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Part 3: On cageyness, caution, moderation, patience, and prudence


A bu omi lm a r egn; k ni ni t l sd l pnmi y r?
We scoop water from the water pot and see a masquerader; what will the person who goes to draw water at the river find?
(If a person exposed to minimal risk cries disaster, what would the person exposed to much greater risk do?) [1]

A fn nu ly dp; o rgi s n?
You are given yams at y and you rejoice; have you secured wood to cook them?
(Never assume that a propitious beginning assures a successful conclusion.) [2]

A ki s kan b od omi f ; b a b w ti mejj b k?
One dips one leg into the stream and the water tugs at it; what if one had dipped both legs into it?
(Repercussions should not be disproportionate to the act.)

A k b lnu jj ru.
One does not fight at night with a braggart.
(Never get into a competition with a braggart unless a witness is present.)

A k b ba ongg lj wn yn-n .
One does not insult a king with a goitre in the presence of his people.
(Never expose yourself to repercussions with careless speech or indiscreet behavior.)

A k du or olr k wd gb tni l.
One does not fight to save another person's head only to have a kite carry one's own away.
(One should not save other's at the cost of one's own safety.)

A k fi knj l b gbgbn.
One does not eat scalding stew in a hurry.
(Patience is best in delicate or difficult matters.)

A k gbl gba f ll ogun.
One does not sit at home, not go to war, and yet be shot with an arrow.
(One should be safe in one's own home.)

A k knj tu ol-rn; igba t- seb.
One does not gather ol-rn mushrooms in haste; two hundred of them are not enough to make a stew.
(Certain tasks demand patience if they are to come out right.)

A k rd kun; a k rd s; m-on-gele-gele k j k wn rd un.
One never sees the bottom of the ocean; no one ever sees the bottom of the lagoon; a well-bred woman will never expose her buttocks to anyone.
(People should not expose their innermost secrets to all and sundry.) [3]

A k rj ni pur mni.
One does not look into the eyes of a person and still tell a lie against that person.
(It is always easier to do evil to people when they are absent.)

A k sr or bb lj md; lrnlrn ni y ma wo olwa-a .
One does not speak of a beheading in the presence of a child; otherwise his gaze will be fixated on the neck of the person concerned.
(Never discuss a secret in the hearing of a person whose behavior will give the secret away.)

gba rm ad lw ik, n wn j k un j ltn.
One struggles to save the chick from certain death, and it complains that one is preventing it from foraging at the dump.
(Chicks foraging at the dump are easy prey for kites.)

A n i , o n l sko; b o b l sko b w b a nl.
You are told that a job is your responsibility and you say you are on your way to the farm; you may be on your way to the farm, but the job will be there on your return.
(One may devise stratagems to defer carrying out one's duties, but they are unlikely to make others carry them out.)

a kk, aj w ni; bbj, aj w ni.
Marking one's face with kk is a quest for beauty; marking one's face with bj is a quest for beauty. [4]
(The pains one takes to adorn oneself are for a good end.)

A snk tn, alugba l; f p ni?
The funeral is over, but the calabash beater does not take his leave; does he want to inherit a wife?
(This proverb has the same import as, A knl, a pgb . . . ) [5]

Ab n b or; on tls n b n; bb d n b kjp; b a dw- bbni, a tn nn ni.
The razor begs the scalp; the wayfarer's soles beg the path; waist beads beg the home-woven cloth; when the begging is done, one lets matters drop.
(It is a person that is close to one that placates one; after such placation, one allows oneself to be appeased.)

Abr b smi tl; dfn n un-n gb jb!
The needle makes an almost inaudible sound when it drops into the water; dfin said he heard a loud splash.
(Excessive exaggeration amounts to lying.) [6]

Abiyam, kgbo wr; j l.
Nursing mother, make the herbal decoction in good time; the day is waning.
(Attend to duties in time.)

bl n m a t; ni t k tj bl y e ara-a lf a.
Patching extends the life of clothes; whoever does not save materials for patching deprives himself or herself of clothing.
(Everything has its use; conserve your resources.)

db pgd, r p yl gb; yl gb, ttiiri l tiiri.
The dove recites incantations, thinking that the pigeon cannot hear; the pigeon hears; it is only pretending to sleep.
(Never mistake a person's easygoing demeanor for cowardice or folly.)

