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Translation work in Gĩkũyũ

Work in written Gĩkũyũ language owes its origin from Dr. Karl Peter who was the first European to transverse Gĩkũyũ Country in 1883. Von Hohnel who travelled with Count Teleki in 1887 also noted down half a dozen words and phrases in Gĩkũyũ. However, it is the Rev. A. W. McGregor, the first Church Mission Society missionary, who started systematic work on the language at Kabete in 1900. His Gĩkũyũ translation of John was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society and served for several years as the only available Gospel in the mission field. His English-Gĩkũyũ vocabulary was published in 1904 by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K.).

Arthur Ruffell Barlow a Church of Scotland Mission layman is the other important person in the process of translating the Gĩkũyũ Bible. “Bwana Barlow” as fondly remembered by his peers and African Christians possessed of no academic qualifications. He is said to have picked up the Gĩkũyũ language unaided by grammar or school teacher. Barlow started noting words in 1903 and his first edition of Mark’s Gospel in Gĩkũyũ was published by the National Bible Society of Scotland in 1909.

Other translation works in Gĩkũyũ included Roman Catholic work which proceeded on separate lines. Roman Catholic initial publication was a handbook of Gĩkũyũ by the Rev. Father Hemery in 1902 published by the Catholic Mission in Nairobi. The Italian Fathers at Nyeri also developed printing and a newspaper in a different script without diacritical marks.

Above all other translators it is Barlow and Rev. Harry Leakey who did the bulk of translation. By the end of February 1941 Canon Leakey had done the lion’s share of translation of the Old Testament in Gĩkũyũ. Barlow is credited with the Gĩkũyũ New Testament. Before 1907 he had actually attempted the translation of some of the Psalms as well as other odd pieces of translation for mission use. All teaching and preaching before this period was done in Swahili.

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