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Part 1: On humility, self-control, self-knowledge, self-respect, and self-restraint


A di gr sl ewr yj; r ran r ni?
We prepare the saddle, and the goat presents itself; is it a burden for the lineage of goats?
(Goats that know their place do not offer their backs to be saddled.)
This is a variant of A gb gr m ewr roj . . .

A fi jba wre o f j lrun ni?
You have been crowned a king, and yet you make good-luck charms; would you be crowned God?
(Being crowned a king is about the best fortune a mortal could hope for.)

A fij gba Aw; a fj gba Aw; b a b j, b a b j, b a b ti gba Aw, k tn b?
By dancing we take possession of Aw; through fighting we take possession of Aw; if we neither dance nor fight, but take possession of Aw anyway, is the result not the same?
(Why make a huge production of a matter that is easily taken care of?)

A gb gr m ewur roj; k e r gntn.
We lift a saddle and the goat (kin) scowls; it is no burden for a sheep.
(The goat has no cause to scowl, because no one will condescend to ride it anyway.)
This is a variant of A di gr sl . . .

A k b ba pl k k ba m n-nni ls.
One does not share a farm boundary with a king without getting one's feet gashed by the king's hoe.
(One should be cautious in dealing with people in authority.)

A k bn tn k dal sgb.
One does not get angry with the rubbish dump and discard one's rubbish into the bush.
(One should not act in unreasonable and harmful ways because of anger.)

A k bn or k fi fl d bd.
One does not get angry with one's head and therefore use one's cap to cover one's buttocks.
(Do not cut your nose to spite your face.)

A k br ik br rn k n k m k sinni.
One does not so fear death and disease that one asks that one's child die before one.
(One should not be more concerned with saving oneself than with saving one's dependents.)

A k b r lj fn-n; b b dal a ma t pp.
One does not sacrifice to a god in the presence of a house rat; otherwise, when night falls it invades the rafter shelves.
(Do not do things that might constitute temptation to others.)

A k dgb m ly; ibi ay b bni l j .
One does not become an adult and yet lack courage; one lives life as it finds one.
(One should do what is fitting for one's station in life.)

A k d w l ohun t a l gb.
One does not lay one's hands on a load one cannot lift.
(One should not overreach.)

A k dj or k y .
One does not set the day for an or rite and then ignore it.
(One must not let important matters slide.)

A k dk k w; a k w sn-n k drn.
One does not keep quiet and yet misspeak; one does not silently contemplate the world and yet get into trouble.
(A careful and cautious person seldom gets into trouble.)

A k d Mrk sin lj.
One does not arrive at Mrk ahead of the litigant.
(One should not take charge of other people's business.) [1]

A k fi gbs srn .
One does not carry debt around one's neck and live like a dandy.
(One should discharge one's obligations before one indulges in extravagance.)

A k fi ka ro et, k fi ro im, k w tn fi ta ehn.
One does not use one's finger to clean one's ear passages, use it to pick one's nose, and then use it to pick one's teeth.
(One should always behave with decorum.)

A k fi or w ori Mokir; b Mok k lr a j ll.
One does not liken one's fortune to Mokir's; if Mok dies in the morning. he resurrects at night.
(Never emulate people who know tricks you don't.) [2]

A k fi ptk b lb; n b nu l b .
One does not come by yam-flour because of one's importance; only people who have yams can make yam flour.
(One cannot eat one's importance.)

A k fini joy wd k m l gbd.
One cannot be given the title eagle and yet be incapable of snatching chickens.
(One should be able to live up to expectations.)

A k gb sr kj-a ml.
One does not carry alms beyond the mosque.
(Excess brings disgrace.)

A k gb L lnu gb.
One never hears Beat him/her up in the mouth of an elder.
(Elders resolve disputes; they do not goad disputants on.)

A k gbn ju ni t a ma df fn.
One cannot be wiser than the person for whom one will consult the If oracle.
(It is better to listen to the supplicant rather than put words in his/her mouth.)
Compare the two that follow.

A k gbn t mi-lni-.
One cannot be as wise as I-am-the-owner.
(One should not presume to know as much about something as the owner.)
Compare the preceding two entries.

A k gbn t ni t tannij.
One is never as wise as the person deceiving one.
(The deceiver always has the advantage of the dupe.)

A k gbn t By-ni-ng-e-kan-n-mi.
One cannot be as wise as Thus-will-I-do-my-thing.
(Never impose your preferences on other people in their own affairs.)
Compare the foregoing and the following entries.

A k jay ba k u sra.
One does not so luxuriate in one's majesty that one shits on oneself.
(Lack of moderation and decorum will bring disgrace to even the most elevated person.)

A k j oy nu n kal.
One does not bear the title of gatekeeper even until night time.
(As one advances in age, so should one's responsibilities advance in gravity and importance.)

A k k l .
One does not live fashionably on borrowed money.
(Live within your means.)

A k krira fn-n k fin b ahr.
One does not so hate the bush rat that one sets one's farm hut alight.
(One should not destroy oneself simply to get at one's enemy.)

A k k gblagb p b b rn k rn.
One does not teach an elder that what has been crushed should remain crushed.
(An elder should know when a matter should end.)

A k k lin k tn l f ls.
One does not divorce a horse rider and go marry a pedestrian.
(One should ever progress, never regress.)

A k l kt il ni k fw .
One does not shoosh the mouse in one's house and break one's hand.
(One should be safe from hazards in one's own home.)

A k m egb fnra ni k sunkn.
One does not treat one's own sore and yet cry from the pain.
(One should know one's own pain threshold.)

