The Lord Is My Shepherd, and I Am His Piglet


Sabtu, 18 Maret 2017, yang lalu saya berkesempatan untuk menghadiri Konferensi Internasional Ke-10 Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana yang bertajuk “Revisiting English Language Teaching, Literature, and Translation in the Borderless World: My World, Your World, Whose World?” di Salatiga, Jawa Tengah. Di situ, sebagai Ketua Himpunan Penerjemah Indonesia Komda DIY-Jateng, saya diberi satu sesi untuk menyampaikan pidato perkenalan tentang HPI. Berikut ini pidato yang saya bacakan di hadapan para peserta konferensi. Sedikit perbaikan dan perubahan saya lakukan untuk menambah kenyamanan membaca. Selamat menikmati!


Honorable Dean of Faculty of Language and Art of Satya Wacana Christian University,
Esteemed Lecturers of Faculty of Language and Art of Satya Wacana Christian University,
Distinguished plenary speakers of this conference Mr. Jonathan Moore, Mr. Joseph Ernest Mambu, and Mr. John McGlynn,
Mr. Hananto P. Sudharto, President of the Association of Indonesian Translators,
Mr. Indra Lystio, Vice President of the Association of Indonesian Translators,
Respected presenters and participants of this conference,
Ladies and gentlemen,


For those of you who immediately cognize the peculiarity in the line I just said as a supposed insolence, I humbly beg your pardon. Please allow me to continue and explain my point.

Yes, you’re right, it should have read THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, AND I AM HIS LAMB. It is the first line of a hymn written by Mary Lowe circa 1873, a very popular song until now sung by children in Sabbath schools. SHEPHERD and LAMB, or FLOCK OF SHEEP, are very common metaphors found in Biblical allegories. It indicates the relationship between God and His human devotees. Thanks to the culture and the time in which Christianity started to flourish, we have now SHEPHERD and LAMB as the metaphors used in the Bible. LAMB/SHEEP play a pivotal role in the lives of the people of the Bible. It is sacrificed as an offering to God. It is served as a luxurious meal for important guests. It is the people’s livestock. A person’s wealth is measured with how many sheep that person has, and so on.

But let me present to you a case, a hypothetical one:

The year is 1899. Imagine you’re an English-speaking missionary, just graduated from your presented-in-English religious training, and you’re sent in a mission to the land of Papua – and for this, the mission has provided you with a somewhat basic course of the local language, simple vocabulary to indicate numbers, body parts, your place of origin, simple gestures, in short, well, how to say ‘Hi!’.

You are deployed to the Central Mountain region of the Island. You arrive there, physically and mentally prepared to spread the words of God. The people there are friendly, apparently. They treat you as a guest and allow you to stay and do your duty within their territory. You then make a resourceful attempt to mingle with them, analyzing their ways of living, the ways they speak and express themselves – immersing yourself in their language, their culture, their world.

After a few years being with them and being them, you’ve succeeded in establishing your first congregation. It’s still small, but you’re OK with it. You say to yourself, “And now, the show begins,” or something like that.

Because you’ve been a good, kind-hearted, and helpful person to them, the tribe chief allows you to build the first church in the area. You’re a priest now. You’re happy because all adults and children you’ve baptized can now worship the Lord in compliance with the SOPs of Christianity. And then you start thinking about the need of translating all the church materials. These people need to praise God in their own local language, so that they can feel it.

Translating the Bible may still be a long way to go. The people need to learn to read first, and it requires more time and efforts. You decide then that for the time being you’ll resort to just sermons and songs. Yes, that’s about right. This community has a good tradition of oral literature. They love to listen to stories. And they also love to sing – not that kind of music that will please your alien ears, but that’s not a bad option to start with. You can teach them to sing hymns and chants and anthems, and even choruses. You then start to open the Book of Songs of Praise and Worship; or, to put it in a more modern, pop-culture-like phrase: the “Heavenly Playlist”. And of course, because this imaginative story is to explain my point, the first song that you choose has to be Mary Lowe’s The Lord Is My Shepherd.

“Yes, I can do this!” you say to yourself, “I’ll translate the lyric of the song bearing in mind that it can be sung perfectly in the original tunes.”

