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Site Last Update: 09 Dec, 2019

July, 2017 A cow does not lack a spot. Tugen (Kenya) Proverb

  Mapatien tisian tany. (Tugen)
Ng’ombe haikosi madowadowa. (Swahili)
Une vache ne manque pas une tache. (French)
A cow does not lack a spot. (English)

Tugen (Kenya) Proverb

Background, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Tugen are a sub-tribe of the Kalenjin people alongside the Nandi, Kipsigis, Keiyo, Pokot, Marakwet, Sabaot, Ogiek, Lembus and Sengwer sub-tribes. They occupy Baringo County and some parts of Nakuru County in the former Rift Valley Province, Kenya. Daniel arap Moi, the second president of Kenya (1978–2002), is from the Tugen Sub-tribe. The Tugen people speak the Tugen language. The Lembus people are confused as being either Nandi or a sub-tribe of Kalenjin. This was dismissed when history discovered the Lembus people. They are predominantly a group of people who originally lived in the forest called Somek, Murkaptuk, Kamaruso and partially assimilated the Ogiek. Traditional Tugen society is the way of life that existed among the Kalenjin people prior to the advent of the colonial period in Kenya. By this time, the Tugen had been semi-nomadic pastoralists of long standing. They had been raising cattle, sheep and goats and cultivating sorghum and pearl millet since at least the last millennium BC when they arrived in Kenya.

Traditionally the Tugen were cattle keepers and the cow occupied a central part in their cultural lives as meat, milk, currency and dowry. Among the Kalenjin community they are known as the most resilient alongside the Pokot people since they live in harsh climatic conditions. Through the keeping of cattle, the wise elders observed that no cow lacked a spot (or blemish) entirely, however small the spot may be. This prompted the wise elders to use the example of the cow to derive a proverb since it was domesticated in every homestead of the Tugen family. Thus, the origin of this proverb.

The meaning of the proverb is to bring out the reality of human nature by explaining that no individual is perfect and we all have our own inequalities. We should therefore not be quick to judge others without consideration. The proverb was used by the Tugen people to foster forgiveness, second chances and compromise in their daily interactions.

The Tugen use proverbs and wise sayings in most of their daily life. Mostly proverbs are used during ceremonies like birth, circumcision, marriage, death and everyday life. This particular proverb was used on the daily basis to warn wrongdoers to change their bad behavior. At the same time, it advises that those wronged should not judge but forgive and lead others in the right path of reconciliation in the community. In every community there are bad and good people. People will differ in their character even if they are twins.

Biblical Parallels

“Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but sin overthrows the wicked”  (Proverbs 13:6).

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).


Contemporary Use and Religious Application

In the modern world there is a lot of judgment going on among Christians. Christians are condemning others without looking at themselves first or instead of being a beacon of hope and teaching the ways of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This has made it difficult for those condemned to come back to the Christian Churches because of the fear of denunciation. This makes them continue in their inequities.

As Christians it is our duty to follow the ways of the cross. We should not be like the Pharisee thumping ourselves on the chest as more righteous than others. Nobody is without sin and we should be supportive of fellow Christians instead of criticizing them whenever they backslide or fall down.

This proverb tries to tell us Christians to recognize that there is no one who is perfect and righteous in the eyes of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We all have our weaknesses and we need to help each other to stay on our feet. As one soul we save each other for the Kingdom of God. We become the tree that bears fruits and we will not be cut down.


NOTE: This is Sample Proverb No. 1 in a collection of 100 Tugen Proverbs and Wise Sayings by Kevin Namatsi Okubo in collaboration with African Proverbs Working Group, Nairobi, Kenya.


Kevin Namatsi Okubo
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 071-5307874
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: 0723-307992
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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