Emphiempango ekukwatwa nilobho ihango. (Kerewe).
Samaki mkubwa hukamatwa na ndoano kubwa. (Swahili).
Les gros poissons s’attrapent à l’aide de gros hameçons. (Français).
Big fish are caught with big fish hooks. (English).
Background, Explanation, History and Everyday Use
As Ukerewe is an island in the magnificent Lake Victoria, Mwanza region in Western Tanzania, it should not come as a surprise that fishing is an important activity for its population. Doubtlessly fisherfolk from the island of Ukerewe have plenty of occasions to observe that particular traps are fitting for specific species of fish, according to their size and shape. Tilapia which is a big fish requires a different fishing technique than small sardines (called dagaa in Swahili).
This proverb is to invite the listener to a close attention to one’s goals and to consequently select appropriate means for their achievements.
This distinction in size and kind among goals and their respective means is not unknown to Jesus the teacher and preacher. There is indeed according to Him a sharp distinction between the ways of the world and the ways of God. For instance in Matthew 22: 21 we read the following: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This is Jesus’ answer to the question whether taxes should be paid to the colonizing authorities. Therefore, for Him, political rulers have their own validity and have to be served accordingly. But it is also the case with spiritual authorities and both realms are not to be confused.
In other words, when a person sets in mind into reaching some materialistic duties or achievements (and the quote here mentions Caesar as the power, glory and wealth of this world), financial means including tax-paying are needed. Money is indeed one of the most important fish-hooks to use in order to achieve one’s goals.
On the other hand, when a person strives for spiritual objectives such as ultimate salvation, this person will have to use spiritual means such as upright living, prayer and self-denial as these are some of the fish-hooks to be used in order to achieve a right relationship with God.
Just as the fish-hook has to share a quality which is to be found in the fish which is aimed to be caught (size or bigness), spiritual means would lead to spiritual achievements as it shares similar qualities. In the same way, use of worldly instruments such as money would necessary lead to a very worldly style of life.
Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 explores further the same idea. Within the verse 6 of this chapter Jesus explains: “What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Nicodemus’ difficulty to understand such a language could be overcome through a consideration of the fact that while God has created the world, He does not share its nature. But the Holy Spirit who can be made present within us shares the one and same nature with God and therefore He is the one empowering us with the capacity to reach Him. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate fish-hook in order to reach spiritual realities.
John 16: 13 states the following: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” It is because the Spirit is truthful that He may lead us into the truth. The Holy Spirit is our teacher in the ways of God, because He knows God as He comes from God: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14: 26).
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
Africa is today often felt being left behind on modern achievements. This is visible for instance through the lack of production of modern technological items. Yet, seduction for a very wide range of imported and expensive technological tools and gadgets such as in the transportation and communication industries is very strong. This is a real strain for national African economies which have each time to pay dearly for the imported goods. Our Kerewe proverb could be a reminder of the fact that technological achievements should never be separated from the systemic structure producing them and that includes among other elements high quality education, an ethic of hard and faithful work, honesty, reliability and precision. One may not be attained or consumed without the sustenance of the other. If so, it is at the expense of a very dear price.
There is sometimes a danger into promoting some African cultural particularistic attitudes as they may tempt us to think that it is possible to fulfil the economy of some austere aspects that imposes modern life while continuing desiring to consume its benefits. An overgrown cultural particularistic outlook on life may logically lead to some marginal space into the world economy and not into a satisfying degree of integration into it.
Likewise, spiritual and religious leaders are here reminded of the ultimate purpose in life they are supposed to promote: salvation as a full integration into God’s life. Cares of this world sometimes distract them from it. But through this Tanzanian proverb and its brief explanation, let them be reminded that fish-hooks of life are not of one kind only.
|Father Pascal Durand MAfr
P.O. Box 475
Tel.: (Tanzania): 00255 783 078 985
|Catechist Joseph Nkumbulwa
P.O. Box 296
Tel.: (Tanzania): 00255 688 065 791