Celebrating Women Humanitarians| 25 ‘Tsumo’ (Shona proverbs) to celebrate our sheroes

Today we celebrate World Humanitarian Day

Celebrated every year on 19 August, World Humanitarian Day is directed towards paying tribute to aid workers around the world. These are individuals who often risk their own lives to save and improve the lives of others. This year, special tribute is paid to Women Humanitarians, recognizing their commitment, and the sacrifice they and their families make every day. As we celebrate Women Humanitarians, let us recognize the strength that all women have to display every day in their role as mothers and nurturers. The following 25 Shona proverbs  (tsumo) acknowledge the sacrifice, compassion, dedication, tolerance, warmth, beauty, gentleness of, and respect shown to, a mother – a woman .

Each of the proverbs is given together with an explanation and its application.

Tsumo inspired by mothers – women

1. Baba muredzi/ mwana kuchema anodaidza mai.

A father simply ensures a child is taken care of, while a mother actually takes care of the child. That is why you will often hear the Shona say out the word ‘amai’ when they cry.

Generally, women show more compassion and love than men. As a result, children grow up to be closer to their mothers.

2. Mwoyochena una amai/ kuyamwisa mwana asiri wavo.

Compassion prompts a mother to suckle a child that is not hers.

This proverb bears the same meaning as the one above.

3. Chakona – chakona / amai havaroodzwi.

No matter how much one tries, whatever is impossible should be accepted for what it is; in the same manner, one has to accept that one can never marry off his mother as it is taboo.

You should not pursue the impossible, otherwise, you will do more harm than good and ultimately regret your actions.

4. Charamba – charamba / pfuma yamai haikanirwi.

If something has failed then that is it. To continue in pursuit is as futile as disputing or arguing over the bride-price paid for one’s mother, an act which could be considered taboo.

This proverb bears the same meaning as the one above.

5. Chinozipa chinoregwa/ zamu ramai takarirega.

Every good thing will come to an end, just like we all had to give up suckling despite its goodness.

No matter how much we desire, like or love something; at some point, we will be forced to let it go. Nothing endures forever.

6. Chitanduro ndaamai/ mugoti unopiwa anyerere.

chitanduro: discerning person

So discerning is a mother, she will give the cooking stick (to lick, as a reward) to the child who hasn’t asked for it.

Quite often, the reward does not go to the fastest or loudest man, but simply to the one who deserves it.

7. Chitiyo kupinda muzai/ kuona mai.

A chick comes from an egg just as its mother did.

The habits and behaviors of children often reflect those of their parents, whom they tend to emulate. In addition, physical attributes could be inherited naturally,

8. Hukwana inodya/ ndeiri panamai.

The chick that feeds is the one close to the mother.

One who has a closer relationship with a benefactor is better positioned to benefit than the rest.

9. Kure ndokuna amai/ kune mukadzi unofa wasvika.

Nothing will stop a man from trying to get to the woman he loves no matter how far. He would however not have the same level of determination to get to his mother.

One will go to great lengths in pursuit of what he desires, undeterred by any challenges and hardships that are encountered.

10. Mai kunatsa muroyi/ ziso riri pamwana.

A mother will exercise great caution when dealing with an evil person, so as to ensure her child is not harmed.

The proverb extends to any relationship where someone has an obligation to protect another who is weaker than himself. In a bid to protect, one will exercise the utmost vigilance, even employing shrewd tactics.

11. Mai Munyarari vakangwarira panhimbe.

The quiet woman became chatty at a ‘beer for work’ party.

A naive or candid person is often taken advantage of and will go through bitter experiences. However, he might encounter certain experiences or people that force him to adapt to circumstances that surround him.

12. Mai musuva usingasehwi mumuto.

A mother is like a morsel of sadza that is so good, it needs no dipping into the gravy.

Every child will love his mother despite her flaws as seen by the rest of the community. To a child, a mother is his whole world.

