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


b lw iy dbu.
Salt loses its good quality and becomes like saltpeter.
(A person who has been written off loses all regard.) [71]
See the next entry.

b lw o drn-mj.
The moon loses its esteem and shines all night long.
(A person who overstays his/her welcome ceases to be valued.)
See the previous entry.

O dj dnu, o m sn msn-n.
Your eyes flinch not and your mouth is unstoppable, but you do not know nine times nine.
(Too much mouth often indicates too little substance.)

di wj kt k ldugb t m ara r Lb.
Not until the gathering of trousers will Ldugbo know itself as a miscreant.
(Some people will not learn the truth about themselves until they are openly disgraced.)

di j al kbuk t m p ik k m.
It will not be until the end of days before the humpback realizes that a hump is not a child.
(People seldom learn wisdom until it is too late.)

O k m w lj -j-sn.
You do not know what black eyed peas are like for dinner.
(Addressed to a person who is not mindful of the repercussions of his/her behavior.) [72]

jgbnrn n lb, o n o ti t tn.
You are reduced to eating last year's antelope in your stew, and yet you claim to have attained the height of good fortune.
(A hard-up person who claims to be prosperous deceives him/herself.)

O ru ldugb rer; k ni k s fni t ru r-a Yemja?
Because you are carrying a huge pot you strut; what would one say to the person carrying the divinity Yemoja?
(Never assume to be more important than you are, especially when there are really more important people around.)

t k egn lni lko gbdo, wo ni ti Pkk lrin l?
It might be seemly for a masquerader to chase one off a corn farm, but it is not seemly for Pkk to chase one in the middle of town.
(A person who is in no position to exercise authority over another should not presume to do so.) [73]

y ni gbogbo k s p iu jin, k y alubt.
Everybody has a right to say the yams are not well cooked, but not the bt drummer.
(People should not be too quick to complain about conditions they helped to engineer.)74
Compare the preceding entry.

y ni gbogbo k dnw ar, k y atl.
It is fitting for everybody to bargain to reduce the cost of dyeing clothes, but not the bed wetter.
(The person in desperate need of a thing cannot afford to be finicky.)

y ni gbogbo k s p lrun a-kan-m-k, k y akk.
Everyone can justifiably say, God, who has left nothing undone, but not a eunuch.
(People should not act as though they are unaware of their flaws.)

Od kker lalkn-n ti l f epo; b b di gdgb tn, od a gb alkn l.
It is only in a small stream that the crab can make its oil; when it becomes huge and swift the river sweeps the crab away.
(When times are easy there is little one cannot attempt.)

fin ni y s ara ; yw t na m yl.
The law will assert itself, as in the case of a junior wife flogging the child of the senior wife.
(Whoever transgresses should expect more or less automatic repercussions.

Ogun t oljmj r s ni oljkan-n n n l j.
The war that the two-eyed person saw and fled is the same the one-eyed person vows he will join.
(A comment on overreaching people who attempt feats that have defeated their betters.)

Ohun mj l y : j, l ogun; j k sgun.
Only two things are proper for a warrior: the warrior goes to war and drives the enemy off; the warrior goes to war and dies in battle.
(One should not act in a way that is not proper or becoming.)

Ohun t t l j; k e r on-krosn.
What one sells is what one eats; that does not apply to the kerosene seller.
(One should be mindful of the peculiarities of one's situation.)

Ohun t er b l gb n p n gnnk.
Whatever the ant is able to carry is what it says is its full measure.
(One should match one's desires to what one can afford.)

Ohun t r- e t fi kn lp, altt n k wn j k un e .
That which the cricket attempted and broke a thigh, the altt asks to be permitted to attempt.
(Some fools never learn from others' mistakes.) [75]

Ohun t k t ok k j gb ny.
A thing that is not worth the least amount of money should not prove a hardship for an elder.
(One should not be defeated by insignificant problems.)

Ohun t wr fi se ara , p ju ohun t fi m lmrn l.
What the imbecile does to himself is far worse than what he does to others.
(Said what a person intending to injure others in fact does himself or herself greater injury.)

Ohun t e faga l faga s; wo ni,wy n mo ti na na mi fga-fga?
One boasts only about things proper to boast about; whoever heard of the boast, By this time yesterday I had given my parent-in-law the beating of his life.?

Ohun t yni l yni; okn rn y ad.
Whatever is becoming for a person is what is becoming; a noose is not becoming for a chicken.
(One should always confine one's actions to those that are proper and becoming.) [76]

Oj lej la ti j gbs; hn-in l san n.
It is in a visitor's presence that one gets into debt; it is in her absence that one repays the debt.
(One does not estimate how much hospitality is costing one until the visitor has departed.)

