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


O b fn lbt o yb s i; o m ibi fn-n ti wa?
You come upon the carcass of a buffalo in the marshes and you pull out your butchering knife; do you know where the bushcow came from?
(People should not lay claim to things whose procurement they know nothing about.)

d w alrb di nn.
When goods get into the hands of the retailer they become objects to haggle about.
(A store minder is a difficult person to obtain a good bargain from.)

d or akhn kr deegun.
In the mouth of a toothless person bean fritters become like bones.
(To the shiftless person the easiest task is onerous indeed.)

O k r k pata sf.
You have not found corn loaf and yet you are readying the vegetable stew.
(Said of a person too eagerly anticipating a favor that might not materialize.)

O l sjb kan, o ru igb b wl.
You made only one trip to jebu and you returned with a calabash of charms.
(Said of a person on whom the impact of an experience is out of all proportion.) [64]

b obnrin j kanr mn; o ma n lgn ni?
You quarrel with your wife and you put on a baleful look; do you propose to use evil charm on her?
(One should moderate one's response to annoyances.)

b, b! wn l so sl d .
Watch out, watch out, for here it comes! For such a thing one would best prepare a snare.
(If the thought of something fills one with apprehension one should plot to defeat it.)

n ibi t tanpp gbj yn m.
There is a limit to the protection black stinging ants can offer palmfruits.
(There is a limit to the help one can expect from others.)

n ohun t gb- j tl ikn k t s p y y un.
There was something the elder ate to line his stomach before he said what little is before him will suffice to sate his hunger.
(The prudent person prepares himself or herself for all eventualities.)
Compare the following.

n ohun t gb- j tl ikn k t s p y- y un.
There was something the elder ate to line his stomach before he said his/her suffering is enough food for him/her.
(Even when one is prostrated by grief, one does not ignore one's need to survive.)
Compare the preceding entry.

n ohun t bs rn nn j.
Raising an alarm or calling for help goes only so far to aid someone in a fight.
(No matter what help a person in trouble receives he/she will still be in for some grief.)

p tt aboyn, o msn-n.
The longest respite for the pregnant woman is nine months.
(Sooner rather than later, the day will arrive when one must fulfil one's obligation or pay one's debt.)

O r gbb ad lj ta geere s i; ba e rere olwa r j t .
You see an adult chicken at the market and you eagerly go for it; if it was of any value would the owner sell it?
(People should think carefully before they assume obligations.)

O s pa m mo pnnu l, o bojwhn mo dbl, o tiw bgb; o f d m ni?
You foul the air in my face and I lick my lips, you glance back and I prostrate myself before you, and yet you stretch your hand into the bush; would you tie me up?
(Said by a long-suffering person who has quietly taken a great deal of abuse, when the abuser persists in his/her illtreatment.)

O w nl o k san, o dko o kk gd w, o bm o s n Adn; b b sn lhn r, o k sn lhn-in ?
You borrow money at home and you refuse to repay it, you arrive on the farm and open the pot containing plantains for inspection, and when you have a baby you name it Adn; if - does not leave you alone, why don't you leave it alone?
(Obsession with anything is bad.) [65]

O w lrn p b lrun lr.
You are perched at the lofty neck of the palm-tree and you are bandying words with God.
(Said of a person who taunts more powerful adversaries even when he/she is in a vulnerable position.)

Obnrin br br.
Innumerable wives, innumerable problems.
(Whoever adds wives to wives adds problems to problems.)

Obnrin t ggi ngb Or, g gm.
A woman who cuts wood in the grove of Or has cut her last.
(Whoever tempts a fate that is known to strike unfailingly has tempted his/her last.)

b- n tj l m un spam sb in, gbn b ok b d, un sn fn un.
(The vagina says its is coyness that caused it to hide below the belly, but if a penis shows up, it will open the way for it.)
Modesty does not indicate a lack of ability or willingness to act decisively.

Oddr n wn l t oj un yan un m b; b wn b df, un a s wl.
The parrot says no one will prescribe it as a sacrifice in its presence; when it sees people consulting the oracle, it will go hide in its closet.
(The smart person should always distance himself from disaster.)

