Saturday, September 29, 2012

El Libro de Mormon

Melitón G. Trejo

Among the religions and sects that deserve to be represented directly or indirectly at the Germersheim meeting (see last post) are certainly the Mormons. This blog has already reported about the vast conference interpreting operation they run (enter mormons in the Search box on the right for the posts). They’re also prolific written translators, and they have a key sacred text to start from, The Book of Mormon, which says even of itself that it’s a translation. The latest translation to appear is into Lao (see Reerences).

At some time you’ve probably been approached in the street or on your doorstep by their missionaries: clean-cut, soberly dressed young people, some natives some foreigners but all speaking the language of the country. For the Mormons believe in reaching out to people in their own language, and the young missionaries they send around the world as a religious duty are enjoined to learn it. I’ve met them in the village where I live on the outskirts of Valencia, Spain. And of course the tracts they hand out and the copies of The Book of Mormon that they offer here are in Spanish.

Last week there was an article in a Spanish magazine about Spanish Mormons (see References). There are approximately 50,000 of them, mostly ex-Catholics. It led me to the story of the first Spanish translation of The Book of Mormon. It was made by a Spaniard, but curiously enough not in Spain and not for his fellow Spaniards. Since it involves a trio of Non-Professional Native Translators, I’ll retell the story.

The principal translator was named Meletón González Trejo, and he was born in 1844 in Extremadura, then a poor. parched region of Spain. Son of a schoolteacher who gave him a good education, he joined the army and was posted to the Philippines, which in those days was a Spanish colony. On the way, he passed through France and there he first heard about the Mormons. A French translation of The Book of Mormon had been published as early as 1852 (see References). In the Philippines he developed religious doubts and had a dream that prompted him to leave the military and set out to see Salt Lake City. Sailing from the Philippines to San Francisco, he made his way from there through the Rockies and met the Mormon leader Brigham Young, who took him under his wing. Trejo had to be very tough to survive in Utah in those pioneer times. He took part in the heroic rescue of parties of handcart trekkers lost in a winter storm in the mountains.

In 1874 Brigham Young was preparing a mission to nearby Mexico, so he needed a Spanish translation of The Book of Mormon as soon as possible. He commissioned Daniel Webster Jones to produce it with the assistance of Henry Brizzee and Melitón Trejo. Jones knew Spanish from having lived for several wild years in Mexico and Brizzee could speak Spanish although his written Spanish was weak. However, though he got help understanding the English, and perhaps also doctrinal guidance, from his two English-speaking collaborators, Trejo was the only native Spanish speaker on the team and he’s generally credited with being the principal translator. None of them were Expert or Professional Translators. As Jones tells it in his autobiography (see References):
"Brother Brizzee had associated more with the people than I had and talked quite fluently and understood Spanish very well but had not studied the written word so much as I had. It was arranged with good feelings all around seemingly, as soon as I was settled at home that Trejo would live with me and we would work together translating. When brother Trejo came, I rented an office for him where he would be undisturbed through the day. In the evenings we would read and correct together."
A first, incomplete version was published the following year (see References).

At that point Jones departed to serve as a missionary in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, and Trejo was left to complete the translation. It was published in 1886.

Trejo died some 40 years later cultivating fruit trees in Arizona.

References and Further Reading
The Wikipedia article on The Book of Mormon is here.

Publication of the Book of Mormon in Lao announced. LDS Living, 2012. The press release is here.

Virginia Drake. Los "Romney" españoles (The Spanish Romneys). XL Semanal, 2012. The article is here.

Le Livre de Mormon, récit écrit de la main de Mormon sur des plaques prises des plaques de Néphi (The Book of Mormon in French). Translated by John Taylor and Curtis E. Bolton. Paris: John Taylor, 1852. For an image of the title page, click here.

Trozos selectos del Libro de Mormon; que es una narración escrita por la mano de Mormon, sobre planchas tomadas de las planchas de Nephi (Selections from the Book of Mormon in Spanish). Translated by Daniel Webster Jones with the help of Henry Brizzee and Melitón G. Trejo. Salt Lake City: Deseret Press, 1875.

El Libro de Mormon relación escrita por la mano de Mormon, sobre planchas tomadas de las planchas de Nefi (The Book of Mormon, related by the hand of Mormon on tablets taken from the tablets of Nefi). Translated by Melitón G. Trejo and others. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1886. 1 vol. The Library of Congress and the University of Utah Library have copies of this edition.

Daniel W. Jones. Forty Years Among the Indians, a True Yet Thrilling Narrative of the Author's Experiences Among the Natives. Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1890. Full text downloadable here. The account of the translating is in chapter XXXIV.

The Deseret News is still published. It's so named because it was the newspaper of the ephemeral State of Deseret that preceded Utah. There's a Wikipedia article for it here.

Source: Meliton Trejo Genealogy, here.


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