CNMI Bishop Translates Christian Greek Scriptures into Chamorro Language
May 5, 2003
Chalan Kanoa, Saipan


Bishop Tomas A. Camacho of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa has accomplished the significant task of translating the Christian Greek Scriptures into the Chamorro language. It's taken him 21 years to complete his works which includes the translations of prayer books.

It is easy to understand Camacho's meaning when you consider it took him 21 years to translate books that were written between 2 B.C.E. to c. 96. C. E.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & Apostle John, Acts of the Apostles, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation.

In an interview at his office in Chalan Kanoa, Camacho spoke of the dedication it took to accomplish the task, saying "It was out of necessity," that he decided to translate the bible.

"In 1976, June... 1, 1976, we were one diocese and Bishop Flores assigned me up here. When I came here, the old American Capuchin had translated the liturgy - that means all the readings, some of the old testament, new testament, in his own translations which is sort of analogized and I found myself, a Chamorro from here... to use that, the people would laugh at me." Camacho found the translation graceless for someone who spoke Chamorro, "It's awkward, I still have copies of those here," he said.

Bishop Tomas Camacho set out to improve upon the translation, considering at first to revise the work, but after taking into account how much time and effort he would have to spend in comparing the work, he decided that it was better for him to start from the very beginning.

Camacho started his translation effort with the Sunday readings. "So, what I did was translate the readings of the Sunday .... every Sunday I translate the whole thing, little by little." It took three years for him to translate the A-B-C cycle of readings for Sunday. After recognizing his accomplishment, Bishop Camacho decided he may as well translate more. "My goodness! I said to myself, I have translated so many of it I might as well translate the in-between. So little-by-little I forced myself to finish this, finish that, finish that and a few years ago I completed the whole - all the letters, St. Paul's letters and all that, the four gospels and had it bound. Just five or six copies. That's all I have," he said.

After completing the translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, Camacho needed someone to review his work, "I wanted somebody to go over it, so I assigned Father Roger Tenorio, about five years ago - I assigned him to do that. So he got himself a group of people to help, then Father Roger died. That is where we are right now. It's been translated but it hasn't been reviewed," the bishop said.

Regarding the earlier publications of the gospels, Bishop Camacho said, "Matthew was ... reviewed by the Bible Society of Micronesia and they latter reviewed this (holding up a book) and they published this," he said of the book of Mateo. The bishop pointed out that it took one year for the review and approval of Mateo to be published, "But then I discovered that one chapter is missing."

Camacho went on to say he published the books of San Marcos, San Lucas and San Juan without review, "They haven't been reviewed," he said. It appears that in the interest of time, he allowed the other three Gospel books to be published without review. Secondly, there were organizations and a family from Tinian who were willing to pay for the publication expense of the remaining Gospels. He said, "The American Board of Catholic Mission paid for San Marcos, the Marianas Printing Services, Inc. Saipan paid for the publication of San Lucas, and the CNMI Catholic Charities Appeal paid for the publication of San Juan." He also said, "Acts of the Apostle was paid for by the Hofschneider family in Tinian. I printed enough to distribute to all the homes."

Bishop Camacho said,  "I revised, the orthography of the Historia Sagrada, a bible story book, to make it more readable. I brought it up to the orthography I was familiar with. That, and the Debosinario, the book of prayer," he said. When asked if he was working on any more translations of the bible, Bishop Camacho said, "I completed Genesis and I think I am now in Deuteronomy."

Bethany Martin, editor of Isles Magazine published by the Seventh Day Adventist Micronesian Mission asked Bishop Camacho, "What method did you use in translating those (books)?" Bishop Camacho replied, "When I was in Inajaran in 1970-71, Bishop Flores received this invitation from the United Bible Society people that held the workshop on how to translate the Bible in Chuuk, so I attended a one month workshop on how to translate the bible." The invitation was opened to different religious denominations made up of protestants and Catholics - got together at Xavier High School in Chuuk, and for one month, we learned how to translate the bible."

Martin asked Camacho what method did the United Bible Society use in teaching them how to translate the bible? "To be faithful to the original documents..." answered the Bishop. Martin asked if Camacho went back to check the Greek and Hebrew texts in translating or if he only used the English version, and Camacho said, "Oh, no, no, no. I used the English version."

He explained that he only took two years of Greek, and therefore wasn't able to rely on that language to translate and said he never had instructions in the Hebrew language. "I used the American Bible... partly because... then I switched ... and before that I used... it wasn't a Catholic Bible," he said, "It was the Standard, the American Standard is what I used." Why the Standard? We asked. Bishop Camacho replied, "I find it less complicated...," he said chuckling. "You know what I mean."

At this point in the interview, the Bishops' assistant brought in the copy of the Chamorro Bible that the Bishop had in his vault. We quickly identified it as being the reprint of the 1908 Price publication, identical to the bibles that Pastor Neil Culbertson of the Presbyterian Church on Guam (left) is holding in his hand in the photo.

Needless to say, many others are often surprised when they learn that what they have is a 1951 republication and not the 1908 original Price Chamorro Bible.

Culbertson also thought at first that the bibles in his possession were the original Price editions, but they are not. They have one similarity - both are technically portions and not the complete bible since only six books of the sixty-six books of the Bible were translated in the Price publication and five books in the 1951 reprint.

Still recognizing their value, Culbertson said he would like to donate one of his copies of the 1951 reprint somewhere it could benefit the most people. We suggested he donate one copy to the Marianas Areas Research Center at the University of Guam.

Bishop Camacho was under the same impression Culbertson was under, thinking he had possession of the 1908, Francis Marion Price publication of the bible. But Camacho learned the afternoon of the interview that what he has is the 1951 republication which is not a bilingual bible nor does not have the book of Psalms. Even though the title page says, "Yan Y Salmo Sija" in the title.

These facts do not dismiss the value of the Bible they have possession of. Instead, it makes priceless the Price translation.

The title page of the 1951 republication reads:

Y Cuatro Ebangelio Sija
Yan Y
Checho Y Apostoles Sija
Testamento Nuebo Y Señotta Yan Y Satbadotta Si Jesucristo
Y Salmo Sija

But the book cover reads:

Y Cuatro Ebangelio Sija
Yan Y
Checho Y Apostoles Sija

The Bishop discussed the difficulty he has reading the 1951 republication, noting the difference in the orthography of then and now. He pointed out that the Novenas are similarly difficult because they have the same orthography. "I have all the Novenas in my computer, and I am trying to revise them, but it's very difficult."

Bishop Tomas A. Camacho assignment to Saipan has been a blessing, providing him the opportunity to translate scripture into the language of his people. He said, "I am very fortunate that, when I first came up here in 1976, they offered orthography up here..." saying he took a course on orthography conducted by Henry Sablan, someone the Bishop said, "Is an authority on orthography here in the CNMI. In fact, Henry just came out with the updated orthography and he gave me a copy in Christmas time. He presented a copy to the governor, and most likely the Department of Education would get a copy of that."

Congratulations Bishop Camacho on your fine work. It is our hope that you will have your translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures reviewed for scriptural translation and approval of the orthography and then published so that the Bible can be available to anyone who desires to read God's word in the Chamorro language.



© Rlene"Live" Productions 2003