Proverbs, Recipes, and Poems

Inspired by her life in Tanzania, Annetta Miller shares African perspectives on food and hospitality.


I had stopped in
to see a Kenyan friend

I had just eaten lunch
I was not hungry

“Please don’t cook
I have just eaten,”
I pleaded.

But I heard her
telling the maid something
in the kitchen.

Just as I was about to leave
The maid entered with meat


In Africa
food is always prepared
for a visitor

I was overwhelmed
and really not hungry

“But you must eat
I have not seen you
For such a long time!”

You should prepare food for a person even though
the person pretends not to be hungry.
Kenyan Proverb


“There is always enough food,” he said
as we were preparing to leave

We had stopped in for a brief visit
after the Sunday service

So we stayed
for ugali and cabbage stew

The simple diet
in many African homes
provides ample food
for numerous unexpected guests

Several other people stopped by
and stayed for lunch

yet welcome

“You see,” he said
“there is always plenty of food”

Relationship is in eating together
Ugandan Proverb

From Sharing Boundaries: Learning the Wisdom of Africa
By Annetta Miller
Paulines Publications Africa
Nairobi, Kenya


Proverbs and Recipes

Hunger is housed in the body, satisfaction in the soul.
North African proverb

Chicken with olives

4-6 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp black pepper, freshly ground
olive oil
4 boneless chicken breasts
2 onions, finely chopped
¼ tsp ground ginger
pinch of saffron (optional)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1 stick cinnamon bark
1 tsp ground coriander
salt, to taste
1 cup green olives (without pimento)

Mix garlic, black pepper, and some oil.
Rub into chicken and let stand for a few hours.
Heat oil in a heavy pan or tajine (Moroccan earthenware pot).
Fry chicken till brown and remove pan.
Fry onions till golden; add spices and fry ½ minute.
Add chicken and mix well.
Add salt.
Add a little water and simmer on low heat till done (approximately 1 hour).
Add olives.
Serve with couscous or rice.

Reconciliation is strengthened by eating together.
Sudanese proverb

Fava beans (fuul)

4 cups fava beans (broad beans), well cooked (the mature, brown variety must be used, as opposed to green, young beans)
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin
chili powder, to taste
salt, to taste
some lemon juice
½ cup feta cheese
some sesame oil (or olive oil)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. (Alternatively, feta chesse and/or oil can be kept aside and liberally sprinkled on top before serving.)

Mash with a potato masher, adding water or oil if necesary until it is the consistency of a dip such as guacamole or hummus.

Season according to taste (additional raw vegetables such as cubed carrots and cucumbers can also be added).

Heat till warm.

Serve with pita bread.

Note: Fuul is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner staple in urban Sudan and is often eaten communally around a single bowl, with bread as the utensil.

From African Flavors: Recipes with Proverbs
By Annetta Miller

About the Author

Annetta Miller

Annetta Miller, an American citizen, was born and raised in Tanzania. She has spent her entire adult life working in Tanzania, Sudan, and since 1974, Kenya. For twenty years she taught music at Kenyatta University in Nairobi. For ten years she and her husband Harold acted as co-representatives of Mennonite Central Committee in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and (later) Sudan. She has collected over one hundred thousand African proverbs and is the author of Sharing Boundaries: Learning the Wisdom of Africa (2003), Strange Gifts: Reflections on Aid in Africa (2011), African Flavors: Recipes with Proverbs (2013). She collaborated with photographer Betty Press on I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb (2011). She and her husband, Harold Miller, have two adult sons and are retired in Nairobi, Kenya.