Gullah Gospel

30 December 2005

The LA Times reports on yet another folk Bible translation, somewhat in the vein of “hip hop Bibles,” but this time dated back, rather than updated to appeal to “modern youth.” The “Gullah Gospel,” or officially, “De Nyew Testament,” was a translation project undertaken by Emory Campbell, who rewrote the Bible in the language of his ancestors — slaves originally taken from West Africa who lived on the Sea Islands off South Carolina and spoke a precursor to “Black English” known as Gullah. If this genre of story tends a bit towards the feel-good and patronizing — or worse, comes across as a dumbed-down Bible in blackface — at least reporter Stephanie Simon was aware of the controversy inherent in such projects, namely the objections of some Sea Island descendents, who were embarrassed by the idea of a Gullah Bible, seeing the language as little more than “broken English.” It’s a debate which mirrors concerns about teaching Black English itself, but its reception — one visitor who bought the Bible described its language as “so innocent [and] so holy” — and the reception of other “black” Bibles might mirror something else about our culture’s attitudes towards black religiosity (that thing we end up seeing every four years or so).

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