requiem

I have just learned that we have lost another giant.  The great John S. Mbiti of Kenya, professor and theologian and philosopher and mentor, passed from this life a couple of weeks ago, 6 October 2019, a bit before what would have been his 88th birthday.

If you are interested in —
.        • African culture or religion or philosophy,
.        • Christian theology,
.        • hermeneutics, or
.        • African Christianity —
then you should read his works. His monographs African Religions and Philosophy (1969) and Concepts of God in Africa (1970) were seminal and remain classics.

I can’t claim to have known him personally, but I was honored to meet him a few times, to have heard him lecture a couple of times, and to have had one delightful one-on-one conversation with him. He was a gentleman and a scholar … and a true Christian.

Professor John S. Mbiti and friendsThis picture was taken at a Centre for World Christianity event in Nairobi in March 2018. Those pictured include Professors Mark Shaw, Jesse N. K. Mugambi, John S. Mbiti, Andrew F. Walls, with Dr Ingrid Reneau Walls & Dr Kyama Mugambi.

Some of you haven’t heard of John Samuel Mbiti before.  For an excellent though short introduction to Prof. Mbiti’s work, see Francis Anekwe Oborji, “John S. Mbiti – Father of African Christian Theology: .A Tribute,” Journal of African Christian Biography 4/4 (October 2019): .3-14.
 
The issue is available online at the Dictionary of African Christian Biography here
(There are also booklet formats for printing available, in either A4 or 8.5×11.)
.

Professor John S. Mbiti, may your memory be eternal until you rise again to meet our Lord.

Lenana’s Oreteti

Lenana was a well-known Laibon (oloiboni, “ritual expert”) of the Maasai, b. sometime between 1860 and 1870 (he was circumcised in 1882, perhaps at the age of nineteen? … traditionally, Maasai did not keep track of their birthdates, but only of when they were circumcized) and dying in 1911.  The name Lenana means “of the gentleness.”  An important Maasai leader during the colonialization of East Africa by Great Britain, he is better known among the Maasai themselves by the other form of his name, Olonana (“he of gentleness”).

Lenana is a fairly common Maasai boy’s name. I’ve not heard (though I don’t know everything) of anyone else named Ololana, though.

The term, as an adjective, is a term of endearment —
Li alashe lai lenana is “O my brother of tenderness
Lo ltau lai lelana is “O my heart of tenderness, the dynamic equivalent of “Sweetheart in English.  I (Joshua) often address Ruth with the short form, lo ltau lai (O my heart!).

I probably hear the adjective more often than the name.  For “sweetheart” more literally, you could say oltau lemelok (or lo ltau lemelok in the vocative).

The feminine equivalent of lenana (pronounced, by the way, like LAY-NAH-NAH, for English-speakers) is nanana.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard it, though.  Namelok ([feminine thing or person] which-is-sweet) is more common as an adjective for females.

It is said that upon his death, Olonana’s corpse was secretly moved from his homestead (enkang) in Kiserian to this site, where his body was accorded the rare privilege of burial, marked by planting an oreteti sapling. (Historically, corpses were laid out on the ground and hyenas come to eat the body at night.  Burial is a rare salutatory honor in traditional Maa culture.) The oreteti is a sacred tree of ceremonial significance in Maasai culture. Oreteti trees are places of sanctuary and holiness.

Oreteti refers to fig trees:  ficus natalensis, ficus sycomorus, ficus gnaphalocarpa, ficus mucosa.  It is one of four types of trees considered sacred or holy by the Maasai.  Note the smooth green leaves (even in the dry season), and also that there are no thorns.

Lenana’s Oreteti:
(click pictures for a larger images)

This oreteti tree is now nearly 110 years old, and is an important landmark — geographically and culturally. The Oreteti AIC (Africa Inland Church) congregation has its building a short walk down the mountain from here, taking its name from this tree.

(Photos taken on 1 October 2019.  I was meeting with Benson ole Kurraru, the pastor of Oreteti AIC.  He also oversees AIC church planting and ministerial training in the Olalaiser area of Kajiado county.)

Locusts!

The Maa word for locust is olmaati (ɔlmáatî for linguists); the plural is ilmaat (ɨlmáāt). I don’t know whether these are the same species of locusts and plagued the ancient Egyptians (and others), but they are African locusts and can thus swarm.

Today I saw more of these ILMAAT than I’ve ever seen before in one place — not quite EMUS OOLMAAT (a swarm of locusts), which is probably a good thing. These were around the famous Oreteti Tree of Lenana, near the lower peak of the Ngong Hills toward Kona Baridi, Olepolos, and Kiserian.