The first chunk of the first line in the lyric brings you no difficulty at all. With the much-improved knowledge of vocabularies and grammar of the local language you’ve acquired through your hands-on experience living with the native speakers, you can easily find the equivalents for “The Lord is my shepherd.” But then, the second chunk makes you stop for a while. Hm… “And I am His lamb.” You try to think of a word that means ‘lamb’ in the local language. But you can’t find it.

And a rush of adrenaline starts to overwhelm you. You recall all the experiences you’ve had in these few years living with the indigenous people. You remember the first feast they organized to welcome you. The meal was stone-grilled pork served with yam, cassava, and a selection of vegetables. It was delicious, but that’s not the point that your mind is trying to come up with here. You remember how it’s only the tribe leaders who are allowed to distribute meats to their subjects. And those meats are pork. You remember the animal that the children were playing with in the field. It was a pig. You remember attending a marriage between local lovers and an animal was brought as the dowry. That animal’s a pig. You even remember seeing a local woman carrying an animal so lovingly in her arms. And it’s a piglet. Lastly, you realize that within these few years since your first deployment, you’ve never seen a lamb jogging around.

And then, with all these enlightening awareness, you say, “Jesus Christ, what kind of world am I in right now?”

Ladies and gentlemen,
I can continue torturing you with this hypothetical example, but I think you’ve got my point. Translation has always been a cultural act. It was then, it is now, and it will be tomorrow a cross-cultural understanding.

James Clifford, an American cultural anthropologist, and also a postmodernist, confronts the issues of translation in anthropology. He supports the idea embodied in the Italian saying, traduttore traditore: the translator is a traitor.

I took it personally when reading this label for the first time. But then I thought there must be a context for this. I demand a reason: why is my profession called a work of treason? And then James told me, through his piece of writing of course, that this particular term is put advance to raise the awareness of how translations have played a big deal of roles in the field of Western anthropology.

The first-generation anthropologists, the European intellectuals like Edward Taylor, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Johann Bachofen, those who theorized about the development of human society and how culture evolves, didn’t sail their ships and explore and meet the alien people and cultures which became the part of their theories. They stayed at their libraries and offices at home. And they relied on the ethnographic information written and published in forms of books, manuscripts, reports, journals by missionaries, travelers, sailors, traders, and colonial government officials – in short, those people who had the first-hand contact with the indigenous peoples. This information was mainly sourced from the translations and/or interpretations of communications they had, which were made by translators and interpreters (usually the locales who along the way learned the languages of the visitors). And for so long this method of theorizing and data collecting had never been questioned. It was taken for granted, even by the next-generation anthropologists.

So, questions* like the followings had never been asked before:

• Is translation from one culture to another possible and if so under what conditions?
• Can an anthropological researcher control another language adequately enough to carry out a translation?
• How should a researcher deal with the presence of class dialects, multilingualism and special-outsider language use?
• What constitutes an acceptable translation, one which contains more of the original or source language or one which focuses on the target language and the reader’s understanding?

(*Source: Rubel, Paula and Abraham Rosman, “Introduction: Translation and Anthropology” in Translating Cultures: Perspectives on Translation and Anthropology, Oxford International Publishers Ltd, New York: 2003, p. 12.)

Ladies and gentlemen,
If you want a franker example of how a translator can be a big-time traitor, type “First Italo-Ethiopian War” in the search bar of Wikipedia website. This is a story of how translation, or rather mistranslation, can lead to a war. I’ll read you parts of the complete Wikipedia article to give you a general sense of what actually happened:

“On March 25, 1889, the Shewa ruler Menelik II, having conquered Tigray and Amhara, declared himself Emperor of Ethiopia (or “Abyssinia”, as it was commonly called in Europe at the time). Barely a month later, on May 2, he signed the Treaty of Wuchale with the Italians, which apparently gave them control over Eritrea, the Red Sea coast to the northeast of Ethiopia, in return for recognition of Menelik’s rule.

However, the bilingual treaty did not say the same thing in Italian and Amharic; the Italian version did not give the Ethiopians the “significant autonomy” written into the Amharic translation. The former text established an Italian protectorate over Ethiopia, but the Amharic version merely stated that Menelik could contact foreign powers and conduct foreign affairs through Italy if he so chose. Italian diplomats, however, claimed that the original Amharic text included the clause and Menelik knowingly signed a modified copy of the Treaty. In October 1889, the Italians informed all of the other European governments that, because of the Treaty of Wuchale, Ethiopia was now an Italian protectorate and therefore the other European nations could not conduct diplomatic relations with Ethiopia.

