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


f wl l y lin.
Lead it into the stable is what becomes a horseman.
(To be able to afford a horse but not a groom is something of a disgrace.)

j k m, j k simi; yn n fd yn jk; yn b e b lrun k n j k m.
Let us breathe, leave us in peace; the fashion is for people to sit on their behinds; were humans in the position of God they would not permit people to breathe.
(People are wont to be too full of their authority; it is a good thing they have less power over others than God does.)

k-ul y ar il; k atb yni t tj b; ni t k ni, K atb- pdn k-ul.
Greetings to you, house-bound ones is improper for the house-bound to utter; Welcome home is not proper for the person arriving from a trip; whoever fails to give welcome to the person returning does himself or herself out of greetings, house-bound.
(Whoever does not extend courtesies cannot expect to receive courtesies.) Compare ni t k kni K b . . .

bt nu ts.
The mouth-trap never misses.
(The mouth easily accomplishes even impossible feats.)

gb ni l gnyn ewr d.
It is for one's peers that one makes pounded yam with ewr yams.
(One may take liberties only with one's peers.)

gbr m p arw k gb k; gbogbo ehn kin-kn-kin lb a.
The novice does not know that a good-looking person does not wear a masquerade; all his perfectly white teeth are concealed beneath the cloth.
(It is a foolish person who conceals his or her endowments.)

gbn wj so a k; br- khn ww; b a ml, l m araa r?
The elder walks in front, a loincloth draped over his shoulder; the younger walks behind, wearing a garment; if people cannot tell which one is shiftless, does he not know himself?
(The shiftless person cannot hide his shiftlessness either from himself or from others.)

ld l d, o n dgbta ni b dgbf?; wo lo gb nb?
A person says he has lost an unspecified amount of money, and you ask if the amount is five hundred cowries or eleven hundred cowries; which amount did you steal?
(A person who is too inquisitive about other people's affairs raises suspicions about his or her motives.)

ld pf, r p n oge.
The pig wallows in mud, but thinks it is being a dandy.
(People who lack good judgement are never aware of their own misbehavior.)

ld my.
A pig does not know what is becoming.
(Some people do not know fitting behavior.)

lf k l fa r k s p o di jf t a ti jun.
When a person proclaims the loss of six articles, one does not respond by saying one has not eaten in six days.
(If one can offer no help to a person in trouble, one should not complicate the person's plight.)

ni b fi sko k dpar, n un ni il.
The person one would leave on the farm hoping he would become a partridge boasts that he is the indispensable presence of the household.
(An unwanted person believes himself to be indispensable.) [48]
See the following three entries also.

ni b t k fow-o r ra d: n y d j un.
A person who should be sold for money to purchase a machete bemoans his lack of a machete.
(A person who is only most grudgingly tolerated in a company complains about his lack of privileges.)
This is a variant of the preceeding and the following two entries.

ni b t k fow-o r ra tp: n un -j-tann-w-lru.
A person who should be sold for money to purchase a lamp boasts that he is one-people-light-lamps-to-admire-at-night.
(A person most unwanted in a company regards himself/herself as the soul of the party.)
This is a variant of the preceeding two and the following entries.

ni b t k fow-o r ra b: n l n k dnrn.
A person one would sell for money to purchase quartered yams for planting: he claims that he has enough earnings to buy three hundred yam pieces.
(A person considered worthless and expendable makes claims to equal rights.)
This is a variant of the preceeding three entries.

ni gb gg ni y ba ara-a r j.
It is the person who is revered that will disgrace himself or herself.
(People who are placed on pedestals have ample opportunities to topple themselves.)

n b d oj-u r sl rm-u r.
Whoever gazes downwards with will see his or her nose.
(Whoever comports himself or herself indecorously will be disgraced.)

n dd ti kr lmd.
The person who wears a crown has outgrown childhood.
(A high office carries high responsibilities with it.)

ni t a b d fn k ka w.
The person who is clothed by others does not list what he will not wear.
(Those who depend on the charity of others must be satisfied with whatever they can get.)
Compare br r d fn . . .

ni t a f yt s ni t n k s ir un.
A person one loves is different from a person who says there is no one like him/herself.
(One's worth is more a matter of what other people think of one than what one thinks of oneself.)