13. Mai veimba/ igonzo.

The woman or mother of the house is like a rat which, because it scurries around the entire house, knows everything in it (the house).

The mother is all-knowing when it comes to her household. Usually, when members of the family think that there is nothing left, the mother still has some provisions to their surprise, and they quote this proverb.

14. Mai vevana kufa/ pwere dzinorezvwa naani?

Who will caress a mother’s infant if she dies?

When people lose the one who is known to care, provide or look out for them; their future looks bleak.

15. Kugocha kunoda kwamai/ kwomwana kunodzima moto.

A mother believes she has to do the fire-roasting herself because a child is not experienced enough, and might just accidentally put out the fire.

Very often, a parent will reproach a child for a mistake. But when the parent makes the same mistake, he will resent reprimand. This proverb normally applies to all in authority who can do what they like without fear of being reprimanded by juniors.

16. Ukama hwokwamai haukanirwi nhaka.

There can be no disputes over inheritance with relatives from your mother’s side. Because you do not belong to the same clan/ kinship group, you have no entitlement to any inheritance.

People related through the mother’s side generally get along better. Because of the custom on kinship, the nature of these relationships leaves little room for jealousy.

17. Zvoti amai votsva kumusana, mwana otsva kudumbu (muberekero hapachisina).

If a mother’s back and the child’s stomach are both burned , then it becomes almost impossible for the mother to strap the child to her back.

When one becomes incapacitated, his dependants are left with no one to turn to when in need.

18. Mari ine chitema/ mai vakatengesa mwana.

Money is closely associated with evil; a mother was driven to sell her daughter for the love of money.

Today, a number of people are so set on enriching themselves that they will stop at nothing to do so, even engaging in wicked and unspeakable deeds.

19. Mwana asina mai/ haarari hope dzamasikati.

A motherless child does not, or will not, sleep during the day.

During the times one is at risk of encountering misfortune, he must remain vigilant and on high alert.

20. Mwana asiri wako/ tuka wakateerera izwi ramai vake.

When scolding a child that is not yours, be heedful of the voice of his mother, lest she hears you. Because a mother is very protective of her child, you could upset and get her to despise you.

You cannot safely rely for long on what has been entrusted to you by somebody else. The owner can return and claim it at any time. Such things can also be a source of unending disputes.

21. Nherera inoguta musi wafa mai.

The day an orphan loses his mother, is the last day he will ever have enough to eat or get the attention he deserves. With time, people forget about his plight and he has to struggle on his own.

In life, when faced with a difficult situation you are on your own. Generally, people can and will only extend their sympathy and attention to a limited extent.

22. Rova chiuni/ amai vari kumunda.

Beat a young girl while her mother is away working in the fields, lest she hears her daughter’s screams and comes after you.

Consider marriage by elopement; this has always been a clandestine affair which had to be carried through only in the most favorable circumstances, for instance, when the girl’s parents were nowhere in sight. So do what you need to do before those who can prevent you have had the chance to interfere.

23. Rufu runoita wegondo/ rinotora nhiyo richisiya amai vachichema.

Death is like an eagle which takes the chick and leaves the mother hen mourning.

Death has neither boundaries nor rules. To most it comes as a surprise; it takes loved ones away; and it has no regard for age.

24. Kusina amai hakuendwe.

A child will not go and live far from his mother or in unfamiliar territory, lest he has no one to take care of him or to turn to.

There is no place like home. Life generally is easier when in a familiar environment, that in which one was raised. When faced with difficulties or loneliness, people generally look back or return to their homeland.

25. Kutema kwamai/ bota ringodyiwa nepwere.

The mother works hard not for her sake, but so that her children can have some porridge to eat.

In life, there are a few selfless individuals who, like mothers, make sacrifices that benefit the majority.

Let us unite with the rest of the world this World Humanitarian Day, in honoring all the women who work tirelessly and selflessly every day to improve the lives of others.


Reference : Hamutyinei & Plangger, Tsumo – Shumo, 1987, Mambo Press, 2nd edition

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