We are back after a rather lengthy hiatus, but we are back all the same!
Today we look at another principle that the Agĩkũyũ, in their wisdom, understood which is that in order to progress or prosper in life, a person needs to be tenacious. One cannot expect to achieve success in most of one’s endeavors at the very first time one makes a try. The following three proverbs are illustrative of this principle:
|Ũtamerithĩtie ndatigaga kũhanda: it is only after seeds you plant germinate that you can for sure know that you don’t need to do further planting.
Mageria nomo mahota: It is only when you keep trying that you can succeed.
Mwendi gatungu ni mwenjeri: If you want firewood from a tree stump, you have to be ready to really get down and do some serious digging.
The first two proverbs counsel on the need to understand that a failure on a first attempt, or indeed more than the first attempt, does not mean that one gives up. The first one, ũtamerithĩtie ndatigaga kũhanda, is derived from the Agĩkũyũ experience as agro-pastrolists. As agro-pastrolists, their main occupation was rearing of livestock, such as cattle, sheep and goats as well as agriculture. Agriculture, was the mainstay of their life and chief source of food and was regarded with such importance that it was undertaken by both men and women. Men were responsible for the hard work of clearing the bushes, cutting the big trees and breaking the virgin soil. This was quite tedious work given that the farming implements of those days consisted mostly of heavy digging sticks used by men called mĩnyago (sing. mũnyago) lighter digging sticks called mĩro (sing. mũro). After the men cleared the land using the minyagogo and hoes, the women would follow behind and prepare the land for planting using mĩro. With the land thus prepared, the planting was a shared responsibility between the men and the women. Since their livelihoods depended on the crops such planted, a family had to ensure that whatever they planted germinated and if, for whatever reason a crop failed to germinate, they would have to go back and plant again.
The second proverb, Mageria nomo mahota, is both a call to action as well as counsel to keep on trying even if you fail in your first attempt. The word, mageria, is plural of the word kũgeria, which means to try or attempt. The call here was for one to kũgeria or take action, if one wanted to achieve anything. The proverb tells us that it is only when one makes an attempt or attempts at anything that one is likely to succeed. This really is the equivalent of the English saying: “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” For one to try and try again, one must take the necessary first attempt.
The third proverb, mwendi gatungu ni mwenjeri, describes a scenario where a person wants a tree stump (mwendi gatungu) be it for firewood, which was the main use in the Kikuyu society of that time, or for whatever other reason. One has to, of necessity has to be prepared for the onerous task of digging (kwenjera), since one had to (and still has to) uproot the tree stump in order to use it. Again given the rudimentary nature of the implements that were available at that time, one had to really be prepared to undertake the tedious work of digging around all the roots and cutting them off one by one until the stump was weakened enough to be uprooted. Indeed, even in today’s world where one has the advantage of tools such as power saws, one has still to do considerable work digging round the roots.
Taken together, the three proverbs are telling us that in life’s journey, there are challenges or tasks that require one to keep rolling up one’s sleeves. Unless one is lucky enough to have been “born with a silver spoon in ones mouth”, one has to be prepared for the various difficult challenges that one will inevitably come across. There are some challenges that will be impossible to overcome but the counsel in these proverbs is that one should not give up easily. This counsel is as relevant today as it was those early days, especially among the younger generations where a sizable proportion expects to succeed in life through shortcuts or extralegal means. Practices such as “tenderpreneurship” for instance would have had no room in the days of our Agĩkũyũ ancestors.