Part 3: On cageyness, caution, moderation, patience, and prudence
Ìbẹ̀rẹ̀ òṣì bí ọmọ ọlọ́rọ̀ là ńrí.
At the beginning of one's penury one seems like the child of most prosperous parents.
(A course of action that will lead to disaster often has a pleasant beginning.)
Ibi ìṣáná la ti ńkíyè sóògùn.
It is from the time one makes one's boasts that one should begin to mind one's charms (or juju).
(One should always match one's vows with adequate preparation to effectuate them.)
Ibi rere làkàsọ̀ńgbé sọlẹ̀.
The ladder always rests on a propitious spot.
(A prayer that one may always land at a fortunate place.)
Ibi tí a gbọ́n mọ là ńṣòwò-o màlúù mọ.
One should limit the depth of one's involvement in cattle trading to the extent of one's astuteness.
(One should be careful not to put at risk more than one can afford, or to get in above one's head.)
Ibi tí a ti ńwo olókùnrùn la ti ńwo ara ẹni.
Just as one cares for the sick, one should also care for oneself.
(One should be as solicitous of one's own welfare as one is of others'.)
Ibi tí à ńlọ là ńwò, a kì í wo ibi tí a ti ṣubú.
One should keep one's eyes on where one is going, not where one stumbled.
(The best course of action is not to dwell on setbacks, but to resolutely face the future.)
Ibi tí akátá ba sí, adìẹ ò gbọdọ̀ débẹ̀.
Wherever the jackal lurks, the chicken must give the place a wide berth.
(One should keep as clear of known dangers as possible.)
Ibi tí inú ḿbí asẹ́ tó, inú ò gbọdọ̀ bí ìkòkò débẹ̀; bínú bá bí ìkòkò débẹ̀, ẹlẹ́kọ ò ní-í rí dá.
The cooking pot must never harbor a grudge to the same extent that the sieve does; if the pot does so, the corn-meal trader will have nothing to sell.
(The more power one has, the more one should exercise restraint.)
Ibi tí ó mọ là ńpè lọ́mọ.
Where it stops, there one designates “child.”
(When one reaches the end of a matter, or the end of a road, one should acknowledge the end.)
Ìbínú baba òṣì.
Anger “is the” father of hopelessness.
(Anger achieves no good, but may backfire on whoever expresses it.)
Compare Ìbínú ò da nǹkan . . .
Ìbínú lọbá fi ńyọ idà; ìtìjù ló fi ḿbẹ́ ẹ.
It is in anger that the king draws his sword; it is shame that makes him go through with the beheading.
(Once one begins an injudicious action on impulse, one might have to carry it through to avoid embarrassment.)
Ìbínú ò da nǹkan; sùúrù baba ìwà; àgbà tó ní sùúrù ohun gbogbo ló ní.
Anger accomplishes nothing; forebearance is the father of character traits; an elder who has forebearance has everything.
(Forebearance will avail one everything, whereas anger will always prove futile.)
Compare Ìbínú baba oṣì.
Ìbínú ò mọ̀ pé olúwa òun ò lẹ́sẹ̀ ńlẹ̀
Anger does not know that its owner has no legs to stand on.
(Anger does not know prudence.)
Ìbìsẹ́hín àgbò kì í ṣojo.
A ram's stepping backwards is not indicative of cowardice.
(One should not mistake a person's deliberateness before acting as indecisiveness.)
Ìbọn-ọ́n ní apátí kò lápátí, taní jẹ́ jẹ́ ka kọjú ìbọn kọ òun?
Whether a gun has a trigger or not, who would calmly permit the gun to be pointed at him/her?
(One should not take foolish chances.)
Ì-dún-kídùn-ún òyo ni wọ́n fi ńsọ òyo nígi; ì-fọ̀-kúfọ̀ ògbìgbì ni wọ́n fi ńta ògbìgbì lókò; ì-jẹ-kújẹ àdán ní ńfi-í tẹnu pọ̀ fẹnu ṣu.