A k m y j ju j l.
One does not presume to know j's mother better than j himself does.
(Never claim to know a thing better than the people closest to it.)
Compare A k m n gb ju lgb lo . . .

A k m n gb ju lgb l; n mni w l tl.
One does not presume to know the way to or around a garden better than the owner of the garden; one always follows the person who brought one.
(Never presume to have a better knowledge of a matter than has the person most intimately involved.)
Compare A k m y j ju j l.

A k m- r b lj.
One never knows how to present it like the owner of the case.
(No one can know better than the person itself where it hurts most and what relief is needed.)

A k m oko ln k ml; taj tran n bni.
One does not farm a plot by the road and neglect its care; every dog and goat would ridicule one.
(Never expose yourself to insult by behaving badly in public view.)

A k n agbra kker e kej.
One does not offer to second a combatant in spite of one's negligible strength.
(Never attempt more than you have the power to accomplish.)

A k n knjw k m; ar il ni n s fnni.
One does not know that one has covetousness; it is one's kin who so inform one.
(Often, only those close to one can recognize one's flaws and alert one to them.)

A k pe yw k kan alrn.
One does not summon the wife and so involve the go-between.
(People should mind their own business.)

A k peni lk ran k or br.
One does not enjoy the designation He Goat and yet sport a smooth (horn-less) head.
(A person should live up to his/her billing.)

A k pl b jko.
One does not join a monkey in roaming the bush.
(Do not join others in their madness.)

A k wj ld.
One does not conclude for the person who says d . . .
(Never presume to know what someone else intends to say.) [3]

A k yg fn Mo gun in r o!
One does not get out of the way for I used to ride a horse!
(People should not expect to live on past glory.)
The following entry is a variant.

A k yg fn lin n.
One does not get out of the way for a person who rode a horse yesterday.
(Past glory avails little in the present.)

A lu sl pdr- j l ; l mbn?
We group yams in lots and the fruit of the sausage tree drops among them; does it count as complement to a lot, or as gratuity?
(The fruit might look somewhat like a yam, but it does not belong with yams.)

bni m ad fornkn b; bw b ba kk, a n fn ald?
One helps to catch a chicken and scrapes one's knees; having laid one's hands on the chick will one not hand it over to the owner?
(One should not be overzealous in helping others, especially when no benefit will accrue to one from the effort.)

br alj, aj eb un l br.
One shows deference to the dog's owner, and the dog thinks the deference is to it. [4]
(A person who has a powerful patron mistakenly believes that the respect he enjoys from others is due to his or her own qualities, whereas it is reflected from the patron.)

g e lw, b rka.
His hand is being severed, yet he is slipping on a ring.
(The person has been judged undeserving of a hand; it is an affront, therefore, for him or her to adorn his or her fingers-an indication of heedlessness.)

A n k w ni t lhn k fm fn, abuk n un r; ti gnnk hn-in r l w?
One seeks a person with a prominent back as suitor for one's daughter, and the humpback presents himself; who spoke of protruding back?
(The expression that translates as prominent back is an idiom meaning a proud pedigree. The humpback makes a rather embarrassing mistake.)

A n Tanlk m- j, Tluk w gb ls.
People say that Tanlk is a poor dancer, and Tanlk comes to his aid.
(A person who is as helpless as the person in trouble should not offer to rescue him/her.) [5]

j bt lhn, j tar iwj.
His loincloth is being stripped from behind, yet he is stripping those of the people ahead of him.
(Attacks on him do not stop him from belaboring his enemies.) [6]

sr ol, aboyn dh; odiidi yn l gb pam.
We speak of stealing and a pregnant woman intervenes; she herself is concealing a whole person.
(Her condition makes her guilty of concealment.)

sunkn Awgb, Awgb sunkn ara-a .
We lament Awgb's plight; Awgb does not lament his own plight.
(The person the proverb is aimed at is too daft to realize his/her sorry plight.)

w ni t a fm fn, ol yj.
We seek a person to give a child to (in marriage) and a worthless person presents himself.
(People should know their place and not over-rate themselves.)
This is a variant of A n k w ni t lhn k fm fn . . .

wn ti fi aiwr sl, n b a b d k od k dr de un.
People are scheming to shake an imbecile from their company, and he asks that they wait for him on reaching the bank of the river.
(If people are seeking ways of getting rid of a person, that person should not lay down his conditions for remaining with them.)

A lbnrin d oy s; b a b d oy s ewr ni y j .
Without having a wife a person spares oy [7] to grow; if it flourishes it is destined to be food for goats.
(The vegetable is used in stews, and stews are for wives to cook.)

A m ohun t elw-e gbgb t k t s p j t.
One does not know what the seller of gbgb leaves was selling before she started complaining about the slow market.
(The seller of goods nobody wants blames her fortune on the slow market.) [8]
This is a variant of K ni elw-e-gbgb . . .

A m ohun t Dr- n k t w p ol- k un.
One does not know what Dr owned before he claimed to have been robbed.
(The poor person conveniently blames his poverty on thieves.)
This is a variant of K ni Dr n . . .

A p lm ern-mgbn y; w pp l m ?
You are described as the child of the elephant that swallows coconuts, and you rejoice; are you the one who swallows coconuts?
(The description honors the father, not the person being addressed.)

A r y r ni tonl; a r y r ni tlej; bnl b n k j tn, lej a n k j k.
Its likes have been seen before, is what the host says; No one has ever seen its likes before, is what the guest says; if the host says that we should empty the plate, the guest should argue for leaving a little.
(A host might minimize his hospitality, but the guest should praise it; if the host is lavish, the guest should not be greedy.)

