Sunday, September 14, 2014

1864 to 2014: The First Fijian Old Testament

150 years after its first appearance in Fiji, the original translation of the Fijian Old Testament was republished at the 2014 Methodist Conference.
The genesis of this project began following the republication of John Hunt's 1847 translation of the New Testament, which was launched on Viwa on the 200th anniversary of Hunt's birth - June 13 2012.
At the Conference that year, Rev Dr Tuikilakila Waqairatu was elected President. He was an Old Testament scholar and became very interested in some excerpts of David Hazlewood's Fijian Old Testament which I passed on to him at the beginning of 2013. An existing copy of the 1864 Bible had gone missing while on transferral from the Fiji Museum to the National Archives. (Let us hope that it will be found eventually; it belonged to Sir Allport Barker, a former colonial official who bequeathed his considerable personal library to the Fiji during its days as a colony.)I managed to track down a clean copy of Hazlewood's translation in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.
It is not the occasion to go into the considerable history behind the writing of this remarkable piece of Fijian literature. Suffice to say that Hazlewood's manuscript, completed in NSW a few months before his death in 1855, was picked up by James Calvert, en route to England for leave. There the manuscript was "revised" by Calvert, Joseph Waterhouse (also on leave) and a Bible Society editor named Mellor. It appears, thankfully, that they did not make extensive changes to Hazlewood's script (that was done 40 years later by Frederick Langham). So it was that in 1864, the Bible Society printed and published Hazlewood's translation.
Like Hunt's translation, that of Hazlewood did not survive the passage of time, which has been the reason for the republication of the two foundational Fijian Scriptures.
My gratitude is due to President Waqairatu for supporting this OT project which was way beyond my capacity to finance. A digital copy of the book was sent to China - Nanking, where 80% of the world's bibles are printed - and right on cue the finished result arrived in Fiji one week before Conference was due to meet at the end of August. The Chinese did a fantastic job - hard cover, sewn binding, B5 size with a clear copy of the original. Interim President Ratabacaca launched the Old Testament and sales were hot through Conference week.
I am not a Fijian linguist but my good friend Talatala Peni Cabenalevu tells me that there is something very special about this first translation. Like Hunt, Hazlewood had a good grasp of idiomatic Fijian (and add to that everyday Fijian as well). So the prose of this 1864 edition is probably easier to understand than Langham's "standard" Fijian Bible which was written with chiefly language coming out of Langham's 30 years residence on Bau.
And here are the words of Fijian scholar in Sydney to whom I gave a copy of the book. This is what she said:
"I have read some of the psalms and looked a little at ecclesiastes this morning. You are very right in pointing out the difference in language. Hazlewood's translation is more organic to the nature and perhaps theology of Fiji. I myself am not particularly fluent in my language, but I see the spirit of the words which he uses to express or name things in the Fijian vernacular. I find it to be a good representation of the poetical fluidity of Fijian expression".
In summary, as I told the Methodist Conference, Fijian now have access to three contrasting translations of the Bible: firstly the foundational texts of Hazlewood and Hunt which will forever(because of their faithfulness to the original languages) form the reference point for later revisions and translations; secondly the Langham revision of 1901, which became standard because there were no other versions for 80 years and thirdly the very recent Bible Society translation which I mentioned in an earlier blog and which tries to do what the Good New Bible did for English.
Now we await the scholarly study of the various forms of Fijian language and idiom used in these three translations, stretching across more than 160 years.

Top: An open Hazlewood republished Old Testament. Below: The Hazlewood and Hunt republished Scriptures.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fijian New Version: Bible Society Translation Published

