Tuesday, December 2, 2008

De Gullah Nyew Testament

When I first read the Christmas story in the Gullah language ten or twelve years ago, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I thought it might be a parody of the dialect Joel Chandler Harris used in his Uncle Remus tales, or perhaps a not-so-subtle putdown of the way some poorly educated people speak, or perhaps a ridiculing of Ebonics, which was all the rage at the time. I also thought that many African-Americans might find it insulting, demeaning, not politically correct, or even racist.

But what you are about to read is not Ebonics, not a parody, not a putdown, not meant to ridicule. It is not meant to be insulting, demeaning, politically incorrect, or, heaven forbid, racist. It is a portion of the New Testament in the Gullah language, which is spoken by descendants of slaves along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. I will have more to say at the end of the readings.

Here is part of Chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel According to St. Matthew in Gullah:

De Good Nyews Bout Jedus Christ Wa Matthew Write

Jedus Christ Bon

18Now dis yah wa happen wen Jedus Christ bon. Jedus modda Mary been gage fa marry Joseph. Bot, fo dey git marry an Joseph cyaa um fa lib wid um, dey find out dat Mary been speckin. An dat been de powa ob de Holy Sperit wa mek dat happen. 19Now Joseph wa been gage fa marry Mary, e been a man wa waak scraight wid God, an e ain been wahn fa see Mary come ta no open shame. So Joseph mek op e mind fa paat wid Mary an keep um hush op. 20E beena study haad bout wa e gwine do, wen de Lawd sen a angel ta um een a dream. De angel tell um say, “Joseph, ya wa come out fom King David fambly, mus dohn be scaid fa marry Mary. Cause de chile wa e speckin, dat wa de Holy Sperit mek happen. 21E gwine hab son, an ya mus gim de name Jedus, cause e gwine sabe e people fom dey sin.”

22Now all dis happen so dat wa de Lawd done tell de prophet say gwine happen, e happen fa true. E say, 23“One nyoung ooman dat ain neba know no man, e gwine be wid chile. E gwine hab son, an dey gwine call de chile Emmanuel.” (Dat mean fa say, God right yah wid we.)

24So wen Joseph wake op, e done wa de Lawd angel chaage um fa do. E gone an marry Mary. 25Bot Joseph neba tetch Mary til e done hab e son. An Joseph name de chile Jedus.

De Man Dem Fom de East Come fa Woshup Jedus

1Now Jedus been bon een Betlem town, een Judea, jurin de same time wen Herod been king. Atta Jedus been bon, some wise man dem dat study bout de staa dem come ta Jerusalem fom weh dey been een de east. 2An dey aks say, “Weh de chile da, wa bon fa be de Jew people king? We beena see de staa wa tell bout um een de east, an we come fa woshup um op.”

3Wen King Herod yeh dat, e been opsot fa true. An ebrybody een Jerusalem been opsot too. 4E call togeda all de leada dem ob de Jew priest dem an de Jew Law teacha dem. E aks um say. “Weh de Messiah gwine be bon at?”

5Dey tell King Herod say, “E gwine be bon een Betlem town een Judea. Cause de prophet write say,

6‘Betlem een Judah lan, ya sompin fa sho
mongst dem oda town dey een Judah.
Cause one ob ya people gwine be a big rula.
E gwine rule oba me Israel people,
same like a shephud da lead e sheep.’ ”

7So King Herod sen fa de man dem dat done come fom de east fa meet wid um, bot e ain tell nobody bout de meetin. Den Herod aks dem man fa tell um de zact time wen dey fus see dat staa. 8E tell um say, “Oona mus go ta Betlem an look roun good fa de chile. Wen oona find um, mus come back an leh me know, so dat A kin go mesef fa woshup um op too.”

9Atta dem man yeh wa de king say, dey gone on, an dey see de same staa dat dey beena see wen dey been back een de east. Dey folla dat staa til dey git ta de place weh de chile been, an den dat staa ain gone no foda. 10Wen de man dem fom de east see dat staa dey, dey been too glad. Dey been glad til dey ain know wa fa do. 11Dey gone eenta de house, an dey see de chile dey wid e modda, Mary. Den dey kneel down fo de chile an woshup um op. An dey open op dey bag an tek out de rich ting dey beena cyaa long wid um fa gii de chile. Dey gim gole, frankincense, an myrrh.