A rgi lko k t fi m gb l.
We saw other trees in the bush before we settled on m [9] for making drums.
(One should never presume to be the only possible answer to every challenge.) [10]

A snk tn, alugb l f p ni?
The funeral is over, but the calabash beater does not take his leave; does he want to inherit a wife?
(This proverb has the same import as, A knl, a pgb . . . ) [11]

b ni ikn d; ikn l mu kta.
The termite is only striving; it can never eat a rock.
(Termites may make their tunnels on a rock; the rock will be safe.)

A-bni-gb k yn; a-br k sun tt; yin gg k gb wj; il kann ni wn k fn wn mtta.
A guest does not warm himself by the fire; a priest or priestess does not sleep in the cold; a delicate egg does not live in a crowd; the same house was built for all three.
(Know yourself and your place.) [12]

A-bnijun-b-almra, bu kl b gbn y .
He-who-eats-with-one-without-self-restraint; he breaks off morsels like his mother's senior.
(When eating in company one should be restrained. A man eating with the child of his younger sister need show no such restraint.)

A-br k n.
He who asks the way does not lose his way.
(One should admit one's weaknesses.)

-b--k; -k--gb; de l ti kgbn wl.
A-child-that-was-never-taught-how-to-behave; a-child-that-was-taught-but-that-refused-to-heed-instruction; it is from outside the home that he will learn wisdom.
(Look well to your child's upbringing.)

A-bin-ff n w onj fn a-bin-wr-wr.
A volatile-tempered person secures food for a mild-tempered person.
(Whatever good fortune might have been meant for the volatile person will wind up in the lot of the mild-mannered person.)

Aboyn k j bb; a-bod-ikn-krbt.
A pregnant woman does not dance to bb music; pendulous-stomached woman.
(One should match one's actions to one's circumstances.) [13]

b ej k gb is.
Half a snake does not live in a burrow.
(One should act according to one's circumstances.)

Ablg k asn; by lr, baba a lw lw.
The arrogant person is not arrogant for nothing; if his mother is not wealthy, his father must be rich.
(There is, or should be, some basis for one's strutting.)

Ablra fn-n; n j t olgb- ti b un t- d a n brk.
Mouse-that-does-not-know-its-place; it says that since the day the cat delivered (a baby) it has not gone to offer congratulations.
(Never forget your vulnerabilities and limitations.)

br k pa gbn ntn.
The younger person does not give the older person history lectures.
(One should not exceed one's station.)

br r d fn , o n o lo elkuru; ta n lo alkr?
Your junior brother (or sister) buys clothing for you, and you say you will not wear anything with bean-grits patterns; who has the right to opt for clothing with a bean-fritter patterns?
(One should act in accordance to one's station in life.) [14]
Compare ni t a b d fn k ka w.

A-d-m-l-e db t dn bb.
Start-something-it-cannot-finish dove that makes bombastic noises.
(Bombast often masks fickleness.)

Ad funfun m ara lgb.
The white chicken does not recognize itself as an elder.
(One should act one's age always.) [15]

Ad b yy k y.
A chicken does not give birth to a multitude of chicks and die of the exertion.
(Children should not be the death of their parents.) [16]

Ad t u t k t, ara-a r l k s.;
The chicken that shits and does not piss retains the rest in its body.
(Self-deprivation hurts the person concerned, not anyone else.)

A-dtan-m s; n kl l b y un.
The red-flanked duiker, desperate to claim relationship, says that its mother was born of a crested duiker.
(Never make preposterous claims of kinship.)

Adgbnrnk fik er.
Death-feigning-beetle flirts with death.
(If one persists in flirting with disaster, disaster is liable to befall one.) [17]

Adt n un l fn wr, gbn n l y i dn.
The leper says he may not be able to squeeze out milk, but he can spill it.
(Even feckless people can cause some damage.)

Adt- r wr, kn lgb.
The leper sees a mad person and dashes into the bush.
(A person who should be ostracized ostracizes others.)

Adt- sr mj, fkan pur; n ngbt n lu m un lbr, n j a lknn pt.
The leper said two things, one of them being a lie; he said after he had struck his child with his palm, he also pinched him severely with his nails.
(One fools only oneself when one claims to have done the impossible.)

Adit gb, Yg!
The deaf does not hear,Make way!
(Cautionary words are lost on reckless people.)

-f-tiiri ni tyw; b a b f t k tiiri, n ohun t e .
Resisting-while-being-pulled is the proper behavior for a bride; if she is pulled and she does not resist, something is the matter with her.
(However eager the bride, she must appear coy and shy; one should behave with decorum appropriate to one's position.)

fi ohun t a k t lj lr k j.
The only thing a slave cannot eat is something not available in the market.
(A slave has no choice.)

Afnju r; fi ks d orb; w niire- b s epo.
Fashionable woman of re, she cocks her oil jar with a rag, and she expects good people to buy oil from her.
(Never compromise on cleanliness and good character.)

Afnj n j iw; mrn n j ob; mr-mj n j aws.
It is a finicky person that eats iw; [18] it is a sagacious person that eats kolanut; it is someone not squeamish about what he eats that eats aws. [19]
(People are what they eat; each to his/her own taste.)

Afnj-u ppl, og kun osn lw.
Unusual-fashionable-person, the preener anoints herself with camwood without taking a bath.
(Cleanliness should be more than a matter of appearance.)

