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Site Last Update: 09 Dec, 2019
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African Proverb for the Month
July 2009

Gũtirΐ mbiti itari mũnyanya.  (Meru)

Hapana fisi asiye na rafiki. (Swahili)

There is no hyena without a friend. (English)

 Meru (Kenya) Proverb

Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

          The Meru people are a community occupying parts of the Central and Eastern provinces of Kenya. They are renowned for some of their customs regarding marriage, circumcision and the relationship between men and women. The existence of such customs attests to the highly communal way of living among the Meru people. This proverb is coined from the way the Meru relate among themselves. It implies the notion that everyone is important and has “value.” One should desist from looking down upon another person either because of their status or lack of material wealth. A hyena among the Meru people is seen as an ugly animal. Now if a hyena with its ugliness can have a friend, therefore in comparison, an ugly person (in this sense not only physically but more so behaviorally) can have a friend too. They can also get someone to marry them! This proverb is used in everyday life to warn people against making quick and uncouth judgments about people. Basically it protects the underprivileged in the society against the outright prejudice of the high and mighty.

Biblical Parallels

          Exodus 22:21-23: Here the Israelites are warned against molesting widows and orphans.
Isaiah 10:1-4: The proclamation of judgment on those carrying out social injustice.

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

          Many times news bulletins are filled with stories of squatters evicted from some land, slum dwellers being roughed up by security agencies on the pretext of pursuing criminals in the slums and street children suffering unexplainable neglect. These aggrieved populations are mostly comprised of orphans, widows and the “have nots” in society. These vulnerable people are considered weak and they do not have the capability to aggressively agitate for their rights. So most people in society rarely side with them. Another neglected group are people living with AIDS. The societal stigma really worsens their plight. They are considered outcasts or “hyenas,” just to draw a parallel to this Meru proverb. However, we are warned that these people have their friend – God. Christians should strive to care for people living with AIDS and champion the rights of orphans, street children, those with disabilities and the poor.

Joy Makena
P.O Box 261
60200 Meru, Kenya
Cellphone: 0715-633502

John Siyumbu
P.O Box 781
50200 Bungoma, Kenya
Cellphone: 0725-934810
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Illustrations provided by:

Professor Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 0723-307992
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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