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


Babaalwo k br b n.
The diviner does not ask for yesterday's sacrifice.
(One should not demean oneself by demanding piddling favors.) [38]

Bblb t db; ib l b.
The busybody is not there yet; but he is on his way.
(There is no keeping a nosy person off others' affairs.)

B a b dgb y ogun-n j.
When one becomes old, one stops warring.
(An elder should leave off things that are a mark of youth.)

B a b fi in wn; iw l j.
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.)

B a b b md jun lko, gnmganmu im ni n w.
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.)

B a b gnyn, kms y.
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.)

B a b ti l e l w; a k yan na ni ld.
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.)

B a b ti m l d; a-l-lin k d wnwn.
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.

B a b ti m l k; olongo k k tyntyn.
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.

B a b t sl, onp a m ip.
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.)

B a b w p dw- babalwo, babalwo a l dw If; b a b n dw gb gn, gb gn a l dw sanyn; b a b n dw f t gbj, a n dw lrun g go.
If one says that a matter now lies in the hands of the If priest the If priest says it lies in the hands of If; 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.)

B a k b d l a, a k pe kan lks.
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.)

B a k b l d Tp, Tp k dni.
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.)

B a k b l sko ir, a k pa mni.
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.)

B a k b k, a k fi t k.
If one has not been false, one does not die in disgrace.
(One's honesty is one's vindication.)

B a k b t jk, a k nas.
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.)

B a k b t l kl, g l pa.
If one is yet unable to build a house, one makes a tent.
(One should neither overreach oneself, nor refrain from striving.)

B a k b t baba m e, a k pe alkr.
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.)

B a k b t y- k t k , jkn y l j.
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.)

B a ti t k j k hw bbur; b a ti m k j k hw 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.)

B gb k b e ohun r, md k s.
If an elder does not do something fearful, the youth do not flee.
(Youth responds to age according to how age acts.)

B jnk b r ohun gbm, k e in gbndu sd.
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.)

B aj rj kn, a pa rr.
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.)

B ay b moj k, alrnn a ys.
When the wife has got to know the husband, the marriage broker makes way.
(Once one's task is done, one removes oneself.)

B ay b yni, w bj l h.
If life is being good to one, one is liable to act disgracefully.
(Prosperity breeds temptations to misbehave.)

B bal- b tkt, rgi l b ms.
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.)

B yn b n k s ir un, wn lgbn a ma wye.
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.)

B eegbn b so m aj lnu, akt l n k j 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.

B eegbn b o aynrn nm, ad k ni y 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 Eegbn so m ynrn lnu . . .

B kn b f, se l p .
If a leopard does not act mighty, one refers to it as a cat.
(A person who acts beneath his station loses some respect.)

B lb b pe ni, efn yni.
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.)

B lr b f t, a n k lba e?
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.)

B in b dun b, a d r s.
If the fire gets at the stew, the stew will burst into speech.
(If the excitement is strong enough, coyness disappears.)

B k s kp, k lewr w d s ad?
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).

B k s tbn yn, ta ni b j lwr t k bj ?
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.)

B mo b tor oko k ng r fhr; b mo b tor gd k ng r fd; b mo b tor albj kk k, ng r fr- 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.) [39]

B di dn mta t kn-n ti e jj, olugbe la ha rn l b w?
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.)

B f ti f la ti m lk y.
It is by its flight that the parrot proves itself a formidable bird.
(One shows one's quality through one's accomplishments.)

B k f, b k f, k bi m olk lr.
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.)

B oj b r, nu a dk.
When the eyes see, the mouth remains quiet.
(The mouth does not reveal everything the eyes see.)

B oj k b r, nu k s nkan.
If the eye does not see, the mouth says nothing.
(The mouth can tell only what the eye sees.)

B oj k b ti ol, a ti ar il .
If the thief feels no shame, members of his household should.
(A person's disgrace must concern his relatives.)

B oj onl b m tntn, t oj lej t gbgb, onl n e k lej.
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.)

B olde k, dee r k hu gbgi.
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.)

B olnj b roj fi j t .
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.)

B dn b dn, bnnnbnnn a pw d.
When the year is done, the bnnbnnn tree changes its color.
(When the seasons change, one changes one's habits.)

B j b t tn, a ku olr-i ptpt, a ku gbgb s-k s-k lj; bf b pd tn, w-w a dde.
When the market disperses, only the head of the market women remains; only the venerable elders remain; when If has had his say, the genius that consults him arises.
(When a matter is done, those involved should disperse.)

B j ewr b p, a n k s ohun t alpat l fi un e.
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.)

B l l j, a l k t.
If a lazy man cannot fight, he should be able to die disgracefully.
(A person who cannot defend his rights should yield to death.)

B lrun e ni n baba, fi ynj e b gb.
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.)

B md b f e gb, j or-i r n j.
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.)

B md b gun k gb, lti gbn.
If a child ascends the height of maturity, he/she must become wise.
(Wisdom goes with age.)

B md b e md, gb a ma e gb.
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.)

B md lr bb, t k n baba, ti baba l e.
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.)

B ya k lrun, b ng j ly, k n bur fn baba k n dw m un lrun.
Even if the goddess ya sings in heaven and the god ango 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.) [40]


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]