February, 2021 The pursuit of grasshoppers is done in the morning. Sukuma (Tanzania) Proverb

insect-GRASSHOPPER Isunga ng’humbi lili dilu. (Sukuma)
Utafutaji wa panzi ni asubuhi. (Swahili)
La poursuite des sauterelles se fait le matin. (French)
The pursuit of grasshoppers is done in the morning. (English).

Sukuma (Tanzania) Proverb

Background, Explanation and Everyday Use

Traditionally the Sukuma people in Tanzania use many types of oral literature such as proverbs, sayings, riddles, stories, myths and songs to communicate values and priorities. Normally we think of research on Sukuma proverbs as going to the Sukuma elders for their wisdom and knowledge. This present write-up is a new way of doing research — listening to what Sukuma young people are saying.

Sukuma young people, being influenced by their culture, use proverbs in communicating some messages when interacting in their activities. During the corona pandemic when most of people were staying at home due to the lockdown, this situation did not hinder most of the young people in performing their daily activities in order to earn their living. During this time we three Sukuma young people managed to interact with different Sukuma youth in their places of work such as bus stops, in the shambas and even when participating in communal works such as road maintenance and the like.

It is here that we came across the Sukuma proverb isunga ng’humbi lili dilu meaning the pursuit of grasshoppers is done in the morning. In using this proverb, the Sukuma youth reflect on the action of pursuing grasshoppers and why it is done in the morning. Grasshoppers as insects sometimes are consumed as food when they are collected in a great number. This collection is mainly done in the morning when the grasshoppers are inactive due to the cold resulted from dewfall in the grasses. It is at this time that the action of pursuing is simple and well done. So we find in the origin of our proverb that the pursuit of grasshoppers is done in the morning. This proverb encourages young people about the necessity of accomplishing their tasks as early as possible so that they can earn their living.  It makes them to be zealous in any task entrusted to them.

The proverb convenes that any achievement needs to be done at the proper time while one is very active. When a young person is very active he or she can achieve his or her activities very well as well as to do them as early as possible. A person has strength, energy and motivation to achieve any activity which the young person has planned to do. Generally, this proverb can be used in different contexts to emphasize motivation, encouragement, the fight against laziness and help to people to use well their time well.

Most of youth use this proverb to leave unnecessary conversations or dialogue among themselves in order to go to work. After one says this Sukuma proverb to others, they would be able to understand that he or she has another important task that is required to be completed well soon. After this proverb has been said, the young person can leave the place and to go to work.

Also this same proverb can be used by parents in awakening their children to be more serious in their studies and duties. The morning time is the best one for a person to engage in busy working for the betterment of the family. It is not that simple to start a mission because the evening is near and it is getting dark.

Biblical Parallels

2 Corinthians 6:2: “As he said, at the time of my favor I have answered you; on the day of salvation I have helped you; well, now is a real time of favor, now the day of salvation is here.”

Matthew 6:34: “So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

James 4:14: “You never know what will happen tomorrow; you are no more than a mist that appears for a little while then disappears.”

Ecclesiastes 11:6: “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand be idle: for you do not know which of the two will be successful, or whether both alike will turn out well.”

Commentary: The morning is an important time to achieve most goals. Either the seed is still active or a person who sows the seed is active to work successfully in the morning in order to get a great reward for his or her work. As the verse says at the beginning, the morning is the importance time to achieve something. At the end the verse explains that we are not aware which time will be successful.

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

This Sukuma proverb is of great importance as it gives courage to the youth to be punctual in their daily activities. It also encourages them to be zealous in whatever duties they have. The spirit of laziness is taken away and the tendency of dependency among young people and other people in the community is removed.

In the Christian perspective this proverb has the great significance, especially pertaining to one’s struggle for perfection and building up the body of Christ, the Church. The call for holiness is for all. To attain this holiness one has to struggle daily, not to wait. It means a day to day struggle. Also building up the body of Christ, the Church is the role of every baptized Christian. Therefore every Christian faithful has a duty to build the church including young people in order to bring much fruit. It is not a matter of waiting to acquire a position and then contribute. One has to use the three offices entrusted to him or her through the sacrament of baptism, (priestly, king and prophet) in building up the Body of Christ, the Church.