12Now den, de Lawd come ta dem man een a dream an waan um, tell um say, “Mus dohn go back fa tell King Herod nottin.” So dey gone noda way back ta weh dey come fom.

[End of excerpt from Matthew from De Gullah Nyew Testament, copyright ©2005 SIL Institute]

And here is part of Chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel According To St. Luke in Gullah:

De Good Nyews Bout Jedus Christ Wa Luke Write

Luke Tell Theophilus Wa Dis Book Taak Bout

1Deah Theophilus, plenty people beena try fa write down all de ting dem wa we bleebe fa true, wa done happen mongst we. 2An all wa dey done write down, dis de same ting wa de people dem dat been wid Jedus wen e fus staat, dey done tell we. An dey beena preach God wod. 3So, Honorable Theophilus, A figga since A done beena study bout dem ting good fashion fom de time dey fus staat, A oughta write um down fa ya step by step fom staat ta finish. 4A da write fa mek ya know all de trute consaanin dem ting wa dey done laan ya, fa leh ya know dat all dis wa dey laan ya bout done happen fa true.

De Angel Tell Zechariah E Gwine Hab Son

5Same time wen Herod been king ob Judea, one Jew priest name Zechariah been dey. E been one ob de priest dem ob Abijah group. An e wife name been Lizzybet. Lizzybet blongst ta de fambly ob de head Priest Aaron too. 6Zechariah an Lizzybet beena waak scraight wid God. Dey beena keep all de Law ob de Lawd an do ebryting e tell um fa do. 7Bot dey ain hab no chullun cause Lizzybet ain been able. An now dey bof been ole.

8One time wen Abijah group beena wok een God House, Zechariah beena do e wok dey, da cyaa out de priest judy. 9Now den, wen de priest dem wahn fa pick one ob um fa go eenside God House fa bun incense, dey write all de priest dem name down, fole de paper an pick one. Dis time yah Zechariah name come out fa bun de incense. So e gone eenside de Lawd house fa do e wok. 10Same time de incense beena bun eenside God House, de whole crowd wa been dey beena pray outside een de yaad. 11Den een God House, Zechariah see a angel dat de Lawd sen. Dat angel stan fo um pon de right han side ob de alta, weh Zechariah da bun de incense. 12Wen Zechariah see de angel, e been opsot. E mos scaid ta det. 13De angel tell um say, “Mus dohn feah, Zechariah! De Lawd done yeh ya pray, an e ansa um. Ya wife Lizzybet gwine hab son. Mus name um John. 14Ya gwine be glad fa true wen e bon, an a heapa oda people gwine be glad cause e bon! 15Dat chile gwine be a great man een de Lawd eye. E mus dohn neba drink no wine or nottin wa mek a poson dronk. An e gwine be full op wid de Holy Sperit eben fo e bon. 16E gwine mek a heapa Israel people come ta de Lawd dey God. 17E gwine go head ob de Lawd an hab scrong sperit an powa, jes like de prophet Elijah, wa done tell God wod. E gwine mek de fada dem haat ton ta dey chullun. An e gwine mek de people dat ain do wa God wahn, memba God an ondastan wa right fa do. E gwine mek de Lawd people ready fa de time wen de Lawd gwine come.”

18Zechariah aks de angel say, “How A spose fa know wa ya say gwine happen? A done ole, an me wife, e ole too.”

19De angel ansa um, “A Gabriel. A da stanop fo God, da saab um. E sen me fa come tell ya dis good nyews. 20Bot listen yah! Dis ting wa A done tell ya, dat how e gwine be wen de right time come. Bot cause ya ain bleebe me, ya ain gwine be able fa taak. Ya ain gwine crack ya teet til all wa A tell ya done happen.”

21All dat time dey, de people outside beena wait fa Zechariah. Dey wonda hoccome e stay so long eenside God House. 22Wen e come out, e ain been able fa taak ta de people, so dey figga fa true e been hab wision eenside God House. E jes beena mek sign wid e han, an e ain able fa say nottin.

