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Site Last Update: 21 Nov, 2014
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Africa Proverb of the Month
April, 1999

Omoonto umwi nkirunguuri, ababere nitoonge rebukima
One person is thin porridge or gruel; two or three people are a lump (handful) of ugali (stiff cooked meal/flour from sorghum or millet).

Kuria (Tanzania and Kenya) Proverb

Explanation:

"Ugali" (a Swahili word) is the basic food of the Kuria Ethnic Group who live near the border in Northwest Tanzania and Southwest Kenya. This food is a stiff cooked substance served hot that is made from made from the meal or flour of sorghum, millet, maize (corn) or cassava (sometimes a mixture of these different grains according to the specific situation). A Kuria person would not feel that he or she has eaten a real meal unless eating "ugali." It is also one of the staple foods in East Africa. When boiled in water to the thin consistency of porridge or gruel, it is a light food normally taken at breakfast, given as a first drink before eating "ugali" or given to a sick person. This signifies weakness, like a single person. But allowed to harden into "ugali," the meal or flour has a firmness and substance like a group of people who work together. The way it is prepared (in a hard ball-like shape) and eaten (a fistful that is squeezed and chewed) signifies strength.

The "ugali" symbolizes that when two or more people come together they become strong because of unity. Their separation would weaken them like thin porridge. The basic theme of this Kuria proverb is "unity is strength." The proverb is used to encourage unity within the family community. One practical way of expressing this unity is the joint material contribution of cows for the dowry (bridewealth) when a Kuria man gets married. Sometime the dowry is 25 cows which is not possible for one person to pay. So the family members come together and ask that each one give a cow to make up the total number needed.

This proverb is also found in the Ngoreme Ethnic Group in Northwest Tanzania and has many parallels in other Africa proverbs with the "unity is strength" theme. A biblical parallel is Ecclesiastes 4:9,12: "Two are better than one...A threefold cord is not quickly broken." This proverb teaches the importance of unity and cooperation. It is used frequently in seminars on Small Christian Communities (SCCs) to teach and promote the values of unity, cooperation, joint responsibility and sharing. The food metaphor of this Kuria proverb is also effective in many teaching situations.

Mwalimu Emmanuel Chacha and Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M.
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

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