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African Proverb of the Month
July, 2006

Ca ygwa opi ro ongona tiza ondro kandra kozi ka'do te owo'. (Moru).
Mwana wa chifu anatakiwa kuokota kuni wakati mustakabali wake utakapomwangamiza. (Swahili)
The chief's son has to collect firewood when destiny destroys him. (English)


Moru (Sudan) Proverb

Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

This Sudanese proverb means that when life humbles someone (including the mighty) there is nothing he or she cannot engage in order to eke out a living. It highlights an important truth about power, how it should be exercised, and the possible consequences of abuse of power and responsibilities that goes with positions of authority. The proverb points the unusual things that can happen to people who society honours, but fails to act according to the society's expectations. Among the Moru people of the Sudan it is unusual for a man to collect firewood as this is the work society assigns to a woman and so it is very unusual for a man, and for that matter a chief's son, to be found collecting firewood. In this case the proverb warns that unusual things can happen when societal norms and customs are broken by those who are supposed to uphold them.

The target of the proverb is thus leaders who today get into position of authority and influence and misuse their position, mainly for personal aggrandisement and then are humbled out of office where they lead miserable lives because they misuse their chance to serve people justly and according to the rules. The proverb has a message to all the leaders especially of Africa who get into power and when they get out or are forced out, they led very miserable lives as the subsequent government reigns down on them as they pursue the abuse of power. The proverb calls on the need to reflect on the time when people are given the responsibility of leadership and other positions of influence, that if excised wrongly, it may come to haunt them, the very people who only the other day were being glorified. It is equivalent to a Kikuyu (Kenya) proverb that says those who were ahead or in front finally turned out to be at the rear end. In other words, the proverb advises that when life humbles someone (including the high and mighty), there is nothing he or she cannot engage in to continue surviving. The Moru proverb can thus be used today to teach and advise on responsible leadership.

Biblical Parallels

The story of Nebuchadnezzar conveys an important message to leaders and relates how some rise and then falls from "grace to grass" as the saying goes. The introduction to the book of Daniel starts by stating that "in the third reign of Jehoiakim, the King of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim, King of Judah into his hands. With some of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the land of Shinnar, to the house of the God and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. (Daniel 1:1-2). The story shows how Nebuchadnezzar defiled the temple and misused his power as he carried away the holy vessels and put then in the house of his god. Later in the book of Daniel, we learn that Daniel even made an image of gold and ordered people to worship him, a clears misuse of his powers and blasphemy to Lord God. Nebuchadnezzar later got ill, an illness that bordered on insanity in which he was separated from the people and lived with wild animals and ate grass to the embarrassment of his palace staff. The book of Daniel clearly shows how the king was warned on his leadership with the sign on the wall, "Mene mene tekel, peresh" (Daniel 5:30) without heeding the warning.

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

This proverb serves to warn people in positions of authority that it is possible that they might not hold their positions forever and that it is good for such people to be mindful of the people they serve and cultivate good relations with all. If they do not and they get out of their position in disgrace and embarrassment, they will be laughing stock of the rest of the people in society. In other words, they might be humbled to a life they might not have thought to be possible in their lives. Religiously the proverb can be used to warn leaders to cultivate good leadership and stewardship in their positions especially public service positions. Above all, religious leaders should tell political leaders and other public servants that they hold position of great dignity and power which are given by God and so they should exercise their position in ways that pleases God. Otherwise, such a warning to leaders can be equated to the writing on the wall directed to Nebuchadnezzar "Mene mene tekel, peresh" meaning "God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighted on the balance and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians" (read your enemies or competitors) (Daniel: 5:30). In a word, the religious application of the above proverb compares to the message given to Nebuchadnezzar and predicts the fall of leaders from positions of eminence to ordinary lives.

NOTE: See Proverb No. 2 in the section "Justice- related Proverbs" in Selected Justice and Peace Proverbs from the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region. Endangered African Proverbs Collections: A Continuation of the African Proverbs Project. Selected and Compiled by Joseph Kariuki. Nairobi, Kenya: Privately Duplicated, 2005. 14 pages. Go to:

Mr. Joseph Kariuki Muriithi
Assistant Moderator, African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website
P.O. Box 60875-00200
City Square, Nairobi, Kenya

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