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Site Last Update: 19 Nov, 2019
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Ukapanda mano usamaswe phale.
If you have no teeth, do not break the clay cooking pot.

Chewa (Malawi) Proverb
Nyanja (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia) Proverb


Many years ago before iron ware became common, clay pots were very common for cooking. This proverb evolves from this past time. As we are all aware, clay products are breakable.

Maize (corn) is the staple food in Malawi (and most African countries) from which we make "nsima" (hard porridge from maize flour eaten with relish). But maize is also fried and eaten.When the maize grains dry out on the cobs, they are shelled and cooked in a frying pan. When the maize turns brown it is ready to eat, but only those with strong teeth enjoy the maize for it is hard to chew. Stories have been told that some people have broken their teeth in an effort to chew the fried maize.

This proverb is best told with the following story. Once people lived happily together in a season when maize was still green in the fields and everybody ate the cooked green maize. Only one old woman in the group had a clay pot which they used for all their cooking. This woman had no teeth but during this time she was happy too as she was able to eat the green maize. The season passed and all the maize in the fields dried out. Those with teeth would come and borrow the clay cooking pot from the old lady to fry their maize. She became jealous of these people who were able to eat fried maize and decided to break the clay cooking pot. In so doing she thought they could all suffer.

The people came and found that the pot was broken. The old lady was at this point very hungry. One boy came and said, "We brought you this fresh green maize. But now how are you going to cook it?"

This proverb teaches that jealousy or greed does not pay. You end up ruining your own life. There are people in our society who have basic things which other people lack but in one way or another they don't use them; rather they misuse these things instead of lending them to those who might use them to their advantage.

Thus the idea of wanting to be the only one possessing an item which your friends don't have. While they need it you don't lend it out. This may in turn backfire. For example, what is the use of burning clothes you don't use instead of giving them to people who need them. These people might assist you in a way you never thought they could if you had helped them. More important is the blessing you get from God for assisting others or giving out things. "Blessed is the hand that gives."

Mr. Simon Sikwese
The Story Workshop, Malawi

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