Amagezi muro bagwisha nzweri. (Hema)
Hekima ni moto hupatikana kwa jirani. (Swahili)
La sagesse est semblable au feu. On l’obtient chez le voisin. (French)
Wisdom is like fire. People take it from others. (English)
Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use
Hema language is spoken by the Bahema people who inhabit the District of Ituri in the North Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Bahema are among the greatest pastoralist communities of Africa. They are from the Ancient Kingdom of Bunyoro Kitara that had its headquarter in Toro, Uganda.
The Bahema, like other African ethnic groups, used proverbs abundantly. It was a sign of their maturity and wisdom. Apart from proverbs, the Bahema used other means to express themselves such as signs with the eyes, heads and hands. There was a strong competition in transmitting messages through proverbs to show one’s wisdom. Young people were trained to use proverbs to convince other people when discussions arose. There were different categories of activities in which proverbs were used: hunting, fishing, pastoral activities, cultivating, healing (the medicine man or omufumu), etc. The royal palace was the place where almost everything was said in proverbs.
In our Hema proverb the word amagezi contains a wide range of meanings: Apart from wisdom or intelligence, the Bahema use it to signify astuteness, shrewdness, etc. Therefore the first meaning of amagezi is hidden in the way somebody speaks. The person who has amagezi is capable of saying the most important things in just few words using rich comparisons from the natural world. The second meaning of amagezi is being capable of understanding, analyzing and attaining objectives within a short time.
The Bahema consider amagezi as the key to success in life. Nobody is the custodian of amagezi. It is learned from others. In the traditional society people were not accustomed to have match boxes. Fire was produced from a special piece of wood. When somebody kept it, other family members could come in the morning to take it freely. Nobody could refuse to give fire because it was used for cooking, warming waters and chasing lions or other wild animals which came to attack the herd. Fire was also considered as the symbol of power. It was burning in the king’s palace and in the villages. People sat around it during the night to dance or to discuss issues. The Bahema had different ways of keeping fire under heavy rains and when crossing a river by swimming. Fire was kept under ashes and under the burning dried dung of cows.
The word nzweri in Hema means the neighbor, the relative or a close member of the community.
Psalm 39:3: “My heart grows hot in me and as I meditated, the fire burned and then I spoke with my tongue” (NIV). The words of wisdom communicated to the prophet were like a burning fire, and once spoken, had to impact the life of others. See also Jeremiah 20:9.
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
Today people have invested a lot of money in educating their children in sciences, literature, etc. But our society seems not to grow in true wisdom. Wisdom starts with good education from the family, that is, to love God, to serve and respect the people, etc. See the wisdom literature in the Bible. In the book of Proverbs 1:7 it is written: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Our society has to revisit some of our traditional values to regain wisdom. African proverbs, sayings and stories are an ongoing source of some of our deepest values.
Pastor Calvin Chelo Katabarwa
P. O. Box 61591
00200 Nairobi, Kenya