Maasai - Riddles and Proverbs

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Riddles (Iloyietia and Ilang'eni)
Proverbs (Ndung'eta-e-rashe)

Riddles (Iloyietia and Ilang'eni)

Maasai riddles range from the simple and silly to the complex and serious. There are two classes of riddles, each with their own fixed formulas.
   Simple riddles (Iloyietia) are introduced by the propounder with the word oyiote, which means "are you ready?". The audience respond by saying, ee-wuo, "it has come", and the riddle is then put. These riddles are meant to be funny and are posed in a light-hearted manner.
   The more complex riddles are called Ilang'eni, literally meaning "those for the clever", and are opened with the question Ira ng'en? ("Are you clever?"). If the audience responds in the affirmative, which invariably it does, the riddle is asked.

The following riddles and most of the proverbs are from Naomi Kipury's excellent "Oral Literature of the Maasai" (1983: East African Educational Publishers Ltd.)



Kidung' ang'ata bkira aare nimiking'amaro?
The two of us cross the wilderness without talking to each other.

Iyie oloip lino
You and your shadow.

Edung' ng'utunyi olosinko erumisho enebanji?
Your mother walks across the village with something issuing out (of her body)?

Enkeju enkerai
The leg of a baby
(you'll often see a baby's leg protruding from the cloth sling or swaddle with which mothers tie their young children to their back)

Anaa ipi nabaa o nabaa nimintieu atakedo enkashe e kikoris enkoriong?
Why are you so brave yet you cannot sit on the back of the heifer from Kilgoris?

Because it is a spear. (there may have been some blacksmiths who lived at Kilgoris in the old days, so the spear may have been made and brought from there).

Mugie ai naten ilasho?
My brown one with speedy calves?

Enkawuo o mbaa
The bow and arrows

Ting'iria maaishaki?
Will you observe while I put it all inside you?

Olalem opiki enchashur
The sword that is being put into the sheath
(an obvious sexual pun)

Anaa ipi nabaa o nabaa nimitonie enetonie entito nayok?
Why are you so brave yet you cannot sit at the place where the little black girl sits?

Because it is the fire
(the little black girl is the pot which has turned black with soot)

Anaa keidurraki neini nanyokie?
They moved homes and the red one was born?

The fire
(the Maasai often burn up the old village when they move)

Tamanai teidia alo oldoinyio matamanu tena nimikitumo aikata
Go round one side of the mountain while I go round the other side, but we shall never meet.

The ears
(ears do not move)

Or nememanyi, ore pee emanyi neishiri?
There is a bare place where no one ever settles, and if one did so, there would be crying. What is it?

The eye

Olkiteng' lai otii erishata oolmang'ati?
I have an ox who lives in the midst of enemies?

The tongue

Anaa iten nabaa o nabaa niminepu kapironto etagore?
Why are you such a fast runner yet you cannot catch up with the Kavirondo (Luo) when he is annoyed?

Because he is the fly

Anaa aidorrop enkanashe ino nemeeta olng'anayioi oing'ataa?
Why is your sister so very short yet there is no fruit that is beyond her reach?

A bird

Proverbs (Ndung'eta-e-rashe)

Engai tajapaki tooinaipuko inona
God, shield me with your wings

Menang' silig kewan
Facing backwards does not perform itself
Meaning: A simple act like turning backwards has to be performed. The proverb emphasises the importance of initiative and that of corporate action. Everyone has a part to play however small it might be, and therefore people do not ignore a small act, for it is just as essential as a big one.

Edoorie enker modooni nkuta
A blind sheep might chance across rain water
Meaning: this warns that good fortune is not restricted only to the affluent members of the society, but to all, irrespective of their status.

Meeta empur nemejo nanu eedo kidong'oe
There is no gecko that does not claim to possess the longest tail

Memurata olayioni oota menye
He who has a father is still not circumcised
Meaning: a man will always be subordinate to his father, and will still receive orders from him.

Menya enkoshoke enyamu
The stomach cannot steal
(It would show)

Memut elukunya nabo eng'eno (or Meishaa elukunya nabo eng'eno)
One head does not consume all knowledge (or, One head cannot contain all knowledge)
Meaning: there are limits to one person's knowledge

Enkong'u naipang'a eng'en
It is the eye which has travelled that is clever (or, clever is the eye that has travelled).

Esuj erashe ng'ejuk emusana
A new idea (custom) follows an old one
Meaning: if an idea is good it will be copied and followed.

Meikooyu olelipong'
You cannot advise a man who is after a woman

Meeta enkiteng' olopeny
The cow has no owner
Meaning: cattle are exchanged so often that the idea of individual ownership ceases to make much sense.

Olapa oibor inkera
The children are the bright moon
Meaning: they bring pleasure into the home

Meyek olenkaina ilala lenyena
The elephant does not get tired of its tusks
Meaning: one carries his burden without flinching.

Meitang'e oltung'ani olkikuei leme olenye
A person does not itch from a thorn that is not his
Meaning: it is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches - you cannot (or should not) feel someone else's troubles

Medol ilala osina
Teeth do not see poverty
Meaning: people still smile despite problems. Often said in difficult situations when people still manage to entertain each other and have fun.

Meituku olkine ng'iro
It cannot be cleansed with a brown he-goat
Meaning: brown he-goats are customarily slaughtered during cleansing rituals, since the colour brown is associated with purity. If a person commits an 'unpardonable sin', normally one which has never been committed before, this proverb is quoted to indicate the magnitude of the deed.

Meji olayioni kaji itopokie
A boy (man) is not asked where (how) he recovered
Meaning: once a person has acquired property, he is not asked how he obtained it. The means is not important; it is the end that matters.

Menyaanyuk enchikati enkutuk o enolkurum
The fart of the mouth and that of the bottom are not the same
Meaning: abusive talk smells more than a fart.

Erruesh olenkaina enaimurruai
The elephant can trip over a creeping plant
Meaning: despite his size and might, he is still vulnerable

Milo ilgum eranyi
Do not go gathering fruit when a dance is taking place
Meaning: do not perform an irrelevant task at an inappropriate time.


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