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Site Last Update: 11 Dec, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
January 2010

A vine climbing another tree
Akati kinikwa kakiri kabisa. (Kiga)
Mti hukunjwa wakati ungali mchanga. (Swahili)
On redresse l’arbre quand il est encore jeune. (French)
A stick is straightened while still young. (English)

Kiga, Ankole (Uganda) Proverb

Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

           Kiga is the language spoken by the Bakiga Ethnic Group who mainly occupies the southwestern region of Uganda. This region borders Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Bakiga are renowned for hunting and agricultural prowess. They also practice fishing, albeit not in a large scale, in the Lake Bunyunyi where mudfish are harvested. Kiga is very similar to Ankole.

           Just like in other African societies, the behavior of the young was always in constant check. The youth were considered the life of a society. It is with this notion that such a Kiga proverb was used. It is mainly addressed to parents to encourage them to teach their children the desired ways early in their lifetime. Parents -- and the elderly in general -- should not procrastinate on discipline. Or rather, they should not leave the discipline of their children to chance. They should not imitate Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, who was of the view that virtue cannot be taught and therefore paid no attention to the discipline of his children.  The stick here is an allegory for a person, in this case a child. A “fresh and young” stick can be bent fairly well with minimal effort and has no chance of breaking. On the other hand an old branch will easily break with the slightest bending. In comparison therefore, a young child is more receptive to instruction and advice. Further, a child is more likely to adapt to, and develop, desired traits. A grown up already has their own developed principles of which change can be resisted vehemently. Now the worst part is if these principles (those of the adult) are socially unacceptable, say, night-running, thieving or such vices. An adult will tend to defend himself when questioned or reprimanded to the extent of starting feuds or unnecessary enmity -- unlike a child who will stop uncouth behavior and learn to toe the line. This Ugandan proverb delivers a message similar to the English ones that goes You cannot teach an old dog new tricks and also Spare the rod and spoil the child.

Biblical Parallels

           This African proverb’s message is explicit in the book of Proverbs 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (KJV). This biblical verse exhorts the elderly in a community to taken it upon themselves to correct the behavior of their youth, lest they become a shame to them. Proverbs 13:24 and 19:18 also provide a similar message.

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

The woven stem of a mature tree tended when young           Present societies in Africa are experiencing various degrees of lawlessness. Media reports have identified the youth as perpetrators of disturbing crimes like kidnapping and extortion. Organised criminal gangs comprise youthful school dropouts who have unleashed untold terror on their own people. Hoards of reasons have been advanced to explain these events in society, unemployment being among them. But maybe our societal structure needs to scrutinize itself. We need to determine the mode of upbringing that our youth are exposed to. What do we think of others, religion and respect toward neighbor? Do heads of families and elders in general task themselves with correcting an errant youth regardless of whose child the offender is? Instilling virtue at a young age surely has a high chance of bringing up a youth who will respect and abide by the laws. This in turn lowers the numbers of youth that will be inclined to crime – an overall benefit to the wider society.

           This Ugandan proverb can be applied to promoting health care. We have to start early and instill healthy habits and practices in children and youth while they are still young and pliable.  

Alex Temple
Apostles of Jesus Theologicum
P.O Box 30589
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
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John Siyumbu
P.O Box 781
50200 Bungoma, Kenya
Cellphone: 0725-934810
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Illustrations provided by:

Professor Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 254-723-307992
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