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Collection of, and Commentary on, 254 Sayings on East African Cloth (Misemo Kwenye Khanga za Afrika Mashariki)

Joseph G. Healey

Collection of, and Commentary on, 254 Sayings on East African Cloth (Misemo Kwenye Khanga za Afrika Mashariki)

I. Introduction and Commentary

 An East African khanga is a rectangle of pure cotton cloth with a border all around it and printed in bold designs and bright colors. It is as long as a person’s outstretched arm and wide enough to cover from neck to knee, or from waist to toe. Khangas are often bought in pairs and are usually worn in a most attractive and useful way. Most traditional outfits require a matched or unmatched pair. Women also use khangas to cover other clothes and to carry their young children on their backs. Khangas are also used as tablecloths and decorative wall hangings.

Khangas use a variety of African sayings, idioms, proverbs, slogans, expressions, idioms and riddles in Swahili and English. These sayings must be understood in their cultural and social contexts. It is important to understand that many of the sayings are intended to be a commentary on the lives of East African women and their complex relationships. Many of the sayings are messages (hidden/coded or otherwise) that women communicate to each other. Usually the saying is printed on the bottom middle of the cloth. More recent East African khangas also contain informational and educational messages.

The following are the English translations (alphabetically) of some of the Swahili sayings on khangas that are popular with youth in urban areas in East Africa:

1. Education is an ocean (that is, it has no end).
2. Good luck begins in the morning.
3. How did you know this if you did not go behind my back?
4. If you give to me, I will receive; I am not used to begging.

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The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

18. You are not a loving person; you don't remember good deeds. (Used especially by girls)
19. You will die poor if you rely on relatives.
20. You will exhaust the butcheries while all meat tastes the same. This crude expression is what one boy says to another boy who is "playing around."
21. You will get hurt by talking behind other people’s backs.

In analyzing these sayings and proverbs a clear pattern emerges. As several young people in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania explained to me, many of these expressions concern love affairs and problems in boy-girl relationships jealousy, envy, hatred, a young couple breaking up, a young couple coming back together again, etc.

The kitenge, the other type of colorful East African cotton cloth with many designs, also uses various informational messages mainly dealing with celebrations, anniversaries, meetings, deaths.

II. List of 254 Sayings on Khangas

Our Research Committees in Dar es Salaam, Musoma and Bujora (Mwanza), Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya have systematically collected a list of 254 sayings on khangas. The examples are listed alphabetically (Swahili and then the English translation). Many of these sayings are also used on T-shirts, posters, banners, drawings, greeting cards, etc.

1. "Acheni nyodo kila mtu na bahati yake."
"Forget about effort, each person has his or her luck."

2. "Adui ni mdomo wako."
"Your lips are your enemy."

3. "Akili ni mali."
"Brains are wealth."

4. "Alaa! Kumbe!"

5. "Amani, Upendo, Umoja"
"Peace, Love, Unity"

6. "AMECEA Celebrating the African Synod in Nairobi with John Paul II Sept. 1995"

7. "Anayechekea kovu ya mwingine hajajeruhiwa bado."
"The person who laughs at another’s scar has not been wounded yet."

8. "Apendaye halipizi."
"The one who loves does not take revenge."

9. "Asante sana kwa wema ulionitendea."
"Thank you for your good deeds to me."

10. "Awamu ya pili."
"The second round."

11. "Bahati haina hodi."
"Luck doesn't give a warning sign."

12. "Bienheureux Danial Comboni Un Prophet pour Afrique
"Blessed Daniel Comboni A Prophet for Africa"

13. "Bila jasho huishi."
"You don't live without working."

14. "Bora maisha; mengine ni majaliwa."
"Life is the best gift; the rest is extra."

15. "Buriani Baba wa Taifa Mwalimu J.K. Nyerere 1922--1999
"Farewell (and remain at peace) Father of the Nation Teacher J.K. Nyerere 1922--1999"

16. "Chakubimbi ukimuona muogope."
"If you see Chakubimbe (the rumor monger) stay away from him."