It is the incessant chattering of the Pataguenon monkey that causes people to belabor it with sticks; it is the annoying sounds of the ògbìgbì bird that causes people to throw stones at it; it is indiscriminate feeding that causes the bat to ingest food and excrete with the same mouth.
(A person's mouth may be his/her death.)
Ìfẹ́ àfẹ́jù lewúrẹ́ fi ḿbá ọko-ọ ẹ̀ hu irùngbọ̀n.
It is excessive love that induces the goat to grow a beard in sympathy with her mate.
(In all things, moderation is advisable.)
Ìfi ohun wé ohun, ìfi ọ̀ràn wé ọ̀ràn, kò jẹ́ kí ọ̀ràn ó tán.
Citing comparable things and recalling similar occurrences “in the past” makes ending a quarrel impossible.
(Refusal to forget the past makes reconciliation impossible.)
Ìfunra loògùn àgbà.
Wariness is the elders' most efficacious juju.
(The person who is always wary will avoid much grief.)
Igi ganganran má gùnún mi lójú, òkèèrè la ti ńwò ó wá.
“Protruding twig, do not poke me in the eye”; one must keep one's eyes on the twig from a distance.
(One does not wait until problems arise before one begins preparing to deal with them.)
Igi tó bá bá Ṣàngó lérí, gbígbẹ ní ńgbẹ.
Whatever tree engages in a contest of threats with Ṣàngó will suffer the fate of drying up.
(Never take on an adversary too tough for you to handle.)
Igúnnugún gbọ́n sínú.
The vulture conceals a lot of wisdom in itself.
(A person may be quite astute even though he/she appears foolish.)
Ìgbà ara ḿbẹ lára là ḿbù ú tà.
It is when there is a surfeit of flesh on the body that one cuts some of it for sale.
(One makes a gift only of one's surplus.)
Igbá dojúdé ò jọ ti òṣónú, tinú igbá nigbá ńṣe.
That a calabash faces downwards is no antisocial sign; the calabash is only acting according to its nature.
(One should not take read evil intent into others' innocent actions.)
Ìgbà tí a bá ní kí Ègùn má jà ní ńyọ̀bẹ.
It is only when one pleads with the Ègùn person (from Porto Novo or Àjàṣẹ́ in present-day Benin Republic)that he draws his knife.
(Said of people who redouble their efforts belatedly, just when they are supposed to break off.)
Ìgbà tí a bá perí àparò ní ńjáko.
Just as the talk turns to the partridge it shows up to raid the farm
(Said of a person who plays into his/her adversary's hand when the adversary most wants to injure him/her.)
Igbá tó fọ́ ní ńgba kasẹ létí; ìkòkò tó fọ́ ní ńgba okùn lọ́rùn.
It is the broken calabash that has iron staples driven into its edges; it is the cracked pot that has its neck tied with a rope.
(It is the person who makes trouble that is visited with repercussions.)
Ìgbín ńràjò ó filé-e ẹ̀ ṣẹrù.
The snail sets out on a journey and makes a load of its house.
(Comment on people who are overly possessive of their goods or turf.)
Ìgbín tó ńjẹ̀ ní màfọ̀n, tí ò kúrò ní màfọ̀n, ewé àfọ̀n ni wọn ó fi dì í dele.
A snail that forages at the base of the African breadfruit tree and never leaves the base of the African breadfruit tree will be taken home wrapped in the leaf of the African breadfruit tree.
(One should know when to quit, or else one would wind up in trouble.)
Ìgbẹ̀hìn ní ńyé olókùúàdá.
It is only at the end that the person with a blunt cutlass realizes his error.
(Sometimes wisdom comes too late to salvage lost opportunities.)
This is a variant of Ẹ̀hìn ní ńdun olókùúàda sí.
Ìhàlẹ̀-ẹ́ ba ọ̀ṣọ́ èèyàn jẹ́.
Empty boasts ruin a person's reputation.
(One's mouth should not be more powerful than one's arms.)
