Part 1: On humility, self-control, self-knowledge, self-respect, and self-restraint
Babaaláwo kì í bèrè ẹbọ àná.
The diviner does not ask for yesterday's sacrifice.
(One should not demean oneself by demanding piddling favors.)
Bẹbẹlúbẹ ò ì tíì débẹ̀; ibẹ̀ ló ḿbọ̀.
The busybody is not there yet; but he is on his way.
(There is no keeping a nosy person off others' affairs.)
Bí a bá dàgbà à yé ogun-ún jà.
When one becomes old, one stops warring.
(An elder should leave off things that are a mark of youth.)
Bí a bá fi inú wénú; iwọ là ńjẹ.
If we compare notes with others, we wind up eating bile.
(Comparing fortunes with others is liable to leave a bitter taste in one's mouth.)
Bí a bá ḿbá ọmọdé jẹun lóko, gànmùganmu imú ẹni ní ńwò.
If one eats with a youth on the farm he stares at the protrusion of one's nose.
(Too much familiarity with youth breeds contempt.)
Bí a bá ńgúnyán, kòmẹsẹ̀ á yọ.
If one prepares pounded yams, the uninvited should depart.
(The well-bred visitor should make his/her exit when the hosts turn to intimate affairs.)
Bí a bá ti lè ṣe là ńwí; a kì í yan àna ẹni lódì.
One admits to one's limits; one does not cease speaking to one's relatives-in-law.
(One should not let one's inability to fulfil a formal obligation prevent one from fulfilling essential obligations.)
Bí a bá ti mọ là ńdé; a-láì-lẹ́ṣin kì í dé wọ̀nwọ̀n.
One arrives according to one's worth; a horseless person does not arrive with the noise of hoofs and stirrups.
(One should act according to one's worth.)
See also the following entry.
Bí a bá ti mọ là ńkú; olongo kì í kú tìyàntìyàn.
One dies according to one's weight; the robin does not die and make a resounding noise “on hitting the ground.”
(One acts according to one's worth.)
See also the previous entry.
Bí a bá tọ̀ sílé, onípò a mọ ipò.
If someone wets the bed, each person should know where he or she slept.
(In the event of a crime, the guilty should not attempt to shift the blame to others.)
Bí a bá wí pé ó dọwọ́-ọ babaláwo, babaláwo a ló dọwọ́ Ifá; bí a bá ní ó dọwọ́ àgbà ìṣègùn, àgbà ìṣègùn a ló dọwọ́ Ọ̀sanyìn; bí a bá ní ó dọwọ́ ààfáà tó gbójú, a ní ó dọwọ́ Ọlọ́run ọ̀gá ògo.
If one says that a matter now lies in the hands of the Ifá priest the Ifá priest says it lies in the hands of Ifá; if one says that it lies in the hands of the venerable medicine man the venerable medicine man says it rests in the hands of the god of herbs; if one says it rests in the hands of the formidable moslem priest he says it is in the hands of God the most glorious.
(All achievements are creditable to the powers that make them possible, not to the agents.)
Bí a kò bá dáṣọ lé aṣọ, a kì í pe ọ̀kan lákìísà.
If one has not acquired one garment after another, one does not call one a rag.
(One may not disdain an old tool until one is able to replace it.)
Bí a kò bá lè dá Tápà, Tápà kì í dáni.
If one cannot throw a Nupe man in a wrestling match, he should not throw one.
(If one fails, one should at least avoid disgrace.)
Bí a kò bá lọ sóko irọ́, a kì í pa á mọ́ni.
If one does not go to the farm of lies, lies are not told against one.
(If one does not lay oneself open to lies, one is not lied about.)
Bí a kò bá ṣèké, a kì í fi ẹ̀tẹ́ kú.
If one has not been false, one does not die in disgrace.
(One's honesty is one's vindication.)
Bí a kò bá tíì jókòó, a kì í nasẹ̀.
If one has not yet sat down, one does not stretch one's legs out.
(Until one has thoroughly secured one's position, relaxation is premature.)
Bí a kò bá tíì lè kọ́lé, àgọ́ là ńpa.
If one is yet unable to build a house, one makes a tent.
(One should neither overreach oneself, nor refrain from striving.)
Bí a kò bá tó baba ọmọọ́ ṣe, a kì í pe alákàrà.
If one lacks the wherewithal to act like a father to a child, one does not summon the seller of bean fritters.
(If one has no means of offering hospitality, one should not invite visitors.)
Bí a kò bá tó ìyà-á kọ̀ tí à ńkọ̀ ọ́, àjẹkún ìyà là ńjẹ.
If one lacks the means to reject suffering and attempts to reject it, one's suffering simply multiplies.