Ad jk, mumi, gb kta p-p-p m, n un lhn; drgb t lhn gb irin m b?
The chicken eats corn, drinks water, even swallows small pebbles, and yet complains that it lacks teeth; does the goat that has teeth swallow steel?
(One should be content with one's lot.)

d gba ara tl, k t fi ogn s?
Could the small gourd save itself, before we put charms into it?
(Do not seek protection from a helpless person.) [7]

d logn r.
Choosing-a-base-and-maintaining-it is the medicine for wealth.
(One should not be a rolling stone.)

Aff t wl t k a iyr, kl ni fn ni t w ti srn.
The wind that enters into the house and carries off the clothes in the bedroom is a warning to those who wear theirs around their necks.
(When disaster befalls the most formidable people, those less formidable should take warning.)

fojdi lk n j r-k-n.
It is an impertinent bead that is named The-slave-does-not-own-its like. [8]
(One must be mindful of how one's actions might affect others.)

gk ej, t oro b agbn.
Partially severed snake, that stings like a wasp.
(A wounded adversary is a vicious one.)

gnbj ni told.
Pounding-until-it-is-ruined is the habit of the owner of the mortar.
(One should exercise restraint in using what has in abundance.)

gntn blj gbgb elr br.
The big, fat sheep does not soon forget the provider of corn bran.
(One remembers one's benefactor.)

gntn w sn-n; gbn in p egbje.
The sheep stares blankly, but its cunning stratagems number a thousand four hundred.
(Looks are deceptive.)

gntn j n ktky e nu bb.
A sheep does not wake in the morning and droop its mouth.
(One should not dawdle in the morning.)

gb k gbin y sl de m- r.
A wicked elder sows suffering for his children.
(One's character often affects the fortunes of one's children.)
Compare, gb t gbin b k . . .

gb d l, fdn.
A farmer does not make new clothes monthly, only annually.
(The reward for one's labor is often a long time coming.)

gb t b p nl n k oko sn.
A farmer who tarries in the house will not object to hoeing the farm in the afternoon.
(He who dallies makes his tasks that much more difficult.)

-gbr--whn lplb fi gbgb y sl.
Picking-up-one's-load-without-checking-one's-rear caused the piece of broken bottle to forget its mother on the ground.
(The broken bottle suffered its fate, perhaps, because it was not careful about what it carried. The hasty traveller leaves his goods behind.)

Agbjlgn fi ara-a r f ta.
He-who-places-his-hopes-on-inheritance delivers himself to destitution.
(One should secure one's own living.)

gbk et lrn di.
The ear that will insist on hearing everything will go deaf.
(There is some benefit to ignoring certain things.) [9]

gbknl pani lbi.
A thing in which one reposes one's trust does not make one hunger.
(One's reserve guarantees one's supplies.)

fsk bs ni k gb.
It is an alarm that is raised without moderation that finds no helpers.
(If the person who raises an alarm puts people off by his or her methods, they will not come to his or her aid.)

gbrn, baba fojdi.
Disobedience, father of disregard.
(To disobey people is to show a lack of regard for them.) [10]

lfhn n j or burk.
Inability to speak out precedes misfortunes.
(A person who will not speak out on his or her own behalf suffers the consequences.)

rrs yw t w p kt-il y j id; bni Mjid nyl-e r j.
The junior wife could find nothing to say, and said that the mice in the house will eat brass; the senior wife if the household happens to be named Mjid(m--j-id) (meaning Child eats brass.)
(Veiled insults directed at an adversary are as potent as any other sort of provocation.)

sn l w, a k wo ik.
One treats an illness; one does not treat death.
(If one neglects an illness until death intervenes, the treatment comes too late.)

ttml, ol mlko.
Because of the delay in apprehending the thief, the thief apprehends the owner of the farm.
(One must be alert in dealing with slippery people; otherwise they turn the tables on one.)