Ìjẹǹjẹ àná dùn méhoro; ehoro-ó rebi ìjẹ àná kò dẹ̀hìn bọ̀.
Yesterday's food find so delighted the hare; the hare went to the spot of yesterday's feeding and never returned.
(Persistence in risky ventures leads to disaster.)
Ìjímèrè tó lóun ò ní-í sá fájá, ojú ajá ni òì tí-ì to.
The brown monkey vows it will not run from a dog, only because the dog has not caught a glimpse of it.
(The coward may boast as much as he/she wishes, until the real test materializes.)
Ijó àjójù ní ńmú kí okó-o eégún yọ jáde.
Unrestrained dancing is what causes the masquerader's penis to become exposed.
(One should exercise restraint in performing even pleasurable activities.)
Ìkánjú òun pẹ̀lẹ́, ọgbọọgba.
Haste and patience end up the same.
(Great haste offers no advantage over patience.)
Ìkekere ńfọ̀rọ̀ ikú ṣẹ̀rín.
Ikekere (type of fish) is treating a deadly thing as something to laugh about.
(One should not take serious or deadly matters lightly.)
Ìkóeruku èèwọ̀ Ifẹ̀; ajá kì í gbó níbòji ẹkùn.
Carrying dust is taboo in Ifẹ́ no dog dares bark in the shadow of the leopard.
(One should not engage in forbidden or dangerous acts.)
Ìkòkò ńseṣu ẹnìkan ò gbọ́; iṣú dénú odó ariwó ta.
Yams cook in a pot and nobody knows, but when the yams get into the mortar alarms sound.
(Matters disclosed only to prudent people can be contained, but once they leak to irresponsible persons they become broadcast.)
Ìkókó ọmọ tó tọwọ́ bọ eérú ni yó mọ bó gbóná.
The newborn child who thrusts his/her hand into ashes will find out for himself/herself if it is hot.
(Experience is the best teacher that one should avoid dangerous ventures.)
Ikú ńdẹ Dẹ̀dẹ̀, Dẹ̀dẹ̀ ńdẹ ikú.
Death stalks Dẹdẹ, and Dẹdẹ stalks death.
(Said of a person whom people are after, but who does everything to make himself/herself even more vulnerable.)
Ikún ńjọ̀gẹ̀dẹ̀ ikún ńrèdí; ikún ò mọ̀ pé ohun tó dùn ní ńpani.
The squirrel is eating a banana and the squirrel is wagging its tail; the squirrel does not know that it is what is sweet that kills.
(Overindulgence in good things can result in serious problems.)
Ìlara àlàjù ní ḿmúni gbàjẹ́, ní ḿmúni ṣẹ́ṣó.
Excessive envy of others causes one to take on witching, and makes one become a wizard.
(Too much envy leads to antisocial behavior.)
Ilé nÌjèṣà-á ti ńmúná lọ sóko.
It is from the home that the Ìjèṣà person takes fire to the farm.
(The wise person assembles all the materials he/she will need before embarking on a venture.)
Iná kì í wọ odò kó rójú ṣayé.
Fire does not enter into a stream and yet have the opportunity to live.
(Whoever ventures into dangerous situations deserves the repercussions.)
Iná ò ṣé-é bò máṣọ.
Fire is not something one conceals under one's clothing.
(One should not hide one's pressing problems but seek help.)
Ìnàkí kì í ránṣẹ́ ìjà sẹ́kùn.
The baboon does not send an ultimatum to the leopard.
(People should not challenge forces they are no match for.)
Inú ẹni lorúkọ tí a ó sọ ọmọ ẹni ńgbé.
It is inside oneself that the name one will name one's child resides.
(One should not broadcast one's secrets to the whole world.)
Inúure àníjù, ìfura atèébú ní ḿmù wá báni.
Too much good will towards others engenders suspicion and attracts insults.
(One can be too good towards others.)
Ìpàkọ́ ò gbọ́ ṣùtì, ìpẹ̀hìndà ò mọ yẹ̀gẹ̀ yíyẹ̀.
The occiput does not recognize contempt; a turned back does not see a disdainful gesture.
