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Karori Mbugua

The Wisdom of Proverbs and Philosophy

On Gerald Joseph Wanjohi: The Wisdom and Philosophy of The Gîkûyû Proverbs: the kîhooto world-view



deutsch  

Gerald Joseph Wanjohi:
The Wisdom and Philosophy of The Gîkûyû Proverbs: the kîhooto world-view.
Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa,
1997.
271 pages
ISBN 9966-21-286-8

1

  The Wisdom and Philosophy of The Gîkûyû Proverbs is an important contribution to a fast growing, but comparatively new branch of philosophy (at least in its written form) – African philosophy. As the title of the book suggests, this work is a study aimed at bringing out not only the basic philosophy underlying Gîkûyû proverbs, but also the applied philosophy of the Gîkûyû people.

2

  Wanjohi begins by tracing the origins of the Gîkûyû people, describing their geographical location as well as their social-economic activities in order to indicate their world-view. He then examines the structure of Gîkûyû proverbs. He points out that Gîkûyû proverbs depict reality in terms of antithetical statements. One proverb will describe something positively while the other will look at it negatively. Wanjohi compares this dialectic with that of Hegel but notes that whereas Hegelian dialetic has three clearly defined moments-thesis, antithesis and synthesis-the synthesis of Gîkûyû proverbs, though implied, is not explicitly stated.



 Kîhooto


 

3

  The author suggests that reason or kîhooto is required to reconcile the antithetical views expressed by Gîkûyû proverbs. Through reason, a mean position can be reached. The term kîhooto seems to have two components: epistemological (reason) and ethical (right, justice, equity and fairness). Wanjohi himself defines kîhooto as »that which logically, epistemologically and ethically convinces« (49).



 Attempts to justify ethno-philosophy


The term kîhooto seems to have two components: epistemological (reason) and ethical (right, justice, equity and fairness). Wanjohi himself defines kîhooto as »that which logically, epistemologically and ethically convinces« (49).

4

  In order to bring out the meaning of proverbs more clearly, Wanjohi devotes a whole chapter comparing proverbs with other figures of speech such as simile, irony and metaphor.

5

  Next, he attempts to justify ethno-philosophy. He begins by attacking E.A. Ruch who suggests that African philosophy should express itself in a language that is vibrant with emotion. Wanjohi supports Ruch in his sympathy for African philosophy but maintains that African philosophy should not be something apart from other philosophies. Such kind of exclusiveness, he urges, should be reserved for culture. For Wanjohi the battle of philosophy should be fought in the field of reason.

6

  Wanjohi is also critical of Paulin Hountondji's claim that African philosophy can only consist of literary works written by Africans and for Africans. He thinks that such a definition of African philosophy is too generous for it would consider philosophical a work on agriculture simply because it was written by an African. He is also critical of Hountondji's contention that non-Africans cannot contribute to African philosophy. This, Wanjohi says, is the worst form of ethnocentrism. He rightly points out that many specialists in Greek philosophy today are not Greeks.

7

  With regard to Odera Oruka's sages, Wanjohi observes that they are not independent enough in their thinking for they require to be provoked by a trained philosopher. Besides, they have Christian names and cannot therefore be expected to articulate an authentically African philosophy. This is an important observation especially when one considers that Oruka's sages were supposed to be pure Africans culturally and free from any Western influence.



 Gîkûyû proverbs as ethno-philosophy?



The philosophy contained in Gîkûyû proverbs can be described as ethno-philosophy in the non-pejorative sense. Wanjohi argues convincingly that Gîkûyû proverbs are reflective and critical and are therefore able to meet the criterion of philosophy as a second order activity.

8

  Wanjohi has been able to show that the philosophy contained in Gîkûyû proverbs can be described as ethno-philosophy in the non-pejorative sense. He has convincingly argued that Gîkûyû proverbs are reflective and critical and are therefore able to meet the criterion of philosophy as a second order activity. Whereas ordinary statements are expressed in an object language, proverbs are expressed in a meta-language. But Wanjohi is also quick to point out that, like in sage philosophy, it takes a trained philosopher to be able to tell which of the many cultural beliefs that a people hold are philosophical.

9

  On the claim that proverbs are communally owned, Wanjohi says that they must have originated from one intelligent individual. He then gives a list of epistemological, ethical, and metaphysical proverbs and for each of these he gives a critical evaluation. He also examines a number of proverbs that fall under the category of applied philosophy, religion, education and government.

10

  Such a bare summary does scant justice to the richness of this book. There are many interesting remarks that Wanjohi makes on the importance of Gîkûyû proverbs in terms of individual, social, racial and national conflicts plaguing the world today. He observes that many Gîkûyû proverbs have implications for peace and can be used to enhance it.



 Faults and lapses


»A cow is praised for its milk yield only after it dies.«

Gîkûyû proverb

11

  The book is not without faults. The background information given in chapter one is too detailed for a philosophical work. Why, for example, should the author give a whole catalogue of books written in Gîkûyû yet some are not even relevant to the understanding of the Gîkûyû world-view? The observant reader cannot fail to discern a thinge of ethnic chauvism here.

12

  One would have liked to see a more detailed analysis of the structure of Gîkûyû proverbs especially in relation to how they are used in ordinary discourse. It is also important to note that some Gîkûyû proverbs are openly biased against women. How does the author reconcile this with the idea of kîhooto – an idea which he says is central to Gîkûyû proverbs and the Gîkûyû world – view in general?

Karori Mbugua is a PhD-candidate and lecturer at the Philosophy Department, University of Nairobi. He obtained an MSc in Philosophy from the London School of Economics (LSE), University of London.

13

  Further, Wanjohi's translation of some Gîkûyû proverbs into English is not quite accurate. Consider the proverb on page 87: »Îganagwo yaarî iria yakua.« Since no reference is made to a second cow, the correct translation should be A cow is praised for its milk yield only after it dies. and not A cow is praised for its milk yield after the death of a rival cow.

14

  The book contains a number of typographical errors and especially misspellings of Gîkûyû words. However, these are minor errors especially when one considers that this is the first edition of the book.

15

  Considering the fact that the author has made some important remarks on methodological issues pertaining to African philosophy, one would have expected to see some comments on the works of leading African philosophers such as Claude Sumner, Kwasi Wiredu, Dimas A. Masolo, John Mbiti and V.Y. Mudimbe.

16

  Despite these defects, this is a challenging and refreshing book. The arguments are presented with consistent clarity and conciseness. As a philosophical interpretation of Gîkûyû proverbs, the book is indispensable to teachers and students of African philosophy and will be useful to a wide variety of philosophers concerned with inter-cultural philosophy.



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