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Site Last Update: 11 Dec, 2019

November 2017 All trees are not straight in the forest. Kwele (DRC, Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo) Proverb

  A ho te mbouoo. (Kwele)
Miti yote msituni haifanani. (Swahili)
Tous les arbres dans la forêt
ne sont pas semblable. (French)
All trees are not straight in the forest
. (English)

Kwele (DRC, Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo) Proverb

Background, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Kwele (Bakwel, Bekwil) people are an ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eastern Gabon, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo. They fled the coastal area of Western Africa during the 19th century after their traditional enemies acquired firearms from the slave traders. This altercation is often called the “Poupou” war. The Kwele then settled into lands between the Dja and Ivindo rivers. The Kwele are noted for their ceremonial masks that are collected as art objects. The Kwele occupy a great forest region on the borders of Gabon. Their village communities comprised a number of lineages and were governed in the usual way for “headless” equatorial societies, that is, in a diffuse and more or less informal manner.

The Kwele believe that unexplained deaths, epidemic smallpox and other mysterious threats to the well-being of individuals or the community are caused by witchcraft. Witches are believed to live in male or female hosts, from which they emerge at night to feed upon the internal organs of their victims.

They use proverbs to educate the community especially young people to understand nature and urge them to keep on using proverbs as a reminder to protect their culture. This proverb is daily used in Kwele communities to differentiate peoples’ characters. It means that just as in the forest trees are not all standing in same position, so in the villages, towns, countries and continents around in the world, people are indeed not the same. There are bad and good people, tall and short, black and white people. They are very different. What matter is their hearts and characters.

Biblical Parallels

Luke 8:12: “And those by the way side are they that have heard; then cometh the devil, and taken away the word from their heart, that they may not believe and be saved.”

Luke 23:39-40: “And one of the malefactors that were hanged railed on him, saying, ‘Art
not thou the Christ? Save thyself and us.’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?’”
Genesis 1:26: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creped upon the earth.’”

Contemporary Use and Religion Application

God values human beings more than any other creatures he created because the human being’s appearance represents God’s on earth. This means that a person should act in accordance with God’s will. As a large forest is full of different kinds of trees, the world has two existing groups of human beings. The first group is people who preach the Word of God according to the Bible and apply human value factors such as love, peace and kindness. These people live and congregate together as brothers and sisters. They share their belongings with other people regardless of their race, religion, etc.

The second group is people (like fallen trees in the forest) are more harmful than wild animals. They threaten, discriminate, oppress, hate and kill because there is no faithfulness in their mouths; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcher; they flatter with their tongue. However, nobody is in a position to judge these people whatsoever; only God can do so. As God ensures us in Acts 7:7: “I am going to judge the nation and they shall come out and worship me.”

In short, all creatures are not the same but have different aspects. But God and all who believe in him will be the same forever and ever.


NOTE: This Kwele proverb is No. 1 in A Collection of 100 Kwele Proverbs and Wise Sayings collected by Elias Bushiri Elie in collaboration with African Proverbs Working Group (Nairobi: Privately Printed, 2017). See Ebooks on the African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website,


Elias Bushiri Elie
Nairobi Kenya
Cellphone: +254 735 973 276
+254 792 556 909
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Photographs provided by:

Cephas Yao Agbemenu 
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya

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