You Require Tenacity !!!

DSC00173We 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.


Networks & Relationships for Growth and Prosperity


The Agĩkũyũ, in their wisdom, understood that there are timeless principles that one needs to apply for   one to progress and prosper in life. Among them is the need to develop long lasting relationships and networks that that would assist or support one in their journey of life. The following four proverbs provide counsel on the need for such relationships building.


Kamũingi koyaga ndĩrĩ: a group of people is able to carry a mortar or stamping block.

Ngarĩ ĩhitagwo nĩ mũndũ na mũthoniwe: a leopard is hunted by a man and his in-law

Ita rĩtari ndundu rĩhũragwo na njũgũma ĩmwe: a regiment of warriors who don’t have a common or joint approach to the battle can be defeated by one enemy warrior.

Ĩrĩ mũrungu ĩgiritagia ĩrĩ kahĩa: a cow with no horns will graze together with one that has horns for its safety.

The first proverb on carrying the ndĩrĩ brings out the need to develop teams to help one perform certain tasks that one would not be able to perform on their own. Ndĩrĩ was a mortar that was used by the Agĩkũyũ to pound maize or sugar cane used in beer making. Because of the important part it played in the life of the Agĩkũyũ, they made it from logs of hardwoods such as mũiri (prunus africana), mũringa (cordia africana) or mũgaa (acacia). The log would be hallowed on the top end while the lower half would be left solid. Thus, it was a heavy piece of equipment which required more than one person to carry or maneuver. A man would, therefore, create a network of friends whom he depended on in carrying out such a task as well as many other tasks that needed more than one person to accomplish.

The second one on hunting the Ngarĩ (leopard) is still on relationships but this time round a different kind of relationship – a one-on-one relationship of trusted friends. While the Agĩkũyũ would not hunt a leopard under normal circumstances, it could be hunted in certain instances such as if it attacked their livestock. A leopard was, and still is, a tricky animal to hunt and required a special relationship such as the relationship between a man and his mũthoniwe (in-law); a relationship based on friendship combined with a greet degree of respect. It was a relationship that obligated one to help the other in certain delicate situations such as hunting a leopard.

The third proverb tells us that it is not just enough to from a team; a team has to develop a strategy and plan if it is to achieve its objectives. The proverb describes a situation where a military regiment fails to strategize and is thus vulnerable. The Agĩkũyũ had very organized systems for defending their territory and making raids into Maasai country.  They had developed a sophisticated military setup that had a hierarchical order as well as organizational procedures. Within the hierarchy were the different regiments in the different territorial units. In preparation for battle or raids, the athamaki (military leaders) and athigani (scouts) of different regiments could come together to jointly strategize and plan for the raid or battle. It would have been folly for a regiment to just take off for a raid without first having developed a strategy and a plan.

The last proverb, on the hornless cow depending on one with horns, is talking about complementarity of skills and capabilities. It is basically telling us that in life one needs to identify others with different skills sets and capabilities that can supplement one’s capabilities or lack thereof.

In sum, whether it is in personal life or in business, these proverbs tells us that it is imperative that one develops different relationships and networks to help one progress and prosper. As an individual one needs to create a network of personal contacts that will provide one with support, feedback, insight, resources, information, and so forth. For long term business success, it needs to build relationships and networks internally and externally. Internally, depending on the nature of the business, it will need to create and develop teams and organizational systems. Externally, it needs to develop relationships with a whole range of stakeholders such as financiers, accountants, clients, suppliers, community, and so forth. A parting note: building relationships is not something that can be rushed; it is a process that takes time and patience; and, importantly a process that depends on credibility.


It is a Marathon; not a Sprint!!!

Wealth creation is a Marathon; not a Sprint.


While the Agĩkũyũ held the wealthy in high esteem, they also at the same time were cognizant of the fact that the accumulation of wealth or prosperity was not a fast and easy thing. They knew that wealth creation and prosperity is a process that requires knowledge/skills, time, effort and patience. They came up with proverbs that were meant to counsel the younger generations to be patient in their quest for wealth creation. The following four proverbs are an example of such counsel.

Ũtonga ndũhanyũkagirwo: Do not be in rush to become wealthy

Ihenya inene riunaga gĩkwa ihatha: being hasty when digging/harvesting gĩkwa (yam) can lead to one breaking one its branches.

Kahora, kahora karĩ ido: working consistently over a period of time will yield results.

Njũki Ndĩambagia na igua: A bee does not start off with a whole honey comb; it builds it bit by bit.

The first and the second proverbs are cautioning against the temptation to rush the process of wealth creation. The second one based on the gĩkwa is warning that if one rushes the process one is very likely to make grave mistakes. Among the Agĩkũyũ, the gĩkwa was a prized commodity. It was so prized that it was only men who could dig them up. It was even considered a taboo for women to attempt to harvest gĩkwa. Even for the men, it was a skill one had to learn: know how to make the digging stick (mũro) from appropriate species of trees; learn the digging technique, which consisted of digging a wide hole around the yam tree; slowly digging towards the yam to avoid injuring the supporting roots; digging under the tubers to inspect them for readiness for harvesting; and, carefully breaking of the ready ones. After harvesting the ready ones, leave the hole would open for a few days to air the base of the plant after which you would cover it back for the remaining yams to mature.