Enjoy the 27 second video clip:

(click on the photos to see larger images)


OLMAATI / ILMAAT can refer to a number of different species of grasshoppers/locusts, some of which are consumed by some African communities (though not by the Maasai). Don’t try to mimic John the Baptist and dip these in honey, though! — these pictures are of Green Milkweed Locusts (aka African Bush Grasshopper or phymateus viridipes for our latinophone or entomologist friends). They like to eat milkweed and various members of the nightshade family, and so are decidedly NOT good to eat.

Edit:  (5 November 2019)
What’s the difference between a grasshopper and a locust?
The difference between a locust and a grasshopper is that they’re locusts when they’re swarming, and otherwise just grasshoppers. (That’s a bit simplified, but close enough.)  Except in some parts of America, cicadas are called “locusts”.

Language is Fun

Maa (the language of the Maasai people) is delightfully reflexive.  For any of our friends who are language nerds, here’s a grammatical excursus.

Where English has simply “of“, Maa has six different prepositions.
o
e
lo
le
oo
loo
So “o” indicates that what follows is grammatically masculine, “e” indicates that what follows is grammatically feminine, “oo” indicates that what follows is plural (without reference to grammatical gender), the prefix “L” indicates that what precedes is grammatically masculine, and the absence of the prefix “L” indicates that what precedes is grammatically feminine.

Are you confused yet?

Here are a few examples.
entito (daughter, girl) and enkitok (women, wives) are, naturally, grammatically feminine. (The plural forms are, respectively, intoyie and inkituaak.)  Note that the initial vowels will be dropped when following one of the prepositions for “of.” Thus
entito e nkitok (the daughter of the woman)
intoyie e nkitok (the daughters of the woman)
entito oo nkituaak (the girl of the women)
intoyie oo nkituaak (the daughters of the women).

olayioni (boy, son) and olpayian (man, elder, husband) are, of course, grammatically masculine. (The plural forms are, respectively, ilayiok and ilpayiani.)  Thus
olayioni lo lpayian (the son of the man)
ilayiok lo lpayian (the sons of the man)
olayioni loo lpayiani (the boy of the men)
ilayiok loo lpayiani (the sons of the men)
entito o lpayian (the daughter of the man)
intoyie o lpayian (the daughters of the man)
intoyie oo lpayiani (the girls of the men)
olayioni le nkitok (the son of the woman)
ilayiok le nkitok (the sons of the woman)
olayioni loo nkituaak (the boy of the women)
ilayiok loo nkituaak (the sons of the women)

It’s actually quite logical and therefore simpler than you may think.

But here’s something that threw me for a loop back in 2007 when we were just learning.

Followers of Jesus” is ilasujak le Yesu. “Followers of the Lord” is ilasujak lo Laitoriani. Again, the “le” and “lo” are equivalent to the English preposition “of.”

To review:
LO” and “LE” —
• the -L- indicates that what precedes (in this case ilasujak / followers) is grammatically masculine (the absence of this consonant indicates that what precedes is grammatically feminine — thus “inkasujak e Yesu” is “the [female] followers of Jesus“);
• the -O- indicates that what follows (in this case Olaitoriani / the Lord; the initial -o- of the noun drops off for linguistic reasons) is grammatically masculine; and
• the -E- indicates that what follows (in this case Yesu / Jesus) is grammatically feminine.

Wait.  What?  Jesus is feminine, a woman?!

Nope, of course not.

But the Maa word for “name” — enkarna — is grammatically feminine. Thus as a class, in Maa *all personal names* are *grammatically* feminine, even though there is no confusion in the language between male and female names. (For example: Nashipai is a female name, Enchipai is the male equivalent; Lemayian is a male name, Namayian is the female counterpart.)

Both male names and female names are *grammatically* feminine.  Thus “ilasujak lo Yesu” (or for that matter, “illasujak lo Joshua“) is just grammatical nonsense.  It must be “ilasujak le Yesu” (or “le Joshua“) to be correct.  No Maasai thinks that Jesus is a female or feminine, just as I am male and masculine.

Thus while I am an olpayian, my children (inkera) could be referred to as either:
inkera o lpayian (the son of the man), OR as
inkera e Lemayian (the children of Lemayian).

(Lemayian, “the one of blessing,” is my Maasai name.)

This was a great puzzlement for me before I figured out what was going on. Because enkarna (name) happens to be grammatically feminine, all personal names are grammatically feminine, irrespective of the masculinity or femininity of the subject of the name.

Karibuni

30 June 2019

Karibuni! “Welcome back!”

We arrived back in Kenya at the end of April and began to get settled the beginning of May.  We’ve overcome some unexpected challenges in re-acquiring our vehicle (which we’ve now paid for twice) and applying for new work permits.  We’ve dived into to language learning (as we’re needing to add Swahili to our Maa and Samburu).  We’ve been delighted to host guests — some of the Hausers, our good friends who serve as missionaries in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, and the Sapps, representing our support partner Crossroads Christian Church.  We’ve also hosted a number of our Maasai friends and co-workers, working together on curriculum development and planning meetings for CCBTI and DTI. 

