“25 Years of Towards an African Narrative Theology (1995 to 2020)”

25 Years of Towards an African Narrative Theology (1995 to 2020)

              Here is our 25-year Timeline:

             1995: writing the book with co-author Maryknoll Father Donald Sybertz, MM who served as a Maryknoll Missionary Priest in Shinyanga, Tanzania starting in 1955. He specialized in the oral literature of the Sukuma Ethnic Group – proverbs, sayings, stories and songs.

              1996: Paulines Publications Africa (Daughters of St. Paul) Edition (Nairobi, Kenya) with a “Foreword” by Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a‘Nzeki, the Archbishop of Nairobi.

            1997: Orbis Books Edition (Maryknoll, New York, USA) in the Faith and Culture Series (an Orbis Series on Contextualizing Gospel and Church) with a “Foreword” by American theologian Father Robert Schreiter, CPPS.

            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” Archbishop Ndingi writes: “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 and myself for many years, but it is slow going. Many young East African priests and seminarians seem less interested in inculturation and don’t seem to value their cultural past.

            In reviewing the book, a senior theologian in America said that Narrative Theology is a “slippery slope” because he was viewing it from the classic propositional theology lens of Western Theology. Well-known Ugandan theologian Father John Waliggo states:

          Our [African] theological style is very concerned with narrative, expressing teachings in story. Our people listen better when you give them a story. This means using local expressions and rituals, linking the gospel to their story. Everything is brought into the story, the animals, the plants, the whole environment. It’s a way of doing theology that is almost dead in the West, but it’s very biblical.

              Sales of the Orbis edition inch along with reprints of 50 copies each time. William Burrows, the Orbis Books Theological Editor, thought that in the early years it was mainly bought by Protestant seminarians.

            The Paulines Publications Africa edition has done better and is in its 5th Major Reprint. It is required reading/background reading in some of our theological courses in Nairobi, Kenya.

             The paintings in the book are by Tanzanian artist Charles Ndege. Jesus Christ is always portrayed as an African. Examples are Jesus Sends Out Seventy Tanzanian Disciples, Washing of the Feet and The Journey to Makoko (an African version of the Two Disciples on the Road to Emmaus with the two disciples being an African man and woman – probably Cleophas and his wife). One year Fathers Laurenti Magesa and Innocent Maganya invited Charles to speak in their MSUC 303 “African Theology” Course at Tangaza on “African Inculturation.” Ndege explained he recognizes the importance of the Jesus Christ of history (“historical Jesus”), but he wants to paint the Jesus Christ of his African faith (“Jesus of faith”). Ndege movingly described his feelings while painting Jesus as an African.  He said that he experiences Jesus in a deeper and more meaningful way through African culture and symbols.  In his African paintings Ndege wants to portray how Jesus Christ becomes one of us in an African context. During a vote at the end of the classes, 60% of the students liked the African Christ while 40% liked the White Jesus.

            Chapter Three on “Church as the Extended Family of God has a section on “Theology of Small Christian Communities as a New Way of Being Church” that is used in the core theology course PTC 418: “Small Christian Communities as a New Model Of Church in Africa Today.”

Rev. Joseph G. Healey, MM
Maryknoll Society
P.O. Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya

254 0723-362-993 (Safaricom, Kenya)

+ 1 973-216-4997 (AT&T, USA)

Email: JGHealey@aol.com

WhatsApp: 1+ 973-216-4997

Skype: joseph-healey


Dear members,

       I would like to share with you, the Christmas message from the Proverb which I used on Christmas day. It says, ‘EVEN AN ELEPHANT, THAT IS, AN IMPORTANT PERSON, CAN BE SENT.’

      Such proverb assisted us together with the faithful, in getting its message of humility, which relates to our Lord Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself by taking our human flesh, through the incarnation. He was sent to redeem us from slavery of sin, by being born of the very Mary.

      We understood that, the very important one lives among us, as the proverb says, ‘EVEN AN ELEPHANT, THAT IS, AN IMPORTANT PERSON, CAN BE SENT.’

