“Ng’wiza akajaga ngobo jakwe?”… “Numbu.” (Sukuma)
“J’ai une énigme.” ” Laissez-le venir.”
“I have a riddle.” “Let it come.”
Sukuma (Tanzania) Riddle
Background, Explanation, History, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Sukuma Ethnic Group is the largest ethnic group (more than six million people) in Tanzania and live mainly in rural areas in the northwestern part of the country on or near the southern shores of Lake Victoria – mainly in the Mwanza and Shinyanga Regions. They are agricultural-pastoralists whose lives focus on farming (maize [corn], sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, cotton, etc.) and herding cows. According to this riddle the Sukuma people eat a good potato with its skin on. But if it is a bad potato they cut out the bad or rotten parts. Metaphorically speaking, the skin or clothes are a person’s good deeds.
This riddle is use at Sukuma funerals – both during the homily in the mass and at the graveside. The message is that at death we pass to the next life not with our material possessions such as cows, property and money but with our good deeds.
Riddles in Africa are used in a participatory “Call” and “Response” style. The proclaimer says “I have a riddle.” Then the congregation/audience responds “Let it come.” It is a popular style of communications and teaching. That the answer is totally different from the content of the riddle itself makes it more interesting, illusive and challenging.
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13).
“You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness;’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:22-24).
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 6:17, 22).
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
A good person dies with his or her good deeds. In the African tradition a person is remembered for his or her good deeds, that is, his or her memory continues through recalling their good deeds. In his reflections on African time going “backwards,” Kenyan theologian John Mbiti says that a famous or well-known person can be remembered for up to five generations. Thus we try to imitate a good person for his or her good deeds and actions and this helps them to be remembered.
We try to imitate the good deeds of the Christian saints especially how they imitated Jesus Christ, gave Christian witness and served others. As a concrete example, Small Christian Community (SCC) members imitate the good deeds and charisms of their Patron/Patroness Saints.
Rev. Donald Sybertz, MM
P.O. Box 47
Photographs selected by:
Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Art and Design
P.O. Box 43844