Home » Luhya Culture » Bukusu Culture » Meaning of Bukusu Proverb: Kumutambo kukila wakhina ebukhwe
poster with a cartoon character woman in Indian traditional dress dancing titled 'kumutambo kukila wakhina ebukhwe''

Meaning of Bukusu Proverb: Kumutambo kukila wakhina ebukhwe

Poverty will make you dance at your in-laws. The meaning of the Bukusu proverb ‘kumutambo kukila wakhina ebukhwe’ through the unfortunate story of Maelo.

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A story is told of one Maelo who visited his daughter. His daughter was married in a well off family. Food was served. Maelo with his friends dined. Alcohol was also served. For a man used to the very occasional busaa party, bottles stacked on bottles of fine liqueur and scotch hit differently.

Maelo could not imagine life had become so good. His had been a life of lack: kumutambo. The plenty before him was just too much. Maelo wished he would carry some cooked food and good liquor back home. The fact that he couldn’t only encouraged him to stock some more. As the day progressed, the music kept getting better. People loosened up a bit. Those who came with Maelo started dancing. As the Bukusu saysie munda sisuta sie khumurwe‘; as the alcohol overpowered the meat in his belly, Maelo forgot where he was.

Maelo started dancing at his daughter’s house. Maelo danced and danced himself lame. Since he was tipsy, Maelo was dancing incoherently. Maelo’s daughter got so embarrassed that he she didn’t know what to do. In Luhya culture, her father’s behavior was a major cultural faux pas: When one goes visiting their in laws, one of the things you don’t do is dance.

Meaning of kumutambo kukila wakhina ebukhwe

She approached one of Maelo’s friends and asked him to convince Maelo to leave. Reluctantly, Maelo and his entourage eventually left. Unfortunately for Maelo, news of what transpired reached the village.

Though used to the shame of poverty, this was public shame, shifwabi. It was different. It took the intervention of the head of Maelo’s clan, Omwami Musa, to change the narrative. He explained to all who cared to listen that it was poverty that had afflicted Maelo to such great shame: kumutambo kukila wakhina ebukhwe.

Common uses of this proverb

As in Maelo’s case, this proverb is used to comfort those who shame themselves in public that sometimes, our actions are governed by situations beyond our control. A misstep isn’t always an indictment of one’s true character. Beyond counselling individuals, this proverb is used to warn the community at large about poverty. Poverty does not only deny one agency, it also is a threat to the fabric of society.

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