(Whoever cannot defend himself or herself must learn forebearance.)
Bí a ó ti tó kì í jẹ́ ká hùwà búburú; bí a ó ti mọ kì í jẹ́ ká hùwà rere.
The heights one will reach keeps one from evil deeds; the ordained limit to one's greatness keeps one from doing good deeds.
(A person's achievements are enhanced or limited by the person's character.)
Bí àgbà kò bá ṣe ohun ẹ̀rù, ọmọdé kì í sá.
If an elder does not do something fearful, the youth do not flee.
(Youth responds to age according to how age acts.)
Bí àjànàkú ò bá rí ohun gbémì, kì í ṣe inú gbẹndu sọ́dẹ.
Unless an elephant had swallowed something, it would not turn its bloated stomach to the hunter.
(Unless a person has some resource to rely on, he or she does not tempt fate.)
Bí ajá rójú ẹkùn, a pa rọ́rọ́.
When the dog sees the eyes of the leopard, it keeps very still.
(In the presence of one's betters, one keeps one's place.)
Bí ayá bá mojú ọkọ, alárìnnà a yẹsẹ̀.
When the wife has got to know the husband, the marriage broker makes way.
(Once one's task is done, one removes oneself.)
Bí ayé bá ńyẹni, ìwà ìbàjẹ́ là ńhù.
If life is being good to one, one is liable to act disgracefully.
(Prosperity breeds temptations to misbehave.)
Bí baálẹ̀-ẹ́ bá ńtàkìtì, òrógi là ḿbá ẹmẹsẹ̀.
If the chief is turning somersaults, the messenger should be found standing erect.
(The great may indulge themselves, but the lowly must keep their heads.)
Bí èèyán bá ní kò sí irú òun, àwọn ọlọgbọ́n a máa wòye.
If a person says there is no one like him/her, wise people maintain a contemplative silence.
(A person who thinks he/she is peerless fools no one but him/herself.)
Bí eegbọ́n bá so mọ́ ajá lẹ́nu, akátá là ńní kó já a?
If a tick fastens on to a dog's mouth, does one ask a jackal to dislodge it?
(A person of great substance is not asked to minister to a person of no substance.)
See also the next entry.
Bí eegbọ́n bá ṣo ayínrín nímú, adìẹ kọ́ ni yó ja.
If a tick clings to a fox's nose, it is not a chicken that will remove it.
(The prey is not the one one sends to minister to a predator.)
See also the preceding entry. Compare Eegbọ́n so mọ́ àyìnrín lẹ́nu . . .
Bí ẹkùn ò bá fẹ̀, èse là ńpè é.
If a leopard does not act mighty, one refers to it as a cat.
(A person who acts beneath his station loses some respect.)
Bí ẹlẹ́bọ ò bá pe ẹni, àṣefín ò yẹni.
If the person offering a sacrifice does not invite one, intruding is not proper for one.
(It is bad form to intrude into other people's affairs.)
Bí ìlàrí bá fẹ́ tẹ́, a ní kí lọba ó ṣe?
When a courtier seeks disgrace, he asks, “What can the king do?”
(If one does not show respect for one's patron, one courts disgrace.)
Bí iná bá dun ọbẹ̀, a dá ọ̀rọ̀ sọ.
If the fire gets at the stew, the stew will burst into speech.
(If the excitement is strong enough, coyness disappears.)
Bí kò sí àkópọ̀, kí lewúrẹ́ wá dé ìsọ̀ adìẹ?
Were it not for the fact that they were brought transported together, what would a goat want in the chicken's stall?
(Necessity brings together people who would otherwise have nothing to do one with another).
Bí kò sí tọ̀bùn èèyàn, ta ni ìbá jí lówùúrọ̀ tí kò bọ́jú ṣáṣá?
But for a person of filthy habits, who would wake in the morning and not wash his or her face clean?
(Antisocial people betray themselves by their habits.)
Bí mo bá torí oko kú ng ó rò fáhéré; bí mo bá torí ọ̀gẹ̀dẹ̀ kú ng ó rò fódò; bí mo bá torí alábàjà òkíkí kú, ng ó rò fórí-ì mi.
If I die on account of a farm, I will lay my case before the hut; if I die on account of bananas, I will lay my case before the river; if I die on account of the famous woman with facial scarification, I will lay my case before my head.
(Were I to die for a woman, the forces ordering my fortune would know why.)
Bí ó di ọdún mẹ́ta tí ẹkùn-ún ti ńṣe òjòjò, olugbe la ó ha rán lọ bẹ̀ ẹ́ wò?
If it has been three years since the leopard took ill, is it a monkey that one sends to ask its condition?
(Even though one may be down on one's luck, there are yet certain propositions one would consider insulting.)
