Hymns Translated by Berlin Missionaries in Southern Tanzania: Some Eschatological Implications of Translation

Falres Ipyana Ilomo


Congregational hymn-singing is an important part of all Protestant worship services. Luther himself famously co-opted popular drinking songs, turning them into cherished hymns.  When the Berlin Missionaries came to Kingaland in Southern Tanzania in 1895, they brought with them a rich heritage of German hymnody. They also encountered a love of songs in the Kinga people. This meant that the missionaries could hope that translated hymns might help new Christians remember the doctrinal points the missionaries were trying to teach.  However, translation is always fraught with danger.  Words have not only denotation but connotation.  It is often hard for new language learners to catch the latter.  In addition, the Berlin missionaries were predisposed to regard Kinga traditional and customary beliefs and practices as “pagan.”  Therefore, both translation and contextualization difficulties were present when the Berlin missionaries worked to provide hymns to their new converts.This work focuses on that endeavor and looks closely at four hymns that were failures, specifically from the standpoint of transmitting certain eschatological ideas to the Kinga.   The research not only explains the semantic problems; it returns to a consideration of the lives and work of the original German composers in order to understand the eschatological message they were trying to deliver to their original 17thC German audience.By article's end, the reader should understand the role hymns in general and specific hymns played in Germany and later in the Kinga area.  Based on specific examples of problems, the reader should be able to rehearse what kinds of problems might occur with translation. The reader should also be able to discuss the additional problem of how to do doctrinally orthodox contextualization when hymns, which have a history of their own, are utilized for a new context. Methodology applied for collecting data of this work is library based research.

Keywords: Berlin Missionaries, pagan, eschatology, doctrinally orthodox contextualization

DOI: 10.7176/JRDM/80-04

Publication date: November 30th 2021

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