Afnj w j rn gbndk bn w j rn ; bn n ru r afnj rel.
The fashionable person enters the market and walks in a leisurely manner; the filthy person enters the market and walks in a sluggish manner; it is the filthy person that will carry the fashionable person's load to the house for him or her.
(Good breeding confers great advantages.)

fpin t f pan-a sy: rn p s i.
The moth (that) tries to put out the barbecue fire: the meat becomes more plentiful.
(A person who foolishly attempts dangerous tasks courts destruction.)
This is a variant of fpina t n un pa ftl . . .

fpin t n un pa ftl, ara ni y pa.
The moth that attempts to kill (put out) the oil lamp will kill itself.
(It is unwise to take on an adversary one knows can destroy one.)

Afj t dij, t n n sn, gbt k sn ta l r?
The blind person who shuts his eyes and says he is asleep, when he was not asleep whom did he see?
(The deceiver deceives him/herself.)

A-fn-fra n fi j bt.
It is a person who is both incapable of thought and shameless that dances to bt music while in poverty.
(Know your place and live according to your circumstances.) [20]

g t gb , bt pa , bs ols a-bara-kk.
The nimble, sprightly rat fell victim to the trap, how much more the sluggish, sickly mouse.
(If the green wood is consumed, the dry wood has no prayer.)

gnbnir n fojdini.
It is the person taller than another who shows no respect for the other.
(Even in a company, each person should know his/her relative station.)

gb aj k bwj.
A grown dog does not deface its skin.
(Decorum goes with age.)

gb mle k k krn.
A muslim elder does not throw a sheet over his shoulder for clothing.
(One should behave as is proper for one's position.)

gb kn e b lgn; Yemaja l gb e l.
An elderly person tried it something in the river gn; the river goddess carried him away.
(Thoughtless emulation of others could be disastrous.)

gb k fr h d k m kan funfun.
A grown person does not scratch his buttocks in the early morning without showing some whiteness.
(Improper behaviour brings disgrace.) [21]

gb k ere k-l-b-y-w?
An elderly person does not engage in the type of play that provokes the comment, What brought all this about? [22]
(Elders should show decorum.)
See gblagb k y ay- k-l-by-wa?

gb k or b we.
An elderly person does not perform rituals like a youth.
(The elder's performance should be commensurate with his station and status.)

gb k w lj kr m titun w.
An elder is not present at a market and permit a child's head to rest askew.
(Elders must not permit untowards happenings in their presence.) [23]

gb ffo n pariwo; p t kn fw k dn.
It is an empty barrel that is noisy; a sack full of money makes no sound.
(Empty barrels make the most noise.)

gb t k ls nl a lgbn nn.
An elder that has no substance should have cunning.
(One should know one's limitations and how to compensate for them.) [24]

gb t k m wn ara-a r lod gb l.
It is an elder who does not know his limitations that is washed away by a river.
(Elders who cannot swim will be cautious near rivers.)

gb t k ntj, oj kan ni b n; oj kan n a w lgangan iwj-u r.
An elder without self-respect might as well have only one eye, that one eye being in the center of his forehead.
(Shamelessness does not become an elder.)

gb t y t, b fr tn, a n ku jr nu.
An elder courting disgrace, after his head has been shaved he says, Now, how about shaving the beard (as a gratuity)?
(One should know how far one may go before one suffers disgrace.)

gb t b md fi b-u r tr.
An elder who insults a youth makes a present of his own insult.
(Only those who show respect for others may expect respect in return.)
Compare the preceding entry and the following.

gb t fi ara-a r fwe lwe b.
It is an elder who delivers himself unto youths that the youth will insult.
(If one wants to be respected, one should respect oneself.)
Compare the preceding two entries.

gb t m tj k fol er.
An elder who is wary of disgrace will not play at stealing.
(Anything that smacks of stealing will disgrace an elder.)

gb t tor ogj w yw; igbaw t ohun -m-y.
The elder who escapes into his inner chamber because of forty cowries: two hundred cowries are not enough for casual spending.
(One must act as one's station demands.)
Compare s ow l tlkn . . .

-gbb- kt, b k fnni ls a oni; rmrm ni ohun ni bani mu.
Borrowed trousers: if they are not too tight around the legs, they will be too loose; one's own things fit one exactly.
(Borrowed articles are never like one's own.)

gbgb l l pj k wn j fun kt, fi iyn n.
The elders of the town will not assemble and eat the intestines of a bush-rat, only stale pounded yams.
(People should behave in ways that befit their station.) [25]

gb-y t mk nn, n ntor omi gbgbn or-i r ni.
Worthless elderly person who is eating corn gruel worth one tenth of a penny, he says he only wants the hot water on top of it.
(One should act according to the demands of one's status.)

gblagb akn t k s garawa ygd, oj t .
The elderly crab that enters into a bucket; it is thoroughly disgraced.
(One should avoid potentially disgraceful actions.)

gblagb k e lgbalgba.
An elder should not behave in an unbecoming manner.
(One should behave according to one's status.)

gblagb k ww tn k n un j si.
An elder does not wash his hand and then decide to eat more.
(An elder should know his mind.) [26]

gblagb k y ay- k-l-by-w?
An elder does not rejoice in a manner that would provoke, What brought all this about?
(Moderation and decorum in everything.) [27]
Compare gb k ere k-l-b-y-w?

gblagb t k r fi okn sin ara-a r.
An elder who does not greet the r tries a hanging rope for size.
(One must avoid actions that will place one at grave risk.)
Compare: r p df . . .

gblagb t gun p, b b j lul drun.
An elder who climbs palm-trees: if he crashes from the tree he will find himself in heaven.
(An elder should know better than to climb palm-trees; one should not court danger.)
Compare: B a b dgb y ogunn j.
See also, ni t m ay- j k gun gbn.

gblagb t ww ej, t ni y fi r.
An elder who wears the garment of immoderation will find disgrace because of it.
(Immoderation brings disgrace.)

gbr ba n j, r p n tn n e.
The rain flood ruins the path believing that it is repairing it.
(Ignorance or incompetence in tackling a task often leads to unintended results.)

