Waleba mengi komenzi genyanza. (Longo).
Maji ya bahari ni kwa ajili ya kutazama. (Swahili).
L’eau de la mer, c’est pour regarder. (French).
The water of the sea is only to be contemplated.(English).
Longo (Tanzania) Proverb
Background, Explanation and Everyday Use
In the Longo language in Tanzania, the term genyanza means both the “lake” and the “sea.” The Longo people live near the Lake Victoria, the greatest lake in the whole continent of Africa, but quite far away from the sea that is reached only after a thousand kilometres journey. The sea is the Indian Ocean on the east coast of Tanzania. However there is a good knowledge among the Longo people of the salty quality of the ocean waters as contrasted to the sweet ones of Lake Victoria. At all times there were some sort of communications and transportation from the sea to the lakeside, and vice-versa, if only to carry important goods such as salt.
For those who reach the ocean after a long and difficult journey, no matter how thirsty they are, the ocean will not be enough to quench thirst because of the salt. As salt water cannot be used for consumption, there is a feeling that these waters are out of reach and consequently wasted. That is why it is understood that the term genyanza in this proverb refers only to the waters of the sea and not to the ones of the lake.
Nature teaches us some wisdom, and the Longo people here drew parallels between the waters of the oceans and the riches of the wealthy people. At times it is felt that no matter how badly one needs help from those who may be in position to provide it, it is simply of no use. The rich do not usually provide to the poor. Their wealth is a waste from the point of view of a poor person. One has no access. All one may do is to look or contemplate just as one does with the waters of the ocean. Rich people may help one another in the expectation to be given back when needed, but it is a very rare event as to witness a rich person helping a poor one. There is a sense of bitter realism in this proverb, and perhaps some frustration. It sounds like a lament or a complaint. Perhaps it is fitting to recall to mind that the hills around Geita, Tanzania (where the Longo people live) are gold producing, but with little benefits if any for the Longo people itself. Extraction rights have been sold to multinational mining industries.
This proverb has all what it takes to remind us of the “Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus” as it was presented by Jesus and as is now found in the Gospel of Luke(16: 19-31). On one hand, there is a rich man who has no name. He is feasting and enjoying some very good food in his lifetime. On the other hand there is Lazarus, a poor man standing at the gate of the rich man’s property “who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16: 20) but could not do so. The wealth of the rich man is of no use to him. It is for him just to contemplate, but not to enjoy. The gate represents the threshold he may not cross, the boundary which prevents access. Just as the salt in the waters renders the whole ocean useless to quench thirst, the gate makes the wealth of the rich man out of reach and consequently wasted to a valuable purpose.
Therefore Jesus considers a human situation that is unfortunately very common. He has noticed the inequalities among people and thus this Longo proverb metaphorically speaks to his heart. However Jesus does not intend to dwell with feelings of frustrations and helplessness. He pursues his parable through narrating “what happens next,” that is, what happens after the death of the respective protagonists. It conveys a sense of avenging. There follows a complete reverse of situation. The rich man, whatever he may try, no longer succeeds to enjoy any good thing and it is now the turn of Lazarus to do so. Moreover, “a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass… may not be able…” (Luke 16:26). It is now to the rich man who suffers the presence of a boundary.
Once again, Jesus invites us to extend our vision to what is beyond our immediate worldly realities. For those who have faith in their existence, here stands a serious warning: What is it that I am preparing for myself? What is it that I am sowing and building through particular choices within my life? Personal conversion is what Jesus constantly looks for. Gross inequalities among human beings may be fought against through the power of the law and of force, and it seems that it is what our modern world is left to propose. Whatever the results may be, the option of the law and of the use of force (even in order to compel sharing) means failure for humanity. Indeed it means the failure for human beings to understand for themselves the necessity to live in accordance with the needs of unfortunate neighbours. If Jesus constantly invites us to personal conversion, it means that he refuses to believe in this kind of failure for humanity.
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
Many voices are raised today about some likely world food shortages within the near future. This Longo proverb may then become even more commonly a cry for the hungry. It is all too easy to see that violence may quickly follow. Solutions need not be of only one kind. Efforts to raise food production and to ease food distribution might well become urgently required. But it is also urgently required to discern among ourselves whether the nature of protective walls we set around ourselves is not ultimately self-defeating. Hermetic boundaries can never be proposed as enduring solutions. Even when basic human needs are met, it is a common experience to become all the more attracted to what has been denied in the first place.
I would like to believe that religious and spiritual people are specialists in humanity. If it were the case here stands a serious challenge for them. The rich man in the parable has no name, perhaps to lead us to think that he may truly be any one of us. Strikingly unlike a particular man called Lazarus.
Father Pascal Durand MAfr Catechist Joseph Nkumbulwa (deceased)
Kasamwa Parish Bukoli Parish
P.O. Box 475 Geita, Tanzania Geita, Tanzania
Tel.: (Tanzania): 00255 783 078 985
Photographs selected by:
Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Art and Design
P.O. Box 43844