‘I grew up in a Lyélé village around 100 kms from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso ,…’ Maxime Bakiono, Ministry Resources Facilitator at United Bible Societies, speaks perfect French. It is, after all, the language that he speaks every day with his wife, who is from a different Burkina ethnic group, and his daughter. But he is aware that his roots are ‘in the village’, in the centre-west of Burkina Faso, and that his heart speaks Lyélé.
‘Lyélé is my mother tongue, the language of my heart. It’s the language I use when I talk to my mother, several times a week, to my younger brother, to my cousins, my uncles who are still in the village,’ he explains.
Songs of praise
Maxime was deeply moved by the launch of the book of Leviticus in Lyélé in 2015. This is the first complete book of the Old Testament to have been translated into this language. But this emotion did not stem just from reading God’s Word in his own language, because he already had access to the New Testament, translated by SIL. It stemmed from the celebration of the arrival of the Word in this unique context.
‘In Africa, when an important chief arrives somewhere, people sing his praises,’ Maxime continues. ‘In West Africa, it’s the job of the griot, or praise singer, to announce his arrival.’ And when the Bible is launched in a new language, it’s received with the same enthusiasm!
‘This is what struck me at the launch: the Word of God was welcomed like we welcome a very high-ranking guest! It was celebrated like we celebrate a person, because when you celebrate the Word, you celebrate God himself: Jesus, son of God, Word incarnate. The songs of praise took up the terms used to refer to the supreme being. It gave me goose bumps!’
This enthusiastic welcome brought together people from all parts of society and from all Church backgrounds. Accompanied by the traditional instrument, the binon, everybody sang and danced in praise of God.
80% of the Old Testament translated
Since the launch of the first book of the Old Testament in Lyélé, the translators have been making good progress, and now 80% of the Old Testament has been translated. Within a few years, once the New Testament has been revised, the whole Bible will be available in Maxime’s language.
The Réo region, where Lyélé is spoken, is one of the most strongly Christian parts of Burkina Faso. Along with the Samo ethnic group, it was one of the first ones to be evangelised.
‘My ethnic group is 90% Catholic, with few Muslims,’ Maxime explains. ‘Christianity has a very strong presence in our culture and has helped the culture continue to flourish through the translation of the Bible and the composition of songs. And I often hear the music of my village on television!’
Speakers of Lyélé are mainly literate, both in their mother tongue and French, and the Bible is already widely read.
Indeed, it is in the Lyélé region that the government tested – very successfully – the educational model known as ‘bridge’: children begin their education in their mother tongue, then transition into the formal system, where they learn in French. This model is now supported by UNICEF as a model for making rapid educational process in Burkina Faso.
This means that everything is ready for the arrival of the Bible in Lyélé in a few years! No doubt Maxime will be at the launch and have goose bumps again.