Oddr wol hr-hr b nip y k sl; gbgb nwrn woh igi b nip k tib jde.
The parrot eyes the cramped house as though it would enter; the big-headed bird gbgb eyes the hole in the tree as though it did not emerged from there.
(Some people fail to appreciate their assets, while others envy them what they have.)

frf - fhn t.
A chasm is nothing to lean on.
(One can should not trust in emptiness.)

Ogun gbtl k pa ar.
A long foreseen war does not kill a cripple.
(One must take advantage of foreknowledge to protect oneself.)

Ohun j l t; b epo ynb k.
What one eats is what one sells; but not like Kerosene.
(One must be selective about which of one's just deserts one will accept). [66]

Ohun gbogbo, wn l dn m.
All things are good or pleasing only to a point.
(One should observe moderation in all things.)

Ohun gbogbo k p j olhun lj.
It is never long before a thing becomes invaluable to the owner.
(A person always attaches excessive value to his or her possessions.(Trust a person to exaggerate the value of his or her possessions, especially when they are damaged or coveted by others.)

Ohun gbogbo k t ol.
Nothing ever satisfies a thief.
(Greed and covetousness are the marks of a thief.)

Ohun gbogbo l diyel; gbn k sni t moye ara-a ; j foj rere jde.
Everything has its price, but no one knows his/her own worth; bloodshed never has a good cause.
(People should not devalue their own lives by exposing themselves to unnecessary danger.)

Ohun t a b ma j a k fi runm.
One does not sniff at what one will eventually eat anyway.
(One should nor sneer at a thing that one will eventually embrace.)

Ohun t b e ps, k m fi e knj; b p tt ohun gbogbo a t w ni.
That which one should do slowly and carefully one should not do in a hurry; sooner or later everything comes within one's reach.
(One should not shirk one's present responsibilities in the pursuit of a distant goal.)

Ohun t a b tjm k jn.
Whatever one trains one's eyes upon will not get charred.
(Matters to which one devotes one's undivided attention will not go awry.)

Ohun t a fi s m k bj; ohun t a fagbra m n nini lra.
Whatever one handles gently will not be ruined; it is what one attempts with force that causes one grief.
(A gentle approach will accomplish much, while a forceful approach is likely to complicate matters.)

Ohun t a fn lm n .
It is that which one gives to a caretaker to look after that he looks after.
(One would best focus on only that task that was assigned to one.)

Ohun t a p y dr n di.
It is always something one does not expect to become a load that eventually becomes a huge task.
(Matters that one considers of little significance have a way of becoming insoluble problems.)

Ohun t a r la fi b pr ni; b igi tn b lnu-u k.
It is whatever one can find that one uses to fill gaps in one's roof; that does not apply to a faggot spewing flames.
(Every seemingly sensible generalization has exceptions.)

Ohun t aj r t fi gb t y t gntn-n fi ran w.
That which a dog sees and barks at is nothing compared to what the sheep contemplates in silence.
(Some people make mountains out of other people's mole-hills.)

Ohun t b wu olknrn n pa .
Whatever the invalid craves is what spells his/her death.
(Whatever one is addicted to is liable to prove one's undoing.)

Ohun t b wu m- j k run m nn.
Whatever a child crave will not give him/her stomach ache.
(One is always willing to endure sacrifices in order to have whatever one craves.)

jij l rm lw alkdun.
It is all of a sudden that one sees a baby in the arms of the colobus monkey.
(One need not announce ahead of time what feat one will perform.)

j kan k bni lb k jjd r- s; b gbn b s tn, br s.
When people are trapped in a hut by a downpour there is no sense in fighting to get a word in the discussion; after the older person has spoken, the younger person will speak.
(When there is a surfeit of a commodity, there is no sense in scrambling to get some of it.)

j r, or k; atkn lgb t l mj a e gdgb sn.
The rain is falling, the call of the secret cult is sounding loudly outside; the threading pin that lacks a change of clothing will sleep naked.
(If one has not made provisions for rainy days, when they come one must suffer the attendant hardship.)

Oj ab - pnl.
The edge of a razor is not a thing to lick.
(Never engage in dangerous behavior.)

