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Book Review of Proverbi Samburu -- Samburu Sayings
By Achille Da Ros, Virgilo Pante and Egidio Pedenzini

Published by EMI (Editrice Missionaria Italiana), Bologna, 2000
ISBN 88-307-0907-7
304 pages

Price 700/= Kenyan Shillings (or $9)
Available at the Catholic Bookshop, Nairobi, Kenya and at the Office of The Seed Magazine, Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya

Reviewed by Paolo Tablino, IMC

There are three reasons why this book of 300 pages, written by three authors and in three languages (Samburu, English and Italian), is really worth to be read. The first reason is the unquestionable competence of the authors. All of them are academic graduates, all of them know the Samburu language, all of them have not just lived in the area as tourists or as researchers, but (a condition essential, in my opinion, to really understand an African culture) all of them have spent many years among, and for, the Samburu people. Pedenzini has been among them thirty years, save the few ones spent in America where he went to continue his studies on the Samburu and prepared his remarkable M.A. thesis on their religious concepts. He is still there, in the remote mission of South Horr, at the very foot of the sacred mountain of the Samburu, Mt. Nyiro. Da Ros, who possesses a wide background of general culture and of ethnographic knowledge, has written various books and articles on anthropological matters including a short but excellent volume on the Turkana (Bologna, 1994). For many years he has been in Samburu district and, after having lately spent some years at the Ethnographic Museum of the Consolata Missionary Institute in Turin, he is for many years a dedicated missionary in the area and still now a missionary in another part of Kenya. He knows the people, the land, particularly its fauna, and the language of the Samburu people as very few Europeans do, and has traveled in every corner of the Samburu country including the top of quite a number of its numerous mountains.


The second reason why this book deserves its reading is its intrinsic value. Actually it is a remarkably large collection of proverbs and sayings where nearly all the aspects of Samburu culture and life are expressed in terms directly collected from the mouth of the elders by Pedenzini in various parts of the district. The proverbs listed are 803 and deal with innumerable aspects of the human life from the idea of God to the relations among people, from animals to water, trees and rain. Each one of the proverbs or sayings is given a number. It is written in the original Samburu text (bold characters), which is immediately followed by an accurate English and Italian translation (both in italics). To each proverb a clear explanation is added, at times short, at times longer, with quite a number of traditional stories, which give a fuller picture of the Samburu culture. Da Ros and Pante have given their competent and accurate co-operation in this work of translation and explanation and, according to what it is written in the "Foreword," some catechists and other Samburu people have also helped.


The third reason, which makes the book not only interesting, but also easy to be consulted and read, is the arrangement of the indices (both in Italian and English). There are two kinds of indices, distinct but connected. The first index is indicated in the book as "a summary of the main topics." It is a list of 16 general titles (for instance, animals, the human body, human qualities, food, etc.) under which a group of words are alphabetically grouped (for instance, under the general topic "Animals" 45 names of animals are indicated). The same words mentioned in the summary of topics are listed, one by one, in the second index (simply called "Index" in the book), which contains in alphabetical order all the words with the indication of the numbers of each proverb related to the words. In this way if anybody wants to know the proverbs related to lion, the person has just to look the word 'lion' in the complete and accurate index. This is the work (a remarkable work indeed!), of another missionary, Gigi Anatoloni, who though he remained only few years in Samburu territory has kept at least a part of his heart there. He has patiently done by computer an admirable editing work thus greatly facilitating the use of this book for both to the scholar and the ordinary reader.


A map of Kenya and a simple but clear introduction, just indicated as the work of "J. Q." wisely added at the beginning of the work, give a final touch of perfection to this fine book. Sincere thanks and warm congratulations to the four missionaries both for their work and their co-operation which has produced such good result showing once again that it is true what the Samburu proverb No. 246 in this collection says (a proverb which is also found among the Kikuyu and other African cultures): Mear ikimojino obo lacheiyo (One finger alone cannot kill a louse).


For further information contact:

Rev. Gigi Anataloni, IMC
E-mail:
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