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Part 2: On perspicaciousness (good judgment, perceptiveness), reasonableness, sagacity, savoir-faire, wisdom, and worldly wisdom


di kan-nu-rin kan-nu-rin, agogo gntl.
All one hears is noise without pattern, like that of Oguntolu's bell.
(The statements being made are senseless.) [87]

O f joy o n o- n- j.
You aspire to taking a chieftaincy title and you say you will not get into a fight.
(It is self-deceit to wish for something without being prepared for the struggle it demands.)

O fi aw kn b k; kn b m k w b raw ogn?
You use a leopard's skin as an ingredient for medicine to hold off death; had the leopard not died would you have had access to its hide for the medicine?
(One should not chase impossible dreams.)

O j nfn Ifn t, o j ljgb jgb fya b a, o w d l rngn knd; gbogbo l r ni wn n k o ma bj kiri?
You danced at Ifon town and Ifon became desolate, you danced at jgb and jgb was split asunder like a rag, now you came to l rngn and you commenced to wiggle your buttocks; were you given a mission to ruin all towns associated with gods?
(A person who has the reputation for causing disasters should not be given freedom of action anywhere.) [88]

O k b n mwo, o b rk mul; abr - b smi o n o y .
You made no secret pact with minnows, and you entered into no covenant with the rk tree; yet when your needle dropped into the stream you proposed to retrieve it.
(Unless one has superhuman powers one should not attempt the impossible.)
The following two entries are variants.

O k b kun mwo, o b s mul; abr - b sd o n o y .
You made no secret pact with the lagoon and you entered into no covenant with the ocean; yet when your needle dropped into the stream you proposed to retrieve it.
(Unless one has extraordinary means one should not attempt the impossible.)
This and following entry are variants of the foregoing.

O k b ya mwo, o b gn mul; abr - b sd o n o y .
You made no secret pact with ya, and you made no covenant with gn, yet your neddle dropped into the river and you proposed to find it.
(One should not embark on missions for which one has not made adequate preparations.) [89]
Compare the preceding two entries.

O k lu mrn lru, l lsn-n.
You did not hit the giant at night time, but you hit him in daylight.
(One should court trouble only if and when one has some cover.)

O k w bt nn gn sr; o lgbra ml?
You have no shoes on on the thorny path and yet you are running; do you have a cow's hoof power?
(Unless one is well fortified one should not court danger.)

O k- m r, o n d ni t fn.
You have not captured a slave, but you are already saying you will sell him/her only to an d person.
(One should not use a commodity before one has it.) [90]

O l-o f jba o n o- n gbni, o- n p ly.
You propose to become a king but you refuse to join the gbni society; you will not last long on the throne.
(Whoever wishes to prosper must observe the conditions for prosperity.)

b ongn, o b asnwn; b ongn-n e t asnwn gb k?
You are pleading with the medicine man but not with the demented person; what if the medicine man produces the medicine and the demented person refuses it?
(When two steps are required to accomplish a purpose, one should not take one and slight the other.)

b, b! la fi dr ba md; b b d tn r a tn.
It's coming! It's coming! is what one says to frighten a child; after it has arrived it loses all its terror.
(Looming problems often cause consternation out of all proportion to their real damaging force.)
Compare b! l y baba; b bab b d, rn tn.

O n k ar run e oore fn ; bni o r ni t egn l, t f lb l.
You pray to the being from heaven to grant you a boon; yet you can see the person being chased by the masquerader and whose stew the masquerader has consumed.
(One should not expect to receive better treatment from a person who is known to be vicious to others.) [91]

ti il b k ra gb; d oko tn n gb ni onk k.
Leaving the home he did not purchase dried meat; after arriving on the farm he says dried meat is the indispensable thing to eat corn loaf with.
(One should make provisions against one's future needs.)

O r et adt o fi san ok; k npn t ni, tb k r dd t?
You see a leper's ears and you value it at twenty cowries; does it lack sufficient thickness or is it not red enough?
(Said of someone who applies the wrong value to things.)

O r s- wr o b ogn; nbo lo ti ma r tlgbn?
You see the footprint of an imbecile and you do not take soil from it to make a charm; where will you find the footprint of a wise person?
(One should take advantage of the weak and vulnerable, because one will not be able to take advantage of the strong.) [92]

O roj lr o jre, dal o n kba dr gb tnu ; ohun t o w lr n k lo ma w ll?
You state your case in the morning and you are not vindicated, and at nightfall you plead with the king to delay a bit and listen to what you have to say; isn't what you have to say in the evening the same thing you said in the morning?
(Repeated stating will not make a bad case a good one.)

