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While Heseder Kimberly Pepmiller is in Tanzania serving people who require medical care, we want to celebrate the great music of the people in this East African country. The month’s new hymn is “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia,” a Lutheran text built on a Tanzanian song we call “Mfurahini, Haleluya.”

The tune is an old song from the Haya people of northwestern Tanzania. They are an ancient people notable for their support of and hunger for education. Historical evidence suggests that they invented a process for forging steel well before Europeans. They would sing the verse and refrain unaccompanied except by a drum pulse; “a percussive underlay, a bed for the tune to ride on.” 1 You’ll find that the repetitive nature of the tune makes this an easy song to learn and enjoy!

Bernard Kyamanywa gave the tune a Swahili text while he was studying at the Lutheran Theological College—now Makumira University College—in Arusha, Tanzania. He had been trained as an elementary school teacher and received basic musical training, but came to the college to earn a degree in theology. He was an excellent linguist, and was part of an ecumenical group of scholars who first translated the Bible into Haya. He also served as a pastor and bishop of the Lutheran Church in Africa.

The Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Worship says this about Kyamanywa’s text:

What we have here is an announcement of Christ’s resurrection with a narrative about it in five stanzas, followed by an exuberant congregational refrain. In East African call-response fashion, the structure suggests a soloist or small group who make the announcement and tell us about the bursting from death, the angel’s message not to fear, the news to be spread, the battle won over sin, the freedom we receive and the singing this sets in motion. To that the assembly responds by taking up the song, recounting a summary about death’s destruction and summarizing the whole with the church’s Alleluia. 2

There is a wonderful spirit to the singing of people in countries that seem poor, but whose songs reveal their richness of faith and strength. We hope that we can capture some of that hope and joy in our singing of this Tanzanian song!

  1. Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2010), 171
  2. Paul Westermeyer, Ibid., 170

Enjoy more information about new hymns or the hymns you already love as we explore the Lutheran hymnody. Use this month’s hymn in your devotions and get to know the tune. We’ll be singing it a few times in worship over the next month or so and adding it to our growing congregational repertoire! Information for this article came from The Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg Fortress Press) and the Hymn Stories series (Kregel Press).