Last July, Burkina Faso’s Birifor speakers, an indigenous people in the south-west of the country, were delighted at the news that work to translate the Bible into their language was restarting after halting several years ago due to a lack of funding. The project, now run by the Bible Society, will deliver the very first full Bible in Birifor within seven to eight years and set up literacy classes.
The aim is to translate the Old Testament and revise the New Testament, which was published and welcomed with great enthusiasm in 1993. Birifor Christians have been waiting for the full Bible, which they say will help them to strengthen their efforts in evangelism.
Work to translate the Old Testament was initiated by the Evangelical Protestant Church of Burkina Faso.
“In partnership with an elderly missionary couple from New Zealand, the Evangelical Protestant Church first launched the Birifor Old Testament translation project in 2008,” explains project coordinator Pascal Hien. “But the finance for the project only lasted five years.”
The church then turned to other partners, including the Bible Society, in order to continue the work.
In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire
There are around 250,000 Birifor-speakers in the south-west of Burkina Faso – just under half the region’s population, including the city of Gaoua. There are many outside Burkina Faso, too, including around 125,000 in Ghana and about 4,310 in the north-east of Côte d’Ivoire.
Despite their relatively large numbers not many people know about the Birifor people, their language or their culture. The translation of the Bible into their language will help to raise their profile and the status of their language. It will also help with the development of Birifor literacy tools. Literacy levels remain low despite efforts by local governments and other organisations.
The literacy program aims to help Birifor people to read and write in their mother tongue. This will help them to make use of the New Testament, already available, and the full Bible once published.
The publication of the Birifor New Testament in 1993 led to the establishment of many literacy centres – 850 in five years – and the printing of literacy textbooks and other booklets in Birifor.
“Many dozens of people who have learned to read and write this way have acquired a copy of the Birifor New Testament, which they use every day,” notes Mr Hien.
The New Testament is also available in audio format, through the Faith Comes By Hearing program, and is used in listening groups, and also by people with visual disabilities.
Like the translation project, the literacy program ran for five years but ended after the missionary couple left and funding ran out. The partnership with the Bible Society is therefore a source of great hope for the Birifor people, who are waiting impatiently for their future Bible, due for completion in 2024 or 2025, and for the resumption of literacy classes.
By Gladys Guienguéré, Communications and Public Relations Officer, Bible Society of Burkina Faso