O s fn ik, o b s k id.
You run from death and seek refuge in a scabbard.
(Said of a person who has got himself/herself in a worse predicament from the one he/she was fleeing from.)

e m r; gb ad- r wd s.
I have experienced it before; a grown chicken flees at the sight of a kite.
(One learns to run from danger once one has recognized it for what it is.)

ti oj orun w f n; n j k ma ji n mmu-mmu.
He woke up from sleep and spoke in scrambled language; he said, Let us wake it in moos.
(An ignorant person will always make stupid suggestions.)
See md j toj orun w . . .

O w ly, mo w ly, bi m b rn e r.
You are on earth alive and I am on earth, and yet you ask me what heaven is like.
(Said of a person seeking information from someone in no better position to know than the seeker.)

y k egn m ni t m gb so.
It is proper that the masquerader know who tethered the ram.
(One should acknowledge those who have done one some favor.) [93]

Obnrin gb ibi t ma r lrn.
A woman never remains where her well being rests.
(Women seldom know until it is too late which home would best suit them.)

b e lej.
The vagina is not a thing for showing hospitality.
(Good things are not good for all purposes.)

Oddr dawo, k d - dgbr.
The parrot becomes fully initiated into the secrets, his tail feather becomes a non-initiate.
(The person being propped up achieves great glory, but his backer loses his standing.) [94]

Od iyn j gn l; od l j gnyn; t t-a fi pt lk, a j fi pt rnl.
The mortar used for pounding yams will not do for pounding indigo leaves; the mortar for pounding indigo leaves will not do for yams; the tray on which beads are displayed for sale will not do for displaying dried okro.
(Each object has its proper uses.)

d k e m olko.
The d vegetable is not something the farmer does not know.
(An indication that a matter under discussion is not such a secret after all.)

Ogn k p k pn fn aldgb.
The inheritance is never so abundant that one shares it with neighbors.
(However abundantly one is blessed one should manage one's resources wisely.)

Ogn mbk? we aiwr.
Twenty or a score? An imbecile's puzzle.
(Trust an imbecile to pose stupid questions.)

Ohn gb: b k ta gn, a ta b.
An elder's voice: if it does not yield yams ready for pounding (for food), it will yield yam seedlings ready for planting.
(There is some value in whatever comes out of an elder's mouth.)

Ohun t a b pd j ohun t a r tl.
That which one comes upon is nothing to compare to what one has always had.
(No new friend or find can be as valuable as that one has had for some time.)

Ohun t a ni la fi k m ni.
It is what one has that one uses to spoil one's child.
(One should not go beyond one's means simply to make a good impression on others.)

Ohun t a r r lw oj.
It is something one has never seen before that is taboo for the eyes.
(Whatever one has encountered before cannot be too much for one to accommodate.)

Ohun t a e nl na ni, Oj t m kr nb.
What one does in the home of one's parents-in-law leaves no room for I am bashful.
(One must not be reticent in doing whatever one must do.) [95]

Ohun t k j k p mj ni j k d.
The same thing that keeps one from having more than one item of clothing also keeps that one from blackening from dirt.
(Misfortune teaches one fortitude; scarcity teaches one to be thrifty.)
Compare Ohun t fni lj . . .

Ohun t k j k oko p ni j k m.
Whatever limits the size of a farm is the same thing that makes it overgrown with weeds.
(A basic defect will manifest itself in sundry ways.)
The sentiment here is the opposite of that of the preceding proverb.

Ohun t fni lj l jwe n fnni.
Whatever deprives one of one's sight is the same thing that shows one the way.
(Misfortune teaches those its afflicts how to cope with it.)
Compare Ohun t k j k p mj . . .

Ohun t j oun la fi w ohun; po p l j t lr.
It is what resembles a thing that one compares it with; peanut shells are most like the nest of the rodent lr.
(One should observe propriety in dealing with people respectable people.)

Ohun t n un bni lr, b b ni n fl, k dp.
If a thing that vows to decapitate one only knocks off one's hat, one shounld be thankful.
(If the misfortune that befalls one turns out to be far milder than one expected, one should give thanks.)
Compare the following entry.

