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Archive for the ‘Proverbs’ Category

Yorùbá Proverbs: Chickens


This proverb, one of the hundreds Yoruba’s have about chickens, tells us that the feathers of a chicken hides the fact that it sweats. This proverb helps us understand that what you see on the surface is not the complete story. A man drives who drives a nice car and wears expensive clothes might be working extremely hard to achieve that image. A person can behave in such a way that hides real ailments of the heart.

Proverbs are part of what makes the Yoruba language so rich. Although most people don’t use them in everyday conversation they are still a quick way to convey warning, encouragement or reproach the way fusing many sentences together sometimes cannot. To honor proverbs and show you dear readers a bit more about Yoruba culture, I like to make these illustrations.

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Weekly Òwe


Translation: It is not out of enjoyment that a woman says yes.

This proverb highlights Yoruba culture about courting a woman. Men think that when a woman says “no” once, that just means he has to ask again, and again, and again until she finally agrees to go out with you or even marry you. Quite different than the American dating culture. People use this proverb in circumstances when you have to struggle and use persistance to achieve something, something we have to do a lot of here.

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Weekly Òwe


3 or 4 friends are good enough. More than that and one will be bad.

This is a warning to choose your friends wisely and not keep too many around. Yoruba people have a lot of acquaintances and can strike up a conversation with almost anyone, but they keep few best friends.

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Weekly Òwe

Without a reason, the revered father cannot get Gonorrhea because they are supposed to be abstinent. You use this proverb to explain that there is a good reason for something. You might be wearing a wool jacket during the summer and someone asks you ‘Why?!’ This proverb applies in that situation.

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Weekly Òwe

This proverb speaks about the importance of patience, a virtue sometimes hard to exercise in Nigeria, but very important nonetheless.

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Weekly Òwe

We learned this proverb on the first day of Yoruba class in Nigeria. It means we don’t make fun or abuse people to their face. It would be extremely rude to count a man’s 9 toes right in front of him.

As we have been trekking through campus going from department to department on a journey for library cards, ID cards and the like, we naturally meet a lot of new people. It usually happens that one of us ends up talking more than others. The people we greet assume the others can’t speak Yoruba as well as the one talking and then say that to us to our face. Now we have a comeback to put them in their place and show we actually do know Yoruba dáaáaa (very well).

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Weekly Òwé

I chose this proverb because our resident director, Moses, said it when we finally arrived in the Lagos airport. So you use it when, you have been working at something for a long time and you finally achieve it.

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Weekly Òwé

This proverb offers advice about personal grief. It means we have to deal with personal strife on our own. Even though friends and family are there to help us, in the end we have to overcome problems independently.

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Weekly Òwé

Proverbs are fundamental to the Yoruba language. Yoruba people use these poetic sayings –one or two lines of words– to convey a message with more meaning than a 30 minute conversation could accomplish. A proverb (òwé in Yoruba) can be used to give advice, give warning, express reproach or express compassion. Children start learning them from their parents, grandparents and school teachers when they are very young. Hundreds of Yoruba proverbs exist. I think they are all beautiful and fascinating to learn. When I get to Nigeria and start whipping out proverbs, believe me, the Nigerians will be astonished.

I love these proverbs so much that I am going to start posting a ‘Weekly Òwé’ for everyone to learn. They are all figurative. The literal meanings don’t really make sense, but that’s how Yoruba is. It is a poetic, figurative language, something that doesn’t suit literal translations well but makes it all the more fun to learn. So I hope you find meaning in each one as the weeks go by.

I chose the first one because I think it’s pertinent to the situation I’m in right now. Ki e gbadun òwé náà. first proverb

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