AFRICAN PROVERBS; A TIMELESS DEPICTION OF AFRICAN INTELLIGENCE
By Serwaa Ampaafo
Proverbs express commonly held ideas and philosophy. They are part of every spoken language and are related to such other forms of folk literature as riddles and fables that have originated in oral tradition.
Proverbs help to dispel the belief that African people are barbaric and uneducated due to the stigma surrounding those who cannot speak English and are not educated in a typical western manner. When these proverbs are translated it is easy to see the intelligence and life experience African people possess. This can help people understand that one society and its way of life is not superior to that of another society.
African Proverbs offer wisdom and poetry in just one sentence. Proverbs play an important part in African cultures all across the continent.
Comparisons of proverbs found in various parts of the world show that the same kernel of wisdom may be gleaned under different cultural conditions and languages. The beauty of proverbs is the universality of their meaning, everyone can relate to them in some way and on some level. African proverbs can convey wisdom, truth, a discovery of ideas, as well as life lessons.
“The Yorubas of Nigeria cleverly emphasize the worth of proverbs with a proverb of their own, by saying, “A proverb is the horse that can carry one swiftly to the discovery of ideas.” -Ngozi Omoha
The literary legend Chinua Achebe also emphasised the importance of proverbs in his ‘things fall apart ‘ with the statement “Proverbs are the oil with which yam is eaten”
The sayings of Africa are some of the most profound words you will ever hear. Take the famous Tanzanian proverb “Many hands make light work.” This is a saying that has been adopted all over the world and encourages people to work together.
Certain stylistic similarities have been found in proverbs from the same part of the world. Some proverbs, for instance, make frequent use of hyperbole and colourful pictorial forms of expression. Typical is the proverbial Egyptian description of a lucky man: “Fling him in the Nile and he will come up with a fish in his mouth.”
Another famous example that has span the globe appearing in American movies and books is the Nigerian proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” African proverbs share with the world.
Proverbs can open the door to insightful and entertaining discussions to narrate a point. They can also give a greater potency to what is being conveyed. For example, in trying to explain the consequences of lying, the Asante proverb “If you make people buy your lies today, they won’t buy your truth tomorrow” teaches this lesson.
Insight into many other aspects of foreign cultures can be explored by gathering their unique proverbs and sayings. For example, traditional values regarding the male and female roles, money and wealth, and openness to change, all have their corresponding sayings.
An additional benefit of seeking the folk wisdom of another country is that it shows interest in what is important to the local people. The elders, in particular, are great sources of traditional proverbs. By taking time to listen to their sayings and explanations of them, one shows respect. As the saying goes “When a fool is told a proverb, the meaning must be explained to him.”
Do you love proverbs? Do you understand them?