The virtues of hard work
In the Agĩkũyũ society of our ancestors, living freely on the foothills of Mt Kenya, the rich and prosperous were admired and held in high esteem. However, the society was very conscious of the fact that prosperity was something one worked for. Wealth was not something that the lazy or slothful would achieve. In contrast to our current society which seems to believe that one cannot prosper through honest work. That society believed that even if one attained some form of wealth from dubious means, such wealth would not last. It is a sad testimony on how our society has evolved when surveys show that a big proportion our youth believe one can only prosper through corruption and are willing to engage in corruption or other illegal means of getting wealthy as long as they don’t get caught.
The following proverbs provide some insights on how the Agĩkũyũ viewed prosperity:
|Ido itigĩyagwo nĩ ithayo: A lazy man cannot acquire or accumulate property which in those days was in the form of livestock.
Kagũrũ karĩ mũhu na karĩ ime itihaanaine: A person whose foot is covered with ashes cannot be equal to a person whose foot is covered with morning dew.
Mũndũ wĩ kĩyo ndarĩ kũndũ ataangĩrĩĩra: A person who is hard working will prosper in any environment.
Gũtonga kwa mũici gũtithegeaga: Property acquired through dishonest/illegal means does not multiply.
Thĩna na ũgũũta nĩ mũndũ na mũrũanyĩna: Poverty and laziness are brothers
Thĩna, ũthayo na ng’aragu nĩ ciana cia nyina ũmue: Poverty, laziness and hunger are siblings.
The first two proverbs exalt hard work and are meant to be a call to action. The first one has serious consequences given that in the Agĩkũyũ society of those days, dowry or bride price was paid in form of livestock. A lazy man, who had no chances of acquiring livestock, would therefore find it difficult to get a wife. The second proverb describes two different people. The first is a lazy person who huddles over the fireplace in the morning in the process getting his feet covered with ashes. The second one is a hard working person whose feet get covered with dew as he goes about his business starting early in the morning.
The third proverb on prospering anywhere as long as you are hard worker is self explanatory and is very much applicable even today. Over the last few decades, many Kenyans have had the mistaken believe that they can only prosper if they migrate to the Diaspora. Hence the popularity of, for instance, the US Green Card. While some people have indeed prospered in the Diaspora, a bigger proportion is trapped in a rat race out there.
These last two proverbs are warnings against laziness. The ancestors are telling us that if one chooses to be lazy – and it is a choice – one is choosing to be poor. And the laziness referred to here is inclusive of laziness of the mind….Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” comes to mind. The consequences of this choice are reinforced by another proverb: Rika na nyũmba itiumagwo, which means that one cannot disown or change one’s family or age group. To our ancestors, when a person was lazy, they automatically became siblings with poverty – for life!
Examples of enterprises that have been created through sheer hard work are many. Sam Walton built Wal-Mart from a scratch while our very own Njenga Karume moved from “Charcoal to Gold”.
As the Agĩkũyũ detested laziness, so does the Bible , which in Proverbs 6:9-11 poses thus: How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.