|Ensawo ya mukuluwo tekuterekera. (Ganda)
Mfuko wa mkubwao haukubebei chako. (Swahili)
La poche de ton ainé ne contient rien pour toi. (French)
Your elder sibling’s pocket or bag does not contain your savings/contents. (English)
Ganda (Uganda) Saying
Background, Meaning, and Everyday Use
The common Ganda word, mukuluwo, means “elder sibling” or “old one” or “the grown up,” but it is also associated with high status or seniority and can be extended to mean owner, master, superior, lord, sir, madam, older sibling, head, leader, father, mother, commander, manager, overseer, chief, boss, etc. Mukulu can also be a title and a personal name. There are many similar Bantu language based words, such as mukulu and mkulu, and they can also be titles or praise-names for God. The word nsawo means “pocket“ or “bag” and can imply “possessions.” Some Ugandans are named Nsawo.
The Ugandan scholar and writer Augustine Bukenya points out that “this saying depends for its meaning and translatability on the context in which it is used. My impression is that the proverb is used in a situation urging self-reliance, suggesting that, however close or dependent you are to another person, you should not presume automatic access to his or her resources.”
Translation is complex and nuanced. Bukenya says another Ganda version is: Ensawo ya mukuluwo tetereka kikyo (Your elder sibling’s pocket or bag does not contain your savings). A proverbial equivalent of this concept is: Oguli ewa munno tigutta ngo (the stick at your friend’s house will not kill an [attacking] leopard). It is also heard as: Oguli ewa muliraanwa tigutta ngo (the club at your neighbor’s house does not kill an [attacking] leopard). A popular Swahili (Eastern and Central Africa) saying is: Mtegemea cha nduguye hufa ali fukara (One who depends on one’s [elder] relative’s property dies in abject poverty).
Although it is often presumed that those in authority are well endowed in possessions, social connectivity, aid, or valuable advice that would greatly benefit their subjects, inferiors, or children, such expectations should not be assumed. Elders and the powerful may not have much to give away, they may not be willing to give away what they have, or they may be quite discriminatory about who to give to. A substantial family inheritance is not guaranteed, and this is a world of favoritism. Hence is common sense for us to strive to be diligent and self-reliant/ self-sufficient, rather than for us to take the direction of expecting or relying on favors and donations from others. Furthermore we ought to respect others’ property, even if the owners are our close relatives, and to also refrain from trespassing on and squandering such assets as if they were our own.
1 Thessalonians 2: 9: “You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters, we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God.”
Leviticus 25: 35: “If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens.”
Proverbs 10: 4: A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”
Acts 20: 35: “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.””
Sirach 40: 1: “Much labor was created for every person, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons and daughters of Adam, from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb till the day they return to the mother of all.”
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
Indeed, humans naturally depend on each other. All of us are obligated to look out for and help to build up each other. The more wealthy and those in authority are charged with assisting the genuinely needy and helpless towards becoming productive and self-reliant/self sufficient rather than towards stagnating into helplessness and chronic dependency. Those who have should be obligated to judiciously give to the have-nots — the very spirit of Christianity and humaneness. The proverb is often quoted: Give a person a fish, and you feed the person for a day; teach a person to fish, and you feed the person for a lifetime. Promoting self reliance, diligence and hard work, as opposed to dependency, is in tune with the tenets of Christianity. This is very relevant for the development of the Catholic Church in Africa and the growth of the Local Church) today.
NOTE: Ferdinand Walser’s Luganda Proverbs (Berlin, Germany: Reimer, 1982 and Kampala: Mill Hill Missionaries, 1984) is one of the largest collections of African Proverbs in Africa.
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