15 Digo Proverbs, their Meanings and Translations.

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“Proverbs in every community give an insight on culture, values and beliefs of the community. They are like a window or tour into the heart of the community.” – @MtaitaMkauma (Twitter)

With that tweet summing up everything about the essence of this article, let’s journey to the heart of the Digo community through 15 of their proverbs.

Alume mbere, alume nyuma. Its literal translation is “men infront, men behind”. It is used to encourage overall responsibility, courage and proactive nature in a group. Those being led by a leader should be ready to step up into the leader’s shoes in their absence.

Bahari taina msena. The ocean has no friend. Used to warn of the ocean’s ‘fickle’ nature. It has no loyalty, not even to experienced fishermen, sailors or swimmers. On a bad day anyone can face the ocean’s wrath and drown.

Cha mfupi chiriwa ni mure. Something belonging to a short person is eaten by a tall person. The proverb encourages long-term planning and vision. The best executed plans are those that factor in the future and changing seasons, not just instant gratification.

Chila nyumba ina msehowe. Every house has its sigh. The proverb is commonly used to advise married couples going through tough times or disagreements, preaching perseverance for there is no perfect household. Every household has its own fair share of troubles.

Dzogolo kuika sio dawa ya kucha. The cock crowing doesn’t cause the break of dawn. The proverb’s message is that of never overestimating your importance in someone’s life or to a cause. Some things will happen with or without your input. It is a great reminder to always remain humble.

Kusagala bure si kama kunyendeka bure. To sit for nothing isn’t the same as walking for nothing or with no intended purpose. Like all African cultures, the Digo frown upon laziness. If you sit idly you don’t give yourself the chance to even find luck, like picking up dropped money or something precious, which could have happened if you had taken a walk or strolled around.

Mairi mairi Mwatunya wachimbirwa na gari. Doing two things at once made Mwatunya miss the bus. Orderliness and preparedness is a virtue in African culture, if you don’t prepare beforehand chances are you will miss a great opportunity by hurriedly trying to do everything at once just before the deadline.

Mchetu karuswa na ndiro. A woman is not seduced by crying. While chivalry and romantic gestures are celebrated and find a home in every generation, desperation and begging for love are the surest way for a man to lose the respect of his peers and the woman herself. The Twitter world would advise against being a ‘simp’.

Mlatso tauchimbirana wala taurichana. Blood doesn’t run away from each other or leave each other. Just like The Godfather sequel, the Mafia or the Samurai, the Digo and African elders were also proponents of a strict code of honour in family set-ups. No matter what, you don’t give up on family.

Mnazi mmwenga una uchi wani? What palm wine do you get from one palm tree? A message of unity of purpose. For there to be enough palm wine for drinkers or revellers, more than one palm tree must be tapped. Basically carrying the message “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Mtsimba mbira naye aendza atsimbirwe. The one who digs a grave also wants to have a grave dug for him. As Africans we value coming together to give a decent burial to a departed family member or a member of the community. People remember the contribution (not necessarily material) that one makes towards burying another, and when the time comes they too will be decently buried.

Mvyere mtsape mairo, ela kumshinda marifwa. Run past an old man all you want but you won’t beat his wisdom. For a society to prosper there must be a good balance of youthful vigour and elderly wise counsel in action. We must never underrate or ignore the wise words of the elders, they have seen it all for there is nothing new under the sun.

Ng’ombe siru ina mkamiwe. An angry cow has its own person to milk it. Even the most stubborn of souls will have one person who can calm them down. It can be used to counsel those looking for spouses, they should seek the ones who are their peace or bring out the best in them.

Nyumba ya mndzaka taina hanga. In the house of a bachelor there is no mourning. Usually a wake-up call to young men taking too long to marry. If a bachelor dies, the funeral wake will be where the other members of his family are, for he has no wife or children for people to come and comfort. Bachelorhood is not celebrated.

Ukahomba moho ukaphya mivuzi. You had sex in the fire and your pubic hair got burnt. Sounds vulgar but wise counsel from the elders in African culture is not complete without cautioning against a life of sexual decadence and promiscuity. In this particular case, the proverb makes everyone fully aware, if not bluntly, of the existence of sexually transmitted infections (that have an itching or ‘burning’ effect) if one is not careful.

PS: With gratitude to the Bible Translation and Literacy organization for their compilation of proverbs from Kenyan communities.


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