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Site Last Update: 09 Dec, 2019

July 2018 The weak cow broke the pot and said, “I blame the person who pushed me”. Runyoro (Uganda) Proverb

  Ente encheke achwe ekinaga egamba, “Kiki kyonansindikire!” (Runyoro)
Ng’ombe dhaifu kavunja nyungu kasema “Namlaumu mtu aliye nisukuma!” (Swahili)
La vache faible brisa le pot et dit, “Je condamne la person qui m’avait poussee!” (French)
The weak cow broke the pot and said, “I blame the person who pushed me” (English).

Runyoro (Uganda) Proverb

Background, Meaning and Everyday Use of the Proverb

The Banyoro are a Bantu ethnic group living in the Western part of Uganda, to the East of Lake Albert. They inhabit the present districts of Hoima, Masindi and Kibale. They speak Runyoro or Nyoro and their origins, like other Bantu, can be traced to the Congo region.

Before the nineteenth century, their settlement patterns reflected their clan organization. This was used as a means of protection against external enemies. The clans (enganda), which numbered over 150 by the 1950s, were both exogamous and patrilineal. To a large extent, Bunyoro's topography determined the distribution of settlements. The dispersal of clan members over the years has continued among the Banyoro, within Uganda, and to other parts of East Africa. According to oral traditions it is generally believed that the Batembuzi were the founders of the Bunyoro kingdom. Their existence is shrouded in a lot of myth, mysticism and legend. They are believed to be gods hailing from heaven.

The Banyoro believed in a creator-god called Ruhanga. There are recounts of how Ruhanga created a microcosm of the world and came to Bunyoro in the company of his brother NkyaMba. Disgusted at the evil he saw in the world, Ruhanga ascended to heaven, never to return. NkyaMba his brother was left behind, and had three sons: Kakama who became the Omukama (king), Kahuma who became his brothers' herdsman, and Kairu, the firstborn, who was disinherited and out of fury, became the source of evil in the world. This myth is historically and socially relevant because it provides historical justification for the monarchy and a justification for social inequality.

The Banyoro traditional household is headed by a son who inherits the status of family head after his father’s death, and it is made up of many households forming the village set-up. The naming of the children is done during a simple ceremony when the child is given a personal and a traditional name. The parent, grand-parent or another relative gives the name. Family names can be handed down in particular clans, in memory of a relative, or according to some features on the child, or some circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. Their marriages were mostly polygamous. Today many have embraced monogamy due to foreign cultural, educational and religious influences.

The Banyoro observed the new moon ceremonies whereupon they would assemble at the King’s court to dance as the royal bands-men played the music. They celebrated because the King (Omukama) had lived to see the new moon. The Banyoro believe in various supernatural beings, to who they turn for interventions, especially to ensure fertility, good health, prosperity, and population increase. Today, most of them are Christians or Muslims, but vestiges of the old beliefs remain. Songs and dances, folklore, riddles, proverbs and sayings are used to pass information in the community. These are used during any cultural ceremonies and in their daily life to disseminate moral values.

Traditionally, the Banyoro community respected a person who took responsibility in whichever circumstance. This proverb therefore served and still serves to warn people who shift blame for their failures. They expect society to accept their weaknesses and inabilities, taking advantage of this disposition to achieve their goals in life. It is natural that people cannot possess similar skills or knowledge to perform various tasks in life. And because of these shortcomings, everyone is encouraged to make an attempt and fail, rather than not making the attempt at all, or blaming their failure on other factors. They ought to understand that whatever little contribution they make helps build their community.

Biblical Parallels;

  1. Romans 1:20: “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”
  2. 2 Corinthians 12:10: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

In the African society it is frustrating to be plagued by weaknesses, but this does not have to be a person’s undoing.  Inside every weakness lies the potential for growth.  By recognizing and confronting our weaknesses, we can actually build our strengths. When we look at ourselves, we realize that we often fall short of who we might be. We can draw solace from the Bible, where examples abound, of individuals who failed, but learned from their mistakes to grow towards later success. God helped them to learn from their failures, and to accomplish good things in spite of their limitations. Failure is not something we should fear. 

In today’s world, the fear of failure has taken the centre-stage in our lives. This is because of the demands placed upon us by the society. People do not know how to handle the pressure that is associated with failure. But the Church teaches that we should decide to trust in God’s infinite wisdom for our future and our fears will evaporate.

The desire for perfectionism is also a problem. We should realize that no person or thing in this world is perfect.  We should stop demanding the impossible from ourselves.  Rather than looking at life in terms of ‘black and white’, we should learn to live within our continuum.  Rather than procrastinating because we are afraid of tackling a given project, we should make decisions and act on them as quickly as possible.

Many Christians today have an insatiable appetite for approval. We should interrogate whether our quest for approval is a need, or merely a desire.  We should understand that we can’t please everyone, but we should strive to please God instead.  Our self-doubt generates questions within us, and we should remind ourselves that it is normal to have weaknesses and that God loves us as we are and that He will help us.  We need to have courage to take risks, by relying on God’s unlimited power rather than our own limited resources. For example, each person should use all the skills at their disposal while handling a crisis.

Such skills as leadership and creativity can also be used in non-crisis situations to help build confidence in ourselves. Irrespective of whatever the interpretation, the cause of Adam’s fall was his failure to exercise his masculine leadership over his wife. As the head of the couple, he should not have deferred his responsibilities to Eve. Instead, he should have intervened, broken off Eve’s conversation with the serpent, and prevented her from partaking of the fruit even if it meant that he would have to fight a dragon.

As Christians we need to question our tendency to avoid responsibility, and to understand the long-term negative consequences this has on our lives. It is important to review and reaffirm our values, making a point of not compromising our character.  We should realize that no one else is responsible for our success. Christian Churches in the urban setting have often established structures that fill in the gaps of the collapsed traditional cultural set-up. For instance, the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) serve important purposes of strengthening families and communities, as well as minimizing the habit of people focusing on their weaknesses. They encourage people to be strong in their weaknesses for the betterment of themselves and the society, remembering that God is standing by each one of them.

The Bible is unique because it portrays not only the virtues of individuals, but also their flaws. Modern people, be they believers or not, can find comfort in the fact that even the great heroes of yore were not perfect. Today people can learn from the examples of people in the Bible who made mistakes, so that they may avoid making similar ones.

In the Mbeere language a similar proverb is used which says A lazy worker blames his tools. (Kiguuta kigwatagia muro). Ref. A Collection of 100 Mbeere Proverbs and Wise Sayings No. 23.

Edited by Ben Chebweche Mabuto

By Angelique Chelo
Kenya, Nairobi
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Cephas Yao Agbemenu 
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
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