More than anything else, we’ve been struck by the warmth, or even intensity, of the homecoming welcome that has been extended to us these first two months of our fourth term.  To read more (and for pictures), read our June newsletter(Note that the pdf is optimized for viewing online; if you would like a higher resolution copy for printing, just ask!)

We also posted a small photo album from last month.  If you missed it, check out our May 2019 photos.

 

Francis Yenko and Joshua work on editing Joshua’s next Maa language book.

It makes the verb happy

We are always continuing to learn and study the Maa language and culture of the Maasai.  And so back in September, I was very happy to learn a new proverb — 

Ekébikóo intókitin póoki náaramát ilóopêny

It means all things which their owners carefully tend last a long time.  I was very happy to find this proverb to add to our lessons on stewardship.  Whereas typical American teaching says “that stuff you think you own?  Well, it is not really yours, it is only God’s, only God is the owner, and that is why you should take especial care of it,” we teach that ownership is what makes stewardship possible.  (Of course, each of these approaches represent part of the Biblical teaching on stewardship — in one sense everything IS God’s and we are only his stewards, but in another sense because we are God’s children, God has given us resources that we manage as our own property — just like Maasai parents give animals even to their young children.)  So when we use the proverb that says, “the cow says, don’t give me, lend me,” we can reinforce the meaning of the teaching by next reminding that the Maasai also say, “Ekébikóo intókitin póoki náaramát ilóopêny.”  (To read more on how we teach Christian stewardship, read our My Father Is Alive post.)

But with this proverb I had a question about a bit of the language I didn’t quite understand.  I knew that <ekébikóo> comes from the verb <ABIKÓO>, “to endure, to last a long time, to remain a long time, to last forever” (coming in turn from <ABIK>, “to remain, to abide, to stay”).  But Maa verbal prefixes are tricky, and I wasn’t sure what the eké- prefix was doing.  So I asked our good friend and colleague Ntinga Sam Tome, who is trilingual in Maa, kiSwahili, and English.

It makes the verb happy and brings out the meaning.

“It makes the verb happy.”  Of course it does!  But why?  We laughed together.

requiem

It is perhaps not unfitting that it was on Epiphany (6 January 2019) that the great Lamin Sanneh breathed his last in this life. In his life and scholarship the light of Christ was revealed to many. He passed on only yesterday, yet already he is 

We grieve, but we do not grieve as those without hope.

Born in The Gambia in West Africa, raised as a Muslim, after his conversion to Christ he became a preeminent Christian scholar and missiologist.  If you haven’t read his books or articles or heard him speak, you should. His books are widely available and you can still find him on youtube.  Here are two of my favorite of his quotes:

“People receive new ideas only in terms of the ideas they already have.”

“Conversion is the turning of ourselves to God, and that means all of ourselves without leaving anything thing behind or outside.  But that also means not replacing what is there with something else. Conversion is a refocusing of the mental life and its cultural/social underpinning and of our feelings, affections, and instincts, in the light of what God has done in Jesus.”

~ Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion Is Christianity?  The Gospel beyond the West (2003).

If you’re a buyer and reader of books, that text is worth acquiring.  But if you only buy or read one of his books, I recommend that you start with Translating the Message:  The Missionary Impact on Culture (1st edition, 1989; 2nd edition, revised, 2009).  Though you’ll run across a lot of books before you find anything that would surpass his Disciples of All Nations:  Pillars of World Christianity (2008).

Professor Lamin Sanneh (24 May 1942 — 6 January 6 2019), may your memory be eternal and may you rest in peace until you rise again in the Resurrection.


Update (15 January 2019):  Christianity Today has just published a collection of tributes, “Remembering Lamin Sanneh, the World’s Leading Expert on Christianity and Islam in Africa.” This article would be a great place to start to learn more about this great man.  Also … anyone interested in World Christianity should read not only Prof. Sanneh’s works, but also should listen to the voices of those who give him tribute here.

first graduation! (Ewaso Ng’iro)

On 30 November we reported the beginning of our CCBTI graduation season in Maasai Land, as the first cohort of pastors from Kajiado County celebrated completion of the CCBTI program. This past weekend saw the graduations of the smaller cohort from Narok County at CCC’s training center in Ewaso Ng’iro, on 8 December.

Join us in celebrating with Peter Otuma Nanteya, Walton Tumate Nkowua, Peter Lerionka Pion, Wilson Ntinana Kuyoni, Maina ole Salenoi, Peter Talata Parkesui, and their congregations!  Ntinga Sam Tome (on the right in the first picture) attended both graduations.