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Site Last Update: 16 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
March, 2000

Utamirhe ya mokorho, urhagenda bwirhe. (Ngoreme)
Kama ukikataa la mkubwa utatembea kutwa nzima. (Swahili)
If you refuse the elder's advice you will walk the whole day. (English)

Ngoreme (Tanzania) Proverb


The Ngoreme people live mainly in the Mara Region in northwestern Tanzania between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti National Park. This proverb describes a typical situation when a person does something wrong. The person is given advice by his or her elders, but neglects this advice. Sometimes the person is not aware of what he or she is doing. The end result is to get into trouble. The person regrets having not taken the elders' advice. The Swahili (Eastern and Central Africa) version of this proverb is very common and rhymes the last word in each phrase: "mkuu" and "guu."

Asiyesikia la mkuu, huvunjika guu. (Swahili)
The person who does not listen to an elder's advice gets his or her leg broken. (English)

Biblical Parallels

One obvious Biblical parallel is the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" in Luke 15:11-32. The younger son separates himself from his father and family. He squanders his inheritance. After coming to his senses he returns to his father to ask forgiveness. "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." (Luke 15:21). Another example is the story of Noah when the people rejected God. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). But then God establishes a covenant with Noah and his descendants. Also in the Old Testament is the warning text from Proverbs 29:1: "One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing."


This Ngoreme proverb teaches our society to adhere to the advice given by the elders. It is assumed that the elders in our African society have seen a lot of events in the past and present so that they can judge more correctly. This experience of the elders is used to advise youth on a variety of issues. Whoever rejects the elders' teaching will normally get into trouble. For example, parents and teachers advise students to study hard and not to engage in premarital sex. Yet we see schoolgirls conceiving at an early age and having unwanted pregnancies before completing school. Young people become victims of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. Today's world witnesses a dramatic increase in the use of addictive drugs such as heroine, mandrax, etc. These drugs confuse young people so that they lose their ability to think and fail their exams. Thus one major reason for the misfortunes of young people is that they reject the good advice given by parents, teachers and our society at large.

Peter Makuru Samwel
P.O. Box 70335
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania