African Proverb of the Month
October 2008


Nkore nkiyok natua norubare lkiye, naa nkore nkiyok naiichu nerubare nkichoni. (Samburu)

Sikio lisilosikia hufuatwa na mauti na sikio linalosikia hufuatwa na baraka. (Swahili)

A deaf ear is followed by death and an ear that listens is followed by blessings. (English)

Samburu (Kenya) Proverb

Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

                The Samburu people are mainly pastoralists who live in the Samburu District and on the south and east shores of Lake Baringo, Baringo District, Rift Valley Province in Kenya. This Samburu proverb was used by elders to educate their youth against disobedience, especially the Morans (the youth) who can only be counseled by a counsel of elders. Also during peace meetings between communities where a disagreement had occurred, the council of elders will call a meeting between elders from both communities to try to look for the way forward in resolving the conflict. In the process of trying to persuade the other group or the youth to listen to them and settle the disagreement, elders used this proverb to warn those who do not listen that a listening ear is followed by blessing and a deaf ear is followed by death. This is an allegory that means that those who humble themselves and follow advice from elders will achieve fruitful results but those who don’t will be followed by wrath.

The proverb is commonly used during such times of conflicts among individuals and communities to warn stubborn figures that their resistance against values and norms of the community is dangerous. The community values humbleness as a tool to good living and peaceful co-existence between communities.

The proverb goes hand-in-hand with another Samburu proverb layieni-lai enchaaki enkiyok (in Swahili mwanangu nipe sikio lako) that means my child give me your ear (or listen to me). Both proverbs ask for patience and obedience to the elderly against unwanted acts by youths, like going to raid other communities especially to steal cattle. This will only bring loss of property, displacement, hunger and death in the community. A good historical example occurred when the Samburu were attacked by the Laikipia, a sub group of the Maasai community. Elders used this proverb in vain and during the fight 90% of the youth (Morans) in both communities were killed leading to many years of struggle to recover the loss. To date the Laikipia are very few and some are already absorbed in the Samburu community.

Another Samburu proverb is meatu nkang nacham larrabal (war is not good for anyone). Traditional Samburu items used in peacebuilding are white beads, cattle, stones, a special green tuft of grass and spittle. See the section on "Samburu" (pages 41-44) in Honey and Heifer Grasses, Milk and Water: A Heritage of Diversity in Reconciliation by many authors (Nairobi: Mennonite Central Committee, 1997).

Biblical Parallels


The proverb can be compared to the Exodus story (Exodus 5:15) where Moses was sent by God to negotiate the release of the Israelites from Pharaoh. After the long resistance and stubbornness of Pharaoh, God decided to punish Egypt with plagues and led Moses to get the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses was like an elder in the negotiation for his community and Pharaoh for his community. God listens to the cry of his people and is ready to save them. The Samburu always associate their leaders with God. The people believe if one disowned them then they had disowned the Lord just like Moses, God and Pharaoh.

"Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you" (Matthew 7:7). Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20).

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

The proverb can be used in the contemporary life especially among pastoralists in Kenya and in other countries to warn the warring communities of God’s presence in their negotiations. They should therefore speak with sincerity and value one another as a gift from God. This will lead to a deeper understanding of the value of dialogue and help the communities understand that it is something they should respect. They should accommodate one another’s views with the aim of compromising for the benefit of peace for all. Most pastoralists are self centered and only value their own ethnic group's men and women. The proverb should serve as a lesson to them that God listens more to the cry of the vulnerable.

This Samburu proverb can also be applied to the peacebuilding process in Kenya and other African countries.

NOTE: This proverb is cited in Proverbi Samburu -- Samburu Sayings  by Achille Da Ros, Virgilo Pante and Egidio Pedenzini (Bologna: Editrice Missionaria Italiana [EMI], 2000). 302 page book in Italian and English. It contains 803 Samburu proverbs and sayings in alphabetical order, with literal translation, explanation and when necessary further comments or parallel stories. The proverb is in “Kisamburu,” and the translation, explanations and comments are both in English and Italian. The book has about 20 pages of an analytical index of the most interesting topics and subjects, plus a summary of the main topics by interest: animals, peoples, virtues, colors, life, etc.


Jackson Roti Lemaletian
P.O. Box 20895
Nairobi, Kenya
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Illustrations provided by:

Professor Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
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