REPORT OF THE MEETING OF PEOPLE INTERESTED IN AFRICAN PROVERBS HELD AT URBAN MINISTRY SUPPORT GROUP (UMSG) OFFICE, NAIROBI, KENYA on Saturday 15th December, 2001
Agenda of Meeting
Report for People Interested in African Proverbs
End of Year Meeting,
Urban Ministries Support Group (UMSG) Office,
15th December, 2001
On behalf of African Proverbs Project (APP), I wish to welcome all of you to this end of the year proverbs meeting. I hope that during this meeting, we will be able to share our experiences and learn more about African proverbs, sayings and stories.
The year 2001 has been the busiest for us having held three meetings, this one included. Besides, the year saw the publishing of a new collection of proverbs, two collections of endangered proverbs and other activities related to the web site has come to fruition. This has been remarkable productivity. The first meeting was held on the 12th, May 2001 and the second on 6th, October 2001. You are invited to read the minutes of these meetings on our website: http://www.afriprov.org/meetings.
As I have mentioned above the year saw one of the book associated with APP published. The book, Under one roof: Kikuyu proverbs consolidated is edited by Dr. Gerald J. Wanjohi. It was published by Paulines Publications Africa in June 2001 and is on sale in bookshops all over the country. Two collections of “endangered proverbs” are going on. Evans Nyakundi has already finished his first phase of research on Kisii (Kenya) proverbs. His first compilation yielded a pamphlet containing 400 proverbs. He is on the second phase of collecting Kisii proverbs. The other collection that is going on is Prof. Monica Mweseli’s Bukusu (Kenya) Proverbs.
The African proverb of the month have been posted to the site http://www.afriprov.org promptly every month and I am happy to report that we have been able to cover the main corners of our continent this year with the East Africa countries contributing the lion’s share perhaps because the web site is based here in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Proverbs from the following countries has been posted this year: Kenya-2, Tanzania-2, East Africa-1, Uganda-1 Mali-1, Nigeria-1, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-1, Sudan-1, Sierra Leone-1, Ghana-1. NB. The numbers at the end of each country indicate the proverbs a country has contributed this year. East Africa means that the language (Swahili) is common to East African people.
I would like to appeal to people interested in African proverbs to contribute to the website. If you have friends, especially from other parts of Africa who would like to contribute to the site, you can please welcome them. Short cultural stories can also be sent for posting to the site. If you or your friends can do a 1-2-page write-up on a proverb that you are familiar with, it can be sent via e-mail to the email@example.com. In writing the write-up, we use a simple format:
For more details on this you can visit website and on the home page click, “African proverb of the month.”
The other activity that has been going on and has successfully been completed is the 2002 African Proverbs Calendar. It has already been posted to the website. The Calendar is unique in that, besides the graphics, there is a proverb for every month and you can read the explanation of the proverb by clicking “explanation” below the proverb. Twelve proverbs that has previously has been used in the web site are in the calendar. They are from Sudan (January), Tanzania (February), South Africa (March), Burundi (April), Ghana (May), Mali (June), Malawi (July), Sierra Leone (August), Kenya (September), Democratic Republic of Congo (October), Nigeria (November) and East Africa (December). It is also important to mention that Nicholas Adongo made a new, more attractive website design in August, 2001 which has more African cultural drawings and designs.
Generally, the APP has seen a very successful year 2001. Visitors to the site have sent very positive comments to us on how useful the site has been to them. The site has been a useful resource to students, researchers in various fields as well as the public especially young Africans who have been attracted by the stories and Sayings. I welcome you to visit the site and be part of the large group who visits the site registering an average of 260 hits daily. I would also encourage you to subscribe to the e-mail discussion list that has over 170 subscribers. Once you subscribe you can be part of this electronic forum where you can share your experiences with other subscribers, and in line with the wisdom of a Ganda (Uganda) proverb: “one who sees something good must narrate it”, be able to spread the importance and usefulness of proverbs, sayings and stories to as many people as possible all over the world. To subscribe write an e-mail
Subject: New Subscriber
Body: Subscribe proverbs-list
To write a message to the list (all those who have subscribed to the list), write an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. This message will be shared by the over the 170 people who are enjoying this service.
Lastly, I wish to thank everybody for coming to share with us today. Your coming is a testimony that there are still people interested in preserving our African cultures. We appreciate your attendance very much. As we come close to the festive season, I also wish every one of you a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Participants comments on the report focused on the 2002 African proverbs Calendar hailing its completion. They were however concerned that the calendar could still not reach as to as many people as possible because not many can access it on the Internet. Lack of funds was identified as the limiting factor to production of the hard copy (paper) calendar. Despite very many people from all over the world saying they would want an African proverbs calendar, none was willing to come forward to finance its production. Dr. Wanjohi offered to take a few printout copies of the calendar to the Textbook Center, Nairobi that is an important outlet for parents, students, teachers and the general public. This will be one way of marketing the website here in Nairobi, Kenya and elsewhere and people were asked to make a printout and give it out to friends.
It was also said that another way to market the website is through inter-personal contacts whether by those who know about the website informing their friends and colleagues.
He has put together a video which shows various aspects of Oral Literature in use among the Builsa people of Ghana. The video is a collection of among other things video cuts, photos and cassettes tapes he assembled in Ghana as a SIM missionary from 1992 to2001. In this project, he is trying to show what indigenous oral literature exists among the Builsa people.