The Italian claim that Menelik was aware of Article XVII turning his nation into an Italian protectorate seems unlikely given that the Emperor Menelik sent letters to Queen Victoria and Emperor Wilhelm II in late 1889 and was informed in the replies in early 1890 that neither Britain nor Germany could have diplomatic relations with Ethiopia on the account of Article XVII of the Treaty of Wuchale, a revelation that came as a great shock to the Emperor.

Menelik did not know Italian and only signed the Amharic text of the treaty, being assured that there were no differences between the Italian and Amharic texts before he signed. The differences between the Italian and Amharic texts was due to the Italian minister in Addis Ababa, Count Pietro Antonelli, who had been instructed by his government to gain as much territory as possible in negotiating with the Emperor Menelik… and who inserted the statement Ethiopia gave up its right to conduct its foreign affairs to Italy as a way of pleasing his superiors who might otherwise had fired him for only making small territorial gains. Antonelli was fluent in Amharic and given that Menelik only signed the Amharic text he could not have been unaware that the Amharic version of Article XVII only stated that the King of Italy places the services of his diplomats at the disposal of the Emperor of Ethiopia to represent him abroad if he so wished. When his subterfuge was exposed in 1890 with Menelik indigently saying he would never sign away his country’s independence to anybody, Antonelli, who left Addis Ababa in mid-1890, resorted to racism, telling his superiors in Rome that as Menelik was a black man, he was thus intrinsically dishonest and it was only natural the Emperor would lie about the protectorate he supposedly willingly turned his nation into.”

To cut the story short, because of this both nations declared war to each other. And the Italian lost.

In another related Wikipedia article, under the title “Treaty of Wuchale”, it was said that “the misunderstanding, according to the Italians, was due to the mistranslation of a verb, which formed a permissive clause in Amharic and a mandatory one in Italian.” Hm… seems legit!

Ladies and gentlemen,
Now you know why “a translator being a traitor” is an Italian proverb.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In the now globalized world, everything is localized. We are then introduced with an important keyword in the world of translation: localization. This term is derived from the world of marketing, so it’s laden with the spirit of economy. To put it simply, localization is the reason why you have rice in your KFC meal here in Indonesia.

With the introduction of this term localization, I sense that there is a tendency that the word translation starts to experience a shift of meaning. I think translation, at least in the world of the industry, begins to become a retronym, with ‘word per word transfer from the source to the target language’ as its definition. Word per word translations are often considered distasteful even in the eyes of a lay reader, let alone of an editor. That is why using Google Translate when providing a professional service of translation is commonly deemed as a malpractice.

But for me, translation is localization. To translate means to localize. A true translator will always have a rigorous passion for languages, a respect to the cultures the languages represent, and will always seek for the best method of transferring messages from a foreign language to the target language in a way that the target readers, when perusing the translated texts, will not feel that their language is being foreignized – they don’t even realize that those texts are actually translations.

That is, I believe, the highest achievement of a translator in terms of the quality of service he/she provides. That kind of state-of-the-art quality can only be produced when the translator has a full mastery of both the source and target languages, an eloquent comprehension of both cultures, a professional working attitude, and an amateurish love for his/her job.

This kind of translator is the type of individual who, with his/her hands, can continue not only information but also inspirations that are written or documented in another language to the people of his/her linguistic kind. In a sense, he/she is an informant, an inspirer. Information on technology, inspirations of technology. Information on ideas, inspirations of ideas. Information on cultures, inspirations of cultures. And so on, and so forth.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Now the big question: how do we ensure that our professional translators can get to the point where they can come up with quality performances?

Let’s be honest, how many people, outside this hall, that recognize translator and interpreter as a profession? How many universities here in Indonesia organize a serious education to produce good translators and interpreters? Or, going to an even more basic situation, how many parents want their kids to become translators or interpreters?

I once lost my ID-card on a flight to Surabaya, to attend a seminar as an interpreter. Going back to Yogyakarta, I then visited the Depok Sub-district Police Station to request for a letter of lost goods, so that I could proceed to my application for a new ID-card. I brought with me a copy of my ID-card, just to make sure that the police officer was convinced that I had an ID-card, but I lost it. I presented that copy to the officer on duty there; he started to type down my details with his typing machine, and when it came to typing the information about my occupation, he stopped to ask me:

“What’s your job?”

