MANILA, Philippines — Gil Tabucanon remembers being a boy, sitting beside his grandmother and listening to her read the Bible in their native Cebuano language.
“I loved the music of the Cebuano Bible. It was ingrained in me as a little boy. The melodies were in me,” Dr. Tabucanon says, describing the tonality of his mother tongue, spoken by about 20 million people in the central Philippines. “I wanted to do that for the Kitab-i-Aqdas.”
After more than a decade of effort, Dr. Tabucanon completed his translation of the Most Holy Book of the Baha’i Faith, which was published last month by the Philippines Baha’i Publishing Trust. This translation makes available to an entire population Baha’u’llah’s book of laws, first penned in Arabic about 1873 while he was still imprisoned within the city of ‘Akka. The Kitab-i-Aqdas was also translated into the Philippines’ most widely spoken language, Tagalog, in 2003.
“Reading or hearing the Word of God in one’s mother tongue touches heartstrings that are only accessible in that language,” explains Adore Newman, the secretary of the Philippines’ National Spiritual Assembly. “This is another bounty of a beautiful translation, to be connected to the Manifestation of God on such a profoundly heartfelt level.”
The Universal House of Justice has written in the introduction to the Kitab-i-Aqdas: “Of the more than one hundred volumes comprising the sacred Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Kitab-i-Aqdas is of unique importance. ‘To build anew the whole world’ is the claim and challenge of His Message, and the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is the Charter of the future world civilization that Bahá’u’lláh has come to raise up.”
Although Baha’u’llah’s writings are in both Arabic and Persian, Baha’u’llah used Arabic in those texts where precise meaning was required for the articulation of principles and laws. Baha’u’llah also employed in the Most Holy Book a beautiful prose with elements of poetry, such as rhythm, metaphor, and personification. Shoghi Effendi rendered about a third of the text into English, providing a model for the final English publication. The House of Justice explains that the translation of the remaining text strove for three qualities: “accuracy of meaning, beauty of English, and conformity of style with that used by Shoghi Effendi.”
“[T]he Kitáb-i-Aqdas is the Charter of the future world civilization that Bahá’u’lláh has come to raise up.”
—the Universal House of Justice
In 1992, the first authorized translation of the Kitab-i-Aqdas was published, making it available in English. Writing shortly afterward, Suheil Bushrui explained in his book The style of the Kitab-i-Aqdas: Aspects of the Sublime: “It is now the task of translators in different countries around the world to render the Kitab-i-Aqdas into their own native tongues, basing their renderings upon the authorized English translation but referring as needed to the text of the original. The special difficulties encountered by the English translators are no less likely to pose a challenge to these other translators. Their daunting task is to convey in a foreign language the unique qualities of a book concerned not only with mapping out a new way of life for the individual and society, but with bringing about a future state of ‘true understanding in a spirit of love and tolerance’ throughout the world,”.
Dr. Tabucanon was a young man when he embraced the teachings of Baha’u’llah. A lawyer by profession, he began translating the Baha’i sacred texts into Cebuano with a small book of prayers before working on The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah’s principal ethical text. In 1999, he translated a compilation of prayers and writings used for the Nineteen Day Feast. He completed the Kitab-i-Aqdas after three attempts, starting from the beginning each time: first in 2004, then in 2009, and finally in 2014.
Translating from English, Dr. Tabucanon found it challenging to ensure the text utilizes the tonality and onomatopoeic nature of Cebuano.
“Translation is not about a one-to-one correspondence from English to Cebuano. There has to be both faithfulness to the original language and the musicality of the vernacular,” he notes. “I learned that as a boy, from my grandmother.”