Atonement! What is the right word for it in Pokomo? Sacrifice? No. Reconciliation? How? I racked my hairless head, I could not figure out its meaning. I asked my colleague Vincent, he too was blank. Now what? I called a few old men who always bailed me out whenever I was hemmed in by bonds of limited language and asked them to give me an equivalent word for atonement. They too did not know! I asked myself, “Why call themselves old men, if they did not know something as simple as atonement?”
I had to change my approach. I called the same old men and asked them what happened in our culture when someone did something so hideous like killing a kinsman or committing incest? They said a particular ritual was performed to cleanse the evil and make things right between the offender and the offended, animal blood had to be spilled. I asked them what that particular ritual was called. Everybody I phoned told me it was called “Yala”.
Next, I went to my fellow translators. We brought our heads together and decided to use that word as we waited for the reviewers to give us their views since this is a Key Biblical Term. When they came to review I Chronicles, they agreed that “yala” was the right word for atonement, only that the term was expressed in the verb form “kuyala”. What a mine of cultural wisdom!
by Shadrack Falama, Pokomo project leader