|Kuhubha nzila hu gumana nzila. (Sukuma)
Kukosea njia ndiyo kujua njia. (Swahili)
Perdre le chemin, c’est trouver le chemin. (French)
To lose the way is to find the way. (English)
Sukuma (Tanzania) Proverb
Background, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Sukuma Ethnic Group is the largest ethnic group (“8,130,000 increasing” according to the 2016 Ethnologue: Languages of the World) in Tanzania in East Africa and live mainly in rural areas in the northwestern part of the country on or near the southern shores of Lake Victoria – mainly in the Mwanza and Shinyanga Regions. Sukuma means “north” and refers to “people of the north.” They are relatives of the Nyamwezi Ethnic Group and share a similar language of Bantu origin. Traditionally part of an oral culture, the Sukuma people use many types of oral literature such as proverbs, sayings, riddles, stories, myths and songs to communicate values and priorities.
A common Sukuma proverb is Kuhuba nzila hu gumana nzila that means To lose the way is to find the way. Another translation is Losing the way is finding the way. The theme is to be humble and learn from our mistakes.
The above proverb originated from a traveler whose name was Nsimizi. Nsimizi started his journey from Mwatuma to Badi that is found in Kishapu District of Shinyanga Region in Tanzania. He had to walk for six hours. Half-way he reached a place where his way was divided into two ways. Nsimizi followed a way that led him to Iboja instead of Badi.
Fortunately, he met Matogoro, who was one of his old friends. Matogoro asked him, “Nsimizi, where are you going.” Matogoro replied, “Oh! I am going to Badi.” Matogoro said, “Oh! You have lost your way because this is Iboja village.”
Nsimizi asked, “which way should I follow to Badi?” Matogoro directed him by saying, “Since you have lost your way, you will become more carefully from now on than how you were before. Follow this way that goes directly to Badi.”
Nzimizi responded, “Thanks a lot my friend Matogoro for helping me. Let me seriously follow this road by sticking to it until I reach Badi.” Matogoro responded, “you are welcome, have a blessed journey.”
Nsimizi went straight from Iboja to Badi without losing his new way because he found the true new way to Badi. That is why people say, to lose the way is to find the way. Or losing the way is finding the way.
John 14:6: “Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’”
John 12:24: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
1 Thessalonians 5:10: “He died for us so that we may live together with him.”
Luke 15:11-32: Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
Be humble and ask other people. If you lose the way, you have to ask. Check out the situation and do research when you are wrong or off target. Don’t be disappointed when you do not know something.
It is applied to giving awareness to people who have done mistakes in their lives so that they become more careful to the point of not repeating what caused them to do wrong. They should maintain their new status of life throughout their lives.
It is applied to increasing creativities in living a converted life that one got after Baptism and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Before Baptism one lives a way that leads to uncertainty After Baptism a Christian finds the true way to eternal life. When we commit sins we lose the way; when we confess those sins, we find the way to eternal life. It is used to increase confidence in those who become discouraged by their previous failures, by reminding them of their second chance to enjoy a happy life through repentance. This is what the Prodigal Son story tells us.
This Sukuma proverb encourages people to be strong enough to actualize their spiritual goals by using their various talents and projects despite their difficulties that can be found in life. It encourages people to start new spiritual, economic and social projects that can provide them with spiritual needs, as well as their basic needs such as food, shelter and clothes, on the way to the heavenly kingdom.
It reminds us human beings that trials and errors led to the presence of the Saints in the Christian Churches. The founders of religious congregations applied their talents enough to take Jesus to their fellow human beings by putting their faith into practice and expressing good examples to us.
Such a proverb is also applicable to scientific discoveries of human beings. Agricultural developments, cars, airplanes, ships, new inventions and so on, are the results of trials and errors that we call “scientific experiments.”
Therefore it is true that to lose the way is to find the way. Or losing the way is finding the way because our spiritual life is a continuous process of adjusting our lives to live according to the will of God.
NOTE: This Sukuma Proverb is in honor of Maryknoll missionary priest Father Don Sybertz, MM. He was researching the meaning of this proverb before he died on 19 April, 2020. See more information on the:
Sukuma Legacy Project Website (Tanzania Sukuma Legacy Christian Research Organization)
Maryknoll Africa Region Website
Similar examples can be found on the:
African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website
Rev. Donald Sybertz, MM (deceased)
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers
Rev. Joseph G. Healey, MM
P.O. Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
0723-362-993 (Safaricom, Kenya)
973-216-4997 (AT&T, USA)