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Site Last Update: 19 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
July, 2002

Ejok nyitoan ewok nyakung. (Toposa)
The person who has a light knee can survive longer. (English)


Toposa ( Sudan ) Proverb

Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Toposa Ethnic Group, a nomadic group in Southern Sudan, is a famous warrior people. Years ago during a traditional battle the Toposa warrior would hold his shield in his left hand and his spear in his right hand. He would kneel on his right or left knee to steady himself to hurl his spear and to get leverage to push off from his back foot. This crouching position also made him a smaller target. It was unwise to stay too long in this half kneeling position since it gave the enemy time to advance and possibly kill the Toposa warrior who remained in this defensive and vulnerable pose. So the Toposa proverb: The person who has a light knee can survive longer. By getting up quickly from his half kneeling position the warrior could make a strategic retreat, that is, withdraw for the time being. Another Toposa proverb says: The person who fights and runs away will live to fight another battle. There are times and reasons not to fight. So too the universal proverb in English: Discretion is the better part of valor.

By getting up quickly the warrior could also move into another fighting strategy: advancing forward, dodging from side to side, leaping about, etc. He had to be quick on his feet. A "heavy knee" was a sign of being slow and not adaptable. But a "light knee" gave him more flexibility and creative fighting options. Also the standing and moving warrior could more easily dodge an enemy's spear. See the universal saying in English: It is hard to hit a moving target.

These Toposa proverbs were used by the elders to advise the warriors on how to use different tactics and strategies to fight against other ethnic groups such as the Turkana people who liked to steal the cattle of the Toposa. Also the people in Southern Sudan who wanted to migrate to another geographical area used these proverbs.

Biblical Parallels

The untrained youth David used his creativity and flexibility against the experienced and much bigger warrior Goliath. See 1 Samuel 17: 45-51. With the power of God helping him David killed Goliath with a stone

The Jewish people thought that the Messiah would come as a powerful king to restore the kingdom. See John 6: 14-15. But Jesus came as a simple, humble carpenter and itinerant preacher. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus could have used power and force. See Matthew 26: 52-55. Instead he resisted fighting and humbly submitted to fulfill the divine plan of God the Father.


Contemporary Use and Religious Application

This Toposa proverb teaches various things:

  1. The basic teaching is creativity and flexibility in any activity. If your first plan is a failure you have to use other tactics and strategies (creative resources) to succeed or overcome.
  2. Sometimes the best strategy in a particular situation is retreat or withdrawal. It is best to avoid direct confrontation when a situation is impossible.
  3. People with "light knees" survive longer.

We need creativity and flexibility in our teaching and pastoral methods. We need to adapt the Christian message and the means of communications to our specific audience, context and situation.

Mr. Paul Lopyem
Nanyangacor Parish
Torit Diocese, Sudan
E-mail: Lopyem< This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >