Bible translation for Kamwe people in Nigeria nears completion

Mark Zira Dlyavaghi (at left) shows a book in the Kamwe language to Jay Wittmeyer (at right). This photo was taken in late 2018 when Dlyavaghi, who is a main translator and coordinator for the project to translate the Bible into Kamwe, hosted a group of visitors including Wittmeyer, at the time executive director of the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

A Bible translation for the Kamwe people of northeast Nigeria is nearing completion and is awaiting funding to print. The Kamwe ethnic group lives in the Michika area of Adamawa State, Nigeria, as well as portions of northwestern Cameroon.

“The Bible in our language is a pride for us all and a heritage we will leave behind for all generations of Kamwe born and unborn,” says Mark Zira Dlyavaghi. “When it is published, let all see it as theirs and use it to have the taste of God’s word in their own tongue.”

The translation is a decades-long project of the Kamwe Bible Translation Committee with connections to Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), Wycliffe Bible Translators (or SIL International) and its affiliate the Seed Company, and the Church of the Brethren in the US.

Dlyavaghi is a main translator and coordinator of the project. Executive officers are Peter Audu, chair; Daniel S. Kwaga, secretary; and Hanatu John, treasurer; who serve on the committee with Stephen Sani, James Mbwenye, Hale Wandanje, Stephen H. Zira, and Goji Chibua, all from EYN. Committee members from other denominations are Bitrus Akawu from Deeper Life Bible Church, Abanyi A. Mwala who is worshipping with International Praise Church, and the legal advisor.

Translators include Luka Ngari, B. B. Jolly, Irmiya V. Kwaga, Samuel T. Kwache, Dauda Daniel, Elijah Skwame, and Luka T. Vandi, among others. The reviewers, manuscript checkers, and typist James D. Yaro are from EYN, and a few others are from other denominations.

Consultant to the committee is Roger Mohrlang, professor emeritus of biblical studies at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.

The Kamwe people and language

“Our people live in Nigeria and in Cameroon and the population is about 750,000 for both countries,” says Dlyavaghi.

Kamwe translates as “people of the mountains,” says Mohrlang, who lived in Michika from 1968-1974 while working with Wycliffe Bible Translators. “Ka” means “people” and “mwe” means “mountains.” The Kamwe are known as those who live on the Mandara Mountains. The group also has been known as Higgi, however that is considered a pejorative term.

Like most Nigerian languages, Kamwe is spoken only in a particular area of the country and is connected strongly with a specific ethnic identity. It is just one of hundreds of languages in Nigeria, a number that may exceed 500. A count is difficult because most of Nigeria’s languages have several dialects.

Christianity began to be accepted among the Kamwe in 1945, according to the translation committee. Mohrlang says it was a few Kamwe people who had leprosy, who became Christians while receiving treatment at the leprosarium of the Church of the Brethren Mission, who returned home and shared the gospel. “It was the Church of the Brethren Mission that came and settled in the area to support their work,” says Dlyavaghi.

Now the majority of Kamwe are Christian. In addition to EYN churches, all sorts of other congregations have grown up in the area. Even as Christianity has grown and strengthened in Michika, it is located something less than 50 miles from Boko Haram strongholds and has suffered violent attacks in recent years.

It took 50 years

The difficult work of translating the Bible into Kamwe has been carried out by many people over some 50 years. Although Mohrlang started the work in 1968, when part of his job was to help put the language into writing, the Kamwe translators and the translation committee are the ones who have kept the project alive.

“It’s been a privilege to serve the people of God among the Kamwe,” Mohrlang says. “It was their initiative, their desire to get the whole of the Bible in their mother tongue.” Mohrlang applauds Dlyavaghi for his leadership and commitment to a lengthy project. “He and the other translators and reviewers been very faithful all these years.”

By 1976, the translators completed the first edition of the Kamwe New Testament. “The work on the New Testament was finished when we were children and in primary school,” says Dlyavaghi. “I joined in the revision of it in 1993 when we started the editing, after I completed my first degree from seminary, until 1997 when it was published. Work on the Old Testament was started after my second degree in 2007.”

Mohrlang remembers receiving word in 1988 that the Kamwe New Testament was sold out. At that point, as people realized the need to get it into computerized form, volunteers in England spent 1,000 hours keyboarding the New Testament into digital form. That in turn led to five years of work on a second edition of the New Testament. The work included the exchange of some 6,000 questions between the translation committee and Mohrlang. For the Old Testament translation, the group dealt with more than 70,000 questions.

The goal has been to produce a translation that is accurate, clear, stylistically natural, and acceptable to the community. At present, the Kamwe Bible is in its final stage of “endless consistency checks,” Mohrlang says. He expects it to be ready to print in a few months.

“As to our feelings,” says Dlyavaghi, speaking on behalf of the committee, “we are really happy that our goal of having the whole Bible in our tongue is on the way to its achievement, while the Kamwe entirely are full of expectations of having that printed.”

Raising funds

Funds are being raised to print 30,000 copies. Mohrlang notes that “Kamwe Christians must raise the daunting amount of over $146,000–their half of the cost. The Seed Company is raising the other half.”

The Global Mission office of the Church of the Brethren has contributed $10,000 out of designated funds for the printing costs.

Throughout the project, Kamwe Christians have been contributing to the expenses of translation. “Most of those within Kamwe area have been giving financial support as well as moral support, including the EYN president,” says Dlyavaghi. EYN president Joel S. Billi was pastor of the most prominent EYN church in Michika before being named president of the denomination.

As a denomination, EYN is giving moral support to the project says Zakariya Musa, head of media for EYN. “Different tribes are engaged in translating the Bible into their dialects,” he says, and EYN “welcomes support from any individuals and organizations.”

SIL International is receiving donations toward the printing. Tax-deductible gifts are received online at (choose “Donate: online,” then select “Specific Project” and add the comment: “For Scripture publication #4633, Kamwe Bible”). Donations by check may be payable to SIL International and mailed to SIL International, GPS, Attn: Dave Kelly, 7500 W Camp Wisdom Rd, HNT 144, Dallas, TX 75236. Along with checks, on a separate paper write “Preference for Scripture Publication #4633, Kamwe Bible.”

Mohrlang is keeping track of giving to the project and asks donors let him know of the amount of their gift. Contact him at

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