Oj wd k lad re pta.
It is not in the watchful presence of a kite that a chicken strolls to a rock.
(One does not engage in culpable activity in the presence of those charged with upholding discipline.)
Compare Oj in k...

Oj mle kr lt, bm s n mr-mh-w.
The muslim cannot take his mind off liquor, he has a child and named him mr mh w.
(One's addiction will always manifest itself, however much one might hide it.) [67]
The following is a variant.

Oj mle kr lt, bm s n Lmm.
The muslim cannot take his mind off liquor, he has a child and named him Lmm. [68]

Oj kan ld n.
A machete can have only one edge.
(One should be true to one calling or relationship, and not philander.)

Oj kan n lwe bgb.
It is at the same place that the youth will come up on the elder.
(Sooner or later the youth becomes an elder; patience is all.)

Oj l gb re n bdn: fi ogn k gbd.
It takes a great deal of fortitude to set out for Ibadan; he ties his money around his waist.
(One should take the necessary precautions when one embarks on a dangerous venture.) [69]

Oj n kn klbnrin; l mj j dandan.
The husband of the wife is only being unduly hasty; in time two concubines will inevitably quarrel.
(One should not be overly anxious for results that are inevitable anyway.)

Oj frak t ta aj-a lk; n b b j b ni wn t wn a ma tn araa wn r.
We might see each other again who sold his dog for twenty cowries; he said if that is how things are sold, they might well see each other again.
(If someone sells you an item at a ridiculously low price, you might expect to see the person again soon.)

Oj olgb lkt gbd yan.
It is in the presence of the cat that the mouse must not saunter.
(One may cannot afford to be careless in the presence of powerful enemies.)

Oj t k wo in, t k wo rn; oj t bni dal k.
Eyes that cannot stand lamplight, and that cannot stand sunlight, are not eyes that will last one until the twilight of one's life.
(From early indications, one can tell what friendships or possessions will prove lasting.)
Compare Oj t y bni kal . . .

Oj t y bani kal k tr epin.
The eyes that will last one until night time will not start oozing matter at the dawn.
(Relationships that will last will not start becoming onerous right at the start.)
Compare Oj t k wo in . . .

Ojkkr baba knj.
Covetousness is the father of envy.
(The envious and the covetous are similar.)

Ojl l b w; br l gb l; df fn lej t f obnrin onl.
He entered through the front door, but it was through a hidden shortcut that he snuck away; it consulted the Ifa oracle for the visitor who has an affair with his host's wife.
(Whoever abuses his hospitality will depart with disgrace.) [70]

Okan ni wn ta in lrun; ni t y l wn; gbn ni t y b l k.
Horses sell for only one cowrie in heaven; there is no shortage of people who will go there, but who ever returns from there?
(Setting out on dangerous ventures is the easiest thing in the world, but their repercussions prove to be unspeakable.)

Okan-n sni dahu ej- sni dp.
One cowrie makes a miser of one; two cowries make a spendthrift of one.
(When one has little one seems a miser; when one has plenty one becomes careless with money.)

kl gb--gb- f m lj toto.
A huge morsel forces the child's eyes wide open.
(A person who bites off more than he can chew will suffer in the process of trying.)

kl kan n pa gb.
Only one morsel kills an elder.
(The smallest thing, if not accorded the proper attention, can be the death of even the most powerful person.)

kt t b r- m p pj j rn un l sn.
The giant bush rat that has its tail stripped by a trap knows that it is its visit to the fifth-day market that was postponed.
(One should take a near-disaster as a warning.)

ket baba ogun; b a gun, olklk n di ket-e lw.
Large bundle, father of all wars; when preparing for war, each person prepares his bundle to take along.
(For all tasks, adequate preparations are mandatory.)

kpa aj la fi b gn.
It is a mature and sizeable dog that one sacrifices to gn.
(One should use for the occasion material that is proper for the occasion.)

k bnj k py.
A stone thrown in anger does not kill a bird.
(Whatever one does in anger is liable to go awry.)

