By Frederick Noronha

An ambitious translation of the Bible into Konkani has recently been completed by a former Goa University professor, who says this has been the work he is most satisfied with till date.

Dr William R. da Silva is currently in Bremen-Germany, but teaches at the University of Osnabrueck, some 120 kilometres away. His future plans include possibly returning to India or Arabia for further research and publishing.

"Publishing here is easy but costly," says he, of Germany. He recently translated and published the Bible in Konkani, using the Kannada script, which is widely used among Konkani speakers of Karnataka. "The work lasted a good thirty years of freetime away from teaching and research and, boasting apart,that is my best
work from many points of view," says he.

Da Silva says the approach used was a new one to target language translation from dead languages of the world of religion - Greek, Hebrew, Syro-Palestine or Aramaic, Latin, and many European languages. Secondly, this translation is also women-friendly. It tries to bring out in translation the active woman rather than
the voiceless and invisible woman of other translations.

"Further it is in the Konkani of the people of Kanara, not (the artificial language influenced by) padri and brahmana, mulla and ayatolla. It is also very idiomatic and with a new/old vocabulary as revival and reuse in new contexts with many many neologisms which are created within the genius of Konkani, not made heavy
with tatsams or Sanskrit as the Bamons of Goa and Padri of Mangalore do," says he.

In his translation, the Bible has poetry where poetry is found in the original, for example the Song of Songs, Psalms, Prophets.

But is this Bible really different from others in Konkani?

Strange but true, there is currently no comprehensive Konkani Bible as such, argues Da Silva. In none of the main three scripts used within and outside Goa -- Roman, Devanagari or Kannada.

There is a New Testament in the Roman script, dating back to 1975 and prepared by the archdiocese of Goa. But a revision of this is overdue. It was prepared in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, which restored to Catholics the use of the Bible in liturgy and life.

After that, Goa does not seem to have done much work on the Bible. That's perhaps because professors of scripture studies from Rachol and elsewhere are busy with teaching. "They have produced a Lectionary of Bible readings for Church use, again, with very uneven result putting together the translations of many
different people together without much regard for the original Hebrew or Greek languages in which the Bible is written," says Da Silva.

Recently, in 1997, efforts began to publish a few pages of a new translation of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, in Fr. Freddy da Costa's Konkani monthly 'Gulab'.

"There's nothing more, as far as I know. The attempt of the Bible Society of India of Bangalore to arrive at a common Konkani Bible for the whole region is not taken up in Goa, nor elsewhere," says Da Silva. It is learnt that the Goa Jesuits worked on getting the New Testament done in the Devanagari script. Goa has also
published in Roman script the book of 150 Psalms.

Da Silva's own New Testament, worked on in 1977, was published in Kannada script by the Bible Society of India, Bangalore. It was then called "Jezu Kristachi Bori Khobor" (The Good News of Christ), and was awarded the John Hand Memorial Prize for the best translation of the Bible in India in 1978. It was reprinted
many times, and sold under the new name, "Mogacho Sondesh" (Message of Love).

Earlier too, Mangalore too had commissioned priests to prepare a similar work. They did some work on working the Lectionary of Goa into Kannada script and recently, in 1996-97, published the first five Old Testament books.

They converted Goa's Psalms into the Kannada script with some local variation. Some work is also going on, but it is being done from an English translation of the Jerusalem Bible originally published in French and re-issued.

Da Silva says he considers this his best work till date for a variety of reasons. "First, it filled a long-felt gap for
Christians in India who use the Konkani language. Further, the Bible is one of the most important sacred literature of the world together with other such literature such as the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Lingayat, Zarathustra, Tao, Shinto and other writings. These writings are a world heritage of religious origin and have inspired millions of people down the ages. They need to be made available in all languages."

This translation, feels Da Silva, does not make distinctions on grounds of "confession and creed". Translations have been done from original Hebrew and Greek, with the help of other European
and Indian languages. "This is also important. By giving all books of the Bible, anyone can use them as required," says he.

Into it has gone his extensive work on the sociology and ethnology of Palestine and corresponding work on Konkani language of every region of Konkani speaking people, and their culture. Likewise, he has incorporated points of view of feminist studies.

Says he: "I have done extensive studies on theories of translation and with the best of scholarship available in the last 30 years I have produced this text. It is, on one side, literary and, on the other side, people's language. Men and women who have fourth or fifth class education can understand the Bible in the simple language introduced."

And this has helped. When the Song of Solomon was given to a Christian and a Hindu girl to be transliterated into Roman and Devanagari script in Goa, they found the language almost wholly comprehensible, says Da Silva. (Because of the geographical divides among Konkani speakers, and the varied influences on
different regions, often those from one region might have some difficulty to follow the spoken or written language of another.)

Says Da Silva: "I read out parts of the Old Testament translation to the Jesuit provincial in Goa and he could grasp it without problem. I used it to address people in Arabia, Christians of Goan and Mangalorean origin, and they too got the meaning of it."

Da Silva, a priest himself, thinks it unfortunate that the Bible has been "controlled" by the clergy as far as the Catholic Church goes. "Until twenty five years ago they controlled it by not translating it. In English too there was a Douay and Knox translation available until the 1960s. Catholics were earlier not encouraged to read the New Testament and the were prohibited to read the Old Testament. Even students of theology had to be
careful about these readings. It was a closed book," says he.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) changed this situation and made translation obligatory, as with Protestants . Reading was encouraged. Other Indian languages have generally one Bible translation each often done with the initiative of the Bible Society of India.

In Da Silva's case, he says he has not fought shy to work even with Protestants. Researching for this work also meant learning the original languages, including Hebrew and Greek. Da Silva's recent project in Konkani -- to prepare a dictionary of Konkani languages or dialects, begun in 1988 -- gave him a rich vocabulary from all Konkani regions and their usages.

He also referred to Marathi and Hindi translations of the Bible and the ecumenical translation in Kannada language in order to compare how they had done their work.

Visits to Palestine and other places hinted at in the Bible helped. He acknowledges help from some of the best scholars of scripture in Germany and in India, including late Dr. George Soares-Prabhu from Jnanadeepa Vidyapeeth. "He encouraged me immensely in my work because he worked on the Bible himself teaching it in the Indian context," says Da Silva.

Contact notes: Dr William Robert Da Silva
Wilhelm Raabe Str. 4
28201 Bremen, Germany.