African Proverb of the Month
Velona iray trano, maty iray fasana. (Malagasy)
Vivant, nous habitons sous le même toît. Mort, nous nous reposons dans le même tombeau. (French)
Tukiwa hai twaishi nyumba moja chini ya paa moja. Wakati wa kufa hupumzika katika kaburi moja. (Swahili)
Alive, we live in the same house or under the same roof. Dead, we rest in the same tomb. (English)
Malagasy (Madagascar) Proverb
Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use
Although the Malagasy people in Madagascar are socially divided into ethnic groups or politically into coastal and inland regions, this proverb shows how Malagasy culture cherishes unity. House and tomb are two important symbols embodying this value. When we are alive, we live in the same house; when we die, we will be buried in the same tomb.
One can imagine how a traditional Malagasy family used to gather around the fire in the evening sharing both the events of the day and the same meal as well. One also can imagine how the same family with all the villagers, at the time of death, gather around the deceased body, for mourning, prayers and rituals and, at the indicated time, bring their loved one to the family tomb for burial.
Whoever comes to a house will share everything it has. Malagasy people and culture believe that we are one and united not only in this earthly life but also in the life after. Whatever we do now will always be remembered and affect our status after death. Not being buried in a family tomb would be a curse for anybody. The proverb favours unity, solidarity and community life and their consequences such as hospitality, sharing, reconciliation, etc. It emphasizes unity but does not exclude diversity in all its forms. This proverb is one of many that show how Malagasy people conceive and value their family and social life. The proverb not only applies to the nuclear family, but also to the extended family and beyond.
The Vatican Council II defines the church as communion. It then explores the experience of communion in the first Christian communities. Some images of the church in the New Testament are taken “from the art of building or from family life and marriages which have their preparation in the books of the prophets.” The church is called “the building of God” (1 Corinthians 3:9). It has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the spirit (Ephesians 2:19, 22); the dwelling place of God among human beings (Apocalypse 21:3). See Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 6.
Christians, by their baptism and despite their differences, are one. They live in the same house of God, under the same roof of salvation. They long for the life to come that is their union with God and all their loved ones and ancestors. As St. Paul says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12–13).”
Contemporary Use and Religious Application:
The First African Synod recognizes the role of family as fundamental. I can not help but borrow what it says: “Open to this sense of the family, of love and respect of life, the African loves children, who are joyfully welcomed as gifts of God. The sons and daughters of Africa love life. It is precisely this love of life that leads them to give such great importance to the veneration of their ancestors. They believe intuitively that the dead continue to live and remain in communion with them. Is this not in some way a preparation for belief in the Communion of Saints? … African cultures have an acute sense of solidarity and community life. In Africa it is unthinkable to celebrate a feast without the participation of the whole village” (The Church in Africa, 43).
That is why the First African Synod chose the “church as family” as its “guiding idea for evangelization”: “For this image emphasizes care for others, solidarity, warmth in human relationships, acceptance, dialogue and trust. The new evangelization will thus aim at building up the church as family, avoiding all ethnocentrism and excessive particularism, trying instead to encourage reconciliation and true communion between different ethnic groups” (The Church in Africa, 63).
The present ongoing crisis in Madagascar seems to betray the message contained in this proverb. People are divided along political lines. However, the Christian churches, under the direction of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, are trying to bring the protagonists back to the same house (same table) for dialogue. Indeed, not only in Madagascar but in many African countries, unity in diversity remains an ongoing challenge. This Malagasy proverb can be a source of inspiration for our leaders as they long for the well-being of our continent.
Rev. Jocelyn Rabeson, SJ
Librarian — Hekima College
P.O. Box 21215
00505 Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 0736-322047 and 0714-662980
Illustrations provided by:
Professor Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 43844