Proverb of the Week: A small house will hold a hundred friends ((Duruma, Kenya)

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Chumba chidide chinaidima kuphenya atu mirongo kumi. (Duruma)
Chumba kidogo huweza kuwa na marafiki mia moja. (Swahili)
Une seule maison peut avoir cent amis. (French)
A small house will hold a hundred friends. (English)

Although this proverb of the Duruma, the Mijikenda ethnic groups of the Kenyan coastal region along the Nairobi-Mombasa, might sound a bit confusing and contradictory or even ironic, it is definitely true if you think about it deeply.

Traditionally, a typical Duruma homestead is not big; it could be anything from a small single hut for a man and his wife to a hut for a large extended family comprising of many members. In a typical Duruma polygamous setting, the wives live in their separate huts while their younger children live in their mother’s hut. The boys who have passed the puberty age are encouraged to build their own huts, which can hold several of them irrespective of having different mothers. Not only that, the whole family members eat together from a large dish which can contain plenty of food.

What does this living arrangement tell us about the proverb above and life in general? Much indeed. The proverb is commonly used to emphasise the importance of communal bonding and sharing. Having a little space is, according to the Duruma, not a reason not to share, because sharing (food, accommodation, problems, good things etc.) and supporting one another, cement the relationship amongst people and create a sense of unity and harmony. More than that, sharing and unity, encourage progress.

How relevant is this proverb at the national level or to Africa? Like the pawpaw fruit, which may be small, yet it contains many seeds, a nation or Africa as a continent, can be made up of many different people with different cultural, linguistic differences. Yet, despite these obvious differences, if they can learn how to share and live together in peace, there is no limit to what they can achieve together as a group. Despite some progress made in many African countries today, Africa as a continent is still, generally speaking, facing a lot of problems and social challenges. Think of unabashed, conspicuous corruption, naked greed, selfishness, insensitivity, to nepotism and ethnic consciousness, to say just a few. All these have directly or indirectly contributed to a lack of progress in the society, including a shortage of social amenities like housing and accommodation, food, health care system, school, water etc.

One could rightly argue that African social problems are indeed man-made, attributed to moral bankruptcy, deficiencies and decadents amongst individuals. We need to embrace the spirit of sharing and communal bond in order to unite as an entity and forge forward towards achieving progress and greatness.

Therefore, to make any tangible progress in life and society, we must imbibe the common adage that a small house will hold a hundred friends – if we really want.