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African Proverb of the Month
August, 2005

Mila mata, pewiyomboka mtandu wa libihi. (Ngoni)
Umeze mate unapovuka juu ya daraja la gogo moja. (Literal Swahili)
Penye kikwazo piga moyo konde. (Figurative Swahili)
Swallow saliva before you cross a one-log bridge. (Literal English)


Ngoni (Tanzania, Mozambique) Proverb

Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Wangoni Ethnic Group lives mainly in Songea District in Ruvuma Region, Southwestern Tanzania. They originally came from Natal, South Africa.

Most of the rivers in the villages in Tanzania have no modern bridges. Usually a long log of a tree is put across the river. Very many people, particularly women and children, become afraid when they realize that there is only one log on which they have to walk on to get across to the other side of the river. Thus the elders encourage them to swallow saliva before crossing it. This act of swallowing saliva is just like saying a prayer so that you may safely cross the river on this single log.

This proverb is used in encouraging people to be consciously careful in dealing with delicate issues. People are encouraged to be cautious in everyday performance. It is dangerous to cross this type of bridge, which resembles the action of taking the narrow path.

Biblical Parallels

Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Also Luke 16:13: You must choose one master. At the crossroads one has to make a decision of either following the narrow road or the broad way. It is at this juncture that a person should not lose his or her soul, but must take special care. All Christianity concentrates on the person at the crossroads.

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

The single log symbolizes the one soul that each person has. Each one of us is reminded to be extra careful to take care of his or her soul diligently. As each human being has only one soul, there is every reason to take every care so that he or she may not lose it. It is also true that human beings are only born once, with only one soul, and they die once. Therefore, they have to be absolutely cautious so that they maintain their soul for a fruitful eternal life. The one log bridge also symbolizes the truth that there is only one God the Almighty, the Creator of earth and heaven. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father and the "way" of our salvation.

A married couple should realize that the unity of the sacrament of matrimony is like a one log bridge. Each one of the partners has to comply fully with its obligations, short of which the couple will not reach its destination. Therefore, marriage is like crossing a river on one bridge. Neither the husband nor the wife is ever allowed to cross it alone. This implies tolerance, humility, forgiveness, sympathy, and the esteem of togetherness as one marriage entity. And because of one baptism, all Christians are part and parcel of one goal that is the eternal life for each one of us. So the one log bridge is applicable to various situations in the daily life of the peoples of all nations of the world.

NOTE: This Ngoni proverb is No. 57 in the book Wisdom from the Ngoni Proverbs. Collected and explained by John P. Mbonde. 70 pages. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Duplicated June, 2004. It is listed on the "Annotated Bibliography" Page of this website as one of the Endangered African Proverbs Collections that are a continuation of the African Proverbs Project.

Mr. John P. Mbonde
P.O. Box 3479
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

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