Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Proverbs and Wise saying of my People: The Nandi of Kenya

The wealth of a language is measured in the amount of wisdom stored in proverbs and wise sayings. Over time, I have grown so fond of the wisdom of my mother language (Nandi) and I would like to document for posterity the proverbs and wise sayings of the language I love and help promote its wider usage.

This collection is in no way exhaustive. Neither is it my exclusive piece of writing. Some of these gems have been captured by my sister-in-law, Dr. Rose Cheptoo Ruto. Other pieces of writings are scattered all over and I seek to collect them in a single depository. Right here in this blog.

In my knowledge of the Nandi language, the proverbs may be classified into those that "warn/advise" AGAINST and those that "encourage" one to DO.

To understand this, one needs to appreciate the Nandi grammar. The language is very rich. The Nandi grammar is built around a fluid interchange between the VSO or VOS (Verb, Object, Subject). Furthermore, Nandi is one of a few languages that has what would be called "directional verbs", those verbs that tell the direction of action.

Now, back to the negation. "ma(at)" is used as a general negation in Nandi. It also represents the "negative singular". Other forms are "mee", "moo (plural form)". A number of proverbs which caution against doing something are built around this etymology.

Nandi proverbs are built around many central themes. The underlying concept is promotion of the community and social responsibility. Some proverbs are animal-centred, mainly around the cow (a very important animal to the Nandi economy). Others are centred around the cosmos. Some are built around taboos.


Akot ngo samis muria kobo koot ne bo

 Even if a rat is "bad", it belongs where it belongs. I other words, no "bad" can disqualify one from belonging to "own" family. 

Ma ki namei beny biriir buch
This one translates to "One can't hold (or touch) a piece of (red) meat "just like that". Ideally, it implies that if you participate in doing something, you need to share in its rewards. In the case of meat, since most people slaughtered their own animals, they needed help to skin the animal. If a neighbour passed by and helped hold the animal while the owner is skinning it, that neighbour who has "held" (or touched) the "meat" must be given a piece of it!
Ma kii ndoee sogool taai
This is a classical "warning" which translates to either one of these two meanings. First "You MUST never place nine ahead/in front". Second "You must never overtake/go before nine".

It is a fairly complicated one. To understand it one needs to place the Nandi number systems in perspective. The number three and multiples thereof are reserved for women (and fertility!). Hence three ululations signified the birth of a baby girl. Nine (which is a multiple of three) signifies planetary perfection, "sogoltaiik" or as literally translated (the place of nine). The Nandi considered that the universe was made up of nine planets! We also considered the nine planets as the "legs" of the Sun", our "Supreme" who was fondly referred to as "Cheep Kelien Sogool = Chepkelien Sogool"). Literally this means "The girl with NINE legs".

Briefly, the number four is a masculine number. Multiples of it, eight and twelve are masculine as well. Therefore four ululations were delivered by women to announce the arrival of a baby boy, Nandi men sing four, eight or twelve specific songs associated with the rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. Anything relating to men has to be done in fours!

Now back to the proverb. Following from the reasoning one, you cannot place NINE before EIGHT. This implies that ORDER is paramount. Strict adherence to procedure is the DNA of a Nandi. Probably this is why our people make some of the most diligent soldiers". The second meaning likely says that one can't place anything before NINE, after EIGHT. In a rudimentary sense, it elevates the man closer to God (NINE-legged lady). Nothing should stand between Man and God.

I propose that the number TEN is a number reserved for deity (the ONE plus NINE legs). If so, this can't be placed BEFORE the NINE. Again, it points to ORDER!

...To be continued....

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