A Proverb on the Absurdity of Nepotism

It’s the same donkey, but with a new saddle.

Regional Oral Tradition

This Central Asian proverb is used of someone who has been appointed to a position they’re not qualified for. In Central Asia, this almost always takes place because the person appointed is a relative or client of the one making the appointment. This sort of nepotism is rampant, holding back all kinds of effectiveness in the public and private sectors, and leading to lots of bitterness on the street as locals eventually lose hope that a qualified person could ever be chosen over a patron’s relative or yes-man. Turns out that even in patronage cultures, the human heart knows that character and experience are what really qualifies someone for a job, not the mere bestowing of a title. You can change the saddle, but the donkey is still a donkey.

This proverb is not only a statement of lamentable reality, but also serves as a humorous dig – donkey being a very common way to insult someone in Central Asia, where donkeys are a favorite butt of all kinds of jokes. This leads to many proverbs that speak of donkeys (examples here, here, and here), and to the rule that you should never mention a donkey in your sermon, lest you want to lose the local believers in fits of suppressed laughter. Which makes one wonder, what would happen to the preacher who has to preach on Balaam?

Photo by Mario Beqollari on Unsplash

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