Tag Archives: Siamou

Burkina Faso: Tubabu Salesman

by Paul Thiessen

I roam through the bustling crowds of the Saturday market and listen for someone calling my name, “Bwallon Kén!”We exchange all the necessary greetings, then he says, “Ma tè” (What’s the news?) So I tell them that I’m selling Siamou calendars.

I pull out a blue calendar and explain the attractive features, especially the five days of the Siamou week, and show them how they can find which is today. They love it. This is, indeed, a Siamou calendar.

The men are making china green tea with their tiny enamel teapots and charcoal burner. The aroma of hot tea and glowing coals fills the air. They offer me some in the middle of my presentation. Very sweet. Very strong. Very delicious. 

I read them all the names of the months in Siamou: “Cold Weather Month, Hot Weather Month, Very Hot Weather Month, Pick up the Daba Month, Seeding Month….”

Next, I show them the Noah story. Each month has a short paragraph of this story. I begin to read the first two paragraphs in Siamou: Noah was a righteous man. He walked with God. But the people were evil and rebelled against God. So God told Noah to build a large boat.

By now a small crowd has gathered. Here is a Tubabu (white man) reading Siamou out loud. They have never seen such a thing before. I read extra loud to attract attention. More people are coming to listen. Siamou people are hearing a Bible story in their beloved language for the first time.

Then I tell the rest in Siamou, because reading it all would take too long there in the middle of the market. I emphasize that it rained 40 days, using the Siamou word for “forty” (kpélnkrô). This number impresses the listeners, because young people say “binani” (in Jula, the trade language) even when they are talking Siamou. Hearing the genuine Siamou word for the number 40 gets people excited. This story is being told in pure Siamou.

I tell the story pointing to the pictures on each page. Then I get to the end, where Noah is lifting up his hands toward God to thank Him for saving his family.

About halfway through the story, someone is digging in his pocket for change. He hands me 300 fcfa, and I give him a calendar. Someone else says, “The price is too high. Lower the price.” I answer: “We paid the printshop in Ouagadougou 500 fcfa for each of these. You are already getting a good deal.” Out comes 300 fcfa. They know this is a good deal.

They love hearing their language and they love the prestige it gives Siamou people and the Siamou language to hear a Tubabu reading it.

After selling a few calendars I go home and pray that God will use this story of Noah to lead people toward the Truth, toward God, and toward Eternal Life.

Paul Thiessen (Blumenort), currently living in Canada, has served in Burkina Faso, west Africa, for many years.

Burkina Faso: Puzzling Over the Meaning of the Word ‘ki’

by Paul Thiessen

BURKINA FASO–The Siamou language was not a written language when we started learning it 30 years ago. Along with the task of Bible translation came the job of linguistic analysis. We had to study the consonants and vowels in order to develop an alphabet.

The tone was even more complex. If the Siamou people were going to benefit from the written Word of God, they would have to learn to read their language. In order to read fluently, with good comprehension, the writing system would need to be well done.

We learned at first that there were three basic tone levels: high, mid and low. Then we noticed that there were also falling and rising tones. Eventually we discovered that there were two kinds of high tone, two kinds of falling tone, and three kinds of mid tone.

But there was one elusive word that kept slipping out of our grasp, in defiance, refusing to be caught. It was the word “ki.” This tricky little critter sometimes showed up as high tone, sometimes as mid tone, and other times as a falling tone. Not only that, sometimes it caused the tones that followed it to change.

The result was the beginning of a treasure hunt. I began wondering whether identifying the underlying tone of the word “ki” would help people to be able to read the Siamou language more fluently. I became convinced that it would.

We had already discovered that a falling tone word causes a following high tone to be lowered, but a high tone does not cause a following high tone to be lowered. For analysis purposes, we mark very high tone as a number one (1) and a lowered high tone as two (2). Sometimes “ki” causes a following high tone to fall from very high tone (1) to a high tone (2). Sometimes it doesn’t.

Solo and I were correcting our Luke translation, working at a distance using Skype. We were looking at Luke 13, reading the parable of the vineyard. In verse 8 the man, referring to the fig tree, says, “Sir, leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.” The word for fertilizer, núkwá, has high tone on both syllables. In this verse, the word ki comes just before núkwá.

All three syllables are very high, so I marked those as 1-1-1. But when I asked Solo for the meaning of the sentence with the high tones of núkwá lowered to level 2, he said that would make it into an event that had already happened instead of a plan for the future. But our tone marking system doesn’t differentiate between those two meanings.

And so, tone analysis continues alongside Bible translation. Our goal is to help Siamou people to read the Word of God, to understand it and to listen to the Holy Spirit revealing the meaning of the text. Having a good orthography with the correct consonants, vowels, and accurate tone marks helps reading comprehension and helps people to hear what God is saying to them.

The treasure hunt continues.

Paul and Lois Thiessen (Blumenort) live within the village of Tin and serve in literacy and Bible translation.