Agbra wo l w lw igb t f fi gbn omi kun?
What strength does the calabash have at its disposal that makes it attempt to scoop up all the water in the ocean?
(People should not overreach.)

gbr wd n n un j gbn.
It is an overreaching kite that proposes to eat snails.
(Know your limits.) [28]
See wd k t wkaraun kr . . .

gbr layn gb t n un j lrn ad.
The cockroach overreaches itself when it says it will dance in the company of chickens.
(The chickens will eagerly peck it to death.)
Compare: Ayn f j. . . , and, Ayn f gin . . .

gbr ly gb; k l mu omi in gbn
The bird only attempts the impossible; it cannot drink the milk in a coconut.
(One should know one's limits.)

gbr-e gd t n k gb un sj; b ap ti ya nitan ya; kidiri or l d dr.
The overreaching mud idol that asked to be put in the rain; as the arms fell off, so did the thighs; the rounded head could not support itself.
(One should know one's limitations.)

Ahn ni pnnl nu.
The tongue is the border of the mouth.
(There is a limit to everything.)

-jnilj lsn-n n mni jarunp luni lru.
Lack of regard for a person during the day makes one kick the person during the night as one tosses restlessly in sleep.
(Familiarity breeds contempt.) [29]

-kk-joye, sn ju, nu mi k l l.
Not-assuming-the-position-of-ruler-at-all is far better than, My word is not heeded by the people.
(A person who does not assume a responsibility is better off than a person who takes it on and fails to fulfill it.)

-lp ld m; b a b lp, m ow to-o ggi.
It is a deficiency of biceps that blunts the machete; if one has strong biceps one can cut trees with a cudgel.
(One should not blame one's deficiencies on one's tools.)

-l-j ni s p Ojde baba- mi d hn.
It is inability to fight that prompts one to say, My father's front yard does not extend this far.
(A coward will find any excuse to avoid a just fight.)

-m-kan, -m-kn n m kt-il pe olgb nj.
It is severe ignorance that prompts a mouse to challenge a cat to a fight.
(Never taunt an adversary you cannot handle.)

s yn lko l b aj sr.
It is the absence of people on the farm that brings one to conversing with a dog.
(But for unfortunate circumstances one would not deign to associate with certain people.)

s-l kn, aj gb.
The leopard being away from home, the dog barks.
(When the master is away the minion will strut.)
See the following entry, and also Aj k gb nboj kn.

s-l olgb, il dil kt.
The cat being away from home, the house becomes a domain for mice.
(People will take advantage of any relaxation of supervision.)
See the previous entrry.

so b l my w jgb; y k jgb.
The failure of the b tree to fruit brought the bird to eating garden egg; ordinarily birds would not eat bitter tomato.
(But for unavoidable misfortune one would not have been reduced to the demeaning circumstance in which one finds oneself.)

Aj k gb nboj kn.
A dog does not bark in the leopard's lair.
(One must defer to one's superiors.)
See also sl kn . . .

Aj k l sginj l d kn.
A dog does not go into the wild to hunt a leopard.
(One should not attempt feats one is unqualified to accomplish.)

Aj k ror k ojl mj.
A dog is never so fierce that it can guard two doorways.
(One cannot serve two masters simultaneously. )

Aj m gb; ld- m f; tltl m ni t y ynbn d s.
A dog knows excrement; a pig knows a mud pit; a turkey knows to whom to direct its fart.
(People should know who are their peers and who are not.)

Aj gbd d ml kk lwl.
A dog dares not go to a wolf's mosque to make ablutions.
(One should not exceed one's station.) [30]

Aj r epo k l; y-a r u ih b.?
The dog sees palm-oil but does not lick it; did its mother excrete palm-nut pericarp?
(One should not be unreasonably squeamish.)

Aj t lpa kn, ynu l w.
A dog that chases a leopard is seeking trouble.
(One should not overreach oneself.)

Aj tn pad s b-i r.
The dog returns to its vomit.
(To accept what one has once rejected is to lose face.)

jj oge par, aby kel.
The uncharacteristically spruced up partridge swells its chest.
(The nouveau riche always goes to extremes in consumption.) [31]

jnk tu lj alj; o-ngba-aj gbd tpa erin.
The elephant does not break and run at the sight of dogs; a person with two hundred dogs dares not stalk an elephant.
(Two hundred dogs are no match for an elephant.)

jp n k s oun t d b oun t a m e; n b n b ju yn snu, un a tu kr sl.
Tortoise says there is nothing quite like expertise in one's calling; it says if it puts a palm-fruit into its mouth, it spits out a palm-nut.
(Nothing succeeds like expertise.)

jp n un t b s l sn y, bni n b sn k s.
Tortoise argues that it that might have farted is sound asleep, and, surely, those that sleep do not fart!
(Some defenses are so transparent as to be frivolous.)

jp l sj, wn n gb wo ni y d, n dgbt n b t.
Tortoise set out on a journey and it was asked when it would return; it replied that it would be after it had earned disgrace.
(Certain people will not change course until they are disgraced.)
See Ahun . . .

jt wn n k rof lgbn.
It is a loosely hung net that teaches the fruit pigeon a lesson.
(The careless, imprudent person has his/her nemesis waiting for him/her.)

