Icilongo Levangeli: The Zulu Hymn Book Inspired by a Gaelic Poet
Icilongo Levangeli is a popular Zulu hymn book that has been used by many churches and congregations in South Africa since its first publication in 1911. The hymn book contains 423 songs, some of which are original compositions by Zulu poets and composers, while others are translations or adaptations of hymns from other languages and traditions. One of the most interesting sources of inspiration for Icilongo Levangeli is the Gaelic hymn book 423, written by Sir John Cary, a renowned poet and scholar from Summerset, a small village in the south of England.
Sir John Cary was born in 1859 and grew up in a devout Christian family. He developed a passion for languages and literature, especially for the Celtic languages and cultures. He learned Gaelic, Welsh, Irish, Breton, Cornish and Manx, and wrote poems and hymns in these languages. He also studied Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, German and Italian. He became a professor of Celtic studies at Oxford University and a respected authority on Gaelic literature and history.
In 1898, he published his magnum opus, the Gaelic hymn book 423, which he dedicated to his mother who had passed away a year earlier. The hymn book contains 423 songs that reflect Cary's deep faith and love for God, as well as his admiration for the beauty and richness of the Gaelic language and culture. The hymns cover various themes such as praise, worship, confession, thanksgiving, petition, guidance, comfort, hope and joy. Some of the hymns are based on biblical passages or psalms, while others are inspired by Gaelic legends, folklore or nature.
The Gaelic hymn book 423 soon became popular among Gaelic speakers in Scotland, Ireland and other parts of the world. It also attracted the attention of missionaries and linguists who were working on translating the Bible and other Christian literature into African languages. One of them was Reverend James Stewart, a Scottish missionary who had been living and working among the Zulu people in Natal since 1880. Stewart was impressed by the poetic quality and spiritual depth of Cary's hymns and decided to translate some of them into Zulu.
Stewart's translations were well received by the Zulu Christians who appreciated the beauty and simplicity of the language and the relevance of the messages. Stewart also encouraged some of his Zulu colleagues and friends to write their own hymns in Zulu, using Cary's hymns as models or sources of inspiration. Some of these Zulu poets and composers were John Dube, Isaiah Shembe, Reuben Caluza and Alfred Masondo. They contributed to the development of a distinctive Zulu hymnody that blended elements from both Gaelic and Zulu traditions.
In 1911, Stewart compiled and edited the first edition of Icilongo Levangeli (The African Trumpet), which included 423 songs: 200 translated from Cary's Gaelic hymn book 423; 100 translated from other sources such as English or German hymns; and 123 original compositions by Zulu poets and composers. The title of the hymn book was inspired by Cary's use of the word icilongo (trumpet/horn) as a symbol of God's call to his people to gather together in worship and fellowship.
Icilongo Levangeli has been revised and reprinted several times over the years, but it has always maintained its original number of songs: 423. It has become one of the most widely used and beloved hymn books among Zulu Christians in South Africa and beyond. It has also influenced other African languages and cultures that have adopted some of its songs or translated them into their own languages. Icilongo Levangeli is a testament to the power of music and poetry to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers and to create bonds of faith and friendship among God's people. e0e6b7cb5c