A Word is Enough for the Wise

This final installation of the Speaking “Nigerian” series is about the amazing talent we have of summarising an hour of intense conversation into one short, sarcasm-laced proverb.

When your parents are tired of slapping and shouting at you, they offer a proverb, delivering it calmly and solemnly which often has a more terrifying effect than ten strokes of cane.  We resort to these ancient words of wisdom to admonish, advise and abuse a person.

Though seemingly cryptic, nothing speaks more clearly about daily life than proverbs.  For example, a hungry man is an angry man and “I am hungry”, cannot be said by whistling.  So, to be taken seriously, the man needs to display his anger somehow.  That’s why the wife says,Now the marriage begins”, after she’s been beaten with thorns.  You might ask, “So where’s the love in marriage?”.  Well, the ant does not love the corn stalk deeply so human beings can only love you a little.  Horrid example, I know; but the point is: Proverbs speak the bitter truth plainly with no sugar coating.

Some proverbs are just hilarious and offer questionable advice such as, he who marries a beauty marries trouble.  Maybe that’s why girlfriends are generally hotter than the ‘wife material’ Nigerian men prefer to marry eventually.   Some other sayings make no sense at all – a woman possessed by demons dreams of toads in red dancing shoes.  Maybe I just don’t get the cultural setting.

Proverbs are incredibly prophetic.  Any wealth that takes only a market week to acquire definitely contains in it things for which the gods will surely come to make claims.  The former National Security Adviser, Dasuki, and Badeh the ex-Defence Chief should have taken heed to that one before they decided to steal – sorry, I mean ‘allegedly divert’ – $2.1 billion meant for the fight against Boko Haram.

We should pay attention to our proverbs once in a while.  Only a foolish town crier does not listen to his own words.  We have a not-so-funny habit of beating children for the same crimes we ourselves commit, and most often than not, we do them on grander scales.

Here’s a list of more Nigerian proverbs to tickle your fancy:

A child who is carried on the back will not know how far the journey is.

A lounging lizard catches no crickets.

A person is a guest for one or two days, but becomes an intruder on the third.

A tree is best measured when it’s down.

Before you ask a man for clothes, look at the clothes that he is wearing.

Choose your neighbours before you buy your house.

Fine words do not produce food.

He who pursues an innocent chicken always stumbles.

Hold a true friend with both your hands.

If u don’t want to see evil, talk to your legs

The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree said he would praise himself if no one else did.


Image| talking drum| Source: digitaltemi, Flickr

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