It is late May 2013 and I have just returned from a two week visit to Fiji. Readers of this blog will have been following my interest in Bible translation. The original Fijian New Testament, translated by John Hunt, was released last year to commemmorate the bicentenary of his birth. Now the Methodist Church in Fiji has agreed to republish the original Old Testament translation, completed in 1853 by David Hazlewood and published by the Bible Society in 1864. 150 years after this date, in August 2014 (and with all planning proceeding as hoped), the Hazlewood Old Testament will be relaunched.
Meanwhile, to the Bible Society's great credit (and under the leadership of Rev. Solomoni Duru), the Fijian New Version[FNV] has been released. This is a translation which the Bible Society have been working on since the 1970s. It is a beautifully produced volume, printed in China on the thin paper well known to bible-users. The soft leather-look cover makes this a very appealing Bible and there are two colours - brown and blue. Somehow the Bible Society has managed to keep the cost very reasonable - F$35.00; it is doubtful that this price will be maintained for very long. An initial print run of 2,000 copies has almost sold out and a second printing is due towards the end of the year. Readers may purchase it at either the Methodist Bookshop or the Bible Society Bookshop in Nabua.
The language and expression are different from the existing Methodist Bible; one would expect that. Some talatalas I have spoken too are not sure about the new wording but all are prepared to work with the new Bible and place it alongside their other treasured versions. From my point of view, I am happy about two things: firstly that the FNV retains the word "kalougata" despite the saturation of the Ah Koy Bible (SDA) throughout the country due to its free distribution. With the FNV being used ecumenically (by Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and other denominational groups), the Ah Koy Bible will lose any currency that it had, since the numbers of Bible Society copies will continue to grow. Secondly, in one very important case, the FNV has corrected a huge distortion. In Luke 1:15, the word "yaqona" has been struck out and replaced, quite correctly,
by "gunu kaukauwa". This refers to the inappropriate insertion of "yaqona" by James Calvert when he was revising the Hunt translation. Hunt. like the FNV, was more faithful to the Greek and had used the word "mateni" in Verse 15. This was also correct. But Calvert was quite mischievous in replacing "mateni" with  "yaqona". That has led to many improper uses of this verse, including to disparage a beverage central to Fijian culture and generally used in a moderate fashion.
So I trust that the Methodists will fully endorse the New Fijian Version and encourage its use in churches as the years go by. My deep wish is that all Methodist talatalas, lay preachers and scholars of the Bible (of which there are many around Fiji) will soon come to have at their side the original translations of the Scriptures (those of Hunt and Hazlewood), a copy of the later revised Methodist Bible (to which many will inevitably remain loyal) and the Bible Society's Fijian New Version which is the product of the work of many Fijian scholars down the years.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fijian Biblical Manuscripts

One of my major interests over the past years has been the study of the original translations of the Bible in Fijian. In June 2012, working with Tauga Vulaono, Save Nacanaitaba and a committed group of Fijian commentators, we republished John Hunt's first translation of the New Testament, completed on Viwa in 1847. This was produced in time for the 200th commemmoration of the birth of John Hunt. While in Fiji for the occasion, I delivered a seminar at USP where I pointed out the inadequacies of the various revisions of Hunt's translations, noting particularly the considerable efforts of James Calvert, which I argued have not improved upon the initial work of the very first translation.
Work still needs to be done on a close comparison of Hunt's original translation with the later revisions. At least now we have ample copies of the 1847 New Testament in circulation, thanks largely to the ongoing commitment of Vulaono and Nacanaitaba to this project. The Methodist Church has yet to fully endorse the use of the 1847 translation but I am sure this will come with the passing of time. (At the same time I would be the first to support a modern Fijian translation of the New Testament, especially in the light of the woeful New Fijian translation [NFT] produced by Jim Ah Koy. This, it must be noted, was done by people unacquainted with Greek and - at Ah Koy's bidding -  with disrespect to the inner beauty and subtlety of the Fijian language).
My attention is now directed to the Fijian Old Testament. The missionary responsible for this was David Hazlewood, a Hebrew scholar. Three of the Old Testament books were published on Viwa in 1850 - Genesis, Exodus and Psalms. The Mitchell Library in Sydney holds copies of those. Hazlewood completed his work in NSW and died shortly after. His manuscript was taken to England by James Calvert and prepared for publication by the Bible Society. James Calvert, by his own admission, had no knowledge of the scriptural languages. He was assisted by a Bible Society scholar and together they worked on the Hazlewood manuscript, the first Fijian Old Testament being published in 1864.
Cambridge University Library
 On a recent trip to England, I visited the Bible Society archives in the Cambridge University Archives. I was looking for the original Hazlewood manuscript brought to England by Calvert. Much to my dismay I learnt that the Bible Society has lost hundreds of files, many holding original manuscripts, dated between 1857 and 1900. It is very possible that the complete Hazlewood translation may never be located.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Next Generation of Fiji Methodist Historians

