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Site Last Update: 12 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
April, 2000

Imbilaph' ivun' isilonda. (Zulu)
The groin pains in sympathy with the sore. (English)

Zulu (South Africa, Swaziland) Proverb

Explanation and Everyday Use

This Zulu proverb is said because the groin will be painful when one has a sore leg. This is regarded as an act of sympathy that brands the two as friends. The proverb is used when:

    1. An appeal is made to sympathy in general, or as a sign of friendship.
    2. People speculate about the causes of occurrences. In this case the proverb is roughly synonymous with the following two proverbs: Isilonda sisola imbilapho (The wound blames the groin). Imbilapho isuswa yisilonda (The groin is brought forth by the wound).

C. L. Sibusiso Nyembezi lists this proverb under the heading "Friendship" together with proverbs like the following: It is tobacco and aloe. It is saliva and the tongue. Good waxbills go in pairs/die in pairs. Other Zulu speakers say the proverb reminds them of the following Zulu proverbs: A person's wound is not to be laughed at. There is no tribe that would discard itself. Hands wipe each other clean. A bird builds on another's feathers. This thing called a person is not that which removes the thorns in its own flesh.


Biblical Parallels

The idea of sympathy, especially in connection with friendship, is echoed by the following two biblical proverbs:

    1. "A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity" (Proverbs 17:17).
    2. "Do not forsake your friend or the friend of your parent;
      Do not go to the house of your kindred in the day of your calamity.
      Better is a friend who is nearby than kindred who are far away" (Proverbs 27:10).

The initial intention of Job's friends is to console and comfort him that is in line with the typical use of this Zulu proverb. See 1. above. In Job 2:11 we read: "Now when Job's three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home... They met together to go and console and comfort him." However, they get caught up in an argument about the causes of Job's suffering which reminds us of the alternative use of this proverb. See 2. above. They accuse him of having gone wrong; therefore his suffering is a form of punishment. But Job replies: "Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty. My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed, like freshets that pass away" (Job 6:14-15).

Psalm 35:13-14 illustrates how a person really sympathizes with others:

But as for me, when they were sick,
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting.
I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,
as though I grieved for a friend or a brother;
I went about as one who laments for a mother,
bowed down and in mourning.

The "Parable of the Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37) is a fine example of this kind of sympathy. Verses 36-37 are noteworthy: "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

It is reassuring to know that God also sympathizes with our suffering. Hebrews 4:15 reads: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin."


Religious Use

    1. Preaching: The proverb can be used to enrich the exposition of biblical texts (for example, the texts referred to above).
    2. It can be used to motivate people to become involved in the physical and emotional assistance of members of the community who, for example, have lost a loved one. In the Zulu culture in South Africa friends and family are encouraged to visit those who have lost a loved one. Those who sympathize can assist in cooking, give advice on what to do next, maintain a state of calm and hope for the bereaved family and even spend the night with the family until the night vigil that is on the eve of the day of the burial.
    3. The proverb can also be used to underline the importance of charity work and other forms of material assistance.


Professor Willie van Heerden
University of South Africa (UNISA)
Pretoria, South Africa

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