Ohun t n un eni lr, t w eni nwf, k gb .
If whatever promised to make one a slave only makes one a pawn, one should accept one's fate.
(One should gratefully accept a fate that turns out more merciful than what could have been.)
Compare the preceding entry.

Ohun-a-l-e, t for s p w; wn n e b r yang nl, n Ohun a b l e l lr s.
Ohunalese who dashes his head against a sack of cotton wool; people asked if he did not see the rock nearby; he replied, One should vow to do only what one can safely accomplish.
(One should attempt only feats that will cause one no headache.) [96]

j d a n k t tn.
It has not yet stopped raining and some observe that today's rainfall is not as much as yesterday's.
(One should not arrive at conclusions until one has all the facts.)

jw j gl; kooro l l j.
The jealous woman does not snatch her head gear off; all she can do is threaten a fight.
(Some people are all mouth and no action.) [97]

jw lran ly.
The jealous woman lacks flesh on her chest.
(Excessive jealousy eats up the jealous.)

Oj wo lw fi gba b.
It is on its face that a plate accepts soup.
(One should not delegate crucial matters for oneself to others.)

Oj kan ld n.
A cutlass has only one edge.
(One should concentrate on one matter at a time.)

Oj k pnni k fi pnl.
One should not because of one's suffering try honing one's eyes on the ground.
(Difficulties should not lead one to foolish behavior.) [98]

Oj k pnni k mu p; ngb k gbni k mu j.
One is never so desperate that one drinks red sorrel juice; one is never so thirsty that one drinks blood.
(Desperation must never push one beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.)

Oj k ti gb lru; jagun a l gg.
An elderly person does not become embarrassed under cover of darkness; the stalwart squats nonchalantly.
(One can do whatever one pleased when no eyes are watching.) [99]

Oj k ti egn k m mn gbl.
A masquerader is never so shamed that he cannot find his way to the secret grove.
(One cannot become so shamed abroad that one cannot return to the embrace of one's home.)

Oj la fi m s epo; nu la fi m sy; b t b lpo nn kr la ti m .
It is with the eyes that one tells the absence of palm-oil; it is with the mouth that one determines the absence of salt; if a stew lacks oil, it is the eyes that will tell.
(In some matters the evidence of the eyes is enough to tell one all one needs to know.)

Oj t r niror s.
Pimples attack only faces that are delicate.
(People always take advantage of gentle people.)

k hn j k r tn pa lwe nl na ni.
The nearer hill kept one from seeing the farther one is not a proverb one uses in one's parents-in-law's home.
(There are some obligations one cannot sidestep with flippant excuses.)

Ok il k j obnrin lj, fi b b d tta.
(The penis at home never impresses the woman, unless she fucks one outside the home.)
One hardly ever appreciates what one has, until one has flirted with, and has been disappointed by, alternatives.

Oko k j ti baba ti tm k m n l.
Farms do not, by virtue of belonging to a father and his son, lack boundaries.
(Even close relatives may benefit from good fences.)

Oko mm e- ro; n mm dn-n t; gbogbo yw dn-n gbbl; a gb- e- y.
A clean farm is a pleasure to weed; a clean-swept path is a pleasure to trod; all new wives are a pleasure to deflower; the new fashionable cloth of the season is a pleasure to wear.
(Everybody loves performing the most pleasant of chores.)

Okotorobo- ty sl m titn gbe j; n r un lrn ln tu ?
Okotorobo, a bird, casts away a feather, and a young chick picks it up to dance with it; the one who shed the feathers asks, would I have discarded it if it was not a nuisance.
(One should be careful before taking over things that others have rejected.)

Okotorobo- y yin sl, db garn wo yin lyin.
Okotorobo the bird lays an egg, and the turtle dove stretches its neck to inspect the egg that does not belong to it.
(One should mind one's own business.)

k ran k ti aj lj.
A dog is never to squeamish to eat a carcase.
(If one's means are limited, one cannot be too choosy.)

Ol t gb fr ba rhun gb.
The thief who stole the king's bugle could find nothing to steal.
(There can be no rational explanation for acts of utter senselessness.)

