President of Botswana praises publication of Baha'i books in native Setswana language
GABORONE, Botswana — In a book launch ceremony, President Festus Mogae of Botswana hailed the publication of two Baha'i books in the native Setswana language, saying it would help encourage the country's people to maintain their native language.
Speaking at a reception held on 27 February to introduce the two books, which are collections of Baha'i prayers and scriptures, President Mogae said the volumes "are a welcome contribution to the development of Setswana literature".
"Many young people struggle to read Setswana fluently and would rather read English," said President Mogae. "Unfortunately, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is only a handful of Setswana literature available in book shops."
Titled "Dithapelo tsa Baha'i" and "Mafoko a a Subilweng," which mean respectively "Baha'i Prayers" and "The Hidden Words," the books are published by the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Botswana. The prayers and sacred verses they contain are intended to provide inspiration to the followers of all religions and to be a contribution to Setswana literature.
The translators spent many years of work to ensure that the Setswana of these translations is beautiful and fluent. This was a difficult task because the prayers and scriptures in English are written in an elegant literary style using very poetic language.
The Setswana translation had to reflect the beauty of the original without changing its meaning. With the help of a computer, the translators produced seven draft versions of Dithapelo tsa Baha'i before they were satisfied with their work.
President Mogae also said the translation and publication of the two books was an important reflection of the country's commitment to religious freedom.
"They are being published in an atmosphere in which there is respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual including the right to worship," said President Mogae. "Freedom of religion is one of the rights entrenched in the Constitution of Botswana."
"The publication of Dithapelo tsa Baha'i and Mafoko a a Subilweng constitutes a significant milestone in the history of the Baha'i Faith in Botswana," added President Mogae. "The two books are a manifestation of the steady growth of Baha'i in this country and underline the importance of the universal character of spirituality. God speaks to all humanity in the languages that they understand."
Both books use Setswana idioms and figures of speech. They are written in a style that readers find appropriate for holy scriptures. As an assistance to readers, each book contains a glossary of difficult Setswana words.
The book of prayers, which has the full title of "Dithapelo tsa Baha'i tse di Senotsweng ke Baha'u'llah, Bab le 'Abdu'l-Baha," ("Baha'i Prayers revealed by Baha'u'llah, the Bab and 'Abdu'l-Baha") brings together a selection of Baha'i prayers revealed by the Central Figures of the Baha'i Faith. Although a few of the prayers are specifically for Baha'is, the majority are inspirational for all readers. For the life of the spirit there are prayers for spiritual growth, detachment, forgiveness, assistance, protection, praise and gratitude; for special times of the day there are dawn prayers, morning prayers, evening prayers and prayers for those about to set out on a journey.
There are also prayers for children, youth, families, marriage and a section of prayers specially for women; there are prayers for the departed, for healing and for tests and difficulties. At the end of the book an attempt has been made to translate one short prayer into fifteen of the other languages spoken in Botswana.
"Mafoko a a Subilweng a ga Baha'u'llah," known as "The Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah" in English, is a collection of short, inspirational verses written by the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah. The title is taken from a tradition in Islam that the Angel Gabriel uttered these beautiful verses for the grieving daughter of the Prophet Muhammad to comfort her upon the passing of her illustrious Father. The tradition states that these words of spiritual comfort would remain as a "hidden book" until the coming of the Promised One. Amongst the signs that would identify the Promised One is that He would reveal this hidden book to mankind. Each verse in the book reveals spiritual truths and offers guidance by which we should live our lives.
Three translators worked together to produce the two books: Stella "Mumsie" Moncho, Lally Warren and Gerald Warren. All are members of the Baha'i Faith and residents of Botswana.
Ms. Moncho was born into the royal family of the Barolong ba ga Tshidi. Her late husband was a school inspector, first for the Bechuanaland Administration and then, later, for Government of Botswana. At the age of 92, Ms. Moncho has absorbed a Setswana vocabulary that can only be described as encyclopaedic, as well as developing a refined sense of what elegant Setswana should sound like.
Lally Warren was born in Serowe, Botswana, and is the daughter of Ms. Moncho. She has inherited much of her parents' knowledge and love for Setswana. Although a nurse by profession, for the past fifteen years she has traveled widely in her role as a Continental Counsellor of the Baha'i Faith. Her motivation to get involved in translation work was her desire to see the beauty of the Baha'i prayers and scriptures in English rendered befittingly into Setswana. She is currently co- authoring with Desmond Cole, former Professor of African Languages at Wits University in South Africa, a comprehensive Setswana-English dictionary, which is set for publication in 2002.
Gerald Warren is a primary-school teacher who came to Botswana in 1979. Married to Ms. Warren, he collaborated in the translation work and was largely responsible for checking the spelling, proofreading and typesetting the final work.