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African Proverb of the Month
February, 2002

Omuhuma akenda kwota omulilo; esenya yatizwa onda'zo. (Zinza)
Mtutsi alipenda kuota moto; dume la ng'ombe likachukuliwa na mwingine. (Swahili)
A Tutsi liked to warm himself by the fire; someone else took the bull. (English)

Zinza ( Tanzania ) Proverb

Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

Zinza is a language used on Kome Island near Mwanza in Northwestern Tanzania. The story goes that a Tutsi man went to his neighbor's homestead early in the morning to borrow a bull. He found his neighbor warming himself with his family at a traditional fire. He joined them at the warm fire. In a short time another man came along with the same intention of borrowing a bull. After arriving and greeting the villagers he explained that he wanted to borrow a bull. The owner of the bull complied. He told the man to go to the corral and take a bull. Immediately the Tutsi man, who had arrived first and was still warming himself by the fire, was startled and told the owner, "I also wanted to ask for a bull." Then the owner replied, "When you arrived you warmed yourself by the fire. You didn't say that you wanted to borrow a bull." So the owner gave the bull to the second man who arrived and stated his purpose right away. From that time on anyone who hesitates to state his intention and someone else comes for the same purpose, the first person is told this Zinza proverb: A Tutsi liked to warm himself by the fire; someone else took the bull.

Biblical Parallels

Genesis 19:26: "But the wife of Lot looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt".

Genesis 25: 32-4: "Esau said, 'Here I am, at death's door; what use will my birthright be to me?' Then Jacob said, 'First give me your oath;' he gave him his oath and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave him bread and lentil soup, and after eating and drinking he got up and went. That was all Esau cared for his birthright."

1 Kings 13:16-24: "...for I have received Yahweh's order: 'You are to eat or drink nothing there, nor to return by the way you came.' 'I too am a prophet like you,' the other replied, 'and an angel told me this by Yahweh's order: Bring him back with you to your house to eat and drink.' He was lying to him. The man of God went back with him; he ate and drank at his house. As they were sitting at the table a word of Yahweh came to the prophet who had brought him back, and he addressed the man of God who came from Judah. 'Yahweh says this, Since you have defied Yahweh's command and not obeyed the orders Yahweh your God gave you, but have come back and eaten and drunk where he forbade you to eat or drink, your corpse will never reach the tomb of your ancestors.' After he had eaten and drunk, the prophet saddled the donkey for him, and he turned about and went away. A lion met him on the road and killed him; his corpse lay stretched out on the road; the donkey stood there beside it; the lion stood by the corpse too."

Matthew 25:5-12: "Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids."

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

The Zinza people in Tanzania teach that when one is sent to do something the person should do it. And if the person does not do it, a punishment is given or a demotion of status is effected. Many people are instructed and baptized and sent forth, but afterwards they return to shameful behavior. Even though in African culture the fire in the morning or evening is an important place to congregate, the value is to be clear about one's intention and responsibilities rather than forgetting oneself in the warmth of the fire.

NOTE: For other Zinza Proverbs see: Endangered African Proverbs Collections: Collection of 105 Zinza Proverbs (Kome Island in the southern part of Lake Victoria near Mwanza in Western Tanzania). Collected and Complied by Joseph M. Lupande and Wilbard J. Lupande.

Mwanza, Tanzania. February, 2000.

Mr. Joseph M. Lupande
Magu District Hospital
P.O. Box 30
Magu, Tanzania

E-Mail: Lupande< This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >


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