Due to shyness the tortoise died in a boat. (Literal English Translation)
Kutokana na woga, kobe alikufa mashuani. (Literal Swahili Translation)
Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Lugbara people are an ethnic group that lives partly in Northwestern Uganda and partly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I am mainly involved with the Lugbara of Uganda. Like most other African ethnic groups they commonly impart their political, socio-economic, moral, and religious education through proverbs, sayings, and stories.
A typical example is the Lugbara proverb drinza si okuku dra oboa that literally means due to shyness the tortoise died in a boat. Most Lugbara are very familiar with this particular proverb. The dilemma of how, why, where, and when did the tortoise enter the boat and subsequently die unquestionably intensifies the use of the proverb.
This proverb is often applied in cases where a member or members of the community fail to participate in vital events because of shyness, insincerity, and deception. Failure to participate actively in the life generating events of the community brings about subsequent remorse, pain, regret, lamentation, etc. depending on the nature of the event omitted due to shyness.
"You will learn the truth and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). See also Isaiah 42:7, Deuteronomy 9:13, and Galatians 4:25. Jesus said, "I am the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIGHT"(John: 14:6).
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
We can scarcely deny the fact that in this new millennium there is a culture of the structured falsification of truth, lies, hypocrisy, corruption, negative propaganda, permissiveness, etc. There is consequently an urgency to build a culture of truth. Just as the tortoise died because of lack of sincerity or truth, so the human person and his or her community may similarly perish due to the growing erosion of truth in our own epoch. The good Pope John XXIII in his encyclicals Mater et Magister (1961) and Pacem in Terris (1963) emphasized the vitality of truth as a "pillar" for building a stable world order. Pope John Paul II did not hesitate to reassert truth as the power of peace (1980). To profit by the biblical parables, the search for truth and living by its precepts is vital for the freedom that is so much desired by all people and races. The ultimate pro-life statement a Christian can propose is to encounter Jesus himself who is "the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIGHT." My exhortation is: Let us remain true to ourselves and actively participate in morally sound responsibilities for the integral growth of peoples.
NOTE: See Lugbara Wisdom. A collection of 773 Lugbara (Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo) Proverbs that convey the wealth of Lugbara wisdom. Collected by Albert Dalfovo. Edited by John S. Mbiti. African Proverbs Series Volume 3. Pretoria, South Africa: UNISA Press, 1996 and Ibadan, Nigeria: Sefer Books, 1997.
Rev. Victor Mundua, A.J.
c/o Apostles of Jesus Generalate
P.O. Box 24946