Ngai arimaga na hiiu nduuhu. (Gikuyu)
Mungu hulima na panga ambayo haina makali. (Swahili)
Dieu cultive avec une machette moussee (French).
God cultivates with a blunt machete (large cleaver-like knife). (English)
Gikuyu (Kenya) Proverb
Background, Explanation and Everyday Use
The proverb derives from the long-time Kikuyu practice of tilling land as an agricultural community. For effective tiling and cultivation of land, it required the hiu (pl.), knives, machetes or pangas as are commonly known, to be sharpened. Failure to sharpen the panga would mean that the farmer would not be able to overcome the daunting task of removing stubborn weeds and bushes in the farm. This is what in human terms ought to be done for one to do a fine cultivation job. To God, however, the condition of the knives (being sharp or blunt) is no challenge to accomplishing a cultivation task as He is omnipotent and all capable. But for humans to toil easily, especially in times of difficult and hopelessness, one has to sometime depend on God’s help and benevolence. Under such desperate situations, when in low spirits, and unable to overcome challenges because of our inherent weaknesses as human beings, we should turn to God the Almighty from where all our help comes from. The proverb is very close in its everyday use to another Gikuyu proverb, Mwaki wa Ngai uraragio ni magoto (God’s fire is sustained by dry banana leaves). Both proverbs are used to appreciate the limits, frailties and hopelessness of human beings, and the omnipotence of God in overcoming daily chores in which case trust in and reliance on God is vital. The proverb can be found on page 108 as Proverb No. 101 under letter N in the book, Under One Roof: Kikuyu Proverbs Consolidated (Pauline Publications Africa, Nairobi, 2001). Compiled and edited by Gerald J, Wanjohi.
The bible is replete with examples of situations and circumstances that demonstrate that amidst humans’ weaknesses and frailties, God’s omnipotence and might always rescue a rather hopeless situation. In its entirety the Bible seeks to demonstrate how mighty God is, Two examples are:
- The call of prophet Jeremiah to service is illustrative. When Jeremiah thought he was young and lacked the skills to speak, God assured him of his support. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and I will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:8).
- The episode where Moses helped the Israelites cross the Red Sea in the book of Exodus is good in illustrating God’s power and might. This is captured very well by Moses when he says: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring today” (Exodus 14: 13).
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
In ordinary situations today life is very difficult. Many examples exist that capture the struggles that ordinary mortals undergo and in certain cases are unable to overcome easily. We see this in Kenya and elsewhere. These are times when humans turn to the God, trust in Him and expect to come out of the difficult situations. Such are the situations when people say they have “seen the hand of God.” So this Gikuyu proverb can be used to show the imperfection of humans and the perfection of God. There are things that to humans seem impossible to accomplish. In religious terms the proverb encourages and counsels people in difficult situations to trust in God and to overcome challenges in life through God’s help because God is omnipotent and Almighty. This is well captured by gospel singer Don Moen who said, “God will make a way where there seems to be no way”. The moral of the proverb is that there is no challenge that God cannot be able to overcome.
Joseph K. Muriithi
Former Assistant Moderator, African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website
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Photographs selected by:
Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Art and Design
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