23Wen e time been op fa wok een God House, Zechariah gone home. 24Atta wile, e wife Lizzybet been speckin. An Lizzybet hide eenside e house fibe mont. 25E say, “De Lawd been good ta me fa true an bless me fa be wid chile. Now e done tek way me shame so dat people ain gwine look down pon me no mo!”

De Angel Tell Mary E Gwine Hab Son

26Wen Lizzybet been speckin, een e six mont God sen e angel Gabriel ta Nazareth, a town een Galilee. 27God sen um ta one nyoung ooman name Mary. E ain know nottin bout no man yet, bot e been gage fa marry a man name Joseph, wa been one ob King David kin people. 28Dat angel come ta Mary say, “How ya da do, Mary. De Lawd done bless ya fa true! E da trabel longside ya!”

29Wen Mary yeh wa de angel say, e beena trouble tommuch, an e study e head fa try fa figga wa dat mean. 30De angel tell um say, “Mus dohn be scaid, Mary, cause God heppy wid ya. 31Ya gwine be wid chile. Ya gwine hab son. Mus gim name Jedus. 32E gwine be great. Dey gwine call um de Son ob de Mos High God. An de Lawd God gwine mek um king fa rule jes like e ole people leada King David. 33Jedus gwine hab tority faeba oba de fambly ob Jacob. E gwine rule oba um faeba an eba!”

34Mary aks de angel say, “A ain neba been wid no man. So hoccome a gwine hab chile?”

35De angel ansa um, “De Holy Sperit gwine come ta ya. De High God dat great mo den all, e gwine sen e powa pon ya fa do dis. Cause ob dat, people gwine call dis chile fom God wa ya gwine hab, de God Chile, God own Son. 36Fodamo, Lizzybet, wa kin ta ya, e wid chile. Eben dough e way too ole fa hab chullun, e een e six mont. Now ebrybody tink say, Lizzybet ain able fa hab chile. Stillyet, e gwine hab son. 37Cause dey ain nottin dat God ain able fa do.”

38Mary tell um say, “A ready fa saab de Lawd. A ready fa saab um jes like ya done say.” Den de angel gone lef um.

Mary Go fa See Lizzybet

39Soon atta dat, Mary git ready. E mek hace an gone ta a town een Judea een de hill country. 40E gone ta Zechariah house, an e hail Lizzybet. 41Wen Lizzybet yeh Mary boice, e baby eenside um jomp roun. An Lizzybet been full op wid de Holy Sperit. 42E raise e boice loud, tell Mary say, “God da bless ya mo den all oda ooman, an same time e bless de chile wa ya da cyaa! 43A ain feel wody fa hab dis great ting happen ta me, dat de modda ob me Lawd come wisit me. 44Cause same time A yeh ya boice, dis chile wa A da cyaa, e jomp roun fa joy. 45Ya bless fa true, Mary, cause ya bleebe de Lawd gwine do all dat e done tell ya!”

Mary Praise de Lawd

46Mary say,
“Een me haat A da praise de Lawd.
47God wa sabe me done mek me haat glad fa true.
48E done memba me, e humble saabant!
Fom now on, all people gwine say A been bless fa true.
49Cause God wa got powa oba all ting, e done do great ting fa me.
E name holy fa sho.
50E da show mussy ta all dem wa feah um,
fom one generation ta de nex.
51E done show de great scrent een e aam.
E done scatta dem wa proud an mek um ron way.
52E done pull down de mighty king dem fom off dey shrone,
an gii tority ta de humble.
53E done gii plenty good ting ta dem wa hongry.
Bot e done sen way de rich. E ain gim nottin.
54E done hep de Israel people, wa da saab um.
E ain fagit e promise.
55E keep e wod wa e gii ta we ole people. E show mussy ta Abraham
an all e chullun faeba!”

56Mary stay dey wid Lizzybet bout shree mont. Den e gone home.

Lizzybet Hab Son John

57De time come fa Lizzybet fa go een, an e hab son. 58E neighba dem an e kin yeh say de Lawd done hab mussy pon Lizzybet. E gim chile. An all dem rejaice wid um.

59Eight day atta de chile been bon, dey come togeda fa circumcise de chile. Dey been gwine gim name Zechariah, like e fada. 60Cep e modda Lizzybet tell um say, “No! E name spose fa be John.”

