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Site Last Update: 24 Feb, 2020
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African Proverb of the Month
November 2008

Balume babili ba ngyoku I ba uimanyanaka mu’mnyinga. (Lega)

Quand un éléphant male tombe dans un fossé, il n’est secouru que par un autre male.(French)

Tembo dume atumbukiapo ndani ya shimo ndefu, huokolewa tu na dume nyingine. (Swahili)

It is only a male elephant that can save another one from a pit. (English)



Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

In central Africa, specifically in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we find many big wild elephants. Being a hunting society, the Lega Ethnic Group community can easily kill other animals by trapping or shooting them with arrows or spears. That, however, was not possible when killing elephants. They therefore had to dig deep pits to trap them. When a young or female elephant got trapped, all the others could come to rescue the victim. But when it happened to a male elephant, only the males could rescue it because of their size and strength.

In Lega community, men were perceived to be strong in body and that is why they are the ones who were circumcised, who went hunting for food and defended the community in times of war -- tasks that require lots of strength. In Lega land the women focused on maternity, household duties and other domestic tasks. When two different ethnic groups fought, sometimes it took the effort of another ethnic group to intervene by sending their wise men to bring reconciliation.

Biblical Parallels

The Ark of the Covenant was transported by men (see Exodus 25-29).

The variety and unity of gifts with the analogy of the human body (see I Corinthians 12).

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

Applied to human and social behaviour, this proverb illustrates how in Africa different activities are handled by different people in the community. Differentiation of roles brings more productivity and effectiveness in the local community. In most circumstances certain affairs especially activities requiring strength, can best be handled by men and not by women or minors.

All gifts come from God for the good of the community. This is the meaning behind the well known African proverb: It takes a whole village to raise a child. Each person has to know and use his or her gifts, but at the same time know one’s limits. Everything is done for the good of the community, not for personal entitlement.


Dr. Sim Kilosho Kabale
Senior Lecturer -- Dept. of Foreign Languages
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Illustrations provided by:

Professor Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 254-723-307-992
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it