Baskeet language found on YouTube

I still remember that I stumbled across two white (American?) families in the streets of Laska (the capital of the Baskeet area) in 2009 when I spent several months in the field. Their presence came as a surprise to me, because I could walk the streets of Laska for many weeks without ever meeting a white person. They were Evangelical Christians with a missionary aim. They had come on bumpy roads and with all their technical equipment to Baskeet in order to dub the Jesus film, as people explained to me later. At that time I had no idea that there was something like “the” Jesus film  …

Some weeks ago, i.e. five years on, I came across a video on YouTube called “The Story of Jesus”. Dubbed in Baskeet! [1]

The film tells the life of Jesus, as Wikipedia says, primarily according to the Gospel of Luke. The original film was produced on the initiative of Bill Bright, an American evangelist. The English version was released in 1979. After Bill Bright had founded the Jesus Film Project Organization, the production of translations started in 1981: “The organization works with thousands of missionaries around the world to show the film, sometimes to audiences who have never seen a motion picture.” [2] The film was modified in the years after 2000. The Baskeet version that we find on YouTube is, however, based on the original first version.

The aim of the film is to proselytize, to save souls and to support missionary efforts of Evangelical Churches across the world (see Franklin Foer’s article Baptism by Celluloid in the New York Times). For someone used to Western films, the film may seem very monotonous and slow-going. But because it is often (one of) the first films people in rural areas watch, it attracts attention.

The translation efforts have been very successful, to say the least. Up until today 1240 translations have been made (acc. to the Jesus Film webpages). So the number of translations of this film may even exceed the number of translations of the New Testament (i.e. ~ 1220), if the figures in this Wikipedia article are correct.

As a documentary linguist, one wishes that similar efforts were ever made to document and film local cultural (religious, literary) traditions …

Unfortunately, the Baskeet version of the film on YouTube has no end titles. No credits are given to the Baskeet speakers who gave their voices to the actors. By chance, however, I recognised the voice of the narrator. It is Wondu Defersha from the kebele (community/village) of Ganshir.  He is a very animated story-teller and I have recorded seven animal stories from him during my first field trip to Baskeet in 2008, among them the story of the man and snake, the story of the lion and the 9 hyena cubs, and the story of the monkey who is supposed to sew shoes for the lion.

P.S. If somebody knows the names of the other speakers in the film, please let me know.


[1] Or, as the titel of the YouTube film says, in “Basketo/Basketto/Baskatta/Mesketo”. See my discussions of these naming variants here and here, and why “Baskeet” is correct see here.
[2] Source of the quote: Wikipedia “Jesus (1979 film”, section: Foreign language versions.
This entry was posted in Language, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Baskeet language found on YouTube

  1. Ross stimely says:

    My friend Rob and I were there in April. We are from the east coast of the US. We went to find family of our adopted daughters and were successful. Your Blog played a big part in our decision to go back and search for family. I learned only Wellis Galletari while there and wouldn’t recognize any voices, but I am excited to play this video for my girls and let them hear some native speakers speaking their first language. The recordings I made were limited and mostly coming led with translation into Amharic and then English. Thank you for your work in preserving the Baskeet language and culture.

  2. Pingback: More Baskeet on YouTube | Basket to Ethiopia

  3. Pingback: Un corpus inattendu | Panchronica

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s