|Muugi ni mutaare (Gikuyu)
Mtu mwenye busara ni yule anayesikiliza ushauri. (Swahili)
Une personne sage est celle qui écoute les conseils. (French)
A wise person is the one who listens to counsel. (English)
Gikuyu (Kenya) Proverb
Background, Meaning, And Everyday Use
The Kikuyu (Agikuyu) is the largest Bantu ethnic group in Kenya inhabiting Kenya’s central highlands around Mt. Kenya and its ranges. They speak the Gikuyu dialect and are lineage-oriented considering themselves as being from common ancestors Gikuyu and Mumbi. According to their myth of origin, Gikuyu and Mumbi built a homestead at Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga that is considered sacred and their nine daughters formed the nine Gikuyu clans. History records state that their ancestors arrived in Kenya during the Bantu migrations of 1200-1800 AD. They had a family-oriented government and councils of elders drawn from the elder age-sets. The Council of Elders (kiama) was responsible for ensuring law and order, decision-making, ritual oath-taking, religion, administration, and presided over all issues concerning the community as a whole. The Kikuyu base their social organization on their family units (nyumba) that are extended through marriage. Several related families form the clan (mbari) and neighborhood (itura). Originally hunters and gatherers, the Agikuyu later adopted agriculture as their main source of livelihood. Women did the farming and gathering of wild fruits using traditional tools (such as hoes, digging knives, etc.) for domestic consumption while men did the hunting. Today, their main economic activities are trade, agriculture, and livestock keeping.
Listening to advice in this community was, and still is, useful as it guides individual and group decision-making. The proverb Muugi ni mutaare (A wise person is the one who listens to counsel) was applied in the Kikuyu community to warn people not to downplay any advice, instructions, or guidance by parents, guardians, and the Council of Elders. It was considered that one who heeded advice was respectful, could make acceptable decisions, and subsequently would achieve positive progress that was beneficial to themselves and the community.
This Gikuyu proverb is part of one of the Gikuyu FM radio programs in Kenya known as Inooro.
Proverbs 11:14: “Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counseling.”
Proverbs 19:20: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline that you may be wise the rest of your days.”
Proverbs 12:15: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise person listens to advice.”
Isaiah 30:21: “Whatever you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Isaiah 58:11: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
Contemporary Use And Religious Application
The Kikuyu people have widely used their God-given traditional knowledge to pass information from one generation to the other through idioms, proverbs, wise sayings, proverbs, folktales and music. The ethnic community used their knowledge to explain to the young generation the “mightiness” of God referred to as “Ngai”, meaning the mighty one, the giver, and the provider. Their generations have grown, adoring God, and always centralizing Him in their everyday life. The urbanization and penetration of foreign cultures and values have gradually interfered with this somewhat traditional pattern among this community. As a result, the elders no longer play their traditional roles effectively, especially in the spontaneous use of proverbs and wise sayings and folklore to pass on advice and knowledge, since the young people are no longer ‘next to their parents’ to tap the traditions and culture.
No leader has all the answers all the time, but some have skills for listening, engaging, and helping to translate ideas into action. As the Bible states: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Taking advice can help to ensure effective decision-making for the present and the future. Some people prefer not to seek advice because of “egocentric bias”, forgetting that it is vital to listen to other people’s views so that one’s knowledge is updated. Good advice is concrete and comes with actionable steps. Those who give advice effectively wield influence and shape important decisions while empowering others to act. For instance, political dilemmas take place when foreign policies are being made, but other people in the political system are involved in the processes and help to shape the destinies of the world nations. Good advice when heeded results in good outcomes.
The role of the modern Christian Church in the life of 21st-century believers is critical because it fills a void in their lives and people expect the church to provide Bible-based answers that no other institution can provide. Today, the church provides effective small group ministries and outreach services (such as Small Christian Communities) that are incorporated into the community where the church serves. These provide group and individual counseling services and advice from one another for all situations. They have adequate resources to guide an individual in the proper direction along with God’s Word because there are Bible-based solutions and counsel.
The use of proverbs today is limited because of a lack of spontaneity in their situational application and use. The older generation uses them naturally in conversation, but not the new generation. Writers, teachers, and the church are making effort to change this by creating awareness in the usage of African proverbs through social media, books, journals and theatre. The wisdom and advice provided through the proverbs and wise sayings are considered universal in Africa and the world over.
This Gikuyu proverb can be applied to our present Covid-19 pandemic. We need to listen to, and follow, the counsel of our leaders to wear a mask, observe social distancing and wash our hand regularly.
Elias Bushiri Elie
Cellphone: +254 0741-497556