Oko ni gbgb gb.
The farm is where gbgb belongs.
(Everything in its proper place.) [71]

k t y b r k py.
A missile that a bird sees will not kill the bird.
(If one sees danger approaching, one will take precautions.)

kb l fi alts sn.
The eunuch cannot make fun of the person with gonorrhea.
(A person with a blemish of his/her own should not make fun of other people's blemishes.)

k jnk l y ogb s; ta n j y agada serin?
It is a dead elephant one approaches with a cutlass; who would dare draw a machete to attack an elephant that is alive?
(One dares taunt a powerful adversary when he has been neutralized.)
This is a variant of hn jnk l y ogb . . .

Okn gb k gb dor wo.
It is never long before a ram's tethering rope slips to its horns.
(Seemingly minor difficulties soon become unmanageable problems.)

Ol k gb gbdu.
No thief steals a gbdu drum.
(One should not attempt a risky business one has no hope of pulling off.) [72]
Compare Ol t j kkk . . .

Olgb jw; atannij b orun.
The dozing person does not confess; nothing deceives like sleep.
(One can always feign sleep to avoid engaging in discussions.)

Oljt logun pa.
It is those who worry about their image who die in war.
(Discretion and a thick skin are sometimes much better than valor.)

Oll k k fn.
The facial scarifier does not scarify an albino's face.
(There are some tasks that are beyond the scope of experts.)

Olr- gb j sk, wn n ire ni; b ire ni, b ibi ni, wn m.
The cult priest raises his divining wand and the worshippers proclaim the omen is good; whether it is good or bad they do not know.
(It is foolhardy to presume to know what is in other people's minds.)

Omi l k- t k t t iyanrn.
Water is the first thing one's foot encounters before it encounters the sand.
(One should attend to the most urgent matters first.)

n, ad m w; la, ad m w; j kan la f wl ad k.
Today, my chicken has gone to roost in the wrong place; tomorrow, my chicken has gone to roost in the wrong place; some day soon the errant chicken will disappear permanently.
(Little errors, if not checked, will result in a major blunder.)
See the following two entries.

n, baba- dk; la, baba- dk; j kan ni ik y d baba.
Today, the patriarch collapsed; tomorrow, the patriarch collapsed; one day death will throw the patriarch.
(Frequent close calls with death will eventually lead to real death.) [73]
Compare the foregoing and the following.

n, in-n d baba; la, in-n d baba; b baba b y in-n gn, j kan lin d baba pa.
Today, the horse threw the patriach; tomorrow, the horse threw the patriarch; if the patriarch does not stop riding the horse, one day the horse will throw him to his death.
(One should take warning from little disasters.)
See the foregoing two enties.

Ongbjm fr fn , fw kn n w; wo l ma k fn nb.
The hair scrapper is scraping your head and you are feeling your scalp with your hand; what do you expect will be left for you there?
(Once the end is clear, one should stop being anxious about developments.)

Onl rel wn n od s; od s, il l l.
The home owner heads for home and they say the guard is on the run; the guard is not on the run, he is merely heading home.
(A strategic retreat to regroup is not the same as giving up the fight.)

nmn, tu- jnf lamla, tu- jnfn; ran mirn s ngb ni?
Today, the antelope falls into a ditch; tomorrow, the antelope falls into the ditch; is there no other animal in the forest?
(If the same person gets into trouble every time, the person need to look to himself/herself.)
See, n t jnfn . . .

Onnff n w onj fn onnwrwr.
Always it is the hot-tempered person that finds food for the even-tempered person.
(The even-tempered person will always have the advantage of the hot-tempered person.

Onsr n e k m Alhs.
Only the patient person will win the daughter of the Hausa man.
(Patience overcomes all obstacles.)

Onu n m ibi i gb ta s.
The owner of the yams is the one who knows where the mature yams are.
(One should not presume to know more about an affair that the person most intimately involved.)

Oor di r lAw; wn ignnugn oore wn p lr.
A favor has turned to mud in Aw tow the vulture did a favor and went bald.
(One should be careful about doing favors, lest they come back to haunt one.) [74]
Compare Oore t ignnugn e . . .

Oore f gn jws.
The benediction is longer than the sermon.
(Said of people who are long winded.)

