Zulu Proverbs—A Window on Africa
THE Zulu nation, living along the subtropical east coast of South Africa, has inherited a legacy of delightful proverbs that capture the lessons of life in a typically African way. Since the beloved cattle of the Zulus play an important part in their lives, it is not surprising that this is reflected in many of their sayings.
Consider, for instance, how a Zulu would describe the effect when two masters try to run one household. That would be as disastrous as putting ‘two bulls in the same kraal [enclosure].’ (Akukho zinkunzi zahlala ndawonye.)
And speaking of cattle, the acrid smell of a horn burning in the communal fire is extremely unpleasant to all in the immediate vicinity. Therefore, of a cantankerous and quarrelsome person, someone may mutter: “Oh, there he goes burning the horn again.” (Ushis’ uphondo.)
Carrying one’s own load in life is deemed a virtue by most people. The Zulus are no exception. Therefore, an old sage may remark: “You should face your responsibilities squarely, since ‘no elephant ever found its trunk too heavy.’” (Akundlovu yasindwa umboko wayo.)—Compare Galatians 6:5.
If one encountered a rhino on a rampage in a wilderness area, a tree to climb would be most useful. Thus, the expression: “Do not speak of the rhino if there is no tree nearby!” (Ungakhulumi ngobhejane kungekho sihlahla eduze.) The proverbial warning is obvious.
In a similar vein, trying to handle too many things at once can be counterproductive. “You cannot chase two antelope at once,” say the Zulus. (Ungexoshe mpalambili.) Anyone who has tried to do this will know that as you concentrate your energies on one buck, the other is busy making a getaway. The lesson? Tackle one thing at a time.
Unreasonable obstinacy is generally frowned upon by most people. The Zulus have a quaint way of summing up such a hardheaded person when they say: “While he was being cooked, a stone was also being cooked, and the stone was ready first.” (Kwaphekwa yena kwaphekw’ itshe, kwavuthw’ itshe kuqala.)
Although not divinely inspired like the proverbs that are found in the Bible, many of these expressions reflect wholesome values that help us to succeed in life.—Proverbs 1:5, 6.
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