Billema Kwillia

KWILLIA, Billema. b. ca. 1925. (also known as Belema Kwelea and Belema Kollia). Kwillia is a literacy teacher and evangelist from Liberia in West Africa. He is best known for the hymn ‘Come, Let Us Eat’ (‘A va de laa mioo’), which has been included in several hymnals and ecumenical collections. Kwillia composed the hymn in the 1960s.

 Margaret D. Miller (b. 1927), a missionary to Liberia from the United States who served in the Lutheran Literacy Centre in Wozi, transcribed this communion hymn from a recording in a church service in 1969. According to S T Kimbrough Jr*, Daniel W. Sopo, with whom he had contact, indicated that Kollia, who had visited Wozi, ‘composed several songs in the Lorma Hymnal (Gala Feliai), the new edition’. Sopo provided Kimbrough with a list of seven songs by the hymn writer including ‘A va de laa – mi-oo-dii-oo’ (number 62).

This hymn, in the original Loma language in four stanzas, in a German translation by U. S. Leupold, and in Miller’s English versification in three stanzas, appeared first under the name Bilema Kwelea in Laudamus, 4th ed., a hymnal for the international gathering of the Lutheran World Federation in Evian, France in 1970. A fourth English stanza was added by Gilbert E. Doan (b. 1930). The original versification in English retained the 3/8 meter of the Loma version [8.8.10]; this was so awkward that it was virtually impossible to sing. Thus, an adaptation of the hymn appeared in Contemporary Worship 4: Hymns for Baptism and Communion (Minneapolis, 1972) that recast it from 8.8.10 in Loma to 10.10.10. 10 in English with the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza virtually repeating the 1st and 3rd lines respectively—a solution that suited English-speaking singers, but modified the original completely. This English version was retained for the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW, Minneapolis, 1978) and The Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids, 1987). The 5th edition of Laudamus for the Budapest Assembly in 1984 included both the original 3/8 meter for the Loma, and the English versification [10.10.10.10] was placed in 2/4. 

It is in this form that the hymn appeared in UMH, with the indication that the song should be performed in a call-response structure, with lines one and three sung by a leader and repeated by the congregation in lines two and four. The hymn has been reprinted in this form subsequently in several other North American hymnals. Not until 2004 did S T Kimbrough Jr. provide a singable English versification of the Loma, ‘Come, one and all, to the table’, in the original meter for Global Praise 3: More Songs for Worship and Witness (New York: 2004). Each line of each stanza concludes with the word ‘diioo’ (‘come’). As Carl P. Daw, Jr.* points out, the use of epistrophe throughout has ‘much more oral cohesion than the translation can simulate . . . forming a pattern of reiteration that cannot be heard in the original translation’ (Daw, p. 527). Efforts to add a keyboard accompaniment diminish the directness of the melody. 

Translation © 2004 by S T Kimbrough, Jr. Used by Permission General Board of Global Ministries, GBGMusik, New York, NY.

 

C. MICHAEL HAWN/S T KIMBROUGH, JR. (with appreciation for information provided by Daniel W. Sopo)

 

Further Reading

1. Emily Brink and Bert Polman, eds., Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Grand Rapids, Michigan: CRC Publications, 1998).

2. Carl P. Daw, Jr., Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016).

3. S T Kimbrough, Jr., ed., Global Praise 3: More Song for Worship and Witness, (New York: GMGMusik, 2004).

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