ni t a gb gun ld, wn ni k y m; ni t gin, il l b.
The person whom people have seated on a pig should moderate his or her strutting; even a horse rider will eventually come down to earth.
(One should not let one's good fortune go to one's head; circumstances do change.)

ni t a l gb k daw.
A person who can be lifted does not hang limp.
(There is no point in resisting the irresistible.)

ni t w lw-sunkn wo ara-a r lw-rrnn.
A person whose appearance moves one to tears is moved to laughter by his own appearance.
(The miserable person has no notion of his own miserableness.) [49]

ni t a f, l kn n.
A person whose company is not desired gets no turn at riddling.
(A person not wanted in a group should not press his or her rights.)
Compare the following entry.

ni t a f nl k j lj agbo.
A person not welcome in the town does not take a turn in the dancing circle.
(A person not wanted in a group should keep a low profile.)
Compare the preceding.

ni t b hw ip hw ip; ni t b hw l hu l; kn t ngba w, t ngba s hw pl.
The person one would expect to be reckless is not reckless; the person one would expect to be cautious is not cautious; the millipede with two hundred arms and two hundred legs behaves very gently.
(Even though one has a great deal of weight, one should still tread lightly.)

ni t k l gb er, t ks s erin, tt n t.
A person who lacks the strength to lift an ant but rushes forward to lift an elephant ends in disgrace.
(One should know one's capabilities and limit oneself to what one can accomplish.)

ni t k r ay r n s p k sni t gbn b un.
It is a person with limited experience of life who thinks there is none as wise as he.
(No wise person claims he or she is the best there is.)

ni t tan ara-a r lr k tn: p t lya nl, t n k r bn un lm.
It is the person who deceives himself that the gods above deceive: a bachelor who has no wife at home but implores the gods to grant him children.
(It is self-deceit to expect the gods to do everything for one, when one has not lifted a finger on one's behalf.)

ni t k t glt k m fn-n.
A person who is not huge in stature does not breathe heavily.
(One should match one's strutting to one's accomplishment.)

ni t tij t fn ara-a r.
The person who is self-aware protects his or her own reputation thereby.
(Good character benefits the owner more than others.)

nkan k j w d.
Nobody is entitled to say, Here we come.
(However mighty, a person is still only one person.)

ran k la j r? pl bni lbt ba brbr.
What sort of meat is it, the likes of which one has never tasted? A toad comes upon one at the swamp and cowers in fright.
(A person for whom one has no use wastes his or her time if he or she goes to great lengths to hide from one.)

rk e b k.
The haft of the hoe is behaving like a hoe.
(A certain person is putting on airs to which he or she is not entitled.)

k gba f lhn; iwj gangan n fi- gba gb.
A palace guard does not receive arrows on his back; he suffers wounds only on his front.
(One must act in a manner that befits one's station.)

wn t t p t- d erin dr; tkn t n k erin m rk dn, tun terin n l.
A chain as thick as a palm-tree cannot stop an elephant; the vine that proposes to stop the elephant from going to the grassland will go with the elephant.
(Whoever attempts to stop an irresistible force will be swept along by it.)

y l b mi, kn l w m dgb, olgnn gb m t; b k sran lb nk j.
I was born of a monkey; I was raised by a leopard, I was adopted by a cat; if there is no meat in the stew I will not eat it.
(I will not act in a way inconsistent with my upbringing.)

y akko- n n le gb od; ta n j fi od akko gnyn j?
The woodpecker boasts that it can carve a mortar; who ever used a mortar carved by the woodpecker to make pounded yam?
(The puny person's best efforts cannot amount to much.)

y l r omi in gbn b mu.
A bird cannot get at the liquid inside a coconut to drink.
(One should not attempt the impossible.)

y t fi ara w ign, hn dr n sn.
Whatever bird emulates the vulture will find itself behind the cooking hearth.
(People who have everything to lose should not emulate those who have nothing to lose.)


48. The Yoruba word for the partridge, par, can be rendered, etymologically, as -pa-r (something one kills and boasts about killing), because the bird is a desirable stew meat.  [Back to text]


49. The proverb is usually a comment directed at a particular person, rather than a general proposition or observation.  [Back to text]