Aj il md e.
A domesticated dog does not know how to hunt.
(Pampering kills initiative.)

Aj k dn-nu K swu lk kn.
A dog does not boast No danger in a leopard's bush.
(Never sneer at obvious danger.)

Aj t y sn k gb fr d.
A dog destined to be lost does not hear the hunter's whistle.
(No matter what help one may render, one cannot save an ill-fated person.)

Aj t r mt t dr fi ara-a b gn.
A dog that sees a motor vehicle and stands in its was makes itself a sacrifice to Ogun.
(A person who needlessly endangers him/herself deserves his/her fate.)

jnk t a gb fn sl d, erin-n moj; erin b ib l.
One digs a pit in the path of the elephant, but the elephant can read signs; the elephant does not go that way.
(The alert person will thwart an enemy's machinations.)

j k, knrn parad; lw b nl.
A witch proclaims her presence and an invalid does not make away; he must have money for sacrifices at home.
(One needs not fear a scourge for which one has the remedy.)

Ajnifni, kt il.
One-that-bites-and-blows-on-the-wound, the house-mouse.
(One should be wary of adversaries who pose as friends.) [11]

Aaka gb dn; igb n gb.
The hedgehog does not live in the grassland, only in the forest.
(Certain things are proper; certain things are not.)

klmgb- oore y gg lrn.
The ground hornbill did a favor and developed a goitre.
(One's good deeds sometimes come back to haunt one.)
Compare: Oore tgn e t fi p lr . . .

Aknj jay, run wn p.
People who live impatiently: their going to heaven is not far off.
(Reckless living leads to early death.)

k t ggi- ks, gbngbn- bu t sr.
The axe that cuts wood stumbles, and the carver anoints his head with medicinal powder.
(The evil doer's conscience will not let him/her rest.) [12]

kek - d nb.
A scorpion is not a thing to close one's palms on.
(Some matters call for extreme caution.)

kek rn taptap.
The scorpion travels accompanied by venom.
(The stalwart is never unprepared to answer a call.)

kek ta Kindo lpn, ar ile Labata roj; k l kn n nb?
A scorpion stung Kindo in the testicle, and a person from Labata's household frowns in dismay; what business is it of his?
(One should not take on matters that are not one's business.)

Akbni lkt-il; ej k jgbdo.
The mouse is a bringer of disaster to the innocent; snakes do not eat corn.
(Bad company brings bad fortune.)

k t b b b dt gbgb lti in.
A sheath that engages in a dispute with a knife will suffer an internal wound.
(Never court the anger of a person in a position to inflict injury on you.)

l t aj b l, in aj n gb.
Whatever dream the dog dreams remains inside the dog.
(Keep your own counsel.)

Algbr yege; al gb b dla.
She who borrows a wrapper-skirt to wear is not home free; the owner of the cloth will take it back come tomorrow.
(There is nothing like having one's own.)

Algb t foj di er, ikn ej ni y b ara-a .
A lizard that views a python with disregard will find itself in the belly of the snake.
(Whoever disdains obvious danger will suffer dire consequences.)

Alpdd jay lb-lb.
The sparrow enjoys life carefully.
(The best way to live is carefully.)

Alra l w p k dun un, k n k sn, k wo.
The owner of the body does not say that he is in no pain, while we insist on commiserating with him for his sleeplessness and his restlessness.
(One does not commiserate with a person who does not admit his/her misfortune).

Alrnj t y j, k ti wy m s k le k k k.
The person who will engage in itinerant dancing should look to his legs in good time.
(Before embarking on a trade, one should hone one's tools.)

Alr k s p k aj e un pa; lr k?
The hired carrier does not ask to die from his efforts; what would the owner of the merchandise ask?
(One should not assume other people's responsibilities and risks.)

