I just love African proverbs. They do more than what pictures do in place of a thousand words. They encapsulate centuries of knowledge, wisdom, history and the moral values of our people.
They pack entire treatise into sound-bites. Yes, our folks knew fully the impact of the sound-bite long before late 20th century spin-doctors and political communication gods ambled upon its efficacy.
“A man has to hold his mouth open for a very long time before a roasted patridge flies into it.” I mean how’s that for remonstrating against slothfulness. Or to Generation Xers who want the best in life but can’t be bothered to get off their puny bottoms to go pick it up?
Other cultures have their proverbs too. “A stitch in time saves nine,” say the English. Or “Birds of the same feathers flock together.” How very bland! The French interpretation is more interesting; at least it’s got rhyme. “Ceux qui se ressemblent, s’essemblent.” Those that resemble assemble.
But these lack the peppery and smoked-fish nuance orally archived by our ancestral sages and word-smiths.
These are some of my all-time favourites:
“A child can play with its mother’s breasts, but not its father’s testicles. (Guinea).
“When a man is stung by a bee, he doesn’t set off to destroy all beehives.” (Kenya) This would have been good advice to George W. Bush after 9/11 and before Iraq.
“The man who marries a beautiful woman, and the farmer who grows corn by the roadside have the same problem. (Ethiopia)
“A short man is not a boy.” (Nigeria)
“No matter how hot your anger is, it cannot cook yam.” (Nigeria)
“It requires a lot of carefulness to kill the fly that perches on the scrotum.” Ghana.
“If the throat can grant passage to a knife, the anus should wonder how to expel it. (Seychelles.)
“The frown on the face of the goat will not stop it from being taken to the market.”
“An old lady feels uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.” (Ghana)
“The same sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay.” (Niger)
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. (Uganda)
“There’s no virgin in a maternity ward.” Cameroon. (Weren’t told about the Virgin Mary?)