Jay has recently submitted an article to the journal of Missiology to be published in the April, 2002 issue about the interaction between the Builsa proverbs and the gospel, showing how this interaction informs both culture and the gospel when the mother tongue scripture is used as the interpreter of oral literature. The focus of this paper is on one prominent theme in Builsa proverbs and uses some songs and stories to confirm the theme in the proverb.
The participants were appreciative of Jay’s notice and especially because it fell well within their areas of interest. They welcomed any other such notices in future from people who have been doing research and would like to share their ideas with other interested persons.
He said that Kiswahili has “given” Kikuyu a very large vocabulary. Using proverbs he showed how some words has all together been forgotten and in their stead, replaced by other Swahili words that has now become common place. Some Swahili words have been Kikuyunised to become commonly accepted Kikuyu words. For example, Thani, plate (Kikuyu) from Sahani,plate (Swahili), Gikombe,cup(Kikuyu) from Kikombe,cup(Swahili), Banga, machete(Kikuyu from Panga,machete(Swahili), Gichiko,spoon(Kikuyu) from Kijiko,spoon(Swahili). He said for instance that from the proverb “Muria na gati/mutaho ndooi muria na kaara ni ahiaga“, On eats with a gati/mutaho,-Kikuyu traditional spoon- does not know that one eating with bare hands gets scolded, it shows that the Kikuyu had a word for spoon yet it has now become almost extinct.
From the English language, Kikuyu language he said has also borrowed a lot. He said some words and place names were wrongly borrowed because they came about as a result of the Kikuyu hearing pronunciations of certain words wrongly. The Kikuyu got Kabiaro, tea/coffee without milk from a “wrong hearing” of â€˜coffee alone’ from the Europeans. Other words that has firmly entrenched themselves into the Kikuyu language from English include Ciinji, Change as in money balance after a transaction or verb for transformation or noun for modification. The interesting thing is that there are Kikuyu names for these, yet they are not used in these contexts these days.
He has observed two peculiarities however, which are more creative as far as Kikuyu language borrowing is concerned. First from Swahili, the word “train” is rendered as gari la moshi (smoke emitting car), and in Kikuyu it is rendered as ngari ya mwaki or mugithi (fire emitting car). He felt that the Kikuyu rendition is more positive and creative arguing that smoke as opposed to fire evokes sinister motives. The other peculiarity he said is in the naming of mobile phone, a craze in Nairobi, is rendered variously in Kikuyu as thimu ya ruhuho, aerial phone, thimu ya gukua, phone for carrying, thimu ya muhuuko, pocket phone. He said the Kikuyu-nizing of such words as Kombiuta/KambIuta for computer was also okay.
He concluded that the best way to go about handling the spelling of words when borrowing was either to get a child to pronounce the word or an old person who has not been influenced by literacy i.e. one who has not gone to school and writing down that pronunciation.
Participants’ reaction to his presentation was in wanting to know how the Kikuyu language has “given” or contributed to other languages especially English. He said that it has contributed such terms as Kiondo, woven basket; irio, food; githeri, mixture of maize and beans. These are words that have become common in usage by people in Kenya and East Africa through the hotel and tourism industry. One Kikuyu word that was thought as a candidate for inclusion into the English language soon is mwaki, a term that is currently being used all over East and Central African to refer to small Christian communities. Other words from Swahili that were thought to easily be “given” to English were Nyama Choma, roast meat, Ugali, stiff porridge and Safari, travel adventure; Jambo, hallo has come to be acceptable to English language through tourism. It was agreed that borrowing and discarding some words all together is a natural way of stabilising a language because all language are prone to borrowing as “even the English language that was used in the African proverbs meeting was only about 50% Anglo-Saxon and the language used in court rooms is only about 40% Anglo-Saxon”
This contribution is part of a book project which Rev. Healey and the Paulines Publications are doing together on “The History of Salvation: A Biblical Catechesis.” The 62 African stories and an equal number from the bible are to be used to show the new use of African stories therefore allaying the talk that African stories are only of the past and interesting only researchers and scholars in the west. This project will use all of the 62 stories largely with a religious focus. They intended to show ubunifu, Swahili for creativity in biblical catechism. Healey also read four other African stories: from the Boran-Oromo people of Kenya and Ethiopia, mainly depicting the creation theme and paralleling the Bible’s creation story; a Nubian, Sudan fable; “The Person Who Couldn’t Find God” (with its adaptation in different contexts); and a true story of a heroic Kamba Mother. The 62 African stories and the parallel Bible stories has been classified into seven categories:
I. Animal Stories, II. Animal-People Stories, III. Cultural Stories, IV. True Human Interest Stories, V. True Human Interest Stories, VI. True Personal Human Interest Stories and VII. Fictious Short Stories.
She also provided brief social-cultural explanations to some proverbs that “are difficult to understand and to translate since they lack either meaningful English words for translation or do not match with relevant English words”. She has provided a 2-page note to introduce the proverbs collection. From the collection she sampled a number of proverbs and explained their application in traditional Bukusu context and the contemporary use during the meeting. In the collection, she states, “In the proverbs one discovers Bukusu spiritual and moral convictions, historical evidence, and even rules of etiquette”.
Joseph Kariuki, Secretary