Alwd l l k n; ni t k lnu mm tete l k alpp.
Only a good-humored person can make a good husband for an ill-humored woman; a person whose mouth is not sharp cannot make a good husband for a hyperactive woman.
(Incompatible natures cannot make a good marriage.)

lej t w nl-e Pngil, Pngil n, w ta ni? lej- n un Bugij; Pngil ni, T, l dj igi-i tr lt.
The visitor who arrived at the home of Pngila (Lickwood), Pngila asked him, Who are you? The visitor replied, I am Bugij (Bitewood). Pngila said, Well, you had better go find yourself some wood elsewhere.
(Do not encourage people to take advantage of you or abuse your generosity.)

l ti albaun; b ti na-a r.
To Tortoise belongs the outward trip; to his father-in-law belongs the return.
(The person in the right in a dispute, if he/she is too vindictive, quickly becomes the one in the wrong.) [13]

lkrs m p olko- ld.
The weed did not know that the farmer had a machete.
(The evil doer does not consider the response of the person wronged.)

mj l m kn-un Sr.
Saare always goes too far in his description of a leopard.
(An immoderate display of knowledge soon backfires.) [14]

pd l t ko in lj.
Only a potsherd has what it takes to confront live coal.
(Only a person capable of confronting a situation should take it on.)

Apatapara- pa ara-a r ljb; ni t y ko l wye.
Apatapara kills himself in the wilderness; who will carry him is now the question.
(One should not to outstrip one's help.)

p t a k fi w ni d ro- kiw b.
A pocket one did not make with one's own hand is a difficult one to dip one's hand into.
(One should keep one's hands to one's own pockets.)

Ar bdn k sgun; rn shn ni wn w.
Ibadan people do not run from war; what they say is, We will fall back a little.
(There are ways of avoiding battle without seeming to do so.)

-r--gbd-w, -r--gbd-f ni ik awo.
Something-seen-but-unmentionable, something-seen-but-unspeakable is the death of a guardian of the mysteries.
(The eyes sometimes see things that are too sacred for the mouth to mention.)

rs in, ktagr ej; gb t rj t k s, ara ik l y a.
Fire, something-one-sees-and-flees, snake, something one sees and jumps; an elder who sees a snake and does not flee flirts with death.
(Fire and snakes are not things to take lightly; and elder should not be embarrasses to flee from danger.)

rkn n m -sun-n-d w; lkn sunkn l.
Going-from-one-sadthought-to-another results in endless weeping; the person weeping does his weeping and departs.
(If one keeps thinking sad thoughts one will ever remain miserable; if one must be sad, one must observe some limits.)

Ar nas kan d n.
A cripple does not block the road with his legs.
(A person with a handicap should not challenge those who are not handicapped.)

Ar t k ls nl- lgbn nn.
A cripple who has no legs to stand on has wisdom inside him.
(Whatever handicaps one might have, one will have some asset.)

Arbas ojo.
He-who-flees-on-seeing-the-king is no coward.
(One's safest course is to steer clear of those in authority.)
Compare A k bba pl kk ba m ni ls.

Argb oge r; ks- lgb r.
The old person was once a dandy; the rag was once in fashion.
(Those who are favored should remember that times and circumstances do change.)

rn l w a k wok.
One treats a disease; one does not treat death.
(We should attend to problems before they become unmanageable.

Asrtete n kj il; arngbr ni y r oy j.
The fast runner will run past his home; the leisurely stroller is the one who will win the title.
(A fast start does not guarantee success.)
Compare: Arngbr ni y m oy dl . . .

b yl er, yl y; yl fik er.
The kite plays with the pigeon and the pigeon rejoices; the pigeon is courting death.
(An enemy who pretends friendship is so much more dangerous.)

y k j k m y gbn.
Roughhousing keeps the young of the cane rat from learning wisdom.
(A person who takes life as a jest does not learn to be wary.)

esl lbwb; ni t da omi swj tl tt.
What one puts aside is what one returns to find; whoever dumps water ahead of him/her will step on wet earth.
(One reaps what one sows.)
This is a variant of the previous entry.

wn olgb n jy; b b p tt a t eku- pa.
Only the newly weaned cat suffers; eventually it will learn to kill mice.
(A child may be helpless today, but not in the future.)

Arow b w ej.
Difficult-to-wear like the garment of immoderation.
(Wearing the cloak of immoderation exposes one to difficulties.)

