Translation in Africa during the colonial era

Africa translation

The colonial era in Africa began with the fifteenth century, when Africans first encountered Europeans, and extends to the 1950s, just before the African nations were about to get independence. Translation in the colonial Africa can be divided in 2 main parts, first part consists of the early years when Europeans first arrived in Africa, a period when slave trade flourished in this region, and second is the pre independence era which extends from the nineteenth century onwards till the partitioning of Africa.

Arabs had already been in the African continent for some time and trade within Africans and in between the Arabs and the Africans was also prevalent. The first Europeans to reach the African continent were the Portuguese, who landed in Africa through the Senegal River in the year 1445, while searching for a sea route to India. They started to take part in the trade activities in that area, which led to the need for professional translation and interpreting servicesTranslation services in African, Arabic and European languages flourished during this period in Africa.

Education in Africa

Once the Portuguese established themselves on the continent, they started teaching some Africans to write in Roman script. Portuguese also wanted to provide the Africans basic education. Some Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus (S.J.), a Roman Catholic order of religious men founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, noted for its educational, missionary, and charitable works, established schools in Africa. They taught Portuguese and Latin to the people and also started learning local languages of the African people by themselves. These languages which were largely vocal didn't have proper grammar or dictionaries. The missionaries with an aim to teach the Gospel to local Africans, developed written forms of these languages and prepared dictionaries, grammar and catechisms, for some of the local African languages.

These early acts of the Portuguese helped in inspiring many creative works of translation in the late nineteenth century, notable amongst which were the bilingual Portuguese Kimbundu Journal, O Echo de Angola or The Echo of Angola, and the Philosophia popular em proverbios angolanos or the Popular Philosophy in Angolan Proverbs. While the Echo of Angola published translation works from European into African languages, the Popular Philosophy in Angolan Proverbs was a collection of Kimbundu proverbs and riddles in Portuguese, written by Joaquim Dias Cordeiro da Matta, an Angolan scholar. Later Joaquim Dias Cordeiro da Matta also published a Kimbundu Portuguese dictionary.

Translation of Bible into the African languages started around the seventeenth century. However large scale translation of Bible only started in the nineteenth century.

French colnolialism in Africa

A complete colonization of the African continent had begun in the late nineteenth century. By the 1890s Africa was distributed amongst the Portuguese, French and the British by the European colonial administrations. While the French and Portuguese didn't allow education in local African languages, the Protestant missionaries of the English colonies encouraged local African languages, with an aim to convert Africans to Christianity. As a result the Gospel was translated into many African languages. Later in the British colonies various literatures were also translated in the local African languages and also in the English language as well.


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