Imbilaph’ ivun’ isilonda. (Zulu)
The groin pains in sympathy with the sore. (English)
Explanation and Everyday Use
This Zulu proverb is said because the groin will be painful when one has a sore leg. This is regarded as an act of sympathy that brands the two as friends. The proverb is used when:
C. L. Sibusiso Nyembezi lists this proverb under the heading “Friendship” together with proverbs like the following: It is tobacco and aloe. It is saliva and the tongue. Good waxbills go in pairs/die in pairs. Other Zulu speakers say the proverb reminds them of the following Zulu proverbs: A person’s wound is not to be laughed at. There is no tribe that would discard itself. Hands wipe each other clean. A bird builds on another’s feathers. This thing called a person is not that which removes the thorns in its own flesh.
The idea of sympathy, especially in connection with friendship, is echoed by the following two biblical proverbs:
The initial intention of Job’s friends is to console and comfort him that is in line with the typical use of this Zulu proverb. See 1. above. In Job 2:11 we read: “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home… They met together to go and console and comfort him.” However, they get caught up in an argument about the causes of Job’s suffering which reminds us of the alternative use of this proverb. See 2. above. They accuse him of having gone wrong; therefore his suffering is a form of punishment. But Job replies: “Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty. My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed, like freshets that pass away” (Job 6:14-15).
Psalm 35:13-14 illustrates how a person really sympathizes with others:
But as for me, when they were sick,
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting.
I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,
as though I grieved for a friend or a brother;
I went about as one who laments for a mother,
bowed down and in mourning.
The “Parable of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) is a fine example of this kind of sympathy. Verses 36-37 are noteworthy: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
It is reassuring to know that God also sympathizes with our suffering. Hebrews 4:15 reads: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
Professor Willie van Heerden
University of South Africa (UNISA)
Pretoria, South Africa
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