-j--kr n pa mn; -j--kr n pa f; -j--kr n pa mlj.
Feeding-without-leaving kills the Tullberg's rat; feeding-without-departing kills the spotted grass mouse; feeding-without-departing kills the mlj rat.
(Lack of moderation leads to death.)

-j-p ni tdn.
Eating-until-vomiting is the trait of the bat.
(An observation on a being with no self-restraint. This could also be a wish that a person does not benefit from something he/she has appropriated.)

-j-tn, -j--mra, k fi w mww jun y m yn.
Eating-absolutely-everything, eating-with-abandon, eating with all ten fingers is unworthy of human beings.
(People should not be slaves to food.)

-jk--dde, -sr--gbs, k sinni tt k m pad sl, -sunwn n gbhn-in r.
Sitting-without-getting-up, speaking-without-waiting-for-responses, walking people on their way and not turning back, unpleasantness is what they breed.
(Excess and self-forgetfulness in anything bring unpleasant results.)

Aaka gb dn; igb n gb.
The hedgehog does not live in the grassland, only in the forest.
(Certain things are proper; certain things are not.)

ktp t j- j; ta n t m igi w k lj?
The bow cannot fight, but who dares confront it with a stick?
(A stick is no match for a bow.)

kj m r ny.
Refusal-to-acknowledge-salutations enhances the god's dignity.
(Distancing oneself from ordinary people lends one prestige.)

ks- m wn ara-a r, gb pr j.
The rag knows its place; it remains quietly on the rafters.
(A person of low standing should not call attention to himself or herself.)

kk in igb n wn l gb od; pl ld n wn l l lk; awreb n wn l hun a.
Woodpeckers in the forest say they can carve mortars, frogs in the stream say they can string beads, and awrebe say they can weave cloth.
(Misplaced self-confidence leads the creatures into empty boasts.) [32]

Akrira n kan; dn sunw fn kt.
An overly squeamish person owns nothing; raffia cloth is no good for trousers.
(Excessive squeamishness renders one helpless and destitute.)

Ak, nk n omitooro-o r l; k, nk n p rn n.
Dead, I will not eat its broth; alive, I will not send it on an errand.
(One needs pay no mind to a person who can in no way affect one's fortune.)

kk ad fi ddj gb; fi u-sl we.
The rooster shows its maturity by its early rising; it shows its lack of maturity by defecating on the floor.
(Nobody is free of some blemish.)

Ald lo l ro.
It is the owner of the machete who exercises authority over mutual laborers.
(One yields authority to one's host, or the owner of the property.) [33]

Alntj l k sl na-a r.
A shameless person goes to die in his relative-in-laws' house.
(One should never demean oneself with unbecoming actions.)

Alkr k s fgun.
A wearer of a battle-helmet does not flee from war.
(A warrior does not run from battle.)

Algb k lr ti pa ej.
A lizard does not boast that it will kill a snake.
(People should not propose what they cannot accomplish.)

Altt: j n ktkt n un d ynpn-ynpn sl.
The cricket arises in the morning and vows to perform wonders.
(The puny person's boasts are always empty.)

Alej aj n lpa kn.
It is an overreaching dog that chases leopards.
(One should not challenge people one cannot match.)

Alej, baba ojo.
The immoderate person, greatest of cowards.
(Immoderation is a cloak for cowardice.)

Alej n gbb kj d ; a-gb-sr-kj-a-ml.
It is an immoderate person who carries his offering past 's shrine; one-who-carries-his-alms-past-the-mosque.
(It is a grievous fault not to observe discreet limits.)

Alej, pr n t; j, baba et.
The immoderate person easily finds disgrace; immoderation is the father of disgrace.
(Immoderation brings disgrace.)

Alej t pk n baba.
Overzealous wife that calls her husband father.
(The wife who calls her husband father carries respect beyond reasonable limits; one should not be overzealous in one's observance of proprieties.)

Al l k jk ss elpo.
A person dressed in white does not sit at the stall of a palm-oil seller.
(One should not expose oneself to abuse or danger.)

Al-kan k n nr.
A person who has only one set of clothing does not bargain until he is wet.
(A person with meagre resources should husband them judiciously.)
See also the following entry.

Al-kan k er j.
A person who has only one set of clothing does not play in the rain.
(See the preceding entry.)

Altie n m tie ara-a r.
The person who must settle his/her affair knows best how he/she plans to go about doing so.
(One should not second guess others, or try to make their decisions for them.)

lej k l k m onl dn.
The visitor does not take his/her leave and take the host along.
(Each person must confront his/her destiny by him/herself.

lej k ptn l fnl.
The visitor does not recount the history of the town for the host.
(Never presume to know more than the custodian of knowledge.)

lm y gb; gb k e ohun lm.
To be pursued does not become an elder; an elder does not cause himself to be pursued.
(Elders should always behave in ways that would cause them no disgrace.)

A-lu-dndn k drin.
The dndn player does not lead a song.
(A subordinate does not set policy.) [34]

mtkn-n fara j kn, k l e b kn.
The mtkn looks like a leopard, but it cannot do what a leopard can do.
(Looking a part does not indicate an ability to play the part.) [35]

Amrn sunwn, y sr.
The lizard is not good-looking to start with, and it slips into indigo dye.
(A person who has enough flaws should not seek ways to add to them.)

nn-mnn t jnfn; on-mn t jnfn; ran mrn s ngb lhn tu?
Yesterday the antelope was caught in a pit-trap; today the antelope is caught in a pit-trap; is there no other animal in the forest besides the antelope?
(If the same person repeatedly finds himself or herself in difficulties others are able to avoid, one should look to the person's character for the explanation.