(The best response to insults is to disregard them.)
Ìpàkọ́ là ńdà sẹ́hìn ká tó da yangan sẹ́nu.
One throws back the head first before throwing corn into the mouth.
(One should not put one's cart before one's horse.)
Ìṣẹ́ kì í pani; ayọ̀ ní ńpani.
Misfortune does not kill; it is indulgent happiness that kills.
(Indulgence kills more surely than want.)
Ìtọ́jú ló yẹ abẹ́rẹ́.
Safe keeping is what is appropriate for a needle.
(One should pay special attention to matters that are very delicate.)
Ìtọsẹ̀ ló nìlú.
Close investigation keeps the affairs of the town in order.
(Investigating matters well before acting helps maintain harmony in a group.)
Ìwà òní, ẹjọ́ ọ̀la.
Today's behavior “causes” tomorrow's problem.
(The foolish behavior of the present sows the seeds of difficulties for the future.)
Ìyá là bá bú; bí a bú baba ìjà ní ńdà.
One would be wiser to insult “another person's” mother; if one insults the father a fight would certainly ensue.
(One should measure one's insults in order to avoid a fight; a father is valued well over a mother.)
Ìyàn-án mú, ìrẹ́ yó; ìyàn-án rọ̀, ìrẹ́ rù.
A famine rages and the grasshopper grows fat; the famine subsides and the grasshopper grows lean.
(One should husband one's resources wisely, and save for lean times in times of plenty.)
Ìyàwó la bá sùn; ọkọ ló lóyún.
The wife was the one made love to, but it is the husband who got pregnant.
(The person directly involved in a matter does not make as much fuss as the person only tangentially involved.)
Ìyàwó ò fọhùn, ó fọ́jú.
The bride does not speak, and she is also blind.
(The person newly arrived in a place or a company should shut his/her mouth and open his/her eyes, so that he/she knows the customs before speaking.)
Ìyẹ̀wù kan ṣoṣo ò lè gba olókùnrùn méjì.
One single room will not do for two invalids.
(One should make adequate provisions for whatever one contemplates doing.)
Isà tí ò lójú Alalantorí ńdẹ ẹ́, áḿbọńtorí àgbá ikún.
Alalantori watches a hole without a visible opening, how much more a squirrel's burrow.
(A person who watches his/her pennies is not likely to be careless with his/her dollars.)
Isán ni à ḿmọ olè; ìtàdógún là ḿmọ dọ́kọ-dọ́kọ.
The thief is exposed on the ninth day; the woman who sleeps around is exposed on the seventeenth day.
(Bad habits can be kept secret only so long; they eventually become exposed.)
Iṣẹ́ tí a kò ránni, òun ìyà ló jọ ńrìn.
A task one was not asked to do usually travels in the company of punishment.
(One usually rues doing things one has no business doing.)
Itọ́ tí a tu sílẹ̀ kì í tún padà re ẹnu ẹni mọ́.
The saliva one has spat out of one's mouth does not return to one's mouth.
(Once one has said something one cannot take it back.)
Iyán àmọ́dún bá ọbẹ̀.
Next year's pounded yam will still find some stew.
(Whenever one's good fortune comes, then will be time enough to enjoy it.)
46. In a sense both the pot that cooks the corn-meal (from the starch) and the strainer used to separate the starch from the eèrí (bran) are containers. But while the pot holds the material put into it, the strainer permits it to escape. That action is here represented as a manifestation of anger. If the pot were to behave like the strainer there would be no food left.
[Back to text]
47. This is obviously a play on the words “mọ” (which indicates “limit” or “extent” and “ọmọ” (which means “child”).
[Back to text]
48. The Ègùn serve the Yoruba as favourite butts of jokes.
[Back to text]
49. Dẹ is “stalk,” and the proverb plays on that word, redoubling as the name of the subject.
[Back to text]
50. People who had been caught stealing were exposed to the public every nine days, and women who had been caught in illicit relationships were exposed every seventeenth day.
[Back to text]