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Site Last Update: 11 Dec, 2019

March, 2017 A small house will hold a hundred friends. Duruma (Kenya) Proverb


Chumba chidide chinaidima kuphenya atu mirongo kumi. (Duruma)
Chumba kidogo huweza kuwa na marafiki mia moja. (Swahili)
Une seule maison peut avoir cent amis. (French)
A small house will hold a hundred friends. (English)

Duruma (Kenya) Proverb

“Chirondoni” “Tseka” (Duruma)
“Chumba chidide china atu anji?” “Payu.”

“Kitendawili.” “Tega.” (Swahili)
“Chumba kidogo chenye watu wengi?” “Papai.”

“Je ai une énigme." " Laissez-le venir." (French)
“Une petite maison avec beaucoup de gens?” “Une papaya.”

“I have a riddle.” “Let it come.”
“A small house with many people?”… “Pawpaw.”

Duruma (Kenya) Riddle


Background, Meaning and Everyday Use of the Proverb

The Duruma are one of the Mijikenda ethnic groups of the Kenyan coastal region. They live on the semi-arid plains, inland from the coast of eastern Kenya. Together with the Digo, they dominate the occupation of the Kwale region. This area extends from the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway and the south of the Tanzania border. Their area is marked roughly by the triangle of Taru, Mazeras and Lunga Lunga regions on the border. The main administrative center is Kinango, about a two-hour drive from Mombasa.

The nine Mijikenda sub-ethnic groups are believed to be nine different homes of the same ethnic group. These are the Giriama, Digo, Chonyi, Kauma, Duruma, Jibana, Kambe, Rabai and Ribe. Each speaks its own dialect of the Mijikenda language. These sub-ethnic groups 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 and are believed to have escaped constant attacks from the Oromo and other Cushitic ethnic groups. They settled in fortified villages along the coastal ridges of the southern Kenya coast. Their second myth of origin states that the Duruma were formed from three different groups who came together in the area of the Duruma Kayas and formed a single people. These include Digo from Kwale, fleeing refugee slaves from Mombasa called Mokua and Kamba immigrants (Spear, 1978). The languages of the Mijikenda are close to the major Bantu language of the East African coast, Swahili. Most Duruma are bilingual and speak Swahili and Digo (Chidigo).

A Duruma homestead varies in size from that of just a man and his wife living in a single hut to a large extended family of three or four generations. In the traditional polygamous households, each wife lives in a separate hut. Children of both sexes under the age of puberty live together in their mother's hut, while the more grown-up boys are encouraged to build and reside in their own hut, which can host several of them. They may be born of different mothers, but can live together because of the bonding developed among them from early childhood. The family eats together, served in a large smooth wooden dish, mvule, which holds plenty of food. Other activities are performed communally such as the preparation of farms and participating in customary and social events such as weddings, burials, circumcision and religious rituals.

This Duruma proverb relates to the communal lifestyle of the Duruma people. It is used remind the community that there is always a place for one more person. It encourages bonding and learning to share things with each other. In their ordinary way of life, the family members appreciate hosting each other. Whether there is enough space or not, there is always space for one more person. The larger the number of people living together, the merrier and warmer the family relationship is. There is a popular saying worldwide, the more the merrier. The Duruma learn to share whatever littles resources they have with an open heart. They are generous to other members of the extended family and the community. They support one another regardless of age, gender or other limitations.

Values in the community were, and still are transmitted through the proverbs, which show a deep knowledge of the community because they are drawn from, and refer to the environment, social order and behavior common in this community. This custom has helped both the children and adults to learn and enrich their knowledge of culture, learn traditional norms and maintain good morals.

This situation is changing with the great influence of urbanization and secularism in Africa. For example, Duruma youth living in cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa know very few proverbs compared to their parents and grandparents.

This Duruma proverb is often used as a riddle. A small house with many people. Answer. Pawpaw. The pawpaw fruit may be small, but it has many seeds. This riddle is found in other African languages such as Ewe, Ghana: A small house with many people in it. Answer. Pawpaw. In Mbeere, Kenya the riddle is: A pot full of maize seeds. Answer: Mouth full of teeth.


Biblical Parallels

Acts 20:35: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”


Contemporary Use and Religious Application

The African sense of hospitality is one of the African values that is still quite alive. They easily incorporate strangers and give them space to settle and resources to use, hoping that they will one day move on. Sharing with everyone is an accepted way of life. For instance, whether there is enough food to be eaten or not, everyone present is invited to the meal even if the food was prepared for a far less number of people. The Christian Churches teaches that families thrive when there is a sense of security because it creates an environment that allows each member to feel safe with one another. Acceptance means that family members can lean on and encourage each other. In Mbeere there is a proverb which says that Rurira ti rurico (The umbilical cord is not a sweet potato vine) meaning that kinship should not be taken for granted (see Blood is thicker than water). Combined with the traits of loyalty and appreciation, the parents have the ability to create an environment of spirituality that anchors the home. Also, the African saying Strong roots keep the family grounded.

The African set up is slowly being eroded by the mixture of cultures especially in urban settings where families have become autonomous. However, people are becoming more aware that they are losing that family bond within the community. Christian Churches in the urban setting have often established structures that fill in the gaps left behind by the collapsed traditional cultural setup. For instance, they set up children’s homes, orphanages and homes for the elderly. The Small Christian Communities (SCCs) serve a similar purpose.

The family was created by God for the benefit of humans, and men and women have been given stewardship over it. The concept of family was introduced in the very beginning, in Genesis 1:28: "God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” God's plan for creation was for men and women to marry and have children. They with their children become a family, the essential building block of human society. We should therefore, protect and defend the family in order to provide the society with an opportunity to raise men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony. The African family system eliminates the need for orphanages in our community as they take care of their own and share even the meagre resources. Even the cases of dumped babies are not so common in the rural community because of the availability of aunts and uncles for shelter.

NOTE: This Duruma (Mijikenda) Proverb is No. 19 in A Collection of 100 Duruma, Kenya Proverbs and Wise Sayings by Margaret Wambere Ireri, in collaboration with the African Proverbs Working Group (Nairobi: Privately Printed, 2017). The full collection is posted as an Ebook:


Margaret Wambere Ireri
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: +254 722 537 774
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Photographs provided by:

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