|Adio kopali palite eroko ijo edite akilanya arauni ijo lokopala plani kimojong ijo. (Teso)
Ni heri kuwa maskini ukiwa kijana badala kuwa maskini katika uzee. (Swahili)
Mieux vaut d’être pauvre quand on est encore jeune que de devenir pauvre à la vieillesse. (French)
It is better to be poor when one is young rather than become poor in old age. (English)
Background, Explanation, History, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Kenyan Teso people are natives of the Teso District in Western Kenya. They are an extension of their Ugandan counterparts in that they were merely separated by the partition of the countries of East Africa during the historic scramble for Africa. This is similar to the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania and the Oromo of Kenya and Ethiopia. The Teso are among the Plain Nilotic groups closely related to the Turkana, Karamojong, Toposa, Maasai and Samburu.
Teso has seven main clans, but the most popular and dominant ones are Irarak, Inyakoi, Atekok, Ikomolo, Ikarebwok, Inom. Teso clan names reveal a history of long-standing ethnic interactions. Names of Bantu and northern Nilotic origin are found among them.
The Teso live in family groups, related to their clans, and their children were taught their culture in the evenings during a story-telling time as they had their evening meals. The elders and parents transmitted the traditional community norms by telling stories, using riddles, proverbs and wise sayings.
Marriages are not just alliances between spouses, but also between two exogamous clans. More than one-third of all men and a majority of all women are married polygamously. The amount of bridewealth required the presentation of 10 to 15 head of cattle, but this has changed over time. It can be paid before or after the birth of the first child, or even gradually over an extensive period of more than 20 years. The number of cattle a person owns is a sign of wealth and hard work. Bridewealth helps constrain the incidence of divorce because a man who receives cattle through his sister’s marriage would have to return the bridewealth.
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
In the Bible St. Paul, Silvanus and Timothy help us to understand the need of working hard when we have the energy and zeal — more so during our youth to help us create wealth for our families. It goes ahead and warns us that if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
As Christians we have an obligation to live a life that pleases Jesus and this can only be achieved by encouraging everyone to work hard so that we can have enough wealth to sustain us and even help the needy within our communities. When we play our part effectively other people will be attracted to Jesus. At the same time we will be spreading the good news and evangelism to the world through our evident work and participation in creation.
Hard work is evident when Jesus called his first disciples. They were fishing and through their hard work had a good livelihood. Later they worked together with Jesus to reach out to every generation and the world at large. As contemporary Christians today we are being called to evangelism through our work. Our best practices can be borrowed from Jesus and his disciples who worked tirelessly to spread the good news to every corner of this world.
NOTE: This proverb is No. 6 in the Collection of 100 Teso Proverbs (Nairobi, Kenya, 2016).
P. O. Box 3897
00200 Nairobi, Kenya
Photographs provided by:
Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 43844
Cellphone: +254 723-307992