Umubindi ushira uvimye. (Hangaza).
Mtumbwi hauwezi kujua panapokuwa pamejaa maji. (Swahili)
La pirogue ne connaît pas la profondeur de l’eau. (French)
The dugout canoe does not know the depth of the water. (English)
Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Hangaza Ethnic Group is a small unit of about 50,000 people dwelling between Rwanda and the Lake Victoria within the country of Tanzania. Their language is close to Kinyarwanda with some small variations. The fact that it is a tiny ethnic minority within Tanzania compels members perhaps to be particularly cautious about their neighbors and to consequently learn to go beyond the ordinary face values.
A most immediate object of contemplation for the Hangaza people is the great Lake Victoria together with some rivers immediately next to it. But these sites can also be used for acquiring wisdom. It has been noticed for instance that small boats have the capacity to float on the waters, but it does not mean that they control the waters, nor does it mean that they know what constitutes their insides. Whether the waters are deep, whether there is fish, or crocodiles or bilharzias, the boat cannot say. There is more to it than what is actually seen, even with the capacity to float over it. It represents an unmistakable call to prudence and caution with regard to relationships and to new ventures. For example, we cannot know the habits of a person unless we live with him or her.
This proverb is considering prudence and the acquisition of a discerning spirit such as Jesus struggled to teach his disciples and followers. Matthew 7:15 states: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Jesus invites to go beyond what is immediately seen and explains within the few following verses that what is needed is to really know the quality of the prophets, and what is visible only through produced fruits, good deeds, results. So many aspects mean much more than a gentle attractive dress.
Perhaps there is still more to it. Jesus struggled to make a change within the group of his disciples by inviting them to step away from pure outside ritualism (such as strict obedience to materialistic rules) which in itself reveals nothing about the inner quality and character of a person. A sentence like “there is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him or her; but the things which come out of a person are what defile him or her.” (Mark 7:15) invites all of us to convert, that is, to turn our attention from the immediate outside superficiality towards the enigmatic (but infinitely more precious) inside character of a person.
Perhaps this high sensitivity that Jesus shows towards the inner quality of people is precisely what fuels his violent diatribes against the Pharisees. Indeed, they commonly mislead the people by their simple appearance: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup of the plate, but inside are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and of the plate so that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you outwardly appear righteous to people, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:23-28).
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
This Hangaza proverb is first used as a call to caution and prudence within the same style as “anything that shines does not do so because of gold.” Within our contemporary world it would be amazing to consider technical and cultural signs that call us to many commitments while being in themselves just a few inches deep: advertising images, computer and television screens. Some of these produce forms of beauty that are only meant to mislead. Besides, this proverb invites us to consider carefully flashy costumes, catchy words and alluring promises that are not uncommon at some public gatherings.
I am a French Missionary of Africa who has worked for 16 years in East Africa. As such, I am sometimes called to describe Tanzania to French people or France to Tanzanian people. I am very much aware that what I am able to perform does not often go much beyond superficial presentations. Consequently I feel the need to complete my work with this proverb — meaning that there is really much more to it than what I may put into my poor words and even pictures for this matter. Some of my own efforts to meditate and contemplate on the inside of things and of people may be consulted on my blog http://www.pascalbcd.over-blog.com (French) and http://www.pascalbcdeng.over-blog.com (English).
This proverb is No. 37 in Methali za Hangaza (Tanzania). Collected, Explained and Tanslated into Swahili by Katekista Joseph Nkumbulwa. Compiled and Translated into English and into French by Father Pascal Durand M. Afr. Nairobi, Kenya: Privately Printed. September, 2010. This is one booklet in the series of Endangered African Proverbs Collections. It is posted as an Ebook on our website at: http://afriprov.org/index.php/resources/e-books.html
Catechist Joseph Nkumbulwa
P.O. Box 296
Tel.: (Tanzania): 00255 688 065 791
Photographs selected by:
Professor Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 43844