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


br b m lr l r.
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 n la ti ky sgn.
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 lksgb sl.
The ladder always rests on a propitious spot.
(A prayer that one may always land at a fortunate place.)

Ibi t a gbn m l w-o ml m.
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 t a ti wo olknrn la ti wo ara ni.
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 t l l w, a k wo ibi t a ti ub.
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 t akt ba s, ad gbd db.
Wherever the jackal lurks, the chicken must give the place a wide berth.
(One should keep as clear of known dangers as possible.)

Ibi t in b as t, in gbd b kk db; bn b b kk db, lk n- r d.
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.) [46]

Ibi t m l p lm.
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.) [47]

bn baba .
Anger is the father of hopelessness.
(Anger achieves no good, but may backfire on whoever expresses it.)
Compare bn da nkan . . .

bn lb fi y id; tj l fi b .
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.)

bn da nkan; sr baba w; gb t n sr ohun gbogbo l n.
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 bn baba o.

bn m p olwa un ls l
Anger does not know that its owner has no legs to stand on.
(Anger does not know prudence.)

bshn gb k ojo.
A ram's stepping backwards is not indicative of cowardice.
(One should not mistake a person's deliberateness before acting as indecisiveness.)

bn-n n apt k lpt, tan j j ka kj bn k un?
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.)

-dn-kdn-n yo ni wn fi s yo ngi; -f-kf gbgb ni wn fi ta gbgb lk; -j-kj dn n fi- tnu p fnu u.
It is the incessant chattering of the Pataguenon monkey that causes people to belabor it with sticks; it is the annoying sounds of the gbgb 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.)

f fj lewr fi b ko- hu irngbn.
It is excessive love that induces the goat to grow a beard in sympathy with her mate.
(In all things, moderation is advisable.)

fi ohun w ohun, fi rn w rn, k j k rn tn.
Citing comparable things and recalling similar occurrences in the past makes ending a quarrel impossible.
(Refusal to forget the past makes reconciliation impossible.)

funra logn gb.
Wariness is the elders' most efficacious juju.
(The person who is always wary will avoid much grief.)

Igi ganganran m gnn mi lj, kr la ti w w.
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 t b b ng lr, gbgb n gb.
Whatever tree engages in a contest of threats with ng will suffer the fate of drying up.
(Never take on an adversary too tough for you to handle.)

Ignnugn gbn sn.
The vulture conceals a lot of wisdom in itself.
(A person may be quite astute even though he/she appears foolish.)

gb ara b lra l b t.
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.)

Igb dojd j ti n, tin igb nigb e.
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.)

gb t a b n k gn m j n yb.
It is only when one pleads with the gn person (from Porto Novo or j 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.) [48]

gb t a b per par n jko.
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.)

Igb t f n gba kas lt; kk t f n gba okn lrn.
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.)

gbn rj fil-e r.
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.)

gbn t j n mfn, t kr n mfn, ew fn ni wn fi d 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.)

gbhn n y olkd.
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 hn n dun olkda s.

hl- ba yn j.
Empty boasts ruin a person's reputation.
(One's mouth should not be more powerful than one's arms.)

jj n dn mhoro; ehoro- rebi j n k dhn b.
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.)

jmr t lun n- s fj, oj aj ni t- 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.)

Ij jj n m k ok-o egn y jde.
Unrestrained dancing is what causes the masquerader's penis to become exposed.
(One should exercise restraint in performing even pleasurable activities.)

knj un pl, gbgba.
Haste and patience end up the same.
(Great haste offers no advantage over patience.)

kekere fr ik rn.
Ikekere (type of fish) is treating a deadly thing as something to laugh about.
(One should not take serious or deadly matters lightly.)

keruku w If; aj k gb nbji kn.
Carrying dust is taboo in If no dog dares bark in the shadow of the leopard.
(One should not engage in forbidden or dangerous acts.)

kk seu nkan gb; i dn od ariw 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.)

kk m t tw b er ni y m b gbn.
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.)

Ik d Dd, Dd d ik.
Death stalks Dd, and Dd stalks death.
(Said of a person whom people are after, but who does everything to make himself/herself even more vulnerable.) [49]

Ikn jgd ikn rd; ikn m p ohun t dn n pani.
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.)

lara lj n mni gbj, n mni .
Excessive envy of others causes one to take on witching, and makes one become a wizard.
(Too much envy leads to antisocial behavior.)

Il nj- ti mn l sko.
It is from the home that the j person takes fire to the farm.
(The wise person assembles all the materials he/she will need before embarking on a venture.)

In k w od k rj ay.
Fire does not enter into a stream and yet have the opportunity to live.
(Whoever ventures into dangerous situations deserves the repercussions.)

In - b m.
Fire is not something one conceals under one's clothing.
(One should not hide one's pressing problems but seek help.)

nk k rn j skn.
The baboon does not send an ultimatum to the leopard.
(People should not challenge forces they are no match for.)

In ni lork t a s m ni gb.
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.)

Inure nj, fura atb n m w bni.
Too much good will towards others engenders suspicion and attracts insults.
(One can be too good towards others.)

pk gb t, phnd m yg yy.
The occiput does not recognize contempt; a turned back does not see a disdainful gesture.
(The best response to insults is to disregard them.)

pk l d shn k t da yangan snu.
One throws back the head first before throwing corn into the mouth.
(One should not put one's cart before one's horse.)

k pani; ay n pani.
Misfortune does not kill; it is indulgent happiness that kills.
(Indulgence kills more surely than want.)

tj l y abr.
Safe keeping is what is appropriate for a needle.
(One should pay special attention to matters that are very delicate.)

ts l nl.
Close investigation keeps the affairs of the town in order.
(Investigating matters well before acting helps maintain harmony in a group.)

w n, j la.
Today's behavior causes tomorrow's problem.
(The foolish behavior of the present sows the seeds of difficulties for the future.)

y l b b; b a b baba j n d.
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.)

yn-n m, r y; yn-n r, r r.
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.)

yw la b sn; k l lyn.
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.)

yw fhn, fj.
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.)

yw kan oo l gba olknrn mj.
One single room will not do for two invalids.
(One should make adequate provisions for whatever one contemplates doing.)

Is t lj Alalantor d , btor gb ikn.
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.)

Isn ni m ol; tdgn l m dk-dk.
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.) [50]

I t a k rnni, un y l j rn.
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.)

It t a tu sl k tn pad re nu ni m.
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.)

Iyn mdn b b.
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 er (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 m (which indicates limit or extent and m (which means child).  [Back to text]


48. The gn serve the Yoruba as favourite butts of jokes.  [Back to text]


49. D 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]