Ap kt-il k aws; kki yykiri l m.
The mouse cannot get a grip on the aws nut; all it can do is roll it around.
(Some people are beyond any schemes by their enemies.)

pr l, j n d.
Excessive ribbing unfailingly leads to a fight.
(Jokes should know limits.)

pr l ni in d; in l r omi gbe.
The fire is being most overbearing; there is nothing fire can do to water.
(This entry has the same application as the preceding one.)

pr l nikn d; ikn l mu kta.
The termite is being most overbearing; a termite cannot eat a rock.
(Certain people do not know their place; certain people are beyond the reach of their adversaries.)
Compare: b nikn d . . ., and also the following entry.

pnl ni y-a K; y kan s n k t k lrk.
Calling a person Mother of the Compound is only a mark of respect; there is no mother in the compound who does not have a name.
(People in a position of respect should not forget that respect can be withdrawn.)
See the following entry.

pnl ni Fman; nkan l e yn mrin.
Calling a person a foreman is only a mark of respect; nobody can be four men.
(People whose positions earn them respect should not forget themselves, or people would forget their positions.)
See the preceding entry. [36]

Ara ok n n gb fnrn fnrn; ta l s fun b k e ar ile?
The bush dweller says he heard a rumour; who told him, if it was not a town dweller?
(People should not presume to instruct those who know better than they.)

Ara-bal, olr rn.
Restlessness, father of all diseases.
(No disease is greater than hyper-action.)

-r--gbd-w, bal il u sp.
Something-seen-but-unmentionable, the man of the house shits in the sauce-pan.
(When an illustrious person does the unmentionable, no one dares speak.)
See the following entry also.

r--gbd-w, bal il ykun lm.
Something-seen-but-unmentionable, the man of the house walks around with mucus dripping from his nose.
(When a venerable person acts like a fool, few dare tell him so.)
See the preceding entry also.

rfn il j k j rm ad.
Fear of losing face within one's home dissuades one from eating day-old chicks.
(A person who would retain his esteem among his peers must not act beneath himself or herself.)

Arlk r bt; gbd-gbd r ojgun.
The bead maker cannot fashion a shoe; the mortar carver cannot manufacture a shinbone.
(People should stick to what they are qualified to do.)

k r kd gb kkr dn.
When a kite hovers, a chicken does not hang on to an insect.
(When a great danger threatens, one does not wait for small favors.)

A-e-brknn-m-ky-sby, gbogbo aby d.
He-who-lives-in-style-but-pays-no-attention-to-his-armpits, both armpits are taken over with foamy filth.
(Attention to detail is integral to good character or breeding.)

ej baba et; t n gbhn ej; gblagb t ww ej t ni y fi r.
Lack of moderation is the father of disgrace; disgrace comes of immoderation; a grown person who clothes himself in immoderation will find disgrace.
(Immoderation leads to disgrace.)
This is a more elaborate form of the earlier entry, which is the same as the last clause in this one.

-s-k lgblagb s rn.
Denying-until-death is the way a venerable person denies a matter.
(One must never admit to doing something unworthy of one's position.)

y mrw, n un kan run; wn aju r- e b r?
The newly emerged palm frond says it will touch the sky; did those that came before it do so?
(Ambition should be tempered with realism.)

y gm n un kan run; wn aj - e b r?
This is a variant of the previous entry, using a different name, gm, for palm frond.

Aiwr yn n s p ir un s; iru r- p ju gbgbje l.
Only an imbecile says there is no one else like himself; the likes of him are many more than several thousands.
(There is no one the likes of whom the world has never seen.)

A -f-fn j k m olw.
Clothes washed clean make identifying the rich person impossible.
(A poor person who looks to his or her appearance looks rich.)

A t kuni k n j ggw.
Whatever clothing one is left with is one's best.
(One makes the most of what one has.)

A-ra-m t br.
A person who is mindful of his/her image is not easily disgraced.
(People take one as one presents oneself.)

-t--k ni iy ll; slbt ni iy lt; b a b gbra lgbj ba ni wn fini e
Spreading-the-mat-without-rolling-it-back-up is the mark of the wealthy; sandals are the mark of the illustrious; if one sings one's praise too loudly one is liable to be made a king.
(People take one as one presents oneself.)

-wn-n-w yni; -gb-b- kt y m yn; b k fnni ls a drg; ohun ni n yni.
Borrowing-money-to-spend does not speak well of one; borrowed trousers do not become a person; if it is not tight around the legs it is difficult to remove; it is one's thing that fits one.
(One should not live beyond one's means.)

wr t a b l k luni.
A priest one does not hit does not hit one.
(A person who wants to be respected must respect others.)

A-wl-m-t, wn ara-a r l m.
One-who-enters-a-town-and-maintains-his/her-reputation does because he/she knows his/her place.
(Self-knowledge guarantees one's reputation.)

wrbe n n l yn; ta n j t n wrbe?
wrebe says it can make a path; who would wish to follow a path it makes?
(One should not offer one's services where one's abilities are inadequate.) [37]

y y nj kan, n k k un lhn knkn.
The Colobus monkey ate its fill one day, and asked that his front teeth be knocked out.
(Excessive happiness made the animal careless.)

