Translation of Gospel into endangered Chulym language begins in Tomsk

At the initiative of the Missionary Department of the Tomsk Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, work has commenced on a translation of the New Testament into the Chulym language. The first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark have been translated by department head Fr. Alexei Samsonov, Fr. John Fontosh of the village of Teguldet, and native-Chulym speaker Vasily Gabov, reports

Representatives of this small indigenous people of Siberia of Turkic origin, whose name comes from the Chulym River (a tributary of the Ob), mainly live in the Teguldet region of the central Russian Tomsk Province. According to a 2010 census, the number of Chulyms living in Russia does not exceed 360. The Chulym ethnic group was formed in the 13th-14th centuries and was later largely assimilated by the Khakas and Russians. The majority profess Orthodoxy, although some shamanistic traditions remain.

“The Chulym language is unwritten, it was never taught in school, it is only used in everyday life,” Fr. Alexei Samsonov notes. “We want the representatives of this numerically-small people to come to know their national language and culture deeper, including through the study of the Gospel. Although, I must confess, it’s not an easy mission… For example, the Chulym language has no words like ‘sin’ and ‘desert’—they had to be replaced with ‘bad deeds’ and ‘deserted place.’ There are many such words.”

Vasily Gabov, one of the few native Chulyms who still knows the native language, who actively works to save the language from extinction by teaching it to his children and grandchildren, enthusiastically embraced the translation project: “There are few of us Chulyms remaining who can speak our native language… I think that translating the text of the Gospel into the Chulym language will help us understand not only the Word of God deeper, but also our culture. There are many of us who want to learn our native language, but so far there is no possibility.”

Fr. John noted that the nearly the entire village enthusiastically gathers for services when a priest visits. 12 Chulyms were baptized in the village of Novomushilovo in the spring, and the number of those desiring the holy Sacrament increases with every trip, the priest noted.