61Wen Lizzybet say dat, de people tell um say, “Bot ya ain got no kin people name John!” 62So dey mek sign ta e fada Zechariah fa aks um wa e wahn de chile name fa be.

63Zechariah mek sign ta dem, aks fa sompin fa write pon. Den e write down say, “E name John.” All de people been stonish. 64Same time Zechariah boice come back, an e staat fa taak. E da praise God. 65All de neighba wa yeh Zechariah been scruck. Dey taak bout dis ting, an de nyews git roun all oba Judea een de hill country. 66An all dem wa yeh dis ting, study bout um say, “Wa dis chile yah gwine be?” Cause fa true de Lawd powa been dey pon um.

Zechariah Praise de Lawd

67Zechariah, John fada, been full op wid de Holy Sperit, an e tell God wod. E say,

68“Leh we praise de Lawd, de God ob de Israel people!
Cause e done come fa hep e people. E done set um free.
69E done sen we scrong poson wa gwine sabe we.
An dis Poson blongst ta de fambly ob David, de ole people leada wa saab God.
70God own prophet dem, dey promise fom way back.
71Dey say, ‘Dis poson gwine sabe we fom we enemy.
E gwine sabe we fom de powa ob all dem people wa hate we.’
72God hab mussy pon we, jes like e been tell we ole people.
E stillyet memba de greement wa e esef done mek wid um.
73E promise we ole people leada Abraham an mek a wow.
74E say e gwine sabe we fom we enemy dem
so we ain gwine be scaid fa saab um.
75We gwine be God own people, da waak scraight fo um
all de time we lib.
76Me chile, dey gwine call ya de prophet wa taak fa de Mos High God.
Cause ya gwine git de people dem ready
fa de time wen de Lawd gwine come.
77Ya gwine tell e people say God gwine paadon dey sin,
an dat how e gwine sabe um.
78Cause we God feel wa we feel,
an e mussyful an do we good.
E gwine mek de light ob sabation fa shine pon we
like de sun ob day clean broad.
79Dat light gwine shine pon all de people wa lib een de daak shada ob det.
E gwine hep we waak a peaceable way.”
80An wiles de chile John da grow big, e da come close ta God mo an mo. E beena lib een de wildaness til de time come fa wok mongst de Israel people.

Jedus Bon

1Een dat time, Caesar Augustus been de rula ob de Roman people. E mek a law een all de town een de wol weh e hab tority, say, “Ebrybody haffa go ta town fa count by de head an write down e name.” 2Dis been de fus time dey count by de head, jurin de time Quirinius de gobna ob Syria country. 3So den, ebrybody gone fa count by de head, ta e own town weh e ole people been bon.

4Now Joseph same fashion gone fom Nazareth town een Galilee. E trabel ta de town name Betlem een Judea, weh de ole people leada, King David, been bon. Joseph gone dey cause e blongst ta David fambly. 5E gone fa count by de head, an Mary gone long wid um. E gage fa marry um. An Mary been speckin. 6Same time wen dey been dey, time come fa Mary gone een. 7E hab boy chile, e fusbon. E wrop um op een closs wa been teah eenta scrip an lay um een a trough weh dey feed de cow an oda animal dem. Cause Mary an Joseph beena stay weh de animal sleep. Dey ain been no room fa dem eenside de bodin house.

De Shephud Dem Go fa See de Chile Jedus

8Now some shephud been dey een de fiel dat night. Dey beena stay dey, da mind dey sheep. 9Den one angel ob de Lawd appeah ta um. De night time done lightnin op jes like day clean broad. Cause ob dat, de shephud mos scaid ta det. 10Bot de angel tell um say, “Mus dohn feah! A hab good nyews wa gwine mek ebrybody rejaice. 11Cause A come fa tell oona, ‘Right now, dis day, a Sabior done bon fa oona. E Christ de Lawd. An e bon een David town!’ 12A gwine tell oona wa oona gwine see dey. Cause ob dat, oona gwine know A done tell oona de trute. Oona gwine find de chile wrop op een closs wa been teah eenta scrip, an e been leddown een a trough.”

13All ob a sudden, a heapa oda angel fom heaben been longside dat angel. Dey all da praise God, say,

14“Leh we gii glory ta God een de mos high heaben.
Leh dey be peace ta dem een de wol wa hab God fabor!”

