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Zulu song, oral art performing the psalms to stir the heart : applying indigenous form to the translation and performance of some praise psalms.

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Bible translation needs to communicate the original message in a form that is accessible and acceptable to the local community. This requires utilizing the communication media and forms the people use in everyday life. In the case of translating psalms into isiZulu, this involves using oral media and forms of Zulu poetry and music, to produce a translation that communicates effectively. Oral communication is still the preferred form of transmitting a message in Zulu society. A Bible translation that is to be heard must be prepared with particular attention to aural features, and this has not yet been done in isiZulu. Moreover, when translating biblical psalms, attention must be given to poetic features to ensure that the functions achieved by them in the Hebrew text are achieved in the isiZulu text. Within oral communication, performance, is a key element; performing the isiZulu translation allows the verbal text to be complemented by paralinguistic and extra-linguistic features, thereby more fully communicating the richness of the original. Moreover it allows the audience to be a vital element in the creation of the text and its acceptance as biblical orature. Another problem which this study seeks to address is the difficulty many young isiZulu speakers have with understanding, or relating to, the current Bible translation. As it is based on formal-equivalence, it is not easy to read. Also, many young people have little ownership of the text, and view the current translation as a “black box”, unknown and irrelevant. Thus this research includes an empirical study facilitating experimental translations of some praise psalms by Zulu poets and musicians, using current thinking in orality and performance studies applied to Bible translation. The result is translations which draw on the izibongo cultural form in striking and beautiful isiZulu, with all the aesthetic and rhetorical force of the original. Also, by giving attention to the rhythm, the poems could be easily transformed into songs, adding to their aesthetic value and making them more memorable. Moreover, it is clear that young isiZulu speakers revel in the opportunity to explore the process of Bible translation and to own the translated text. The results of this research suggest that the process could be replicated in the translation of texts in other poetic sub-genres and in other languages, and could greatly enrich future Bible translations and complement more fully the ministry of the church.


Doctor of Philosophy. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2017.


Psalms., Zulu songs., Oral art., Theses -- Religion.