It was a delight while in Fiji recently to find the state of Fiji's Methodist history scholarship in good condition. It was not so long ago that we tragically lost Dr Tevita Baleiwaqa when he was approaching the culmination of many years of fruitful research in his role as History Lecturer at Davuilevu. Now the succession is well under way. The recently retired Head of History at Davuilevu, Rev. Jolame Lasawa (also Deputy Principal at Davuilevu), has now commenced doctoral studies at USP - his topic being the History of Fiji Methodist Church since its independence in 1964.
The new Head of History is Rev. Peni Cabenalevu (pictured at Viwa), recently graduated with a Masters in Theology from Pacific Theological College. Peni's thesis topic was a study of Ratu Ravisa (Varani) and the influence of the island of Viwa on Fiji's political and religious scene from 1848-1855. Peni is also a very  knowledgeable student of his native language.  Teaching alongside Peni is Rev. Ilimeleki Susu - from the western side of Viti Levu (Sabeto). Susu's B.D. thesis on Fijian dissenters from the west (people such as Navosavakadua and Apolosi) covered a lot of new ground with an excellent component of oral history. His Master's thesis was on Methodist Theological Education (PTC) up to 1972.
Completing a talented young quartet is Ms Kirstie Barry, Australian born and with impeccable missionary connections (both Waterhouses and Leleans). Kirstie has become fascinated with the life and work of her great grand Uncle, Arthur Lelean, who served as a missionary in Ra and Ba from 1918 to the end of the 1930s. While obviously influenced by her Christian upbringing, Kirstie brings to bear on her topic a sharp intellectual mind and her writings (currently nearing the end of doctoral study)  will add a fresh and deep dimension to our understanding of Fiji Methodist History.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Celebrations on Viwa, 13 June 2012

I have just returned from a 7 week stay in Fiji, during which time I attended the celebrations on Viwa for the 200th birthday of John Hunt (born in Lincolnshire 13 June 1812). There were many memorable moments on that day at Viwa, not least the weather which was true to the wet side of the island - rain all day. The locals brushed it off, describing it as an important history lesson in showing what the missionaries had to put up with. The Viwa people were perfect hosts, taking the visitors into their homes for morning tea before delivering them to shelters for the official welcome to Ratu Epenisa, a direct descendant of Seru Cakobau. Also there were chiefs from the major confederations as well as Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi. The church's top executive were in attendance and the whole occasion was hosted by Rev. Peni Cabenalevu, a talatala from Viwa itself.
Highlights of the day included singing from the Centenary Choir, the cutting of a cake to honour the birthday of John Hunt and the unveiling of a plaque commemmorating the ministry of Hunt and his wife Hannah on the island of Viwa from 1842-8. Central to the day was the launch of John Hunt's original translation of the Fijian New Testament, printed by the missionary printer, Rev. Thomas Jaggar, on the island of Viwa in 1847. Hunt was assisted in this translation project by a number of first generation itaukei converts, including the man described by Hunt as Fiji's first theologian, Noa Koroinavugona.

It is heartening to report that the republication of this New Testament has captured the imagination and appreciation of the Church, the talatalas and the people. The New Testament is selling well, not least because of the hard work of Tauga Vulaono and her husband, Save Nacanaitaba. They have jointly financed the first print run of the New Testament and have marketed it through the media. Requests for the New Testament have come from beyond Suva and Tauga and Save will be responding to these requests so that the New Testament gradually becomes known around the islands.

In Suva copies are available from the Methodist Bookshop and the shop will accept orders as well for multiple copies.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 - A Critical Year for the Methodist Church

The photo that accompanies this entry - taken a number of years ago - is of the current Assistant General Secretary of the Methodist Church,Rev. Tevita Baninavua(left) and standing next to him is Rev Dr Tevita Baleiwaqa, formerly - until his untimely death - Church History Lecturer at Davuilevu Methodist Theological College. They are standing outside the Baker Hall at Davuilevu. Tevita Banivanua, along with his Executive colleagues, faces a particular challenge this year. The last Methodist Conference was in 2008 and since then the government has banned the annual meeting. This year, as part of the government's preparation for a new constitution, the authorities have said that the Methodist Conference may go ahead. This will very likely see the elevation of Tevita Banivanua to the position of General Secretary and the election of Rev Tuikilakila Waqairatu as President. The latter is currently among a group of ministers held captive to the vagaries of Fijian law for allegedly holding a church meeting without the requisite police permit. In the light of the regime's recent decision to abolish the Great Council of Chiefs, the Church is under increasing pressure in its determination to maintain as far as possible a point of view separate from that of the government. The Church must reassert its right to hold meetings essential to the proper functioning of all church organisations and which have no direct political implication.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A memorable Qase Levu: Rev. A.J.Small

These are photos of the grave of Rev. Arthur J. Small, who was the longest serving Australian Methodist missionary in Fiji. He started at Bua in 1879 and served in many areas before becoming Qase Levu in 1900. He oversaw the shift of the mission HQ from Bau to Suva in 1903. He was the first missionary to live at the Pender St. property and his home stood for almost 100 years. The printing press was housed in the original wooden building next to the Butt St. Methodist Church. The Qase Levu was a man of gentle temperament with great wisdom and concern for all people. Small died in 1924 and his funeral stopped the nation. People lined the road from Davuilevu (where the funeral service was held) to the Suva cemetery.