|Mayo wa myao nawe mmayoho. (Digo)
Mamako mwenzio ni mamako pia. (Swahili)
La mere de ton ami est ta mere aussi. (French)
Your friend’s mother is your mother too. (English)
Digo (Mijikenda) Kenya Proverb
Background, Explanation, History, Meaning and Everyday Use of the Proverb
The Digo are part of the greater Mijikenda ethnic group, a Kenyan coastal Bantu ethnic group that consists of nine closely related sub-ethnic groups. They live in the southern coast of Kenya, south of Mombasa, in Kwale district. They speak the Bantu language called Chidigo. In the past, the Mijikenda were also referred to as the “Nyika” tribe, a near-derogatory term implying “bush people.” "Mijikenda" literally means nine homes or nine homesteads (in Swahili), referring to their common ancestry. The nine Mijikenda sub-groups are believed to be nine different homes of the same ethnic group. These are the Giriama, Digo, Chonyi, Kauma, Duruma, Jibana, Kambe, Rabai, and Ribe. Each speaks its own dialect of the Mijikenda language. Their closest neighbours are the Duruma and the Rabai sub-ethnic groups.
They are said to have originated from Shungwaya in the southern Somali hinterland at the turn of the 17th century. They came along the River Nile. It is believed that they escaped constant attacks from the Oromo and other Cushitic ethnic groups, and settled in fortified villages along the coastal ridges of the southern Kenya coast. History shows that they intermarried with the Arabs from Yemen (Persian Gulf) and gave birth to the Swahili culture and language.
The Digo people live in villages which are located in the kaya forests. They consist of many huts whose occupants are the members of an extended family — from children to grandchildren, and sometimes great grandchildren. They are mainly polygamous and a man can have many wives. When a Digo man marries, he pays a bride-price of four heads of cattle, two goats or sheep, and palm wine. Eventually he is incorporated into the bride’s family.
Most activities are performed communally by all the members of the family. Activities such as preparation of the farms, participating in customary and social events such as weddings, burials, circumcision and religious rituals. The Digo women do a tremendous amount of work within the homestead, but are excluded from participating in politics, religion, kinship issues, and major economic transactions. They have the responsibility of taking care of all the children, husband and the extended family members. As a result of living in a village setup, all women take care of everyone. The children from the various homesteads, or those of another wife can be cared for by any of the women. Through the generations proverbs and wise sayings, riddles, folktales, songs and dance have been used to pass on knowledge and cultural norms.
This proverb is used regularly by the Digo to emphasize the need for respecting women in the family and community. The Digo women collectively ensure they support each other in undertaking most of their roles. They take care of all the members of the community, regardless of whether they are their biological mother or not. When used in ordinary conversation, the children and adults do not forget to show respect to all women of the community. It is used as a strong reminder that women should be respected by everyone. It is also used to correct a person who disrespects a member of the community or family, whether they are young or elderly.
Deuteronomy 5:16: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
1 Timothy 5:1-2: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
Throughout history, women have been the "underdog". They have always been even in the West. Until the industrialisation of Western countries, women were also considered second class citizens, given little respect or due notice. The wider community is still young regarding giving women a fairer representation in society. Women have only had the vote in most countries for a hundred years at best, so it is not just an issue of religion, but one of societal and economic changes. They only started being treated as equal members of the society after World War I, when the wiping out of an entire generation of males meant more reliance on women for industrial participation.
This Kenyan proverb promotes communal support for respect of women in society today. It reminds people that all elders of the community should be respected. Whether they are your biological mother or father, they are parents. In 1 Timothy the Apostle Paul encourages his protégé to relate to the believers in local churches in a familial way. The wording is specific for the church, of course, but it applies to how we view others. Paul says treat “older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.” With this instruction, Paul is helping Timothy to understand that he should treat others (including women) with love and respect. That’s true everywhere.
Men should know that women are made in the image of God and deserving of dignity and respect—they are image bearers. This is how God desires our world to operate; as the Bible relates at the very beginning in the book of Genesis, “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Genesis 1:27).
Showing respect and gratitude to the women in our society is very important. We need to know that we can hardly achieve our highest potential without the influence of good women, particularly our mother and, in a few years, a good wife. We should learn to thank them and express our appreciation for what they do for us. The influence of our mother figure will bless us throughout life, even when we serve as missionaries and pastoral agents.
NOTE: This Digo (Mijikenda) Proverb is No. 55 in A Collection of 100 Digo Proverbs and Wise Sayings by Margaret Wambere, in collaboration with the African Proverbs Working Group (Nairobi: Privately Printed, 2016).
Margaret Wambere Ireri
Cellphone: +254 722 537 774
Photographs provided by:
Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
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