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Tokelauan Bible reaches milestone

New Zealand Bible Society translators celebrated a milestone this week as they checked the final verses of the world’s first Bible in Tokelauan.

Taonga News  |  15 Jul 2019  |

The world’s first Bible in Tokelauan was finalised for publication this week after more than 23 years of work by a team of translators led by head translator Ioane Teao.

Last Wednesday Ioane Teao and Bible Society Translations Director Dr Stephen Pattemore performed the final check of the final verse of the brand-new Tokelauan Bible translation.

“We’re very pleased we’ve come to this part of the project” said Ioane, who has been on board since the project’s genesis 30 years ago.

The Tokelauan Bible realises the joint effort of numerous Tokelauan churches and community groups who have contributed, many of whom Ioane and others consulted over the six years it took before the project could officially start.

Initially Ioane Teao led the project team, ready to support whoever stepped up to do the job. But to his surprise, Ioane was asked to do the work himself, and so he has spent the last 23 years of his life working on the translation.

Initially reluctant to do the job, Ioane recalls some farewell words of his father’s as he left Tokelau for New Zealand as a boy.

“…my Dad was still talking to me as the boat was moving. He was saying to me,

‘You know you are going away to school. You must remember, you’re not going for yourself. You’re not going for your family. You’re going for the people. You’re going for Tokelau. Whatever you learn, you’re going to use to benefit the people of Tokelau.’

Those were his lasting words that I keep hearing every day.”

One major hurdle to writing a Tokelauan Bible translation was that Ioane, like all Tokelauans in his generation had learned Tokelauan as an oral language. That meant that at school he and his peers were taught English grammar, but not Tokelauan grammar.

So before Ioane could approach the translation, he had to learn how to write in his mother tongue.

“I remember struggling to put a paragraph together in Tokelauan. In English, I had no problem, but it was a struggle to write in Tokelauan.” So to practise, Ioane spent hours writing short columns in Tokelauan for a local Porirua newspaper.

According to the NZ Bible Society the first ever Bible in Tokelauan will be a major benchmark not just for Tokelauan Christians, but also for the Tokelauan language.

“I think it’s going to be quite valuable for Tokelau, not only from the point of the spiritual life of the people but also for sustaining the language.” said Ioane.

“In many cultures, the Bible became the mainstay for the language. I think this book will become the foundation of the language.”

Now that the final translation is done, there is still more work ahead.

Translators will need to check through the entire Bible for language style and consistency, write a glossary and translate maps for the back of the book. Then the lengthy typesetting and publishing process will begin, which could take up to a year.

Ioane keeps praying that God will give him one more day, and he lives for the day the job is finished and he can see the Tokelauan Bible published.

The launch of the Bible in Tokelauan is scheduled to take place early in 2021.