17. "Chakukupa sina ila nakuombea dua."
"I have nothing to give you except to pray for you."

18. "Chakukupa sina ila nakuombea salama."
"I have nothing to give you except to wish you good luck."

19. "Chakupewa hakina nyongeza."
"The freeloader can't ever get too much."

20. "Chama cha Mapinduzi."
"Revolutionary Party."

21. "Cheka nao lakini si wema kwako."
"Laugh with them, but it’s not good for you."

22. "Christ in Our Community -- Kanisa Katoliki Kenya"
"Christ in Our Community -- the Kenyan Catholic Church"

23. "Dawa ya homa ni quinini, dawa ya ubaya ni nini?"
"The medicine of malaria is quinine. What is the medicine for wickedness?"

24. "Dhuluma si njema."
"Oppression isn't good."

25. "Dunia ni maarifa."
"The world is knowledge."


The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

235. "Uzuri wa Afrika."
"The beauty of Africa."

236. "Uzuri wa mke in tabia si sura."
"The beauty of a wife is her character not her appearance."

237. "Vituko vyenu nimevizoea sasa navipuuzia."
"I am used to your trouble making, but now I don't care."

238. "Waja hawasemi."
"They come, but they don’t say."

239. "Wajigamba una nini?"
"Poor as you are, what are you boasting about?"

240. "Wanafiki wana vikwao vyao."
"Hypocrites have their own places."

241. "Wanafiki wanafiki vikwao."
"Hypocrites accept their way."

242. "Wapiganapo tembo nyasi huumia."
"When elephants fight the grass gets hurt."

243. "Watanzania tumuenzi Baba wa Taifa."
"Tanzanians, let us honor the Father of the Nation."

244. "Watoto wana haki ya kufurahia maisha."
"Children have a right to enjoy life."

245. "Watu kwa amani."
"People of (or for) peace."

246. "WAWATA (Wanawake Wakatoliki Tanzania) Kwa Upendo wa Kristu Tutumikie."
"Catholic Women of Tanzania For the Love of Christ Let Us Serve."

247. "Wengi wachunguzi lakini wewe kiongozi."
"There are many shepherds but you are the leader."

248. "Wewe ulie tu."
"To keep complaining won't help."

249. "Wivu sina moyo unaniuma."
"I'm not jealous; I just feel bad."

250. "Wote ni wana. Ubaguzi wa nini."
"We are all brothers and sisters. Why is there discrimination? "

251. "Ya kwako du ya wenzako midomo juu."
"Why should you talk about others' weaknesses instead of yours."

252. "Yataka moyo."
"[Marriage] needs patience."

253. "Yote ni matawi shina ni mimi."
"All are branches. I am the root." (Meaning: The legally married woman is the root. The rest of the women/wives are branches to the man.)

254. "Zawadi ni zawadi."
"A gift is a gift."

NOTE: More background information on and explanations of these proverbs, sayings and other types of African Oral Literature are found in Chapter One entitled "Towards an African Narrative Theology of Inculturation," especially the sections on "Oral Literature as a Source of an African Narrative Theology of Inculturation" and "Research Methodology Used in Collecting and Interpreting African Oral Literature," in the following book: Joseph G. Healey M.M. and Donald F. Sybertz, M.M., Towards An African Narrative Theology (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1996) and Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997), 400 pages. See also the article Joseph G. Healey M.M., "You Faked Me Out: Sayings of East African Urban Youth" in Wajibu (Volume 14, No. 1, 1999), pages 2-4.

Copies of this list of sayings are available from:

Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M.
Maryknoll Society
P.O. Box 867
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Research Committee
Maryknoll Language School
P.O. Box 298
Musoma, Tanzania

Collected and edited by Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M.
16 February, 2000

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