To Learn From the Teachings of Others is a Good Thing: The Tale of the Two Centipedes

Here is a story:

There was a Centipede that had one child, and there was another Centipede that had one child as well. The first Centipede was a widow as her husband had died, but the other had a husband. The widow taught her child: When you notice the rainy season is ending, start digging your hole slowly because if you don’t you will die from the dry season’s heat. The ground will become dry and hard and will make it impossible for you to dig your hole. When you see that the rain has stopped, you better get in the hole you dug and bury yourself there. The child thanked its mother a lot.

The child that had a mother and father was taught the same thing, but that child hoped his parents would let him know when the time to dig was upon him. The one that had no father began to dig his hole slowly when the rainy season came to an end. His mother did the same; she dug her own hole slowly as well. The child with the two parents was waiting until they came and told him to dig. When the rain ended, everyone went into their hole and buried himself or herself as it started getting hot. The clever child who dug his hole according to his mother’s instructions, entered his hole when it started getting hot and buried himself.

The child that waited for a word from his parents had a hard time. He said to himself: I better dig my hole, but the ground was already hard. He then said: I better hide between the leaves, but the hot day burned the leaves. The Centipede finally died and all that remained of him was the skeleton because of the intense heat.

And that is the end of our story.

The moral of the story: we must always be ready as we do not know the day or hour God will take us from this work. To be ready is to be obedient to God’s word and to comply to His will. You can’t do an important job without preparation.

The Mambwe proverbs say: Unripe fruit falls down, the overripe one remains (Cikulu cikapona, ionge lisyala; Ulukulu lukapona, ionge lisyala; Ulukulu lukapona, uluonge lusyala); Sicilengwe (or Sicula), wear your plume in readiness as it is necessary to be ready for a sudden departure (Sicilengwe (or Sicula), zwala ingala, ukukatuku kukumpuka); It could happen that I die even before tomorrow (Na mutondo litali, ningafwa); He who goes ahead drinks pure water (Kamukolele, kakamwa asenguluke; Mukolele, akamwa masenguluke; Mukolele, akamwa masengame); Start before the path becomes slippery (Tandika, mu nzila mutali mutelepe); Let me prepare before the flood waters get into the house (Tandika, mulamba atali apongwele); To satiate a tall man one must start (preparation) early (Ukwikusyu mutali, ukwanduka (orukulauka)). English equivalent: The early bird catches the worm; A stitch in time saves nine.

Subjects: obedience – rules – preparation – success – unpredictability – death – wisdom – experience – advice


Written by Daniel England, Cikunta 4th of April 1984.