15Den de angel lef um an gone back ta heaben. An de shephud dem say ta one noda, “Leh we go ta Betlem fa see dis ting wa happen oba dey. De Lawd esef done sen e angel fa tell we.”

16So de shephud dem mek hace an gone ta Betlem fa look. Wen dey git dey, dey find Mary an Joseph an de chile. An dat chile been leddown een a trough. 17Atta de shephud shim, dey done tell ebrybody bout de chile. Dey tell um all wa de angel done say consaanin um. 18An all de people wa de shephud dem tell been stonish. 19Mary memba all dis ting an study bout um. 20De shephud dem gone back ta dey fiel. Dey da praise God. Dey da rejaice tommuch fa all dey done see an yeh. All wa de angel done tell um, e stan jes like e say.

Dey Name de Chile Jedus

21Eight day atta de chile bon, e been time fa circumcise um. Dey name um Jedus, jes like de angel done been gim fo e modda Mary been speckin.

[End of excerpt from Luke from De Gullah Nyew Testament, copyright ©2005, SIL Institute]

If you are interested in reading more, the website www.gullahbible.com contains the entire New Testament in Gullah online.

I do not know what your reaction to the foregoing passages in Gullah might be. If you live in the north or midwest or western parts of the United States, you may find it difficult to believe that anyone talks like that. If you live in the south, however, you may have heard people talking that way. If they were speaking English, it would be considered substandard, or perhaps a dialect. But it is not English.

The goal of an organization called Wycliffe Bible Translators is to provide Christian scriptures in everyone’s “heart language,” the language of their childhood, the language of learning to say prayers and numbers. People certainly can learn other languages in which the Bible has already been translated, but the Wycliffe Bible Translators say that people seem to grasp the Bible best and hear it most clearly in their first, or heart, language.

Read this 2005 article from the Los Angeles Times to understand how some Gullah speakers feel about the Gullah Bible.

As for me, I still have mixed emotions. The part of me that used to want to laugh now wants to cry, and the part of me that used to want to cry now wants to laugh.


  1. I had never heard of the Gullah dialect before but language is for communicating with and if this unusual version of The Bible aids the process of communication then it is not only justifiable but also laudable. Although I am an ardent atheist, the spirit of this translation seems to be very much in keeping with Christ's attitude to the poor and downtrodden - they are welcomed - not excluded and the earthy Gullah language assists that welcoming.

  2. i didn read it all but it sounnds very mulch like the way i talk wayed back hir in utar

  3. I knew about Gullah, both from working in educational and from having visited the Low Country of South Carolina. I'm so glad you posted this.

  4. This was interesting. I was able to read it fairly easily once I got in to the flow of it. I guess if they are not materially changing what it says, then it will help some people understand better. Where I have a problem is where they actually change what God was saying, even if they do it in perfect English. As a side note of interest, it is very much the same as the slaves in "Gone With the Wind" are portrayed to have spoken.

  5. Rhymsie,

    This was most interesting! I don't think I've heard the name "Gullah" before. A previous commenter mentioned "Gone With the Wind" and I've seen that several times and yes, this language sounds like how the black folks talked in that movie.

    Its beautiful in it own way. I'm saying "Lizzybet" and "Betlem" and loving it!

    I didn't know it was an authentic language. I confess I thought--as related in Wikipedia info--that it was "substandard English.....a hodgepodge of mispronounced words and corrupted grammar." Thank you for setting me straight!

  6. When Luther translated the Bible into German he choose to translate it not into " University German" but butcher's German ( The German spoken in the butcher shop) It still seems like a good idea.

  7. Thanks to each of you for your comments.

    Yorkshire Pudding, I like what you said about welcoming, not excluding, the poor and downtrodden. More of us should do that.

    Putz, I think you are pulling my leg! Now, if we were talking spelling, that might be a different story!

    Ruth, thanks for the encouraging words. Did you discover Low Country barbecue when you were there?

    Rosezilla (Tracie) and Jeannelle, you're both right about Gone With The Wind!

    Dr. John, the Gullah, "butcher's" German, and Koine Greek are all languages of the common people, aren't they?