Old Testament Essays (Aug 2018)

Translation for and in Performance: Fusion of Horizons of Hebrew psalmist and Zulu Translator-Performer in the Zulu “Performance Arena”

  • June F. Dickie

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 31, no. 2
pp. 399 – 422


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This empirical study explores whether indigenous Zulu praise-poetry can inform the translation of biblical praise-psalms. Zulu youth (“poetry fans”) were invited to learn about Hebrew and Zulu poetics as well as the process of Bible translation. Then they made their own translations and performances of biblical praise-psalms, following the Literary-rhetorical approach of Ernst Wendland. The results show a strong Zulu imprint from the source to the receptor text, although the original message is retained along with some of the poetic features. The literary and rhetorical power of the Hebrew is transformed into images and thought patterns that come alive to the Zulu mind while still being acceptable (to them) in terms of biblical accuracy. The performances of the translated texts (using rap, song, or spoken poetry) utilise prosody to deliver the message, thus requiring some adjustment to the texts. The audience enters into the experience, impacting the performers. Thus, there are four “voices” apparent: those of the original author, the Zulu translator, the Zulu performer, and the audience. A rich texture of cultural beauty emerges as the Hebrew and Zulu horizons merge in a panorama of literary beauty and rhetorical power.