Original Research - Special Collection: Bible 200

Oral-based Bible translation: A contextualised model for the nomadic Himba people of southern Africa

Karen J. Floor
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 55, No 3 | a2752 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v55i3.2752 | © 2021 Karen J. Floor | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 March 2021 | Published: 23 September 2021

About the author(s)

Karen J. Floor, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Edenvale, Johannesburg, South Africa


Historically, the work of Bible translation has involved multiple disciplines in a commitment to translate Scripture with integrity and faithfulness to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Translating Scripture for primary oral societies has added another dimension to the need for accuracy, beauty and clarity in Scripture translation. It has been widely accepted in Western literate society that the Bible is accessed in written print in the form of a book. For oral-preference societies, such as the nomadic Himba and San peoples of southern Africa, a printed Bible has presented a challenge. Few people read or wish to read as their primary means of communication. In the case of the San family of languages, complex phonemic systems of up to 85 contrastive clicks have presented a challenge in developing ‘readable’ orthographies. This article has highlighted the rationale for oral-based Bible translation. The research aimed to address the translation needs of oral societies – some of whom are nomadic or semi-nomadic people groups. The recent missiological positioning of certain Bible translation practitioners has led to an oral-based approach to Bible translation which validates the cultural identity of modern oral communicators. Orally crafted translations of Scripture passages have been recorded and made available to oral societies through a range of media, including MP3 players, SD cards and mobile phone applications. The effectiveness of oral-based Bible translation among the Himba people has been seen in their response. What began as a three-year pilot project to explore the potential impact of oral-based Scripture among oral societies has led to a unanimous demand for a second three-year phase, and an expressed desire for a full oral-based Bible in the Himba language. The oral-based approach as described is currently used in nearly 20 other oral Bible translation, which reflects a felt need for oral-based Scripture among oral societies in southern Africa.

Contribution: Insights from the emerging practice of oral-based Bible translation in southern Africa provide valuable data for missiological approaches to communicating the gospel in the context of modern oral societies.


oral-preference communication; nomadic societies; Bible translation; missiology; southern Africa; Himba and San peoples


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