“Translator,” I replied.

“What do you mean?” he said, curiously.

“A translator, sir. There it’s written in my ID-card copy,” I said, pointing to the copy sheet.

“Well, a job is supposed to be something like a civil servant, a teacher, a private employee, self-employed…” he said confidently, as if trying to educate me.

“But, but, when applying for my ID-card, I saw in the application form that translator is available to be ticked as an occupation, sir, with the code 40.”

He looked at me right in the eyes, saying nothing. The deep silence almost killed me.

I finally said, with a sigh, “It’s self-employed.” And he happily typed that down.

I graduated from the English Letters Department, of Sanata Dharma University Yogyakarta. There, there is a mandatory class of translation, giving you four credits, and another optional translation class you can take, if you’re interested. This may be a debatable remark, but for me, none of those classes told me a complete story of how to become a professional translator, let alone how to conduct a translation study properly as an academician.

In 2008, after my graduation, after some intermittent translation and interpreting projects with a rate per page that I now consider pathetic, I decided to become a translator and interpreter. My mom didn’t like the idea. She would prefer if I became a diplomat or something more familiar to her. I tried to argue with her once, but soon I regretted it, because after that son-and-mother argument, we didn’t speak to each other for the next six months.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The three autobiographical anecdotes I told you just now partly illustrate the answers for the three questions I proposed before.

As I began my translation career, I felt lonely. At that time, there was only one friend of mine who also started to take translator as his profession. But he also, I think, felt lonely.

I had no role model. I had no one I could look up to. So, increasing my quality had always meant a competition with myself.

I didn’t know how to look for clients. They just came to me somehow. I didn’t even know what an invoice is, or what a quotation is, let alone the Computer-Aided Translation tools, the tool of the trade of a professional translator in the industry. Hey! I also didn’t know that translation was actually an industry.

And then this friend of mine joined the Association of Indonesian Translators (or, HPI). When he came to me saying that he was already a full-member of HPI, I thought, “What kind of association is that? An association for lonely people? We’re lonely people, how can we create an association? So that we don’t feel lonely anymore?” And then, an afterthought: “Or, is it because we’re actually not ALONE?”

Ladies and gentlemen,
It took me eight years from the start of my career until I myself became a full-member of HPI in December 2016. And I am honored that in just less than three months after that, I was appointed Regional Branch President of the Association for Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The HPI was established on the 5th of February 1974. Its first President was Mr Ali Audah. And most of its first members are book translators. Maybe because at that time it was not easy to get translation projects, its first programs were focused on seeking for something for its members to translate. So HPI’s first steps were not easy, I guess. It even experienced a period of vacuum.

After a good long sleep, in 2000 the Association resurrected. This time, the great Prof. Benny Hoed, the author of Penerjemahan dan Kebudayaan, took the lead. It then expanded its scope of membership to include document translators and also interpreters. And this time, its programs emphasized on how to improve the quality of Indonesian professional translators and interpreters so that these professions can have a better recognition.

The HPI is a member of the International Federation of Translators. It now has 5 Regional Commissariats: West Java, Yogyakarta-Central Java, East Java, Bali, and Nusa Tenggara.

Our missions are to enhance the field of translation to facilitate the mutual understanding between nations, between cultures; to assist, nurture, improve, and advocate the rights and interests of translators; and to help the market get professional, quality translation products.

We admit that the quality of a translator actually has impacts on the quality of the translation. Therefore, as a strategy to answer the big question “How do we ensure that our professional translators can get to the point where they can come up with quality performances?”, we focus on education and trainings, both in terms of the translator’s hard-skills and soft-skills.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We want translators that are able to not only get the message across, but also the ones who can inspire other people with their dedication to quality. I speak here before you, representing all members of the Association, to ask for your assistance to make a difference in our world of cross-cultural understanding by supporting and promoting a serious education both for our existing and future translators and interpreters.

Because we don’t want a translator who is a traitor. We want a translator who is an inspirer.

Or, to say it the Italian way: TRADUTTORE ISPIRATORE!

Thank you very much.

Wahyu Adi Putra Ginting
Regional Branch President of Yogyakarta-Central Java Commissariat
Association of Indonesian Translators