this path?
Russia is big, and the difference in time between Moscow and Yakutia (Sakha Republic) is six hours. I asked our Yakut translator Sargylana about her most recent translation news after she had completed a week of working with the translation consultant at the IBT Moscow office, and during our talk I was surprised to hear that she was getting up at 4 a.m. every day – in Yakutia it was already 10 a.m., and Sargylana didn’t want to get used to Moscow time. However, after a long work day and inevitable household chores in the evening, she was going to bed according to Moscow time, which left her just 5 hours for sleep. But such is her amazing dedication that trying to persuade her to take better care of herself seemed useless.
As Ulyana Mongush talked about her work, she was wearing a sunny, bright yellow Tuvan-style dress. It was a dismal, grey Moscow day, so I couldn’t but cheer up as I looked at such beauty, and it turned out that her choice of clothes was not accidental: “In Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva, we have very hot summers and very cold winters. In winter we heat furnaces with coal day and night, since the central heating doesn’t help much. The whole city is filled with terrible black smog. It’s unreasonable to wear anything white, since by evening your clothes will be black with soot. But I'm a teacher, and I see my task as inspiring my students. So in winter I go to work wearing something bright on purpose, in spite of the soot. So I’ve brought you a ray of sunshine as well.”