Generally, the community members implore the youth to start early activities which are to be done in their life. During the youthful age, a person is very active to achieve the certain activities. Religious matters are very important in the development of the spiritual life. The spiritual life needs faith in its development. The growth of Christian faith needs evangelization from and to people who are very active. The youthful period is the early time to do evangelizing activities that will bring more success to the Christian faith. A youth should identify him/herself to support the church with active participation in church activities. According to Ecclesiastes 11:6: ”At evening do not let your hand be idle.” The youth are the helping hand, that is why it is very important to support them. Give them freedom and choice based on the reality of our faith to succeed in their dreams of evangelization. The obstacle to the youth in achieving their success in evangelizing are some elders of the church who impose to them strict conditions when they get involved in evangelizing activities. The strict conditions make them fear to make new strategies in their communities.

Young people can also be zealous in developing, strengthening and making permanent Young People Small Christian Communities (YPSCCs). In these peer groups they can be free to share their deeper reflections, desires and dreams.

We hope that many people will use this Sukuma proverb in their daily life.


NOTE: See more information on the:

Sukuma Legacy Project Website (Tanzania Sukuma Legacy Christian Research Organization)

Nanetya Foundation: Ethnic Stories in Mother Tongues Website


Contributed by:

Sem. Yohana Maswizilo (Maryknoll Seminarian from Shinyanga Diocese, Tanzania)
Maryknoll Formation House
P. O Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya

Sem. Paschal Mahalagu (Diocesan Seminarian from Shinyanga Diocese, Tanzania)
Segerea Senior Seminary
P.O Box 3522
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Sem. Emmanuel Sebastian (Diocesan Seminarian from Shinyanga Diocese, Tanzania)
Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA)
Nairobi, Kenya

NOTE: The Orbis Book Towards an African Narrative Theology was written by Maryknoll Fathers Joseph Healey and Donald Sybertz, MM. It was published in 1997 in the Faith and Culture Series (an Orbis Series on “Contextualizing Gospel and Church”) with a “Foreword” by American theologian Father Robert Schreiter, CPPS. It was originally published in 1996 by the Paulines Publications Africa (Daughters of St. Paul) with a “Foreword” by Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a‘Nzeki, the Archbishop of Nairobi.

The book reflects what traditional African proverbs, sayings, stories and songs used in
Christian catechetical, liturgical, and ritual contexts reveal about Tanzania, and about all of Africa. It includes appropriations of, and interpretations of, Christianity in Africa. In the “Foreword” Ndingi wrote:

In particular, this book looks at the cultural riches of African Oral Literature such as proverbs, sayings and stories. I hope that these examples and reflections will help African priests, seminarians and other pastoral workers to rediscover their African roots and make connections to their preaching, teaching and evangelization.

This has been the dream of Don Sybertz and Joe Healey for many years, but it is slow going. Many young Eastern African priests and seminarians seem less interested in inculturation and don’t seem to value their cultural past even referring to it as upuuzi (Swahili for “nonsense”). This is why these two missionary priests are so happy that these three Sukuma-speaking seminarians from Tanzania have done this important research and writing. As Zakaria Kashinje says, “We need Sukuma young people who are committed to Sukuma proverb research and writing that leads to pastoral action.”


Photos by:

Rev. Zakaria Kashinje, OSA
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
+255-756-887787 Vodacom
+255-717-3337787 Tigo
+255-786-337787 Airtel

Don Sybertz died on 19 April, 2020. He spent 60 years (1955 to 2015) researching, writing about and using Sukuma Proverbs and Stories in Tanzania. See Sukuma Legacy Project Website https://sukumalegacy.org/2020/04/28/biography-of-reverend-donald-f-sybertz-mm-1928-2020

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