Ol t j kkk, nbo ni y ti fn n?
A thief who stole a bugle, where will he blow it?
(One should not waste one's efforts chasing something one can never use.) [100]

Olgn n e b a-ligb-mrn; b ogun b wl lgbn l fr l.
The medicine man behaves like a person impervious to wise counsel; if war threatens a town the person to consult for counsel is the sage.
(Trust rather in wisdom than in magical charms.)

Olhun-n dol; Gb b j dolhun.
The owner becomes a thief; Take this and eat becomes the owner.
(The tables are turned, such that the rightful owner is displaced by a usurper.)

Olhun k r ohun k p lr.
The owner will not see what he owns and call it a fearful; abomination.
(One cannot be fearful of what one owns.)

Olr t da kiriy: j t gb dr or ij ls- kn s.
The idol worshipper who became a Christian; the day he first heard the organ play he lost his legs dancing.
(Old habits die hard.) [101]

Ol m n fw jwe il-e baba-a .
It is a worthless child that points the way to his father's house with his left-hand fingers.
(One should show proper regard for one's own patrimony.)

Olnj- t- b k.
Someone who has food is worth dying with.
(Food is a good enough reason to cast one's lot with another person's.)

Olwe lal r.
A person who knows proverbs has the last word in a dispute.
(There is no authority like proverbial authority.)

Olw w; alwn w; l t gb la gb gbwn; -r--san ni snwn.
Those who have money will come, and those who will buy on credit will come; it is in one's town that one buys on credit; failure to eventually pay up is what is bad.
(There is nothing bad about buying on credit, as long as one eventually pays.)

Olw pl o j; j wo lo ma rw pe t?
A rich person engages a dance band and you do not dance; when will you have the money to hire your own band?
(One should take advantage of every opportunity to supply one's deficiencies.)

mg yn n bbnrin mul: j tbnrn b mawo law bj.
(Only a foolish person enters into a secret pact with a woman: the day a woman knows a cult mystery is the day it is exploded.)
Never trust a woman.

mg n gb gunnu; lgbn n gbow.
It is the fool that wears the Nupe masquerade; it is the wise person that collects the monetary gifts.
(The wise person chooses the most profitable option available.)

Ongi n figi dp.
It is the firewood seller who sets a low price for his wares.
(People take their cue from the owner of a thing in placing a value on it.)
Compare the following entry.

Ongb n pe igb n krgb ky t fi kl.
It is the owner of the calabash who first called it a broken piece of gourd before the world used it for scooping dirt.
(If one does not value what one has, other people will value it even less.)
This is a variant of B a b pe igb ni . . . Compare the foregoing.

Ongbs t pa pat yl.
Habitual debtor who butchers a pigeon for sale.
(The debtor is desperate, because there is not much to a pigeon, and few people eat pigeons anyway.)

Ongg flk dp; adm fi sr san gbta.
The goitered person sets a low price on beads; the person with a blocked nose repays six thousand cowries with alms.
(One usually sets little value on what one cannot use.)

Ongn t s p d t un, fo ni y fw m.
The medicine man who is dissatisfied with a modest payment will wind up with nothing.
(One should not demand too much from people who are in dire straights.)

Oor p, aiwr- gbgb.
The favor is long past; the imbecile forgets.
(Only an imbecile forgets a favor even long after it was done.)

Or kr popo lwo; b a w fm ni a gbrn.
The squirrel's head sits in a plate like a lump; if one counsels one's child it should listen.
(Refusal to listen to counsel leads to disaster.)

Or t y j ign k gb; b wn fun ld k n gb.
The head that is destined to eat a vulture cannot be saved; if a chicken is offered to it it will refuse.
(The person destined to suffer will manage to succumb to the suffering even in spite of efforts by others to save him/her.)

Or t k r, ow n nni.
A head that refuses to carry loads will cost its owner some money.
(It costs money to get others to do for one what one refuses to do for oneself.)

Orin t oro- d k ro- gb; b b n h, n h.
A song that is not difficult to lead is not difficult to follow; if the leader sings haaaay, one responds haaaah.
(One expends on a task only the amount of effort commensurate with it.)

Orn y, l- y pad.
The song changes, and the drumming changes to suit.
(One should match one's behavior to one's circumstances.)

r t n tgn k e n n r nkan j lsk t f.
The god that says matters pertaining to gn are irrelevant will not find anything to eat when he/she wishes.
(One should humor those in a position to punish one.)

