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Bible using ‘Fiji Hindi’ sparks debate

August 09, 2002

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SUVA: A furious religious and linguistic row has erupted in Fiji after a Bible was published in a Fijian version of Hindi and printed in Roman alphabet.

Advocates of formal Hindi find “Fiji Hindi” in a religious book to be unacceptable and an insult to the original language while those behind the move justify it as one necessary to convey God’s message.

Fiji Hindi is a patchwork of Hindi dialects brought here in the late 19th and early 20th century by the thousands of contract labourers imported by the British to run sugar plantations.

While Fiji Hindi is widely spoken, all functions and ceremonies are conducted in the standard or formal Hindi and schools teach formal Hindi.

But Fiji Hindi’s popularity prompted the Bible Society in the South Pacific to publish a trial edition of “Susamaachaar Aur Romiyo”, or the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew and John in Roman script and printed alongside formal Hindi.

“The idea of having a Romanized Fiji Hindi scripture has been around for quite some time”, said Bible Society general secretary Solomone Duru.

Duru said evangelists found a substantial number of young Fijian Indians were unable to read the Devnagari script of Hindi but understood better when written in a dialect in the Romanized form.

In the presence of a Bible translation expert from India, workshops were held and strong sentiments expressed over what was “good” or “holy”.

Duru said while many churches preferred formal Hindi, there was a sizeable group favouring Fiji Hindi. But the work has sparked criticism.

“I am very concerned at this new translated “Fiji Hindi” version of the scripture,” said veteran preacher Benjamin Bhagwan, 47, of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji.

The Bible Society’s Duru said Susamaachaar’s aim was to create understanding.

“Languages are just mediums to carry meanings in different contexts.

Duru said Fiji Hindi was the language of the local Indians and should be given dignity.

Around 44 per cent of Fiji’s 830,000 people are ethnic Indian, a substantial majority of them Hindu or Muslim. Around 40,000 Indians are thought to be practising Christians.—AFP