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Site Last Update: 11 Dec, 2019

February 2018 A family that has a son will never lose the debts owed to them. Rendille (Kenya) Proverb

  Goobi inam dele mogtils ma babaato. (Rendille)
Jamii ambayo ina mtoto mwanaume haiwezi poteza deni zao kutoka kwa majirani. (Swahili)
La famille qui a un fils ne perdra pas ses dettes auprès du voisin. (French)
A family that has a son will never lose the debts owed to them. (English)

Rendille (Kenya) Proverb

Background, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Rendille are believed to have originally migrated down into the Great Lakes area from Ethiopia in the more northerly Horn of Africa Region, following southward population expansions by the Oromo and later the Somali. The Rendille lead a peaceful nomadic life in north central Kenya. They now live their lives and raise their livestock in almost 9000 square miles (14,500 square kilometers) of very arid semi-desert in southern Marsabit District, bordered on the north by the Chalbi Desert. In his doctoral thesis on the Rendille, A. Beaman comments that "Rendilleland constitutes one of the most forbidding human habitats in all of East Africa in terms of heat, climatic aridity, and the scarcity of water points.” According to the Ethnologue, there were approximately 34,700 Rendille speakers in 2006. Most are concentrated in the Kaisut Desert and Mount Marsabit in the Marsabit District of Kenya's northern Eastern Province.

The proverb A family that has a son will never lose the debts owed to them talks about the importance of a male child in the family. In the African tradition a male child is raised in a way that he is taught to take responsibilities that corresponds to that of his father and also taught to protect the family just as his father does. It also urges the reader to highly regard the male child and his importance in a family.


Biblical Parallels

“A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. (Proverbs 10:1).

According to the Book of Genesis, Reuben was the eldest son of Jacob and was expected to look after his brothers. This is a responsibility that was given to him by his father Jacob. Later on in life, Reuben tried to take care of his father’s youngest son Joseph and tried to stop his brothers from allowing Joseph to be sold to slavery. He intervened with his brothers to spare Joseph's life in Genesis 37:21-30. After many years, Joseph became a ruler in Egypt and was able to save his family again by giving them food from a foreign land when the family was suffering depicting the responsibilities of a father’s beloved son. Genesis 41:40-41:“You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” He also gave his family back some of the things that their family had been deprived for many years. In the book of Genesis 47:1-12 Joseph helped his family settle in Goshen. Joseph made sure that his father, brothers, sister, nieces, and nephews had plenty of food to eat. The whole story of Joseph in the Bible clearly depicts the responsibilities of a son in a family and this corresponds to the meaning of the Rendille proverb.


Contemporary Use and Religion Application

Wisdom is wealth and African seems to have a lot of it since their ancestors handed down to them much wisdom. Most Africans have not forgotten their proverbs and the wisdom that it gives, and they still continue to draw more knowledge and understanding from these proverbs. The African community has always had a way in which they interpreted proverbs to suit some of their social and political beliefs. The proverb, A family that has a son will never lose the debts owed to them, brings out today’s belief in the African culture that focuses on training a male child in a way that he can be of great value in the society and protect his family. The proverb also depicts that the African community highly regards the male child and believes that the presence of a boy child in a family is evidence of security both in the present and the future. He also carries on the family lineage and name. Thus, most modern African communities still use certain proverbs to advise other people.

Ricardo Benon Benjamin Chelo
Cell Phone: +254 701 606 346
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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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