Ata- kr; j j .
Pepper is small; its fight is much bigger.
(One should not judge people by their size.)

Atk f yin par; ohun oj w loj r.
Person-who-stones-and-breaks-partridge's-eggs; the eyes find what the eyes seek.
(The culprit is asking for trouble, and he will not be disappointed.)

Ataare- rni tn d-i r e fi br sn; br b rni tn d-i r e a sunwn j ataare l.
Alligator pepper has someone to tend it and it mocks the br tree; had the br tree someone to tend it it would look better than alligator pepper.
(A person enjoying a run of good fortune should not deride the less fortunate; if they had been similarly favored there is no telling what they might have accomplished.)

Athnrgbn agt aj; a g e lt tn fab pam.
A-creature-that-learns-wisdom-in-reverse-order, dog-with-severed-ears; after its ears have been severed it hides the razor.
(Prevention makes sense only before the disaster.)

tlw ni k tanni.
One's palm does not deceive one.
(One's trust is best placed in one's own resources.)

1e Atrohungbogbolwlrun k knj.
The-seeker-of-all-things-from-God does not yield to impatience.
(The supplicant must be patient for an answer.)

wfn n m r bj; fr l wo ni t woni.
Persistent-staring ruins a friendship; one looks only glancingly at those looking at one.
(A battle of looks does not help a friendship.)
See: wfn m r bj; . . . .

y kan-n b w; igba wn ti r .
If a single Colubus monkey sees you, be sure that two hundred of them have seen you.
(A secret that one discloses to one person is as good as published for all.)

Ayrarhn, aya d, n k un-n pa knn, pa kf.
The-impatient-reporter, wife of the hunter, she says that her husband killed the first and killed the sixth.
(The impatient reporter is liable to outstrip her report.)

y gba gnm rn s d; y gba Tp kl gunnu.
The cultivated vegetable is contented, so it sends for its wild variety; the Nupe (Fulani) person is so comfortable that he builds a tall house.
(When one enjoys a life of ease, one is tempted to overreach.)

Ay fip j.
Life is nothing to enjoy heedlessly.
(Life demands caution.)


1. During the egn season people who follow pathways (like those leading to rivers) are liable to run into masqueraders on the way from gbl, their secret groves.  [Back to text]


2. The rejoicing is premature, because the y supposedly tantalize strangers with deceptive generosity.)  [Back to text]


3. The expression r d, literally see the bottom of, also means discover the guarded secrets of.  [Back to text]


4. Kk and bj are both patterns of facial scarification.  [Back to text]


6. "dfin is a chieftaincy title. It serves here as a proper name.  [Back to text]


7. d is a tiny gourd in which people keep charms, often serving as talismans.  [Back to text]


8. The insinuation being that whoever does not have its like is no better than a slave.  [Back to text]


9. In everyday syntax the statement would be: gbk let lrn-n fi di.  [Back to text]


10. The formulation, baba fojdi, means both father of disregard, and father-type disregard, in other words, an extra-ordinary degree of disregard.  [Back to text]


11. While the animal hurts one, it also soothes one, so as to be able to continue hurting one.  [Back to text]


12. Both the axe and the carpenter are offenders against wood; the carpenter takes the axe's stumbling as a bad omen.  [Back to text]


13. The proverb is based on a folktale in which Tortoise stole yams from the farm of its father-in-law. The latter caught Tortoise and tied it up by the path, where people going to their farms saw it and justified the father-in-law. When on their return in the evening they saw Tortoise still tied up, however, people began to scold the father-in-law for the excessive punishment, especially considering its relationship to Tortoise.  [Back to text]


14. The story behind the proverb is of a boy, Sar; who ran home panting because he had seen a leopard in the forest. Grateful that the animal did not kill his son, the father killed a cock as a sacrifice. The boy went on to describe how huge the animal was, and the father, even more thankful, killed a he-goat for sacrifice. Then the son spoke of how the animal went from okro plant to okro plant to eat the fruits. The father knew, of course, that only antelopes ate okro, and he scolded the son for not killing the game and bringing it home.  [Back to text]