Heri pazia kuliko bendera.
Better a curtain hanging motionless than a flag blowing in the wind.
Swahili (Eastern and Central Africa)
This common and popular Swahili proverb has been used for many years to emphasize the values of steadiness, consistency and single-minded purpose. It is one of the sayings on East African "khangas" (colorful cotton cloth with many designs).
Now this traditional proverb that taken on a new meaning in the context of contemporary Africa. A new understanding has come in AIDS education and awareness which is one of the greatest challenges in African society. The proverb is now used especially to caution young people to stay with one partner (one curtain in the house) rather than "play around" with many partners (flag blowing to and fro). The main themes are faithfulness and a sense of responsibility in personal relationships.
There are obvious religious applications. This Swahili proverb is used in teaching about faithfulness and loyalty in courtship, the engagement period and marriage. See the biblical parallels in the metaphors of marital fidelity: "Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well" (Proverbs 5:15). "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate" (Matthew 19:5-6).
This proverb also shows how African youth continue to use familiar African proverbs and sayings especially about personal relationships. These proverbs and sayings convey meaning and values related to the importance of good human relationships.
(For a further explanation see Chapter 1 in Towards an African Narrative Theology)
Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania