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Site Last Update: 14 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
February, 2000

Nsungwi ya mtuwa sisiliridwa.
A tender bamboo cannot be eagerly desired (for building).

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


The Chewa people in Malawi and the Nyanja people in Zambia say that a man trying to build up a strong marriage while going after other women is like one who uses bamboo shoots for making a hut. The yellow shoots look very well but they weaken the structure, just as other women can weaken and destroy the marriage relationship. A man might excuse his conduct by pleading irresistible attraction, physical need, an absent wife, a stale marriage, a desire for something new. But these excuses, rooted in selfishness and immaturity, lead to suspicion, doubt, distrust, quarrels and separation. Growth and strength in the love relationship between husband and wife come through the faithful, constant living and sharing of joys and sorrows, fears and hopes, hates and joys. So the theme of this Malawian and Zambian proverb is "faithfulness."


"Your faithfulness endures through all the ages" (Psalm 119:90). One of the signs of maturity is the ability to have a sustained relationship that does not collapse under the pressure of faults discovered or disagreements on important matters. The whole sweep of the Scriptures gives a picture of the sustained relationship that God had with his people. They worshipped idols, grumbled, fought. God had no illusions about them and lashed them for their backsliding and falls. But he was always constant, accepting them as they were and asking them to return to him. It was through God's constancy and faithfulness that his people, over the years, grew to spiritual maturity. They began to see how good and growthful was their relationship with him. In their songs of praise the Chosen People thanked him for all that he had done for them and for his faithfulness through the centuries. The story of God's unending pursuit of faithless people is often described in the same terms as an unwavering husband to a fickle wife. Through his fidelity, a relationship grew strong. It is through faithfulness that the marriage relationship grows strong too, a faithfulness that contains acceptance, forgiveness and love. An appropriate prayer might be: "Almighty God, throughout the ages you have been faithful. Help us to model ourselves on you so that amid the changes of this life we too may be forever faithful."


I used this African proverb in a sermon during the wedding of friends in Kenya. The idea I was dealing with was commitment and faithfulness in the marriage relationship. I found William Lane's material from the "African Proverbs CD-ROM" very helpful and observed that it seemed to really hit home to the congregation -- probably much more so than if I had used only my own words.

NOTE: This proverb is taken from 50 Proverbs: Traditional and Christian Wisdom by William Lane, S.J. (Lusaka: Privately printed, 1980) and available on the African Proverbs CD-ROM which is summarized by going to:

Edited and Revised by Rev. John Shane
Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA

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