The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
31st of July, 2014

To the BSU

This a contiguous excerpt from a letter I just sent in reply to an official of the Bible Society of Uganda (of which I am a paying member).
Like I told you last time, I am working on a translation from Greek sources into Luganda (with a different orthography, in fact), with the primary goal of having it in the public domain, free for copying, distribution, and so on. It cannot be the same as the one you guys have, because not only is yours proprietary, but it is also not from the Septuagint, which my translation privileges over the Masoretic Text. The current Luganda Bible has not changed significantly (either in sources, criticism, or linguistic style) since my grandfather started working on it with the Missionaries. I (still) find it more-useful for the sake of others than for myself and those to whom I could provide the result of my translation.

 The board records that we engage our lawyers to approach whoever does not respect the laws of the land regarding copyrights. So we shall appreciate if you let us know the website that you said you saw that has our Luganda Bible product that appears to be scanned. We need to know who has what and for what purposes and if its genuine why not approach the copyright holders!

That website is here:
But I have already researched these people, and I am fairly certain that you will not be able to take that one down. For starters, they are in a tricky jurisdiction: Macau, China. You know how China is, regarding these overseas territories, like Hong Kong and Macau. Now, Macau is primarily-Christian, but next to countries in the East that oppress Christians (China, North Korea, Vietnam …). Those Christians will not understand, leave alone respect, an order to make the Bible more-scarce. They give their lives to spread it, as an every-day reality, and how then are they going to understand you when you tell them to delete the only Luganda Bible on the Internet? They are aware that they needed to make a Luganda copy available, precisely because it was not available before. Their about-page makes it very clear that they actually expect such a challenge, and expect to challenge it back.

We are in the process of providing a correct Luganda Bible that is electronic on formats that can fit all media in the proper way. We are working on it but we need to make sure that it is not abused. It would be absurd for someone to come from wherever  to claim our hard earned products for personal gains in the name of ministry. You give what belongs to you not what belongs to your neighbour.

What BSU can still claim, and the only thing here that BSU can claim as “our hard-earned products”, is the other formats which that website neither has, nor can get from elsewhere. You know that no Bible fashioned simply out the data that they have made available there will ever have proper formatting, unless it has been put in manually (which then becomes the work of the one who has put it there). BSU has USFM files, properly formatted, and which can be turned into a book (rather than just a basic application). That one you should hold on to, and even market. It has real value, because nobody can make a generally-marketable print with just such simple text data, and without good formatting information. Moreover, it is not easy to create. On that, BSU can be assured of lasting leverage.

The Luganda Bibles we have now were all translated from one fount, which was based exclusively on English sources, and hence the 1:1 correspondence with the KJV in Luganda, even when it damages the sense. The people who did the translation at the time were not really scholars or even pastors. Their work is what BSU bases on, just as do these people in Macau. Alas, even BSU cannot claim the rights to the Luganda Bible, especially if it has been scanned (and particularly if it has been corrected). They know this, these people in Macau, and they are also aware that BSU cannot prove, leave alone legitimately assert, ownership of the text. This is the caveat in all such conservative versions as the Luganda 1968 one: the fact that they are conservative, rather than creative, makes them particularly hard to claim in any meaningful sense. After all, every Bible claims to be a 1:1 copy with absolutely no creative material, and the good ones actually are. Everybody living is more of a beneficiary and a reader, than a contributor and translator.

Besides that, I am personally aware that this copy of the Bible—except for things which are mostly scanning errors—is identical to the earliest translations that were done from the KJV starting with McKay and Kaggwa. For those, like me, who were concerned about BSU, this is a relief, because that version of the Luganda Bible is actually out of copyright, and is free for any use. Even better, now it is out there as a reasonably-correct scan, eternally archived on the Internet. I even took off a copy, processed it into Zefania XML format (attached), and used it in a small application I created in the last week:

That is a place I have put a copy of this Bible online, next to the KJV21, in “diapla” format. It is actually a work in progress, and I control that server.
You can compare there, and see not just that it is simply the work of Tyndale in Luganda, but also where Tyndale misled the Luganda (or could not have been understood correctly absent any guidance from the Greek).

And, no, I am not taking that copy down. No, not ever. It is going to remain available for as long as I can make it available. If this gets BSU to wake up to the reality of digital—be it with lawyers or with keyboards—very good.
It is there to stay, against the force of a thousand navies (leave alone puny lawyers who have never bled a rabbit).
The oracles of the Lord are pure oracles; as silver tried in the fire, proved in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. You, O Lord, shall keep us, and shall preserve us, from this generation, and forever.
Psalms 12 (LXX)
I had some ideas of how BSU could use a digital version, beyond this packaging for apps. A “Donate” button, for instance, goes much further on the Internet than any number of annual general meetings will ever manage. I was actually about to write you, Peter, to ask about if you have a PayPal account to which I was to link a Donate button on to aid the translation of the Bible to other Ugandan languages, and to facilitate a modern, de novo translation into modern Luganda from the Greek sources, as has been done for all other language spoken by educated and civilised Christians. (As it stands now, however, I realise that this would cause more heat than light, so I am backing off entirely, keeping the application for just such things as I deem interesting. But I am never ever taking it down, for whatever reason under Heaven; of that you can be assured right now. I am going to improve on the application and extend it; adorn it in colours and typefaces; add a lectionary or two; surround it in media and increase its utility greatly. It is a work I fully intend to use to provoke to jealousy those who do not love the Word of the Lord.)

Generally, though, in my industry you don’t talk; you build and show. However, I didn’t have any Luganda Bible to test ideas with, to discuss with people. So I used the earlier Luganda one in the examples I showed you. Now I have this one, and it merely replaces the other, but it also has errors, is written in Classical Luganda which borders on incomprehensible for most honest reviewers, follows Standard Orthorgraphy very inconsistently, is based on Tyndale’s work almost 1:1, still has uncorrected errors dating back all the way to the very first versions, is of the Masoretic textual tradition, and is not good for print. For limited purposes, this will do just fine; any more-serious, and I would need a very different text in the first place. That is a text I am studying for and creating the tools for. His Grace is sufficient.