Original Research

The transmutation of bogwera in Luke 2:21 in the 1857 English-Setswana Bible

Itumeleng D. Mothoagae
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 73, No 3 | a4523 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v73i3.4523 | © 2017 Itumeleng D. Mothoagae | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 February 2017 | Published: 30 September 2017

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Itumeleng D. Mothoagae, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa


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Abstract

In her article on ‘translating ngaka’ (diviner-healer), Musa Dube argues that in the writings of Robert Moffat and subsequently in his translation of the Bible into Setswana, the person of the ngaka, rather than being portrayed as occupying a central and positive role in Setswana culture, is relegated to a marginal position and is even depicted as evil and an imposter. The article seeks to argue that firstly, there is a fundamental connection between ngaka and bogwera in Setswana tradition. This is because ngaka performed the rite of initiation and was a central figure in the circumcision (rupa) of those undergoing the rite of imitation. Secondly, in his 1857 English–Setswana Bible Moffat alters the word bogwera in Luke 2:21. In representing and translating bogwera as circumcision in Luke 2:21 Moffat rewrites and reorders the political, economic and religious beliefs of Batswana. It is in the transmogrification of bogwera in Luke 2:21 that an act of hybridisation and creolisation takes place through the ordering of the Batswana cosmology and culture. I would further argue that not only did this marginalisation colour the perceptions of the Batswana regarding bogwera, but also that the translated text was used as a tool to disrupt, marginalise, replace, subvert and colonise the spiritual spaces of the Batswana. Furthermore, the article attempts to critically engage with the translated text from an ideological criticism within postcolonial theory, engaging with the fundamental question: why did Moffat translate and alter bogwera as circumcision rather than using the proper word which is rupa (circumcision)? Selected letters published in the newspaper Mahoko a Becwana (Words of Batswana) are quoted and discussed, as it is in these letters that we are confronted with an act of hybridisation and creolisation. The letters also point to the effects of such a translation and transmogrification as a discursive tool to reorder and to pervert the Batswana cosmology and culture. In translating and altering circumcision as bogwera Moffat performs an act of mutation of meaning. It is in this morphing of bogwera into something that is charged with negativity in order to reorder and rewrite through an exercise of transmutation that Moffat attempts to subvert and to indoctrinate, resulting in the subversion of the spiritual spaces of Batswana.

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