Akamba Riddles

Akamba Oral Literature

20 Riddles in Kikamba Ndai

In Akamba tradition riddles are both a form of night time entertainment that causes laughter as well as a test of intelligence. The one starting says: “Kwata ndaƭ”– literally meaning receive a riddle. All present respond “Nakwata”, literally meaning I have received. Then the one telling the riddle says it. It is a kind of a fun-game in which all present are supposed to compete and relax as they laugh away. This is usually among siblings as they wait for food to be ready or after eating a good meal in the evening. Riddles are a type of today’s Jeopardy Show in which the Akamba children are trained to sharpen their minds by not only giving correct answer but also by completing with their peers. Riddles are not easy as there are some incomplete metaphors, like: “neethĩie....” I found...”which are not easy to guest. One has to know them. The point of a riddle is to complete was has been said and give the correct answer. The riddles presented are a simplified collection.



Kungulu kangala kithembeni?
Kungulu is an anamatopeic word for noise in the drum
Mutwaano wa mbia
A wedding of rats
Utisi nzuuni!
Lightening in midst of pigeon peas plants!
Uvaa wa mu tumia!
The bold head of an elderly man!
Kaveti kanini kakilitye mwenyu ku ua?
This small woman cooks better than your mother?
Nzu ki
A bee
Kiku ngu mu ingo?
Dust on the other ridge?
Nzana isembee mwana
A monitor lizard running for its child
Masee ma asa meanene?
My father's two equal calabashes?
itu na nthi
Earth and sky
iia kaayaa!
Behold that one!
Kalilu kew’ie mu tini!
A ripe banana on a tree!
Ndata ya Mu nyiva yi makundo kenda
Munyiva’s walking stick with nine knots
Banana plant
I found.....
Neethiie mu ndii na mu ndete mayotania muunyiwa u seki
I found “mũndii” and “mũndete” (imaginary dwarf spirits) under the shade of a grass blade!
Mu ndu u endaa akyua mbu
A person who cries for help as he walks
A calabash. When carried in high wind a empty calabash will make noise
Ndwikala vala Syekethe wikalaa!
You can’t sit where Syekethe sits!
A cooking clay pot!
Kalĩma kaseo katavandwa mboso!
A small hill on which one cannot plant beans!
A small beautiful hill where no beans can be planted!
Ngathĩ ya ng’ombe!
The hump of a cow! “Ngathĩ” is a hump.
Kĩveti kyamina muu nda na ndu kwo’a nyaĩĩ!
A woman who has finished cultivating a garden but no footprints!
“Kyondo” is a traditional basket hung on the back or front carrying seeds for planting. When one has finished cultivating there is no trace of the basket’s footprints. Get it!
Kĩveti Kĩkalĩle ivĩla itatu!
A woman sitting on three chairs!
“Nyu ngu” is a cooking pot also known as “mbisu”. When cooking it sits a three stones of the hearth!
Mundu wĩkalaa vandu vamwe na ndathu mu aa!
A person who remains in one place but never rests!
“Kiseve” is the wind. It seems to stir up the tree tops and yet busy all the time.
Kaveti kanini kavĩtĩte mwenyu ku ua!
A small woman who surpasses your mother in cooking!
Nzu kĩ!
“Nzu ki” is a bee. What a bee accomplishes along with others in making honey is unsurpassed.
Nathi Yata oyu na nasyoka!
I just went to Yata and came back!
“Metho” is the eyes. “Itho” is the singular. Yata ia a ridge between Machakos and Kĩtui Counties. It only the eyes that “go” to such a distance in an instant.
Mu ndu mu thwii wĩu tee wa nzĩa!
A rich person on the road side!
Kikondu is common plant in Machakos, Kĩtui and Makuenĩ Counties. Its botanical name is Solanum Campylacanthum, usually covered with yellow fruits called ngondu. It is a metaphor for a rich person in that it grows and produces fruits continuously.
Kyalo kĩte nzyioko!
A journey with no return!
Kĩw’u kĩu sĩnĩ!
“Kiw’u” is water. “Usĩ” is river. Running river water never returns!
Su su muĩ....
Clever grangmother....
Susu mui walalaa yu mba yikatwika nyu ngu!
Clever grandmother who molds clay into a pot! This is one of those riddles where you have to complete the metaphor.
Kĩĩma kĩlĩsawa na mbwaa!
A hill on which one climbs with finger tips!
Ngima! The staple food of the Akamba.
Corn-meal! Maize-meal. Swahili name is “Ugali”normally eaten with beef or chicken mixed with spinach.