Oj baba ara; awn b oj; ar d b gb.
The eye, father of the body; nothing is as valuable as the eye; nothing is as difficult to achieve as the status of elder.
(The status of elder is most precious, and most difficult to achieve.)

Oj in k lewr hurun.
It is not in the presence of the flame that water-yam grows hair.
(One dares not strut when one's bane is around.)
Compare Oju wd k lad . . .

Oj k pn dun k dni il; k ign k di ojgb ad.
The colobus monkey is never so reduced in circumstances that it becomes a land-hugging creature; the vulture is never so badly off that it becomes the equal of a chicken.
(No matter one's misfortune one should maintain one's dignity.)

Oj k pn bal il k fw gbl il .
A head of a household is never so hard up that he sweeps his compound with his bare hands.
(However desperate one might be, there are certain things one must not stoop to do.)

Oj k pn babalwo k br b n.
An If diviner-priest is never so hard up that he asks for yesterday's sacrifice.
(One should not permit one's hardship to lead one to demeaning behavior.)

Oj k pn k run k n k ar ay gba un.
A dead person cannot be so desperate as to appeal to a living person for deliverance.
(However bad one's circumstances might be, one should use good sense in determining where one can turn for help.)

Oj k pnni k fbr ni aya.
One should not become so desperate that one takes one's younger sister as wife.
(Desperation should not preempt propriety.)

Oj k pnni k fks bora.
One should never be so benighted that one covers oneself in rags.
(Despite adverse circumstances, one should strive to maintain one's dignity.)

Oj k pnni k pn lhn.
One's circumstances do not so deteriorate that one becomes red in teeth.
(Adverse circumstances should not keep one from attending to essential matters.)

Oj rl r; bm s n lnynu.
A person only newly acquainted with wealth; he has a son and names him laniynu.
(The nouveau riche will always call attention to themselves with their ostentatious consumption.)77

Oj ti ongn, n na un k l.
The medicine man lacks all shame, he announces that his parent-in-law is dying.
(If one cannot do what is expected of one, one should at least not broadcast one's shame.)

Oj ti agb agbn lf k lro.
Shame upon the wasp; the wasp has a nest but no honey.
(There is a limit to how much one can emulate others). [78]

kt pl m - di gbgba sn ih; ngba t y fehn pkr, m n fehn pa pl.
The giant bush rat and its child become equals in their hole; the mother cracks palm-nuts with its teeth, and the child does the same thing.
(Too much familiarity makes comrades of people who are quite distant from each other in standing.)

knkn mni w; df fn w t nyn?
Darkness does not know who deserves deference; it consulted the oracle If for Who might you be?
(People who wander about in darkness cannot expect to be treated with deference.)
See note at Ojl l b w . . . This is a variant of ru molw . . .

Olbnrin kan k pagbo ja.
A person who has only one wife does not form a circle for a fight.
(A person who does not have enough helping hands should not embark on ventures that are too ambitious.)

Oljkan k tkt r.
A one-eyed person does not attempt standing somersaults.
(One should limit one's ambition to one's capability.)

Olmele k s p igi y d lde lla.
The omele drummer does not vow that there will be an earth-shaking performance on the morrow.
(If one has no say, one should avoid making projections or promises.) [79]

Olw jun jj; t jun tp-tjn; t t b lr rn, ak oj l y.
The rich man eats slowly and at leisure; the poor person eats fast and with anxiety; the poor man who keeps company with a wealthy man is exceeding his station.
(One should keep to comrades whose station is similar to one's.)

Olw n b lr- rn; gb n b gb er.
It is a rich person that keeps company with a wealthy person; only people of equal standing play together.
(One should associate with one's equals.)

Olw n j iyn gb.
It is a rich person that eats pounded yams worth two thousand cowries.
(One's level of consumption is a reflection of the depth of one's pocket.)

Oly kker k e fr nwj ba.
A minor chief should not act garrulously in the presence of a king.
(One should know one's station and act accordingly.)

n, t jnfn, la, t jnfn; tu nkan lran t w ngb?
Today, the antelope falls into the ditch; tomorrow, the antelope falls into the ditch; is the antelope the only animal in the forest?
(If a person is the only one misfortune always visits, there is probably something the person is doing to invite it.)
See nmn, t jnfn . . .

Onbj mra; onbj l sko ol m obnrin l; k k aku, yw k ewr.
The shameless person does not know what is fitting; the shameless person is off to raid a farm, and he takes his wife along; the husband steals staple yams, the wife steals wateryams.
(A man who involves his family in his questionable ventures has sunk to the lowest depths.)

Onbt k w ml k n Lmm k?
The bt drummer does not enter a mosque and ask Where is the Imam?
(One should know just where one is welcome, and how to behave therein.) [80]

Onfunra lej t tt e onl pl.
The excessively attentive visitor who extends hospitality greetings to the host.
(One should not assume other people's functions.)

