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Site Last Update: 12 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
May/June, 2002

Siemunda sisuta siekhumurwe. (Bukusu)
Kilicho tumboni ndicho hubeba kilicho kichwani. (Swahili)
What is in the stomach carries what is in the head. (English)

Bukusu ( Kenya ) Proverb

Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

Food eaten in the Bukusu community in Western Kenya had a lot of meaning. It was noted that what a person ate contributed to how she/he functioned physically. Among the Bukusu, people carry loads on their heads. The ability to do so depended on how well one was fed and therefore strong enough to perform heavy duties. Among the girls the ability to carry heavy loads on one's head without touching it with the hand was a strong characteristic of a girl who was fit to be a good and able wife. Strong men were viewed as those who were productive and therefore well fed. Eating well to be strong was therefore promoted among the Bukusu by such proverbs as Siemunda sisuta siekhumurwe.

Currently this proverb may be used to encourage people to eat well so that they are strong to work. This is done especially so in rural areas. When people visit or pass by to greet a neighbour, they are normally offered something to eat. Sometimes people may be in a hurry and turn down the offer. The proverb Siemunda sisuta siekhumurwe may then be used to indicate to the person that he/she needs to eat to be able to effectively undertake the task ahead of them. For children this proverb is often used to encourage them to eat in instances when they do not want to eat such as when they may prefer to play or concentrate on a task and thus eating. The adult may then use the proverb Siemunda sisuta siekhumurwe to show that they need to eat in order to be able to handle the work ahead of them.

Biblical Parallels

Although there is in no direct biblical parallel for this proverb, eating so that one is strong and healthy is implied in several places in the Bible. Eating is first noted in the Bible in Genesis 1:29 when God tells Adam and Eve what they should eat. "And God said, see, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the land and every tree with seed in its fruit: you shall have them for food" (Genesis 1:29). In various places in the Bible the children of Israel are told how to eat and what to eat during various occasions. Value was attached on food that was eaten. Eating to be strong is noted. For example, after teaching the people for three days Jesus says: "Then Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way" (Matthew 15:32).

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

In the contemporary society, it is noted that good feeding is key to have healthy individuals and society. Scientific findings indicate that adequate nutrition leads to proper brain development and quick learning in both the cultural and formal education. Indeed what is in the stomach determines the concentration span of individuals on a specific task. Additionally it has been found that low iron consumption leads to fatigue and inability of individuals to do productive work. This clearly shows that what we eat determines the amount of work that we are able to do. Furthermore it indicates how effective our brains (located in the head) are able to function. Indeed what is in the stomach carries what is in the head. Therefore we need to pay attention to what we eat so that we can function the way God created us and to effectively undertake the tasks that He planned us to perform. Hunger is persistent in most parts of the developing world, sometimes people are not able to feed well because they are too weak to work and produce sufficient food. There is therefore need for people to feed well so that they are strong and healthy enough to do productive work.

Proper feeding is advocated by religions all over the world. Most of these religions recognize the importance of feeding well for members of their congregations. In areas were food production is low such as in the arid and semi-arid areas in Kenya, religious groups promote feeding programs through such initiatives as "food for work" programs. These programs enable people to be provided with food: they work and are given the food in return. Examples of such organizations are Catholic Relief Services and the National Council of Churches of Kenya. Indeed, religious groups promote not only the spiritual but also body well being of its members. However, there are some religious groups that focus mainly on the spiritual and pay little attention to the physical. It is therefore important for religions especially Christianity to emulate the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ by ensuring their members are also properly fed so that they are strong and productive as Jesus taught and also as this Bukusu proverb Siemunda sisuta siekhumurwe suggests.

Dr. Elizabeth Nafula Kuria
Department of Foods, Nutrition and Dietetics
Kenyatta University
Nairobi, Kenya

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