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March, 2013 - You overcame the rain, but what about the dew? Sumbwa (Tanzania) Proverb

Wapila mvula ali lume nalwe? (Sumbwa) 

Umepona mvua na umande je? (Swahili)

Tu t’es préservé de l’averse, et que feras-tu lors du crachin? (French)

You overcame the rain, but what about the dew? (English)

Sumbwa (Tanzania) Proverb

Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

The Sumbwa people reside within the northwestern part of Tanzania, an area which like most of the sub-Saharan enjoys different seasons that are mostly differentiated by rains. Most commonly, the presence or absence of water falling from the sky makes respectively the rainy or dry season. Besides, rains may be further distinguished between the heavy stormy rains and the steady, light but enduring ones, and all what may stand in between.


People tend to carefully protect themselves from heavy rains by staying within walls when possible, on the understanding that they do not last very long. Indeed, they often are a matter of minutes. But other, heavier rains may last for a much longer period of time and they bring much higher level of humidity in the air. 


To somebody who successfully protected himself from a heavy rain, supposedly with heavy clothes or by staying at home, this proverb is asking what this person will do during the time of an enduring, penetrating rain that also brings dew and humidity. This is a greater challenge, the kind of which will remove any temptation of boasting as he or she will most likely be defeated. 


Perhaps this Sumbwa Proverb is an invitation to humility. But the use of this proverb may also be an invitation to consider human achievements as steps forward within a never ended journey rather than signs of having reached a final destination or the end of the road. Human beings best operate within the framework of goals they set for themselves. Having achieved some of them cannot be occasions to stand still, but rather it opens new and more challenging ones. Within this proverb stands a fundamental spiritual attitude best represented through the symbolism of a journey or pilgrimage. Challenges, efforts and related discoveries have to be continuously and routinely renewed. 

Biblical Parallels

It seems to me that this is also an important part of the message of Jesus. For instance, in Matthew 19:16-30, a rich young man approaches him and specifically asks him, “What good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19: 16). Jesus then reminds him some of the commandments: “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19: 18-19). The young man then replies that everything that has been mentioned, “he has carefully observed” so what is it that “he may still be lacking?” (19: 20). Jesus then replies, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me,” (19: 22) something the young man, who happened to be rich, cannot do. 


For this young man it seems that to obey the commandments of God is like protecting himself from the heavy rain. He has done so successfully. He has not greatly sinned. But the depths of his heart are still open to, and affected by, the intricacies of this world, with its load of selfish wants and desires. Like the dew, they penetrate deeply and he has not yet been able to protect himself from them. Will he ever be able to? Is the consequent sadness of Jesus caused by the failure of the young man to achieve the goal or rather by his refusal to engage in the journey? 


Indeed Jesus is not easily satisfied with spiritual achievements. The entire Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew is only a redefining of the ancient Jewish law to impossible highs. Thus “not to kill” becomes “never to get angry” or “never to insult a brother”’ (Matthew 5: 21-26), and “not to commit adultery” becomes “never to lustfully looks at another person” (5: 27-31). The whole spirit of the beatitude discourse has nothing to do with a minimalist approach (i.e. to avoid performing certain actions), but is rather a list of never ended and always more challenging tasks. For instance, not to steal becomes a call to be “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), a state that needs constant, sustained attention, nurturance and care. 

Through these words Jesus operates a spiritual revolution that is still going on till today. The criteria for conduct and decision is no longer solely provided by external voices such as the biblical law or the teaching of the elders, but are also to be found in the innermost depths of human conscience, a place where God also dwells. 

Perhaps the heavy rains and the dew are also different means for God to reach out to human beings: not only through the power of spiritual mightiness and authority as within the voices of spiritual leaders, but also through the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit gently whispering within the depths of our hearts. Even for those among us who refuse, out of pride or stubbornness (or some other reasons), to confide into the voice of our spiritual authorities, how could we ever expect to be protected and immune from these more intimate whisperings? 

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

This proverb could therefore be first of all a gentle reminder for people who may feel tempted to think that they have already achieved so much in this life that no effort is needed from them any more. Achievements are only but openings towards greater challenges. Technical achievements for instance do help greater mobility for good for people all over the world, but they raise the perilous task to protect our entire planet. As for leaders who may think they have already reached a status so high that they need no longer make any more effort -- they are forgetting that they are generating cracks from within themselves that will most certainly cause bitter disappointments.  

But this Sumbwa Proverb can also be contemplated in a profound optimistic way by stating that the voice of the divine also dwells within each and every human being alongside his or her own various worldly wants and desires. May this inner voice ultimately generate, like the dew, a renewed vitality and strength towards worthy achievements.


Rev. Pascal Durand MAfr
Kasamwa Parish
P.O. Box 475
Geita, Tanzania
Cellphone: 255-783-078985
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (French). (English).

Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Art and Design
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: 254-723-307992
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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