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Site Last Update: 12 Dec, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
May, 2006

Keshi walyire kataera. (Tembo)
Une dette n'est pas une perte lorsque le débiteur est connu. (French)
A debt is not a loss once one knows the debtor. (English)

Tembo (Democratic Republic of Congo) Proverb

Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Batembo constitute a small ethnic group in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In this Tembo Proverb it is common sense that goods are meant to circulate in the community for the needs of everyone. Debt is one of the forms of sharing, of putting goods to the disposal of the community. We say that the one who lends to you is the one who values you and puts his confidence in you. In the same way, a farmer entrusts the seed to the farm instead of eating it. The one who gives out his goods to his fellow in need knows that he is not losing; but in the exercise of generosity and sharing, his act will be reciprocated. Thus, whatever time it takes, one is not to complain about a debt if he or she knows the debtor for an act of generosity is never a loss. It may profit generations to come.

Biblical Parallels

In the Gospels, Jesus reminds us that practice of love is generosity and sharing. Whoever gives without counting especially to the needy, lends to God. Is there any debt worth more than the one given to the Lord of everything?

"Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it" (Luke 12: 33).

"Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from someone who takes it. …And if you lend to those from whom you hope to get money back, what credit can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." (Luke 6:30, 34-35).

In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul maintains: "They [those who are rich] are to do good and be rich in good works, generous in giving and always ready to share - this is the way they can amass a good capital sum for the future if they want to possess the only life that is real"( 1 Timothy 6: 19).

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

The paradox of the property walls in Africa is such that it is where people need to be more generous that greed has pitched its tent. Capitalism has succeeded to erect walls even in our hearts to the extent that virtues of generosity and sharing are values of the past and an unrealistic way of life. There is less attention to those in need. Everything is calculated in terms of benefit. Yet poor people are dying at our gates in silence. The Christian who hears this DRC proverb knows that in sharing with his fellow human being, he or she is ultimately securing treasure for himself or herself in heaven. The link of human solidarity cannot let us withdraw from our Christian duty to attend to the needy without counting. For we know that the poor we meet on our way today is Christ.

Jean-Charles Kubanabantu, SJ
C/o Procure des Missions SJ
Koninginnelaan 141
B-1030 Brussels, Belgium

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