Gusii - Riddles and Proverbs

All but one of the following proverbs (no riddles yet, sorry) are taken from, an excellent and very lively resource brought together by expatriate Gusii, and were originally contributed by and are reproduced here by kind permission. For more proverbs, try to get hold of Endangered African Proverbs Collections: Gusii (Kenya) Proverbs, collected and explained by Evans K. Nyakundi (Nairobi: May 2001). I have yet to see the book myself, though you may find more details at the African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories website ( The site has both a proverb of the month (with lengthy explanations, like the one for the bush that has eyes, below), and a proverb of the day that you can subscribe to in your email - well worth a bookmark.
In this page:


Mominchori 'imi tang'ana more 'ibu
Mominchori refers to an early riser while mosera ibu refers to a person who keeps in-doors. Rimi is morning dew. It therefore means that a person who rises up early and goes out braving the morning dew is much better economically than one who remains at home, feels lazy to venture out there to fend for himself. Lesson: We should all strive to excel and avoid laziness.

'Keumbu kiaare nkegundi 'moba
Ekeumbu is the ant hill in which mushrooms flourish. In essence, ekeumbu which is distant tends to be forgotten hence the mushrooms end up rotting. It therefore implies that it is easier to tend to something within our reach more effectively than one that is miles away.

Nyama 'nke yaria bokima 'kee
Ekee is that traditional bowl woven out of chimboba chia obori. Until recently, this was the sole plate and bowl used by our fore-fathers in ugali and other stuff. It means literally that small piece of meat can consume large quantity of ugali. The real hidden meaning is that something you might refer as a small issue can cause untold damage.

'Mwana obande, 'mamiria makendu
It means that one first and foremost attends to issues affecting him as a person before he can think of neighbour.

Ebiabande nsongora igoti, ebiao nkunyunyu
When a situation arises that you are eating/feasting at a friend's place, you are very ready and willing to attend. But when it is your turn to give, you are unwilling. We should be generous and give with happiness just as we are willing to receive.

Abange mbaya, nekero bariete kiane nkaigwa bobe
When you have some problem, you feel good when many people come and assist in the spirit of unity. The problem is shared and happiness prevails. But, when the many people come to eat from you, you tend to be offended because you will spend a lot.

Enda n'esese
Esese is a dog and enda is stomach. Refers to a situation where you eat and forget that there is no tomorrow. Eat and keep some for a rainy day. However much you eat, you will certainly feel hungry.

Bwanchani mbwa 'maiso, n'emioyo etamanyaini
Obwanchani is love. People tend to have their inner feelings to themselves even if they appear friendly and helpful. Beware of two-faced friends who pretend to be your friends while they hate you inside.

Mosomba n'onguru
A good servant is one who works hard for he will reap some benefits out of his hard work and patience. Encourages those who are employed to work hard in order for them to survive lest they get fired at the slightest mistake.

Egiasireire nchera rogoro kerigerie nchera maate
When you have lost something, it is prudent for you to expand your search, not necessarily at the spot where you misplaced it. For instance, when you have lost a woman to another man, look for another at another place.

Geutere giote gekobamboka gekobambokere
Being nice to a person has a price. When he gets up and is able to support himself, more often than not turns against you. Beware.

Omosacha neritiro rire nyomba
In a household, the husband is like a pillar of that house. His importance cannot be disputed and therefore he should be given his due respect. Without him things can not run smoothly. Wives are warned to accord their husbands their due respect and integrity.

Borabu nswenta
When you leave a place and promise to come back in no time, beware because you never know what you will incur just after getting out of sight. In most cases, you end up taking more time to return than you promised.

Amasikani nabuete chiseneni chieching'ondi
It is gratifying to maintain respect towards other people and to yourself. A sheep's tail has some very delicious meat yet it cannot equal respect.

Marina marina maya, maika matamerana
It is easier to climb up a tree than to descend. Likewise, it is easier to create a problem than it is to find yourself out of the same.

Momenyi boko noyonga Gisore
Gisore was a polite man who was liked by all and sundry. When you are housed or accommodated by people, you have to live and behave just as well as Gisore. This will encourage your host to keep accommodating you till you leave most likey on your own accord.

Binto mbiang'ora, nsagasaga bikwanga
If you want good results, do something slowly but carefully. Speed often makes you overlook stupid mistakes.

Nyasi nere namato
Walls have ears. Avoid talking ill of people thinking that no one is hearing. Whatever you say, know that it will filter through to someone sooner or later. Same as getutu nkemaiso.

Egetakoria ngetakonyora
This is like a curse. Means one does not wish you well at all. If you evade trouble, then there was no trouble at all.

Obwate omwabo, obwatwa koboko ocha ka, otabwati omwabo obwata 'moraa mwomo
This refers to situations where people tend to get favours from friends and relatives when trouble strikes. In contrast, those who have no one to look to often get nothing and end up in problems. Omoraa omwomo (dry plant) implies hardship.

Nguru chia 'momura, nchogu egwatia 'mbara
This proverb is used to stress the importance of a male child in a homestead. He is likened to an elephant in the sense that he is strong by nature and will be able to fight and protect the family when need arises.

Getutu kere maiso
The bush in which you hide has eyes. The African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories website explains this as follows:
   "A secret is compared to a bush in which a person hides, that is, your hiding place. On one level the proverb warns you to choose a good place to hide your secrets in order to make sure that your secrets are safe and will later be used for the well being of others. However, your bad secrets will be exposed. This Gusii proverb teaches the bad features of pretense, hypocrisy and hiding the truth.
   "A scripture parallel is Luke 12:1b-3: "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
   "This proverb is used mainly during ceremonies of initiation and during the appointment of people to leadership positions. The proverb encourages people not to pretend in carrying out their responsibilities, but rather to serve faithfully and openly. What they do in pretense or "in the dark" will always haunt them later."


No riddles yet, I'm afraid, or at least not ones with English translations. If anyone is up to speed in Ekegusii, please have a gander at's Literature in Kisii page, where you'll find over a dozen quoted at the bottom. Both Jimmy Omoke at and myself would be delighted to receive translations...


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

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