Murle proverbs and popular knowledge

Cattle grazing in Kong Kong River, Pibor May 2015

Proverbs are windows into the popular knowledge of a society. Several Murle language everyday expressions reveal the intrinsic importance of cattle in Murle society. This post, continuously updated with proverbs, presents and explains some of these expressions, related to cattle but also to other popular knowledge.

When an elder greets youth, he will often say in Murle language:

Oraa thiin ngathi-akam gallash.

This translates roughly as ‘there is no other future apart from keeping cows‘, and is used as a blessing given to younger generations and refers to aspirations of getting cattle by any means, either free or with the least possible danger or loss, ultimately the hope that a young man can get cows without any harm in his way.

Cattlecamp in Kong Kong River, Pibor May 2015

Another Murle saying – ‘cows are just like hair’ – refers to the ability to re-stock one’s herd after loss by disease of raiding:

Thin iim thou’

This saying is a way of encouraging people to keep hope after disease or raiding.  However, in recent years, some herds have been so depleted by large scale raiding that people are struggling to restock, discouraging the saying from being shared. 

‘Nyan gol ci kakoye cesa’

‘Give the hyena the way to enter, and she will find her own way out.’

This proverb is a way of saying ‘give me an opportunity, and I’ll make the most of it and find my own way to succeed.

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