      His name is Emmanuel who is also born in our hearts. He however, wants to reach other people through us, since He is with us, as His name Emmanuel suggests, that is ‘God is with us.’

      Therefore, the proverb turns to us saying, ‘EVEN AN ELEPHANT, THAT IS, AN IMPORTANT PERSON, CAN BE SENT.’

         The Child Jesus, who is in our hearts, is also sending us to those people who will believe in Him, through our practical lives of peace, love, care, kindness and truth.

         We wish you joyous Christmas.








Imbuki ya kahayile kenako, yingilile kumiito ga ng’wa Jiminogeni. UJiminogeni ng’wunuyo, oli munhu o miito mab’i, kunguno ya  bhushiya bhokwe. Aho adinading’wa oyombaga giki, ‘duguminogaga ndafu’ (ginhu) jinogoleku.

Aliyo lulu, oho oding’wa umunhu ng’wunuyo, agatulwa noyi na guliwa b’ushiya. Hunagwene abhanbhu bhagayombaga mpaga lelo ukubhanhu abho bhali na nhungwa ja bhubhiya, giki ‘ugujib’ona ijijiganhuuluja Jiminogeni.’

Akahayile kenako, kagalenganijiyagwa kuli munhu uyo agitaga mihayo ya bhubhi, guti ya bhushiya yiniyo, umukikalile kakwe. Umunhu ng’wunuyo, alemile ugubhigwa abhanhu abho bhagang’wilaga giki, ajileke inhungwa jinijo, ija gubhitila mihayo ya bhubhi abhiye.

Uweyi agikolaga nu jiminogeni, kunguno nuweyi agiitaga imahayo yiniyo iyabhubhi. Abhanhu abho bhajidebhile inhungwa jakwe jinijo, bhagang’wilaga giki, ‘ugujib’ona ijijiganhuuluja Jiminogeni.’

Akahayile kenako, kalanga bhanhu higulya ya kuleka miito ga bhubhi, guti ga bhushiya na gangi, ayo giikolile na geneyo, kugiki bhadule gwikala bho mholele na bhichabho, umuwikaji bhobho.

Mathayo 5:27-28.

1Wakorintho 6:18-20.

Marko 7:20-23.

2Petro 2:4.

Ufunuo 2:21-22.


Chanzo cha msemo huo, chatokea kwenye matendo ya mtu aliyeitwa Jiminogeni. Jiminogeni huyo, alikuwa mtu mwenye matendo maovu yakiwemo yale ya uzinzi. Alipokuwa bado hajakamatwa alikuwa akisema, ‘tunatafuta dafu, (kitu) laini.’

Lakini Jiminogeni huyo, alipokamatwa alipigwa sana, na kutozwa faini ya uzinzi. Ndiyo maana watu husema kwa watu wenye tabia kama hiyo hata leo, kwamba, ‘utakiona kilichomfanya jiminogeni alie.’

 Msemo huo, hulinganishwa kwa mtu yule ambaye hutenda maovu kama yale ya uzinzi, katika maisha yake. Mtu huyo, hataki kuonywa na wenzake juu ya kuiacha tabia yake hiyo mbaya.

Yeye hufanana na Jiminogeni, kwa sababu naye hutenda maovu kama hayo katika maisha yake. Watu wanaoifahamu tabia yake hiyo ya kutenda maovu, humwambia kwamba, ‘utakiona kilichomfanya jiminogeni alie.’

Msemo huo, hufundisha watu juu ya kuacha matendo maovu yakiwemo yale ya uzinzi, na mengine yanayofanana na hayo, katika maisha yao, ili waweze kuishi kwa amani na wenzao, maishani mwao.

Mathayo 5:27-28.

1Wakorintho 6:18-20.

Marko 7:20-23.

2Petro 2:4.

Ufunuo 2:21-22.




The source of this saying is the actions of a man called Jiminogeni. This man was labelled my villagers as someone who is bad mannered. He could engage in immoral relationships like fornication. Before being caught red handed for his corrupt behaviour, he was boasting himself that he lives through eating “soft things”.

