Mukashi nkasokie ka kabundi, takashalaa babidi. (Songye)
Mke ni sawa na ngozi ya kabundi (aina ya mnyama wa porini aliye mdodgo mno) ambayo wanaume wawili hawawezi kukalia. (Swahili)
La femme est comme la peau de kabundi (un petit animal sauvage), on ne s’y met pas à deux. (French)
A woman is like the skin of kabundi (a very tiny wild animal) on which two men cannot sit. (English)
Background, Explanation, History and Everyday Use
Kisongye is one of the Bantu languages. M Guthrie and J. Greeberg respectively classify it in zone L with the specifications L.23, zone of languages spoken in the D.R.C, in Zambia and in Angola (Guthrie) and in the Kongo Kordo fannienne family (Greenberg). It is constituted of numerous variants or different dialects spoken by different tribes such as:
Kisongye is spoken by about 1,000,000 individuals across the country. The speakers of Kisongye language are called the Basongye. The Basongye constitute a big ethnic group in the DRC. They are found in the central region of the country as well as in four provinces. The ethnic group is composed of about 30 ethnic groups amongst which are the Bamilembwe, the Belande, the Bakalebwe, the Ben’ekii, the Bena Budia, the Bena majiba, the Bena kayaye, the Bena kiofwe, etc.
Part of the Basongye inhabits the district of Kabinda and that of Sankuru in the Eastern Kasai; and finally the western territory of Kongolo in the district of Tanganyika in the province of Katanga. Some isolated descendants reside in the western Kasai province. They are the Sapu Sapu.
The Basongye are a patriarchal society; a child belongs to his biological father and thus has the right to reside in his father’s village. The masculine progeny perpetuates and enlarges the clan. Lifelong celibacy is not accepted by the society. All men are called upon to marry and to procreate. The marriage institution is subjected to certain conditions and has two stages: courtship and marriage. Endogamy is forbidden. The choice of a woman to marry is conditioned; apart from coming from a fertile family, she has to be active, obedient, courageous, and well mannered and above all, she must be faithful.
The Basongye practise agriculture. They particularly cultivate cassava, maize, cotton, groundnuts, beans, hibiscus, bananas, pineapples, pistachio and yams. The main dish is “foufou” or “biashi” (a mixture of maize and cassava floor) which is consumed with “pondu” (cassava leaves), fish, chicken, mutton, goat meat, pork or meat from game animals. The Basongye are also stockbreeders. They breed livestock such as: goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats, etc. They also fish in the rivers and in ponds. They are also artisans; they practise wickerwork, sieving, plaiting, use of mortar and pestle and making clothes from raffia.
The Basongye believe in the creator “Efile mukulu” who is deemed to be the first ancestor and provider of good luck and protection. They also believe in the existence of “kafilefile” (the demons) who is the source of bad luck and evil. The physical visible representatives of kafilefile are the witches (Ndoshi), causers of precipitated deaths and incurable diseases. Alongside the witches are the sorcerers, diviners and the traditional healers. The Basongye believe also in the existence of Mikishi (spirits). The dead are venerated because they are believed to intervene in one way or another in the lives of their descendants. Whoever steals or commits a crime makes himself as well as his entire family prone to bad luck and diseases. Upon his death, the Basongye believe that he goes to “Kalunga Niembo” (hell).
Meaning and Explanation
One woman – one man (highly recommended)
One woman – more than one man (forbidden)
According to the proverb, a woman cannot belong to more than one man at a time; she should not have relations, conjugal or sexual outside of marriage and with numerous partners. A woman who has carnal knowledge of numerous men before marriage is considered, among the Basongye, as cheap or a prostitute. Consequently, she has low chances of getting married. She is not esteemed by the society in totality and this low esteem can spread to the whole of her family. In marriage, a woman who has other sexual relations commits adultery. Adultery is referred to as “Ebasa” by the Basongye. It is an object of severe sanctions such as public prosecution, payment of heavy fines (in nature and in space), divorce and rejection by one’s family. An adulterous woman may end up not remarrying. In case of a second marriage, she may lose her fertility and fail to ever give birth again.
This teaching equally applies to men who should not have sexual relations outside of marriage. An adulterous man may end up losing his virility. In the Basongye society fingers are pointed at the two people involved. The woman gets degrading portrayals: that one is not a woman, she is a “bitch”; she is like “a hospital bed” or worse still “a site of a public transport.” The message conveyed by the proverb forbids adultery and polyandry amongst the Basongye.
To summarize: This proverb touches on general truth of life. It is used on the day to day life to cultivate fidelity among members of the community. It is also used in the incidences of infidelity, when one is found in the very act with someone’s wife or husband.
These prohibitions are clear in from the bible where it is written: “Never commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Avoid adultery. Pay attention to my wisdom (Proverbs 5:1). Unfaithfulness is the only cause of divorce as expressed on the bible (cf. Matthew 19:9).
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
Among the Basongye, this proverb is put to daily use even if there is no incidence of adultery in the society in order to educate the members of the society to avoid adultery and to encourage them to be faithful. It is also used when a couple is found red handed in adultery. In that case, especially, during public prosecution, this proverb is used to show the man that he touched the untouchable and to show the woman her unfaithfulness to her husband.
Through this proverb, the Basongye aim at cultivating amongst her members a certain standard of behaviour which is socially acceptable notably: to be committed to faithfulness, disapproving of reproachable acts, combating impulsiveness (characteristics of someone who gives himself, without control, to his emotional desires); to avoid humiliation, ridicule and finally the sense of honour and of social consideration. This proverb can be used in the church during preaching.
Let us crown these reflections with another proverb that finds habitual use amongst the Basongye: One body can never be comprised of two heads.
This proverb is No. 74 in A Collection of Songye Proverbs from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Collected and interpreted in French and English by Prof. Isidore Muteba Kazadi and Prof. Jean Jacques Kapenga Kasongo. Nairobi, Kenya: Privately Printed. July, 2011. This is one booklet in the series of Endangered African Proverbs Collections. It is posted as an eBook on our website at: http://afriprov.org/index.php/resources/e-books.html
Professor Isidore Muteba Kazadi
Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology
Language and Literature Education Department
P.O Box 190
50100 Kakamega, Kenya
Photographs selected by Kazadi and by:
Professor Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 43844