Bí òfé ti ńfò la ti ḿmọ̀ ọ́ lákọ ẹyẹ.
It is by its flight that the parrot proves itself a formidable bird.
(One shows one's quality through one's accomplishments.)
Bí òkú fẹ̀, bí kò fẹ̀, ká bi ọmọ olókùú léèrè.
Whether the corpse is distended or is not, one should ask the heir of the dead.
(Only those most intimately concerned know the close truths of an affair, and should be asked about them.)
Bí ojú bá rí, ẹnu a dákẹ́.
When the eyes see, the mouth remains quiet.
(The mouth does not reveal everything the eyes see.)
Bí ojú kò bá rí, ẹnu kì í sọ nǹkan.
If the eye does not see, the mouth says nothing.
(The mouth can tell only what the eye sees.)
Bí ojú kò bá ti olè, a ti ará ilé ẹ̀.
If the thief feels no shame, members of his household should.
(A person's disgrace must concern his relatives.)
Bí ojú onílé bá mọ tíntín, tí ojú àlejòó tó gbòǹgbò, onílé ní ńṣe ọkọ àlejò.
Even though the host's eyes are tiny, and the guest's eyes are huge, it is the host who holds sway over the guest.
(The host is lord over the guest.)
Bí olóde ò kú, òdee rẹ̀ kì í hu gbẹ́gi.
If the owner of a yard does not die, his yard is not overgrown with wild grass.
(If one does not die one is able to look after one's affairs.)
Bí olóúnjẹẹ́ bá rojú à fi àìjẹ tẹ́ ẹ.
If the owner of the food is reluctant to share, one disgraces him by refusing to eat.
(The best way to treat a miser is to refuse anything from him.)
Bí ọdún bá dún, bọnnọnbọ́nnọ́n a pàwọ̀ dà.
When the year is done, the bọnnọbọ́nnọ́n tree changes its color.
(When the seasons change, one changes one's habits.)
Bí ọjàá bá tú tán, a ku olórí-i pàtẹpàtẹ, a ku àgbààgbà sà-ǹkò sà-ǹkò lọ́jà; bÍfá bá pẹ̀dí tán, ìwọ̀-ǹwọ̀ a dìde.
When the market disperses, only the head of the market women remains; only the venerable elders remain; when Ifá has had his say, the genius that consults him arises.
(When a matter is done, those involved should disperse.)
Bí ọjọ́ ewúrẹ́ bá pé, a ní kò sí ohun tí alápatàá lè fi òun ṣe.
When a goat's day “to die” arrives, it says there is nothing a butcher can do to it.
(A person who does not recognize and heed danger courts death.)
Bí ọ̀lẹ́ ò lè jà, a lè kú tùẹ̀.
If a lazy man cannot fight, he should be able to die disgracefully.
(A person who cannot defend his rights should yield to death.)
Bí Ọlọ́run ò ṣe ẹni ní baba, à fi ìyànjú ṣe bí àgbà.
If God does not make one a father, one strives to act like an elder.
(Even if one has no influence, one strives to act responsibly.)
Bí ọmọdé bá fẹ́ ṣìṣe àgbà, ọjọ́ orí-i rẹ̀ ò níí jẹ́.
If a youth attempts to act like an elder, his age will stop him.
(A youth does not have what it takes to be an elder.)
Bí ọmọdé bá gun òkè àgbà, ó ńláti gbọ́n.
If a child ascends the height of maturity, he/she must become wise.
(Wisdom goes with age.)
Bí ọmọdé bá ńṣe ọmọdé, àgbà a máa ṣe àgbà.
When a child is being a child, an elder must remain an elder.
(One should not permit other people's misbehavior to deflect one from the proper course.)
Bí ọmọdé ńlérí bébé, tí kò ní baba, ti baba là ńṣe.
If a child brags a great deal, but has no father, one acts the part of a father.
(One should not deal too harshly with a child who has no one to direct him or her.)
Bí Ọya ńkọ lọ́run, bí Ṣàngó ńjó láyé, kò níí burú fún baba kó ní ó dọwọ́ ọmọ òun lọ́run.
Even if the goddess Ọya sings in heaven and the god Ṣango sings on earth, matters cannot be so bad for the father that he will say it is all up to his dead child in heaven.
(Even in suffering one should never disgrace oneself.)
38. Diviners hold back some of the items they prescribe for sacrifice for their own use.
[Back to text]
39. This is apparently the plaint of a man besotted by his attraction to a woman.
[Back to text]
40. The proverb refers to the Yoruba belief that the dead have the power to protect their living survivors. Normally, though, the living look to the spirits of dead elders for such protection, never to the spirits of their dead children.
[Back to text]