One day it happened that Jiminogeni was caught red handedly by people who disapproved of his behaviour. He was beaten off and fined for adultery. This scenario led to the formulation of the saying that ‘you will face what made Jiminogeni cry’ as a warning to others who have similar unacceptable behaviour.

 This saying can be compared to a person who commits immorality such as adultery in his/her life. This person does not want to be warned by his/her colleagues to stop his/her bad behaviour. He/she is like Jiminogeni who was adamant to accept people’s advice.

The saying teaches people to stop evil practices such as fornication, and the likes, in their lives.

Matthew 5: 27-28, 1Corinthians 6: 18-20, Mark 7: 20-23, 2 Peter 2: 4, Revelation 2: 21-22.


Imbuki ya kahayile kenako, yilolile bhuki. Ubhuki bhunubho bhuli bhunonu noyi, nulu bhugatulwa musuha, isuha yiniyo igunona nayo, kunguno ubhuki bhugamililaga umugati yayo. Hunagwene abhanhu bhagayombaga giki, ‘suha ya bhuki idamalaga bhunonu.’

Akahayile kenako kagalenganijiyagwa kuli munhu uyo alina nhungwa ja wiza umukikalile kakwe. Umunhu ng’wunuyo agayombaga mihayo ya wiza, kunguno yigenhaga mholele ya gwitogwa na bhiye umumahoya gakwe.

Imihayo yakwe yiniyo igabhizaga minonu guti bhuki, kunguno idasukaga ukubhadegeleki bhayo. Abhanhu bhagikalaga na ng’humbu ya gundegeleka umunhu ng’wunuyo, kugiki bhadule guyimana iyo aliiyombaga. Hunagwene abhanhu bhagang’wilaga giki, ‘suha ya bhuki idamalaga bhunonu.’

Akahayile kenako kalanga bhanhu gubhiza na nhungwa ja wiza umukikalile kabho, kugiki bhadule gwikala bho mholele na bhichabho umuwikaji bhobho.

(1Wakorintho 16:13-14; Zaburi 119:89-91).


Chanzo cha msemo huu chaangalia uwekaji wa asali kwenye kibuyu. Asali ni tamu sana, hata ukiiweka kwenye kibuyu, utamu wake utabakia humo kwa sababu huwa inang’ang’ania ndani yake. Ndiyo maana watu husema kwamba, ‘kibuyu cha asali hakiishiwi utamu.’

Msemo huu hulinganishwa kwa mtu yule ambaye, ni mwenye tabia njema katika maisha yake. Mtu huyo huongea maneno mazuri yenye amani na upendo kwa wenzake katika maongezi yake.

Maneno hayo huwa matamu kama asali, kwa sababu huwa hayaishiwi utamu wake kwa wasikilizaji wake. Watu huwa na hamu ya kuendelea kumsikiliza mtu huyo, ili waweze kuyaelewa yale anayoyaongea. Ndiyo maana watu humwambia kwamba, ‘kibuyu cha asali hakiishiwi utamu.’

Msemo huu hufundisha watu kuwa na tabia njema katika namna yao ya kuishi kwao, ili waweze kuishi kwa amani na wenzao maishani mwao.

(1Wakorintho 16:13-14; Zaburi 119:89-91).



The origin of this saying is storage of honey in a calabash. Honey is very sweet, even if you put it in a syrup, its sweetness will remain there because it sticks in it. That is why people say, ‘Honeycalabash never lacks sweetness.’

The saying is used comparatively to refer to any person with good character in life. That person speaks sweet words of peace and love to his/her fellows in his/her conversation. These words are as sweet as honey, because they are not confined to their audience. People are eager to keep listening to that person, so they can understand what he or she is saying. That is why people tell him, ‘Honeycalabash never lacks sweetness.’

The saying teaches people to be good in their ways of living, so that they can live in harmony with others.

(1Corinthians 16: 13-14; Psalm 119: 89-91).