Ongg flk dp; onlk b gbowo, ko rrn flk so.
The person with goitre offers a ridiculously low price for beads; were the beads seller to accept her offer she would have no neck to string the beads around.
(One can always find a ruse to get one out of embarrassing situations.)

Onl j so gbngbind; alj- n k wn e un lw kan w.
The host is eating the fruits of the gbngbindo tree; the visitor asks to be treated to some black-eyed peas.
(When one's benefactor is experiencing hardship, one should be realistic in one's requests of him.)

Onng t j t k gbn yr: bk-u ng k; bk ara ni.
The ng worshipper who dances and does not shake his skirt: he does not disgrace ng but himself.
(A person who does not live up to his potential disgraces only himself.) [81]
See the following entry.

Onng t j t k tp, bk ara .
The ng worshipper who dances and does nor kick his legs disgraces himself.
(A person who skimps on what is expected of him disgraces himself.)
See the preceding proverb and the note.

On-p-ig bm s n Ay--knl; ay wo l w lra p igi?
The seller of twigs for firewood has a child and names him Ayknle[Joy fills this home]; what sort of joy is to be found in firewood twigs?
(One should not make too much of nothing.)

Op n fa l; jp k fa l.
It is the person who does the summoning that assumes airs; the person subject to summons does not assume airs.
(One should know one's place, especially in the company of more illustrious people.)

Or gb- ny, sn ju or gb- f l.
The-elderly-person's-head-deserves-respect is better than The-elderly-person's-head-is-damaged.
(An elder who enjoys respect is better off than one who is insulted by others.) [82]
Compare j gb- k sn ju j gb- t.

Or aw l bgb.
It is on the hide that one finds the elder.
(One should always live up to what others expect of one.) [83]

Or-i k n y pn t sf? Ntor p y gn-n-yn fnra y nkan j?
What is the cause of the bachelor's elation that makes him whistle? That he will make pounded yams for himself and eat it by himself?
(A bachelor with no one to share his life and his meals has nothing to be cheerful about.

Orogn y - d fn o n k bal; ml ny - d fn t fi k?
Your mother's co-wife made a garment for you and you complain that it is not long enough; how many did your mother make for you before she died?
(People dependent on charity should rather be grateful than difficult to please.) [84]

ru molw nIf t d fn w ta nyn?
The dark of night knows not who is a wealthy person is the oracle one delivers to Who might that be?
(Night-time wanderers should be prepared for indignities.)
This is a variant of knkn mni w . . .

Orn, k t w k m b lj w.
Sun, go set so one does not blame the owner of the day.
(Subordinates should not behave in a manner that would bring their superior to disrepute.) [85]

tl- j, tl- mu, tl- fs w s erin.
The water-buck ate, the water-buck drank, the water-buck compared its limbs to an elephant's.
(Satiation leads to excess.)

Onj m kker a ma w gb nn; rka m kker ni k w gb lw.
A youth's food can enter the stomach of an elder; it is only a youth's ring that cannot slip unto an elder's finger.
(An elder may take advantage of the youth in certain respects, but in some others an elder must respect his status.)

Ow y s ni- san; trn ni snwn.
People have no difficulty paying the money for glorious events; it is the money for trouble that is unpleasant to pay.
(The trouble one goes into for honorable purposes are really a pleasure, not so the trouble to extricate oneself from problems.)


71. When the Yoruba have written someone off are irremediably worthless they say, b lw (It has all slipped from his/her hands.)  [Back to text]


72. Black eyed peas eaten for dinner cause heart burn and great thirst.  [Back to text]


73. Pkk is a very minor egn (masquerader) as distinct from the major ones that strike terror into people.  [Back to text]


75. Altt is a type of cricket.  [Back to text]


76. A tag to the proverb goes: B b y , tni t f k? (Even if it does, what about the person pulling it?)  [Back to text]


78. The use of af and ro for hive (nest) and honey is non-standard Yoruba.  [Back to text]


79. The omele is the smallest drum in the dndn ensemble, and it is usually played by an apprentice drummer.  [Back to text]


80. The bt drum and ensemble are associated with traditional deities and their worship, and therefore out of bounds in a mosque.  [Back to text]


81. ng worshippers wear skirts, and good ng dancing requires skirt shaking.  [Back to text]


82. Or f! (Your head is split) is an insult.  [Back to text]


83. Elders often sit on cowhides when they relax or adjudicate disputes.  [Back to text]


84. The proverb assumes that co-wives would not ordinarily extend generosity towards the children of other co-wives.  [Back to text]


85. lj (Owner of the day) is another designation for God.  [Back to text]