Orn k j iu gb k m mb.
An elder does not lose his yams to the sun without knowing where the event happened.
(A grown up person should know where he went wrong and make amends accordingly.)

Orn k l kn b olko.
The sun does not shine and cause displeasure in the farmer.
(Everybody welcomes an auspicious event.)

p l a n k gn; ni tw - b to k tn un e.
The moon appears and people say it is not straight; whoever can reach it let him go and right it.
(It is pointless to complain about things one can do nothing about.)

t gb t n ogn k par; d ror.
The destitute person does not look to repairing his fortune; he says the partidge has been captured in a war, for the hunter is merciless.
(Rather than deal with their own problems, people sometimes gloat over the troubles of others.) [102]

Ow k lye km k sr.
If the amount of money is known, a child cannot die in slavery.
(One does not endure adverse conditions when one is capable of the effort to escape them.) [103]
The following proverb is something of a variant.

Ow k yye km k.
If money is available in abundance, a child does not die.
(One should spare no expenses to take care of one's children or one's affairs.)
See the previous entry.

Ow la fi fn ow; b gbrn b so lk, igbi la fi k a.
Money is what one uses to kindle the fire for money; if a thousand cowries grow from the branches above, one uses two hundred cowries to pluck them.
(Without some expenditure there can be no profit.)

Ow la fi lgb; gbn la fi gbl ay.
It is with money that we secure pleasures; it is with wisdom that one secures a good life.
(Riches are desirable, but wisdom is more valuable.)

Ow n pa j mrn.
It is money that brings a knowing person's trading to a conclusion.
(A wise trader knows how to use his money to make his offer successful.)

Ow tmd b kk n, kr n fi- r.
The first money a youth comes into he spends on bean fritters.
(The youth seldom know how to manage their wealth.)

w k l kn b olko.
The cotton seed does not open and thus anger the farmer.
(The success of one's venture does not make one angry.)
See Orn k l . . .

Ow pani ju km.
Jealousy kills more surely than a cudgel.
(Jealousy is a dangerous thing.)

ynb k Elr, ub sde Alba; kmm ni y gbe dde.
The white man from k Elr; he collapses in front of Alba's compound; cudgels will help him up.
(A person who becomes disabled where he is at his enemy's mercy can expect rough handling.) [104]


87. The reference to Ogntl, a proper name, is obscure.  [Back to text]


88. All the towns mentioned are associated with important gods and cults.  [Back to text]


89. ya is the goddess of rivers and seas, and gn is the god of metals.  [Back to text]


90. Aspirants to chieftaincy titles often engage in bitter competition.  [Back to text]


91. The detail about the egngn eating the poor person's stew suggests that the person praying to him as a being from heaven should have realized that the stew-eating figure is no heavenly being.  [Back to text]


92. Soil taken from a person's footprints is supposed to be a particularly good ingredient if one wishes to make potent and usually evil charms against the person.  [Back to text]


93. The tethered ram would be an offering to the masquerader.  [Back to text]


94. The parrot's colorful tail feather (k) is the bird's main attraction, the chief reason why it is valued.  [Back to text]


95. The necessity to impress one's parents-in-law often mandates behavior one would not contemplate elsewhere and in other circumstances.  [Back to text]


96. The name Ohunale (Ohun-a-l-se) means That which one can accomplish.  [Back to text]


97. When a woman makes ready for a fight she removes her head gear and ties it around her waist. A woman who merely crowds her adversary (j kooro s i) is not ready to fight.  [Back to text]


98. The phrase oj ppn from which the proverbs in this series are formulated means red eyes, supposedly the sign of suffering. Pn can mean both to be red and to hone. Hence the play in this proverb.  [Back to text]


99. A reference to squatting in a roadside bush at night to defecate.  [Back to text]


100. Kkk was used exclusively to announce the presence of a king.  [Back to text]


101. Traditional worship is done to drumming and dancing, whereas the music in church is not for dancing.  [Back to text]


102. The expression ogun-n k . . ., meaning be carried off or captured in a war, means to be in serious trouble.  [Back to text]


103. The reference is to the practice of pawning oneself or a relative for a loan. If the amount is not infinity the redemption of the pawn cannot be an insurmountable problem.  [Back to text]


104. The suggestion is that a certain white man earned the enmity of a certain Alba.  [Back to text]