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Report of the Meeting of the Kenya Proverbs Committee Nairobi, Kenya, 2 May 2003

Urban Ministries Serving God (UMSG) Office, Nairobi.


  1. Jean Nyaduwi
  2. Evans Nyakundi
  3. Rev Joe Healey
  4. Joseph Kariuki (Secretary)
  5. Professor Monica Mweseli
  6. Prof. Monica Mweseli
  7. Dr. Elizabeth Kuria

  1. The meeting started at 2:50 p.m. by a presentation of a research report by Jean Nyaduwi who has been collecting Kirundi proverbs. He gave general statements about proverbs especially their crucial role in interpersonal communication. He said Kirundi proverbs are very useful in all situations, both good and bad. He pointed out that the wisdom in proverbs demonstrates maturity in speech. So proverbs in Burundi are used mostly by the elderly and also by the respected especially the president during official state functions.

    He said that there are many proverbs in Kirundi that can be used to analyze and describe the situation in Burundi today. Using one specific proverb -- Where there is peace, a billhook or a sickle can be used to shave your beard or cut your hair -- he analyzed the theme of peace, arguing that during the time conflict wonders can happen. He also gave biblical parallels for the same proverb like "with God all things are possible" and "it easier for the camel to enter the through the eye of the needle than a rich man entering the kingdom of God." He said that they could be used to address external as well as internal conflicts in a country -- in the case of Burundi, the strained relations between the Hutu and the Tutsi communities. Therefore he said the proverb can be used by people as they reflect on the tragedies of war by using the proverb to explain the need for peace.

    He said he is still working on the other proverbs and intends to collect, translate them into English and Kiswahili and offer biblical parallels for each of the proverb. Then he will arrange them thematically. He said he would be finished with his booklet of Kirundi proverbs by July 2003. He is also working on the proverb above to be posted as the African Proverb of the Month in the website Rev Healey scheduled the proverb for the month of September when the world will be commemorating the tragedies of the 11September 2001 when the twin towers in New York were attacked by terrorists.

  2. Evans Nyakundi gave a presentation on storytelling among the Gusii (Kenya) community. He stared by outlining the various story genres present in the Gusii community such as legends, myths, fables, folk tales and true stories. He said that all these genres are very functional today. He said that most of them being a carry over from the Gusii traditional society; they carry with them important cultural beliefs and lessons.

    He also said the most important and quite often the most ignored characteristic of proverbs today is their educational and teaching value. He said that proverbs can be interpreted and bring out enriching advice and teachings. He said that they could be used in explaining daily human life experiences or personal witness. He also said that Gusii proverbs could be used to capture the history and culture of the community, two aspects that are being threatened by interaction with international, regional or national languages. Hence he said that because of the oral nature of stories, writing them could preserve them. He also pointed out that Gusii stories have many biblical parallels.

    He said he hope to engage in a project where he will collect stories from the Gusii community and add their biblical parallels. He said the product of the research would be a booklet that will be produced with any available grant and his own financial possibilities and therefore will cover as many stories as possible given the funds at his disposal.

    The group agreed that the story have to follow the format that was agreed in previous meetings as follows:

    1. General introduction detailing what the stories are about and the methodology used.
    2. Story in the original language.
    3. Translation of the story.
    4. Brief comments about the main themes of the story including the references of biblical parallels.

    Elizabeth Kuria said that she had received feedback following the review of her booklet on the review page, one from Tanzania about the collection and the other from the United States with the person requesting more Luhya proverbs. She also said that she had an opportunity to share some of the proverbs on during the Kenyatta University cultural week early this year.

    She proposed on another project whereby she is to examine the themes of time management and work ethics in Luhya proverbs. One the one hand she wants to reveal the African conception of time, i.e. how they conceptualize the issue of time and on the other hand relate how the issue of time management is related to work ethics. She said that is widespread mismanagement of time today and hopes to reveal what the Luhya proverbs say about this.

  3. Dr. Kithaka shared about the project he has been doing on Tharaka (Kenya) proverbs. He said he had collected 170 Tharaka proverbs. He shared about some characteristic features he has found out from these proverbs. He said that Tharaka proverbs do not mention human beings but instead mentions other animals and plants like trees. For instance most of them starts with "The one..." instead of "you..."

    Other characteristic he observed was that Tharaka proverbs are very good in preservation of the Tharaka language because they use very archaic language which is not common with today Tharaka speakers. Hence he said proverbs can act as a reservoir or archive for language and consequently, they could be used in reconstructing the history and the culture of the Tharaka people.

    He also observed that Kitharaka proverbs are very short and look very simple. Mainly, he said they are three word proverbs and this is significant in that they help people in remembering them.

    Lastly he observed that there is a predominance of the male voice in the proverbs hence perpetuating the male perspective. He used this characteristic in arguing that proverbs today can be used in analyzing modern development issues and perceptions. He said many gender issues like prejudice against women and the girl child could be addressed by examining the proverbs. He argued that analysis of development should be the concern of the economist, political scientist, sociologist, and cultural scholar.

    He said that now that he has collected a good number of proverbs, he is going to start translating them and offer biblical parallels and then hand over in a booklet.

  4. Rev. Healey explained the sources of funds for the African Proverb Project saying that they are gotten from friends and different funds in the USA. He said that there is a problem as most of the questions being raised about the funding of the project can be found in the previous minutes and this showed that people aren’t reading the minutes on the Internet. He said that the project is not able to fund printing of hard copies of the minutes as they are already on the Internet.

    He also said that the funds available were for the whole of Africa but Kenya has benefited more than other countries and there is a need to focus on other countries now. He noted that Jean’s Kirundi proverb was a good example of reaching out to other countries. He therefore suggested that the projects suggested by Evans, Monica and Elizabeth have to be put on hold until funding for them is found. He asked the Kenya Proverbs Committee to agree on how the projects can be queued and funded as funds become available later.

    The meeting ended at 5.35 p.m. after prayers.