Daily and sacramental bread in the land of Tsampa : why don't Tibetan Christians share their own staple food?

Title: Daily and sacramental bread in the land of Tsampa : why don't Tibetan Christians share their own staple food?
Source document: Religio. 2023, vol. 31, iss. 2, pp. [239]-258
  • ISSN
    1210-3640 (print)
    2336-4475 (online)
Type: Article
Rights access
open access

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Most people build their lives around some complex carbohydrate which often comes in the form of bread. This staple food has also become an important religious concept in Christianity, playing an integral part during Holy Communion. Therefore, missionaries were tasked with finding the most suitable translations for Biblical bread – translations that were appropriate given its various contexts while respecting the original idea and the target culture. Different missions employed different strategies for achieving the best result possible, always challenging the local food cultures.
Missionaries of the Moravian Church, the prominent translators of the Scripture into Tibetan, perceived the act of "breaking bread" as a social responsibility and were relatively liberal concerning any exact specifications of the bread itself. Their first translation of the New Testament was prepared in Ladakh by H. A. Jäschke and published in 1885. Jäschke is well known for his lexicographical perfectionism and creative ability to find apt and often locally sourced equivalents, even for words notoriously hard to translate (like the Holy Spirit or angel). Nonetheless, the Biblical bread remained simply bread, i.e., baglep, presumably ignoring the staple food and main carbohydrate of the entire Tibetosphere – the roasted barley flour called tsampa.
This article focuses on early attempts to translate the term "bread" into Tibetan and attempts to explain the possible reasons why baglep was chosen over tsampa. Following introductory remarks on the available textual material and the methodology used, the historical and cultural background of (Biblical) bread is first outlined. Second, a brief history of Tibetan translations of the Bible, including remarks on the translators' approaches, is offered to contextualise the challenges of intercultural dialogue. Contrasting arguments favouring tsampa are also presented, sourced from folk proverbs and ethnographic research. And finally, accounts of the Lord's Prayer and Last Supper from Synoptic Gospels in Tibetan are compared and commented upon.