Sunday, March 2, 2014

African Proverbs (information, text examples, and music example)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents an excerpt about proverbs from of Ruth Finnegan's 2012 book Oral Literature in Africa. This post also provides a small sample of African proverbs and a video collage of a Fela Kuti song based on a Nigerian proverb, "Water no get enemy".

The content of this post is presented for cultural, educational, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights rights remain with their owners.

My thanks to Ruth Finnegan, Open Book Publishers, Fela Kuti & his band, and all others who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of this video on YouTube.

"14. Proverbs 391
...Bantu proverbs, then, are noted for special patterns which in many cases give a poetic flavour to the saying. They use various devices to express the thought succinctly and sometimes rhythmically, or even in what Chatelain calls 'blank versification' (1894: 22). The effectiveness is heightened by the fact that often, though not always, there are archaic or unusual words and
picturesque phrasing.

Similar tendencies probably also occur in many non-Bantu proverbs, although no such detailed synthesis as Doke's has been published for any other language group. There is widespread evidence of balanced propositions. Yoruba proverbs, for instance, are said often to come in couplets with antithesis between the two lines, noun answering to noun and verb to verb: 'Ordinary people are as common as grass, / But good people are dearer than the eye', or 'Today is the elder brother of tomorrow, / And a heavy dew is the elder brother of rain', while repetition also occurs
effectively in the form 'Quick loving a woman means quick not loving a woman'. 1 Parallelism and chiasmus also occur as in the Baule praise of mutual help, 'Gauche lave droite, droite lave gauche' (Effimbra 1952: 289) and rhythm may also be evident. Fulani proverbs use assonance, special grammatical forms such as subjectless verbs or the subjunctive without specific time reference, and parallel phrasing as in 'An old man does what men don't like, but he does not do what men don't know' (i.e. his actions may be unpopular, but they cannot be unnoticed) (Arnott 1957: 389). Related forms sometimes employ elaborate and studied expression; particularly good examples of these are the neat Fulani epigrams cited by Arnott or the long and complex Akan 'drum proverbs' (Nketia 1958c; see also Ch. 17, pp. 488ff.).

In proverbs the actual performance as distinct from apt citation and picturesque form is not usually significant. Nevertheless, it is sometimes of interest, perhaps particularly where the words themselves are not so elaborately stylized as in Bantu proverbs. Thus in Limba, where proverbs are not highly developed in any fixed form and there is little stress on rhythm or balance, I was told that in the saying mocking unjustified self-importance ('Do not walk like a European while wearing a loin-cloth' ), part of its attractiveness lay in the way it was said, with a pause before the last word and the emphasizing of the idea of the loin-cloth by
the long-drawn-out way in which it was pronounced. Herzog says of the Jabo that proverbs are uttered in a much more rhythmic way than would be the case with the corresponding words in ordinary speech (Herzog 1936: 8).

Also a more studied and rhetorical utterance is likely when, as so often in West African societies, proverbs are used in formal speeches before law courts. It is possible then that where the poetic quality of a proverb is not so evident in its verbal content, this is sometimes compensated for by the manner or the context in which it is said.

The question, therefore, of the actual style of proverbs appears to demand further research. Whatever the details, however, it is clear that some sort of heightened speech, in one form or another, is commonly used in proverbs: and that this serves to set them apart from ordinary speech.

Since proverbs can refer to practically any situation, it would be impossible to give any comprehensive account of the content of African proverbs. Something of their variety can be gathered from the headings under which they are classed in many collections (in terms either of explicit content or implied allusion), for these headings include every aspect of human affairs.
Categories of the manifest content include such headings as Animals' (subdivided into, for instance, 'dangerous', 'game', and 'domestic'), 'Birds', 'Insects', 'Mice, rats, and others', 'Strangers, Europeans, and Europe', 'War, fighting, guns, and weapons', and innumerable others; while classifications in terms of the latent reference range from 'Man and woman', 'Efficiency and its conditions', 'Home life', 'Life and death', and 'Passage of time' to
'Conceit', 'Power', 'Cunning', and, of course, 'Miscellaneous'."...

"Wisdom is wealth! One thing I respect deeply about Africa is the treasure of wisdom our ancestors have handed down to us. While some of our leaders may have forgotten them, the rest of us don’t need to. From prudent sayings on wisdom itself, to judicious encouragements, warnings and even quirky advice on learning, patience, unity, wealth, poverty, community, family, love and marriage, these quotes will inspire you to be the best you can possibly be.

African Quotes on Wisdom
◦ The fool speaks, the wise man listens. ~ Ethiopian proverb
◦Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand. ~ Guinean proverb
◦In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams. ~ Nigerian proverb

African Quotes on Learning
◦He who learns, teaches. ~ Ethiopian proverb
◦Wealth, if you use it, comes to an end; learning, if you use it, increases. ~ Swahili proverb
◦Advice is a stranger; if he’s welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day. ~Malagasy Proverb

African proverbs on Peace and Leadership
◦A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow. ~ Lesotho proverb
◦There can be no peace without understanding. ~Senegalese proverb
◦A large chair does not make a king. ~ Sudanese proverb

African Quotes on Unity and Community
◦Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. ~ Bondei proverb
◦A single bracelet does not jingle. ~ Congolese proverb
◦Many hands make light work. ~ Haya (Tanzania) proverb

African Proverbs on Money, Wealth, Riches and Poverty
◦ Make some money but don’t let money make you. ~ Tanzania
◦Lack of money is lack of friends; if you have money at your disposal, every dog and goat will claim to be related to you. ~ Yoruba
◦Do not let what you cannot do tear from your hands what you can. ~ Ashanti"

FEATURED VIDEO: Fela Kuti-Water no get enemy (H2O Africa official video)

NoBorders Campos, Uploaded on Feb 1, 2011

Collected pictures from all around to make this video for one of my all time favorite singers."Fela Anikulapo Kuti" may his legacy inspire a positive change in africa.
Here's a comment from this video's viewer comment thread:
GoddessofLight12, 2011
"Ifa was cast for Water when She was coming from Heaven to Earth. She was told to sacrifice to make her way open and clear. She heard and performed the sacrifice. Now, whereever Water goes, She makes a way for herself and She has no enemies. Anyone who makes an enemy of Water will not last long. There is no Life without Water." Odu Ifa
Note: Fela Kuti was a Yoruba (Nigerian ethnic group). His song "Water No Get Enemiy" was likely based on this religious story.
Click for the lyrics to this song. Also, click

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