Source: These proverbs were collected from various sources among which is Kamba Riddles, Proverbs and Songs by Gerhard Lindblom, Archives D’etudes Orientales, Vol. 20, Uppsala, 1934. Other sources were my own personal interview with Mutuku Musomba in Machakos, my relative who is well versed with our Akamba oral traditions.

Akamba Proverbs

Akamba Oral Literature

20 Proverbs in Kikamba and English

Proverbs are part of the wisdom oral literature of the Akamba

Proverbs in Kikamba

English Translation

Meaning – the Moral

Wĩkũma wĩlĩka
Despite your bark, you'll be eaten!
Don’t be like cowardly dogs that bark a lot, because prowling leopards easily spot and eat them!
ũkũ wĩ kĩvetanĩ ndũthekaa ũla wĩ iko
The wood on the woodpile does not laugh at one in the fire
Don't laugh! You may be next
Too ũmanthaa na awe
a medicine man gets rich by sleeping (too =sleep)
When one has money in hand, clients will wake one up
Ngũlĩ syonthe iyĩanĩa mũsũũonĩ ũmwe
All monkeys cannot hang on one branch
People differ. Careers differ. Talents differ
Kĩ kĩtũngaa mũ tumĩa ndĩthya ndakĩsĩ
An old man doesn't know what makes him herd again
Elderly Kamba men rarely herded; their sons and grandsons did. One may find oneself taking up a task that one did not expect.
ũtatembeaa aasyaa nyinyia nĩwe ũ uaa nesa
One who has not traveled thinks his or her mother is the best coo
Allow yourself to be transformed by the experience of others
Kakuthu kaneeyũ mba kayaa mũtĩũ temwa
In a developed bush does not lack a useful tree to be felled.
A well developed and mature person has always something to offer
Mbiti yĩ mwana ndĩĩsaa ĩkamina
The hyena with a cub does not eat up all the available food
Abundance is not a license to consume all. Consider those with nothing.
Itho nĩyĩkengaa mwene
The eye deceives its owner
The reality may be different from what you see. Be careful of what you see. Truth lies beyond vision.
Kũ tava mũno kũtũlaa kĩko
A large scoop breaks the spoon
Lust is dangerous. Moderation will save your shame.
Nyinyia wa ndũũme nde ngaatĩ
The mother of a ram has no horns
Ordinary people accomplish great things. Don’t underestimate simple looking people
Nganga ĩsyaa mbaa
A Guinea fowl gives birth to a francolin
A good man/woman may have a son or daughter who is worthless, a nuisance in society
Kĩtheka kĩ matũ; ũkũta wĩ matũ
The forest has ears. Walls have ears.
Be always honest. Don’t backbite!
Kasele katune katunĩvaw’a nĩũ nengeleanĩlw’a
A calabash plate becomes red (smooth) because of passing it on
A person of integrity is always known by the good character of that person
Kĩndĩle kĩkalasya kĩ-kwate
A partridge tends to stay with the trapped one
Be careful. Do not stay in company of people in trouble
Kasaũ kakya nĩko kenyenyaa mũ ongo
A poor calf licks its own back
Living in poverty trains one to be self-reliant
Mbũi nzaũ yaaa yenekee
A white goat is lost while still visible
Usually a person drifts away when we think one seems ok.
Mbũi nene ndĩtivaa mana
An adult goat does not bleat for nothing
Adults can read between the lines of deviant behavior
Mwĩw’a ũthĩnasya ũla mũ tonye
A thorn causes limping on the pricked one
No one can feel your pain
Mũyo ndũtũaa kĩlomon
Good taste does not remain on the lip
Happiness is fleeting