Ayn ati er gun, wn n wn l m ad l la r, a rb.
Cockroach and ant make ready for war and say they are off to capture chicken; we see their departure, but not their return.
(Never forget your limitations.)

Ayn f gin; ad ni gb fn un.
The cockroach would ride a horse; it is the chicken that does not allow.
(A cockroach that stirs in the presence of a chicken is as good as dead.)
Compare: Ayn f j . . . , and gbr layn gb . . .

Ayn f j; ad ni j.
The cockroach would dance; it is the chicken that does not allow.
(This is a variant of the previous entry.)
Compare also: gbr layn gbe . . .

Ayn k yn s erin; yn k yn s ir.
A cockroach does not trip an elephant; a human being does not trip a chimpanzee.
(One should not take on adversaries one cannot match.)

Ay yj lkr fi ntan.
It is excessive rejoicing that breaks the frog's thigh.
(Immoderate happiness breeds unhappiness.)

y-y ni bt -j-f-ehn.
Dancing to bt music and exposing one's teeth is excessive happiness.
(Happiness should know moderation.)


1. Mrk is a place name and the site of a court.  [Back to text]


2. The name Mokir means I play at dying.  [Back to text]


3. In Yorb numeration d . . . indicates a certain amount (or figure) less than ...; dgn, for instance, is fifteen (five less than twenty), while dgbrin is seven hundred (one hundred less than eight hundred.).  [Back to text]


4. In Yoruba usage one would not use personal pronouns to refer to animals, even though Yoruba pronouns are not differentiated by gender.  [Back to text]


5. As the names suggest, the one is a virtual clone of the other; the aid the one offers will not make the other any better as a dancer.  [Back to text]


6. The proverb recalls the ork of gdgb, the 19th century j warrior, which says, l e b lhn, l ar iwj l (He is being pursued from behind, and yet he is in pursuit of people in front.)  [Back to text]


7. Corcchorus Olitorius (Jew's Mallow) (Tiliaceae). See Abraham, 533.  [Back to text]


8. Gbgb leaves are used for making charms that enable the user to transport himself instantly over long distances.  [Back to text]


9. Cordia Millenii (Boraginaceae), used for making bb drums.  [Back to text]


10. Other trees may feel superior to m in other regards, but they cannot beat it as drum material.  [Back to text]


11. The calabash beater is someone employed to clear evil spirits ahead of the funeral procession by means of the charm-laden calabash.)  [Back to text]


12. All three propositions are similar; they indicate conditions that are inappropriate: that a visitor take over the seat by the fireplace, that the priest or priestess be without shelter, or that delicate eggs be crushed together.  [Back to text]


13. Bb is a type of music named after the bass drum that it employs. The dancing to this type of music is close to stomping.  [Back to text]


14. Presumably kuru is less desirable a meal than kr; but the beggar cannot (or should not) presume to exercise a choice.  [Back to text]


15. White hair is associated with age, and the chicken's white feathers compare with white hair. The chicken, of course, is unaware of the implications of age among humans.  [Back to text]


16. The proverb was obviously suggested by the usual description of chickens as lm-yy, mother of a flock of chicks.  [Back to text]


17. The beetle in question plays dead whenever it is touched.  [Back to text]


18. Some substance from the brimstone tree, rw, whose sap is used in weaning children from breast-feeding, because of its bitterness. (See Abraham, p. 489.)  [Back to text]


19. The fruit of the vine, Tetracarpidium Conophorum. The English name by which people refer to it is walnut.  [Back to text]


20. The type of music is reserved for affluent people.  [Back to text]


21. The dry skin will be chaffed.  [Back to text]


22. This is identical in intent with, gblagb k y ay- klbywa?  [Back to text]


23. Babies are carried on their mothers' backs. When they fall asleep their heads may loll crookedly. Since the mothers cannot see behind them, responsible people are required to call their attention to the babies' crooked postures.  [Back to text]


24. The phrase, n s nl, literally to have feet on the ground, means to have substance or influence.  [Back to text]


25. The prescription of stale pounded yams is a humorous twist, since even that is not the type of food that self-respecting people would choose to eat, although it is certainly better than rat intestines.  [Back to text]


26. Traditionally the Yoruba eat with their fingers, and washing one's hand after eating is a sign that one is done.  [Back to text]


27. This is identical in intent with, gb k er-e klbywa?  [Back to text]


28. The kite is notorious for swooping down to grab chicks with its talons. The snail's hard shell makes it invulnerable to the bird.  [Back to text]


29. It is sometimes necessary for a person to share a sleeping mat with a superior. If one was in awe of the superior one would not forget oneself even in sleep.  [Back to text]


30. The proverb has added force because dogs are considered unclean by muslims, and they are not allowed near mosques. See, Ta n jj n ml[Back to text]


31. For some reason the Yoruba consider the partridge an unfortunate and lowly bird.  [Back to text]


32. The woodpecker's habit has some slight resemblance to the carving of mortars, the eggs of frogs have some slight resemblance to strung beads, and the action of awrebe resembles weaving, but in each case the product is not quite what humans have in mind.  [Back to text]


33. The owner of the machete in this case is the person on whose farm the mutual-help workers are engaged on this occasion. In the traditional mutual-help arrangement, the owner of the farm being worked on is the person in authority.  [Back to text]


34. Dndn is a minor drum in the traditional talking drum ensemble.  [Back to text]


35. mtkn is a type of leopard that the Yoruba consider inferior to the real leopard.  [Back to text]


37. The reference is apparently to an insect that makes paths in the sand.  [Back to text]