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Site Last Update: 19 Sep, 2019

September, 2012 "A log in the river will never be a crocodile." Gikuyu (Kenya) Proverb

Mũgogo wĩ rũũĩ ndũrĩ hĩndĩ ũgatwĩka kĩng’ang’i. (Gikuyu)
Gogo mtoni halitageuka kuwa mamba. (Swahili)
Un rondin dans l’eau ne deviendra jamais un crocodile.(French)

Gikuyu (Kenya) Proverb

Background, Explanation, History, Meaning and Everyday Use

This Gikuyu Proverb was heard near Mount Kenya in Nyeri in 1989 during preparations for a marriage. A man from Meru wanted to marry a Kikuyu woman from Nyeri. He had a criminal background and came from a hot-tempered family. The Kikuyu elders did not want to tell the woman directly not to marry him because he had a bad character that probably could not change, but wanted to warn her indirectly. So they used this Kikuyu proverb. The message to the woman is this: “It is your choice, your responsibility. But don’t say that the Kikuyu elders gave you permission to marry this man. Don’t say the elders gave you the go ahead.”

Proverb research is very complex and demanding. This proverb is not found in Under One Roof: Gikuyu Proverbs Consolidated by Gerald Joseph Wanjohi that is a comprehensive collection of 1,821 proverbs from various sources published in 2001. He states “that there are still many original Gikuyu proverbs that have not been reported. I would like to make a strong appeal to the public to send in their proverbs so that they can hopefully be included in the next edition of the book.”  So this proverb has now been officially added to the expanding collection.

This Gikuyu proverb was mentioned by the elders in a discussion radio program on “Gikuyu Culture” that is broadcast every Saturday from 6 to 7 p m. on CORO FM on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) in Nairobi, Kenya. The elders are led by Guuka Ambrose Wakaria and Chief Kanyonga.

In studying the background and history of this proverb it was pointed out that crocodiles are not well known in many parts of Kikuyu-speaking Kenya. For example, the weather in Nyeri is too cold for crocodiles. Even though this proverb was heard in Nyeri, it did not originate there. Proverb expert Dr. Gerald Wanjohi states: “If the elders wanted to convey the idea of the impossibility of change, there are several proverbs for this. For example, Proverb 132 on page 53 of Under One Roof  says: The progeny of a chameleon will never lose the ridge down the back. If the elders were keen on using a proverb to express this idea, given the Nyeri environment they could have also used the proverb: A stick in water will never become a fish.

Using the word “crocodile” in a proverb is not typical of Nyeri where no crocodiles exist.
But it could have been “borrowed” from another part of Kikuyu-speaking Kenya. Crocodiles are found in the Thagana River (that has different names depending on the part of Kenya) in Murang’a County where the proverb is used. Before bridges were built people used to cross at the narrow places in the river on logs placed in the water.

Biblical Parallels
“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! (2 John: 5:7). Be aware of false doctrine and those who preach for gain.
Contemporary Use and Religious Application

The moral lesson is that we should be aware to check on the drives of our life and be conscious on what we hear. Before making a final decision we should make sure that we are well informed on the issues at hand. It is true many people are conned and they lose a lot by not being conscious about what they are about to do or what they do.

Sister Grace Njau, CPS
Precious Blood Sisters
P.O. Box, 56333
00200 Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 0722-260078
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Mr. David Ndungu Kamau
P.O. Box 5514
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 0722-690002

Photographs by:

Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Art and Design
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 254-723-307992
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Other Proverbs From The Same Ethnic Group