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Site Last Update: 14 Dec, 2019

January, 2017 He who has a sister has a brother-in-law. Chonyi (Kenya) Proverb

Ariye na dada kakosa mlamu. (Chonyi)
Aliye na dada ana mkwe pia. (Swahili)
Celui qui a une sœur, a aussi un beau frère. (French)
He who has a sister has a brother-in-law. (English)

Chonyi (Kenya) Proverb

Background, Meaning and Everyday Use of the Proverb

The Chonyi people live in the southern coast of Kenya, south of Mombasa, nestled within the Giriama reaching up to Kilifi area. They speak the Bantu language called Chichonyi. They are part of the greater Mijikenda Ethnic Group, a Kenyan coastal Bantu ethnic group that consists of nine closely related sub-ethnic groups. They are one of the smaller groups of the Mijikenda. They are said to have originated from Shungwaya in the southern Somali hinterland at the turn of the 17th century. They came along the River Nile. It is believed that they escaped constant attacks from the Oromo and other Cushitic ethnic groups and settled in fortified villages along the coastal ridges of the southern Kenya coast. They intermarried with the Arabs from Yemen (Persian Gulf) and gave birth to the Swahili culture and language. As a result, the Swahili language bears a close lexical similarity with all dialects of the Mijikenda people. The Chonyi live in settlements known as kaya.

Clans play a central role in kaya affairs. Each clan has its own area within the kaya and its own specialized function. The sub-clans play an important role in their social life, particularly with regard to the organization of major social events such as weddings and funerals. They farm the land corporately which is held by the head of the homestead. The Chonyi are polygamous and the whole family lives and works communally that promotes cohesion under one head of a family. Marriages are not just alliances between spouses, but also between two exogamous clans. The bridewealth required to be given can be paid gradually over an extensive period of more than 20 years. Bridewealth helps constrain the incidence of divorce because a man who receives cattle through his sister’s marriage would have to return the bridewealth after a divorce.


Kaya Chonyi is one of the largest traditional shrines of the Mijikenda community where they go to pray to God Mulungu. Most of the Chonyi practice Africa traditional animism, others are Christians and a few Muslims. The majority of Chonyi territory is covered with huge sisal plantations which provide a source of income for the people. They demonstrate great skill at climbing the coconut trees in order to get fresh coconut milk. They also grow cassava, corn and fir trees that are later sold to the plantation owners.


To ensure continuity of their culture, the Chonyi use proverbs and wise sayings, riddles, folktales, songs and dance to pass, norms and cultural knowledge to the community members. As a result of their traditional marriage practice, they live together, have many relatives due to polygamy and have a communal lifestyle. This made the elders create a proverb to teach the community that they should be one family related by marriage relationships. As long as the women get married, all families will always have brothers-in-law. The blood bonds will remain forever and cannot be severed. Payment of bridewealth in the Chonyi community and other African communities creates a lifelong bond through many generations. Its payment in small amounts ensures that a good relationship between in-laws is maintained for as long as can be possible, even through generations. These families learn to respect, acknowledge, and appreciate each other in whatever circumstances because they are one family.


Biblical Parallels

Matthew 19:7-9: “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery.'”

Numbers 10:29-32: “Then Moses said to Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, ‘We are setting out to the place of which the Lord said, 'I will give it to you'; come with us and we will do you good, for the Lord has promised good concerning Israel.’ But he said to him, ‘I will not come, but rather will go to my own land and relatives.’ Then he said, ‘Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will be as eyes for us.’”

1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”


Contemporary Use and Religious Application

A Christian marriage is a sacramental marriage where the husband and wife have a true commitment to each other till death, and to Jesus Christ and His Church.  When two people marry, two families intersect and are brought into alignment as stated in Ephesians 5:31: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” At marriage a couple begins a process of merging together two separate home cultures, value systems and sets of traditions. 


This African proverb He who has a sister has a brother-in-law teaches that extending our family to include grandparents and cousins, grandchildren, nieces, in-laws, neighbors and friends is really just a matter of extending our love. As the Lord has consistently counseled, the more love we extend, our lives become more meaningful and full of things that matter most.

Within the traditional Christian family, relationships with extended families and in-laws can be among the main sources of conflict in homes. However, the attitude of each Christian partner toward his or her in-laws should be genuine love and reflect one’s love for his or her spouse. It is a duty that we should fulfil.


Note: This proverb is No. 3 in the list of a Collection of 100 Chonyi (Mijikenda) Proverbs and Wise Sayings by Angelique Chelo. In collaboration with African Proverbs Working Group. It is posted as the Proverb of the Month in January, 2017 and as an Ebook:


Angelique Chelo  
P.O. Box 615191-00200
Nairobi, Kenya
Cell phone: 254-707-367671
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  


Photographs provided by:

Cephas Yao Agbemenu 
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: +254 723-307992
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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