Oore t Agbe- e lf, dagbe.
The favor Agbe did in f town reduced him to begging.
(One should learn from Agbe's example and be prudent in doing favors.)

Oore t ignnugn e t fi p lr, t kl e t fi y gg, a k e ir .
The sort of favor the vulture did and went bald, the sort of favor the ground hornbill did and developed a goitre, one does not do it.
(One should not do favors that will result in one's ruin.)
Compare Oor di r lAw . . .

Oore- p, a fk san n.
The favor was excessive; it was repaid with wickedness.
(Too great a favor provokes enmity.)

r n gi t a fi w .
The porcupine itself will procure the wood with which it will be roasted.
(The incautious person will provide the instrument for his own undoing.) [75]

Or ej - h im.
The head of a snake is nothing to scratch one's nose with.
(Never expose yourself to unnecessary danger.)

Orin n wj t.
Singing goes before plotting.
(People about to engage in a plot will first spar to sound one another out.)

Orin t a k ln, t a sn, t a wo, a k tn j k lr.
The song that we sang yesterday, without sleep, without respite; we do not resume singing it in the morning.
(Yesterday's problems should be gone with yesterday.)

r kker - h n pr.
A small god is not a thing to hang from the rafters.
(Some things may seem insignificant but yet must not be taken lightly.)

rm-ad mwd; y l m.
The young chick does not know the eagle; it is its mother that knows the kite.
(The young are neither as experienced not as careful as the old.)

n wj kn; bm n gbhn rn; gbogbo gb l p, wn r ogn bm e.
Hissing goes before crying; had-one-but-known comes at the conclusion of an unfortunate matter; all the elders in the town assembled but they could find no antidote for had-we-but-known.
(One can only regret an error once it has been committed; there is no undoing it.)

Onj t a j p, a k bu kl-e tbi.
Food that one expects to last, one does not eat in huge handfuls.
(Wise husbandry is the medicine for lasting prosperity.)

Ow b ol gb.
Money does not live with a thief.
(A thief and money are incompatible neighbors; never trust a thief with money.)

wy; a-ro--s b r.
A hush-hush matter; difficult to utter as speech.
(The matter under reference is so delicate it almost does not bear speech.)

Oyn in: a k k kn m- til.
One does not count a pregnancy as a child already delivered.
(One should not treat anything hoped for as though it was already in hand.)


64. The saying is obviously a reference to the reputation the jb have as being versed in powerful charms.  [Back to text]


65. The proverb plays on the word , which can mean borrow or open. The name Adn means The crown (or king) opens the way.  [Back to text]


66. The proverb would make better sense if the two balancing phrases were reversed: what one sells is what one eats.  [Back to text]


67. mr is the Yoruba rendering of the Arabic name Oumar; the Yoruba version would be, written in full, m or, meaning, the taking up of a wine cup; the mh w m ah w attached at the end means bring a wine cup.  [Back to text]


68. Lmm is the Yoruba rendering of Imam; here the suggestion is that the name is L-ma-mu, which means Maintain the ability to drink.  [Back to text]


69. The road to bdn is in this case taken to be full of peril from ambushers. The person involved must be brave indeed, for the amount of money he ties around his waist is considerable.  [Back to text]


70. The formulation is typical of several in which a leading statement describing a situation is followed by the statement, df fn (He consulted the Ifa oracle for), and then followed by a description of the behavior that leads to the condition described at the opening.  [Back to text]


71. Gbgb is a magical leaf used in making charms to translocate people instantly over great distances.  [Back to text]


72. The drum is too hefty, and, where would the thief play it anyway?  [Back to text]


73. Dk means collapse or faint, but it can also be a contraction of d ik, meaning throw death in a wrestling match.  [Back to text]


74. Aw is a town near y; the proverb obviously refers to an incident in which someone did a favor and reaped disaster. The reference to the vulture recalls the folktale in which the bird volunteered to carry a sacrifice to heaven to end a draught and got caught in the downpour resulting from his successful mission on its return.  [Back to text]


75. The porcupine's quills are here likened to kindling.  [Back to text]