Meru - Riddles and Proverbs

The following proverbs and sayings have been taken from Francis M'Rintari's book "The Inventory of Kimeru Proverbs: Series 1", published in 1995 by the Meru Bookshop, Private Bag, Meru, Kenya. See the copyright notice.


Agiicuria ta kireere naiji uria akareera
When he hangs himself down like a bat, he definitely knows how he would float through the air

Agwikia jua nduu kaara
He has inserted a finger into the anus of the monster (meaning, one has tried a very dangerous feat)

Agwikirithania na murampa
He has rubbed shoulders against a baobab tree (meaning, he wants to compare himself with a giant. He wants to look big)

Akagwata gikama mwanki-ukwora (jukwora)
He would get hold of a red-hot iron brand (gikama) just after it has left the fire. (the gikama is a piece of metal about five inches long, and was used in a trial ordeal to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused thief. The suspect would have to carry it with naked hands across a given distance. If he dropped it before that distance, it was proof that he was a thief. The proverb warns of the consequences of thievery)

Akwina abicha
He has danced topsy-turvy (upside down) (similar to Akwina atema ntabui, meaning "he has danced amazingly beyond", and Akwina atura nturi, "he has danced amazingly to the end". The proverb means too much of a good thing might be bad - he has danced himself to death)

Ari mutine jukuura
He is under a leaking tree (meaning, he is having problems)

Bia thuguri bitiujuraga ncuku
Bartered grains do not fill up the granary (may mean that one should not expect to be self-sufficient without cultivating land)

Cookera akui, Nturutimi yacookeere Nciru
Return before you go further, Nturutimi returned after it had reached Mciru (Nturutimi was one of the age groups in Meru; Mciru is a place between Tigania and Imenti divisions where the Njuri-Ncheke Council of Elders used to meet and legally formulate rules and regulations, norms, customs and etiquette which governed the Meru people and their way of living. The proverb warns one not to go further (for example with a legal case), because the decision that has already been taken is binding and final)

Naanga yereragua ni ruuo
The naanga flies with the wind (naanga is a soft printed cotton cloth worn over the shoulders by dancing Meru warriors. Such a naanga would then fly over and behind each dancer as a beautiful bunting. Possibly means to swim with the current, go with the flow)

Nagwurite kareere maigo
He has extracted the bat's teeth (he has done something extraordinary)

Ncamba ti matina
The strength of a hero does not centre on his buttocks (also Ncamba ti biuriu, meaning "the strength of a hero is not displayed by the calves of his legs". Meaning: one's fame and strength are not determined by appearance or physical force, but by intelligence and other qualities)

Ndara mugumone itiji ndaara mugene nikumuntwa
One (a bird) that spends the night on a fig-tree does not know that the other that passes the night on "Muga" (a thorny cactus tree) is being pricked.

Ndiita na (Mwirigo) Juu juri iraa kana juria juri nondo
Should I follow this route with some clay soil or that one with ochre. (the Meru believed there are two imaginary roads in life: "Mwirigo juri iraa" is the road with clay (whitish soil), and "Mwirigo juri nondo" is the one with ochre (red soil). The white road is the road with light, the spiritual road connected to Ngai - the Creator and Provider of life, honey and milk. The red road is usually connected with fear and bad events such as fighting and the shedding of blood. This is why, when the warriors prepared to go to war, they had to decorate themselves mainly with ochre (red colour). The ochre stood for both camouflage as well as indication auguring well that more blood would flow from the enemies. The proverb is simply used when one has a dilemma)

Ni-kae karumirwa ka nyeenje kaguruke na ruuo
Let it be a bite of a cockroach and fly with the wind (an expression used for soothing a hurt child)

Niku gwatuka maguru ta mbiti
It is halving one's body (legs) into two like a hyena (cf. he who hunts two hares leaves one and loses the other. A story told by the Meru says that one day, a hyena chased a goat from the grazing field. The goat ran very fast along the winding path towards its home, leaving the hyena behind. The innocent goat was trembling with great fear but reached home safely. As the hyena followed behind the goat, it reached a junction where the path branched into two. One led to the home where the goat went, the other to the next village. Because of its greed, the hyena decided to walk to the two places all at once so that it would not miss the goat. It placed its two right legs on one path, and its two left legs on the other path, and started walking. After a short distance, it broke itself into two parts and died)

Niku kwenja nkari igoti
It is to shave the leopard's mane (to undertake a very dangerous and nerve-wracking venture)

Ni nyongo ikuthekera rugio
It is a pot laughing at the potsherd (nothing lasts for ever, for even a pot will break one day)

Ni utheri kwinira uri na mpara
It is no use to lull a child with a hungry look

Ng'ombe ni cietu kuuma kaumo
The cattle belong to us right from the beginning

Nja iri mukuru itiguujaga nderi
The vultures would not land at the village in which there is a wise old man (meaning no crime would be committed - vultures usually alight at a place where blood has been shed)

Nkejira ng'ombe ntigiri ciuma ngoji
I shall come for the cows after the donkeys have grown horns (when pigs fly. Or, as they say in Portuguese, when cocks grow teeth)

Nthenge inkuru ititiyaga utheri
An old he-goat does not sneeze for nothing (old men speak the truth with a lot of experience and deep reasoning)

Niku kurita mbiti irinyene
It's like removing a hyena from a pit (the proverb recalls how a certain man met a hyena that had fallen into a pit. When the hyena saw him above, he pleaded to be helped out. The man was moved in his heart as he felt pity for it. He ascended into the pit to get the hyena out of it. On reaching the bottom of that very large hole, the hyena told him: "I thank you for your good offer, but just before you assist me in getting out of this deep hole, you should also know that I am very hungry as I have been here for many days. Therefore, I demand that you give me either one of your legs or arms to eat." The man realized that he was in danger and got much afraid, but cleverly said: "No problem, I have left the fattest arm just at the door of this hole, I should easily reach for it while stepping on your back." He quickly stepped on the hyena's back and craftily climbed out of the pit leaving the hyena there alone. Hence, the proverb is directed to people who are never grateful for the good deeds done to them, and who create enmity instead)


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

also by Jens Finke
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