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Site Last Update: 20 Jan, 2020

May, 2019 The brotherhood/sisterhood of ducks is known inside the sack. Gweno (Tanzania) Proverb

Udugu wa mbata umanywa guniani. (Gweno)
Undugu wa bata hujilikana wakiwa ndani ya gunia. (Swahili)
La fraternité de canards se connait quand ils sont dans le sac. (French)
The brotherhood/sisterhood of ducks is known inside the sack. (English)

Gweno (Tanzania) Proverb

Background, Meaning And Everyday Use

Gweno is a Bantu language spoken in the North Pare Mountains in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania. The people known as the Gweno are a Chagga Ethnic and Linguistic Group. Ugweno is located within the Mwanga District, Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania in East Africa. It is situated in the Pare Mountains. The people who live in Ugweno are known as Wagweno and their common language is Kigweno. The original inhabitants of this area are the Shana clan. Even the name Ugweno (or "Vughono/Vughonu" to its inhabitants) is derived from a notably popular Shana ruler, Mghono/Mghonu, who ruled somewhere between the 13thand 15th century.

A precise date is hard to establish given ”the great Shana disruption” when they were deposed of their rule. During his rule, the area was known as the "Mountains of Mghono/Mghonu" as far afield as the Taita region in Kenya. When the Suya people migrated to the region and ambushed and wiped out almost all of the Shana clan, the origins of the name Ugweno was either less known or played down by the new rulers. This led to various theories that claimed origins of this name. Some say it was derived from Taita and Voi Ethnic Groups from Kenya during the migration to the Pare Mountains due to tribal wars in their homelands in Kenya.

Kirembwe is their main dish made by a mixture of banana and beans. The mixture is cooked using a clay pot. This traditional food can be crushed to create a hard porridge that looks like a cake when it cools. Kirembwe is normally used for breakfast. Sometimes the mixture is ground and water then added to it, making it porridge-like; this is what is commonly eaten as Kiumbo. The area's chief produce is coffee and banana. The area also produces maize and rice which is grown in the swampy plains.

In some African communities, a sack is usually used to carry birds – especially domestic birds such as chicken, ducks and fowls. This helps a person to carry them easily over the shoulder and to control their fluttering. The sack prevents them from flying away during transportation. Carrying them in a crate or an open container can lead to loss; they can fly if their wings and legs are not tied. Inside the sack they experience discomfort and they fight to try to get to the upper part of the bag, or try to exit from the bag. As a result of this competition to get preference, they lose consideration for each other’s needs. Just as in a family or community, some people wish to be given preference above others. They forget about the importance of relationships and friendships.

Like any other African Ethnic Group, the Gweno people use proverbs in different events such as: wedding ceremonies, when mourning the death of their love ones, during birthday ceremonies, etc. This particular proverb is used to acknowledge someone’s friendship bond and urges people to test their friendship. The proverb teaches us that when we have in problems, it is the time we are able to identify who are true friends to us. During tribulations, only genuine friends help you. Others desert you. We should expect not to always have many friends when we have problems.

Biblical Parallels

1 Samuel 18:1-3:Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.”

Real and true friendship happened when Jesus Christ received the news that his friend Lazarus was dead. As a real friend with a strong and powerful faith, Jesus Christ made him live again while Lazarus’ sisters and the rest of the village remained hopeless and helpless. They couldn’t believe that such a good friend was always there to help.

Contemporary Use And Religion Application

As they say “the person who has many friends, has none.” This definitely tells you that you can have as many friends as you can, but not all consider you as their real friend. When something wrong happens to you, they suddenly disappear. “A real friend is worth as much as than a brother.”

NOTE: This proverb is No. 100 in a Collection of 100 Gweno Proverbs by Etoka Malisawa Peter. Edited by Elias Bushiri Elie in collaboration with African Proverbs Working Group.

Etoka Malisawa Peter   
Nairobi, Kenya
Cellphone: +254 714 695659 659                                                                     
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Photographs provided by: 

Cephas Yao Agbemenu 
Department of Fine Art and Design
Kenyatta University
P.O. Box 43844
Nairobi, Kenya
Cell phone: +254 723-307992
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