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Site Last Update: 24 Feb, 2020

May, 2013 - Sweet words lure the snake out of its cave. - Haya (Tanzania) Proverb

  Akalimi Karungi kalaza empisi aha rwigi. (Haya)
Maneno mazuri hutoa nyoka pangoni. (Swahili)
Les paroles plaisantes font sortir le serpent du caserne. (French)
Sweet words lure the snake out of its cave. (English)

Haya (Tanzania) Proverb

Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

Elders of Kagera Region, northwestern Tanzania use proverbs when they want to draw attention to a critical life experience especially to the youth. One day a retreat master used the above mentioned proverb to conscienticize the youth about the proper use of “speech,” of “words.” Listen to this story:

Once upon a time there was a mischievous man who always provoked others. One day on his way to the neighbouring village he noticed something under a tree. “What is it”? He came nearer to see. He saw a head of a person who was killed, his head chopped off and thrown in a bush. He spoke to that head mockingly. “You head, this person was a chief or a drunkard or foolish.” He used his walking stick to beat that head. “Tell me who killed you”? Breaking out its silence, the chopped head started talking to the man. “Hey, brother, attention please! I was killed by a sword, but you will be killed by your own tongue.” When the mischievous man heard that he went away ashamed and sorrowfully.

This story tells us how the immature person tends to make sweeping judgements and
broad condemnations, describes people as “silly”, “foolish”, “ridiculous,” etc. This habit is increasing in our society.

Biblical Parallels

Our Lord Jesus forbade us to call one another “fool.” “And if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).

The life of Our Lord Jesus Christ is full of words of mercy, words of educating and directing people to do good to one another. Jesus used “words” and He is Himself is “the Word of God” (1 John 1: 1-4). “Come to me all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit and you will find rest (Matthew 11: 27-28)

“Christ’s message in its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct (use words) one another with all wisdom. Sing psalm, hymns and sacred songs to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. Everything you do or say then should be done in the same of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father“(Colossians: 3:16 – 17). “Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have. Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting and you should know how to give the rich answer to everyone” (Colossians 4: 5-6).

The whole Chapter 3 of James shows how to use words: All of us often make mistakes. But if a person never makes a mistake in what he/she says, he is perfect and is also able to control his/her whole being ….. Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame. And the tongue is like a fire … It sets on fire the entire course of existence with the fire that comes to it from hell itself (See James 3:2, 5-6). “Keep away from profane and foolish discussions that only drive people farther away from God. Such teaching is like an open sore that eats away flesh (2 Timothy 16, 17).

Woe to a nation whose people spend much time in quarrelling. The use of bad languages can kill nations.

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

God created us and gave us a tongue to acknowledge his presence by our own words. In Baptism we confess our faith. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. We can repeat what St. Paul said to the Romans: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because the whole world is hearing about faith. God is my witness that what I say is true ...God whom I serve with all my heart by preaching the Good News about his Son…God’s message is near you on your lips and in your hearts, that is the message of faith that we preach. It is by our confession that we are saved.”

Let our words be of building unity among people, words of encouraging and supporting others. If we say YES, let it be yes, and if NO, let it be no. Never say words of spoiling others’ faith. Another Haya proverb is:

Engambagambi temanya mbali ejumira nyinazara.
Loquacity turns out to be meaningless.

It is not normal to find somebody talking with a dead body. Such kind of abnormality can be developed by self-indulgence in daily life, abusing others, as a way of exercising power. We hear people on radio, see others on TV provoking others. “Is it not like beating a dead head by a walking stick? Tongue? Words? Killing others’ reputations!”

The freedom of speech and press in our societies is taking us beyond the lines of humanity. There is no more respect of personalities. So we are losing our culture: no father or mother, wife or husband, teacher or student. We are all equal and can be addressed on the same level. We become less than animals. Let us take time to look back to ourselves and our culture and make corrections. African proverbs are for the wise man/woman to contemplate and find their real meanings and change for the better.


Sister Rita K. Ishengoma, STH
St. Theresa of the Child Jesus
P.O. Box 315
Bukoba, Tanzania
Cellphone: 075-5551735
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

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


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