The third proverb is like an assurance that as long as you have a plan that you meticulously and patiently implement, you are going to make it. Slow but sure! The last on the Njũki (bee) is really a call for one to study the workings of the bees. The bees live together in large, well-organized family groups consisting of: a queen whose function is to lay the eggs: drones whose role is to fertilize the eggs; and, worker bees that are responsible for nest/honey comb building, food collection, and brood rearing. For the prosperity of a bee colony, each individual bee – and there are thousands of them – knows its role and carries it out diligently. During the igua (nest/honey comb) building, the worker bees will one by one bring in the wax and build the honey comb piece by piece until complete. They will then bit by bit bring in the nectar (the food for the young ones that will hatch) until the honey comb is full. It is only when the colony is guaranteed that the young ones have enough food that the queen and the drones can do their job and bring forth the next generation of the colony.

These are lessons that the current generation, especially the middle class, can learn from and apply in solving the dilemma that a sizable proportion is facing. This is the dilemma of the youth wanting to live the lifestyle of their parents without having to work for it. For instance, the younger generations – X and Y – of the middle class have been brought up in relative comfort: living in up market estates; driven to and from school; allowances for weekend outings, and so forth. On entering the job market, they still want to live the same lifestyle – the lifestyle of their parents. They forget that their parents had in their earlier life spent many years working towards affording the lifestyle. It has become common, therefore, to find young men and women in their late twenties and thirties (sometimes even forties) still living with their parents. Worse are those who want to take shortcuts, sometimes even illegal shortcuts, to quickly afford flashy lifestyles.

The reality is that on whole, a wealthy person who has built their wealth honestly, will have done so over many years. Except the few who have made breakthroughs in technology such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the majority of genuinely wealthy people are usually old people. The Forbes list of the world’s richest people is illustrative: eight out of the top 10 richest people eight are over 60 years; the ninth is 52, while the last and youngest – Zuckerberg – is thirty two.

Get up and getting going you Sluggard!!!

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.


Those “small things”

Today I start by unbundling the wisdom in three proverbs that highlight the  need to be on the lookout and take care of “those small things” that may at times appear insignificant  in our life or businesses.

Kũira nguraro nĩ kũimbĩrwo: If you fail to address or treat what may appear to be a small insignificant injury you may find yourself with a nasty pestering wound.

Njamba ĩrũũndagwo nĩ mũcakwe: A maize cob, carelessly left on the path can bring down even the mightiest warrior.

Mbĩa ĩminaga ndarwa na igutha: A rat, small as it is, will finish even the biggest cow hide – one small nibble at a time.

These three Kikuyu proverbs, though having slightly different nuances, caution us to be always vigilant in our personal lives or in business. Ignoring or not taking care of some of the “small things” that could be happening in our lives or business could lead to personal disaster or failure of business. The one on ignoring a “small wound” is especially applicable in business where management ignores some practices that may appear to be insignificant only to realize later that the cumulative effect of such practices has negatively affected the business. This proverb is similar to the English one; a stitch in time saves nine.

The one on the “cob bringing down the mighty warrior” will happen if the warrior is not paying attention to the path he is walking along. It is telling us to always be scanning our environment. Indeed in life or in business one needs to be constantly on the lookout on what is happening in their environment. In business planning for instance, one needs to do a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Treats) analysis of their business. After the initial analysis, a business has to constantly keep revisiting the SWOTs, especially the opportunities and threats. In today’s world where technology is changing, ever so fast, any business that is not constantly looking out and analyzing the effect of technological changes is unlikely to thrive.

The one on the “small rate eating a whole hide” is telling us that we can achieve big things by taking action, however small an action may appear. This is similar to the English proverb  “take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves” which implies that if you take care of little things one at a time, they can add up to big things.  It is also similar to the Chinese one that says that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.” The proverb also cautions us to not ignore small losses such as those resulting from pilferage by staff. If not checked such “small pilferage” can hold back a business or even bring it down.

It all begins now!!!

This is my first post from the the “Foothills of Mt Kenya”. The day is rainy, therefore, the Mt Kenya is fully hidden by the clouds. I will sharing pictures of the Mountain and the environment  in a future posts when it becomes visible.

The idea behind the “Foothills of Mt Kenya” is to unbundle the wisdom of the ancestors of the Kikuyu tribesmen who lived on the foothills of the as as family/clan based agro-pastoralists. They did not have reading and writing skills so knowledge was shared or passed on through the word of mouth. Overtime, they developed proverbs which encapsulate knowledge and wisdom around the various aspects of their life.

I will be analyzing the different Kikuyu proverbs with a view to explaining what they mean and how they can be applied to the various aspects of personal and business development. I will be also , where possible,  be comparing each proverb with similar English sayings.