Heritage Day Series: The pot that Gethui chooses
As with each September for the last few years, in celebration of Heritage Day we turn our attention to Africa’s rich history of fables. The stories many of us grew up with may not be as widely known as they once were, but they still carry many lessons that apply today. Some are even relevant to investing.
In the first story of our 2021 series, we look at ‘’Cook, Eat and Carry Me’’, a Kikuyu tale that proves modesty and respect make for the best outcome. But being too proud or disrespecting the rules won’t get you ahead. This is certainly true in the process of investing. Being arrogant or overly confident aren’t the same as being brave or successful.
The story follows a family where sibling rivalry gets the better of one of two sisters. Gethui, the family favourite, was good, kind and well behaved. Her sister, who was jealous of Gethui, was the opposite and her behaviour sadly led to her own downfall.
“Cook, Eat and Carry Me’’
One afternoon Gethui was sent to the river to collect water. As she filled her water gourd, a strong force began to pull her down. Fearing her father’s reaction if she lost the gourd, Gethui held on tight and was dragged into the river, to a cave in the underwater world. A pot of hot food beckoned; ‘’Cook, Eat and Carry Me’’ it said. She enjoyed the delicious meal and looked around to thank the cook, but no one was to be found. On her way out of the cave, another pot nearby did the same thing. ‘’Cook, Eat and Carry Me’’ it called out. She listened and enjoyed a second delicious meal. When she was finished, she expressed her gratitude by saying, “a thousand blessings on the giver”. Just then, an old man appeared and beckoned her to come closer.
The man praised Gethui for being so well behaved and rewarded her respect and modesty with the choice of two pots to take home, adding that he would bless whichever pot she chose. In her humble, polite way, she selected the smaller pot over the bigger one and returned to land. When she looked inside, she was overcome with joy. The small pot supplied unlimited gifts, including strings of beaded ornaments, new clothes and just about every lovely item she had ever wished for. Then she shared the news of her good fortune with her family.
Gethui’s sister, green with envy, decided to get a pot of treasure for herself. On reaching the underwater world, she too saw the hot pot of food, but did not hear the words, “Cook, Eat and Carry Me’’. Nevertheless, she gulped down the food and did the same with the second pot. She then spotted the old man and ran over to him to ask what he was going to give her. He explained that she lacked modesty and manners, but he would still offer her one of two pots, mentioning that if she chose the smaller pot, he would bless it. But ignoring this, she chose the larger, more lavish-looking pot, thinking her treasures would be double what her sister received.
When she reached inside, the pot was full of disease and germs, and because she wanted bigger gifts, the disease attacked her and turned her into an enormous monster, which scared away everyone nearby, including her family. They did not recognise her, and she was left completely alone, destitute in her greed.
How does this relate to investing?
Often when we disrespect the rules we need to follow, we pay the price. Investing is a process: there are a few tried and tested principles for achieving success. For example, you can’t beat the clock. Time and patience are needed to grow your investments, particularly when you need to save for something long-term like retirement. Greed and short-termism, and following the most recent “hot” investment, can be your downfall. Look out for FOMO (fear of missing out), too. It is rather a consistent and longer-term approach, like that used by Prudential, that your will help ensure your “pot” of savings adds up to a meaningful amount that will reward you again and again throughout your retirement, or help realise your own “treasured” goals.