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


bnij n m jagun ni.
Only those who struggle with one know one's strategies.
(Only through close association does one know other people.)

br gba km; df fn a-lw--gb.
br receive a cudgel blow; it consulted the If oracle for a disobedient child.
(The obstinate person is asking for cudgel blows.) [76]

byj, t ru gngan wl.
Purveyor of general disaster, who carries a gngan drum into town.
(Apostrophe addressed to trouble makers.) [77]

b lm gb l pa ongbaso gd.
Stew is the breast milk of adults is what killed the calabash repairer of gd town.
(Addiction kills.)

b l- bni er a n k m; b er b er pani lw.
The l knife is playing with one and one says it is not sharp; just as in play it slashes one's hand.
(One should be careful not to underestimate people who do not advertise themselves, otherwise they will have one prostrate before one knows what is happening.)

b to s tl fi jn w s .
The sort of stew you cooked and set the house on fire, you will explain.
(You must explain your unheard-of behavior that resulted in such a disaster as has occurred.)

blw blw; b ewr y b dbl a b il ib w.
Inspector of the ground inspects the ground; if a goat wishes to lie down it first inspects the ground.
(Look well at the lay of the land before engaging in any new venture.)

b ni yo para .
The monkey will be its own death.
(Fools will bring their own undoing upon themselves.) [78]

dray t fi gb na igi.
Sprightly person who hurls himself sidewise against a tree.
(Said of a too-cheerful person whose excess energy is getting on others' nerves.)

darn y t musn.
Habitual criminal bird that eats oranges.
(Addressed to any person whose actions are likely to lead to some disaster.)

d a-fi-fl-pa-erin, j kan ni kk-i m.
The hunter who would kill elephants with his cap; his fame lasts only one day.
(Whoever promises to do the impossible enjoys fame only as long as it takes for the impossibility to be manifest.)

g-a m fi s y r, gbogbo ara n fi y i.
The never-soil-your-foot-with-mud dandy eventually soils his whole body.
(Too much squeamishness is its own undoing.)

gn md - k lj.
A full-grown warthog is not something to confront.
(One would be wise to avoid dangerous people.)

gd bj, a n pn.
The banana is rotting, people say it is ripening.
(It does not help to rationalize a brat's behavior with silly explanations.)

g gb g r.
A fool carries a cudjel around.
(A person is cultivating the means to his/her own ruin.)

gbgb wl, ku tiy.
The iron stake has been driven into the ground; the problem now is how to pull it out.
(Some ventures easy at the start prove mightily intractable down the line.)

gbn gbnj n pa d y.
It is excessive cunning that kills the mature cane rat.
(Too much cleverness brings trouble.)

gbn gbnj n s ni diwin; b ogn b p lpj a sni di wr; bbnrn b gbn gbnj, pp la k- m.
Excessive cleverness turns one into a phantom; if there is too much magical charm it turns the owner into an imbecile; if a woman is too cunning her husband's clothes wind up ill-fitting.
(People who are too cunning are headed for trouble; a man who married too cunning a woman is headed for trouble.)

gbn dnn, wr m.
Today's wisdom, next year's madness.
(What seems wise now may appear like lunacy in hindsight.)

gbn pl-u sr la fi m erin wl.
It is with cunning and patience that one brings an elephant into town.
(The most difficult tasks can be accomplished with wisdom and patience.)

j t a b n, gg lara yni.
The day one is destined to be lost one is never able to contain one's excitement.
(Disaster attends over-enthusiasm.)

j t a to k a to ti kt m .
The day one arranged one's corn in the granary, one did not think in terms of the rat.
(One hardly ever plans for trouble.)

j t gb e- b di kysl, k w oko rro.
The day farming entails being careful not to hurt the soil, one should stop farming.
(If the basic condition for a trade is interdicted, one should no longer engage in the trade.)

j t eltutu- b ma f, jpere k rn.
On the day the white flying ants wish to swarm, the worms that prey on them keep still.
(Only cunning will deliver one's prey into one's hands.)

knjw gb t gbin w sko kr.
It is an insatiable farmer who plants cotton on a farm by the stream.
(Greed sometimes makes people work against their own interests.) [79]

knjw baba rn.
Covetousness, father of all diseases.
(There is no disease like greed.)

knjw baba ol; wro- wo ohun olhun m j.
Covetousness, father of thievery; bug-eyed greedy person stares at another person's property without blinking.
(Covetousness leads to stealing.)

knjw- bu kl, oj - lami.
A greedy person takes a morsel of food and tears gush from his eyes.
(Greed has its pains also.) [80]

knjw yn-n d wj, wk yn-yn-n-yn.
The covetous person arrives in a gathering, and his eyes dart about restlessly.
(The covetous person is always on the lookout for something.)

knjw k mu j lmrn; j ara n n mu.
The greedy person does not drink other people's blood; he drinks only his own.
(Greed recoils on the greedy.)

knjw - fi w nkan.
Impatient envy is not a good state in which to seek anything.
(One should be patient in seeking one's fortune.)

knjw olgb t jk snu n; eku elku l f pa j?
The insatiable cat that sits in the doorway, does it want to kill cats in another house?
(Greedy people are never satisfied with what they have.) [81]

knjw Onng n s m r n Bmgb; wn o t a l gb l gb.
It is an insatiable ng priest who names his son Bmigb one should procure for oneself a ritual rod one can carry.
(Avoid avarice.) [82]

knjw pl ol, dd ni wn j.
Covetousness and thievery are similar to each other.
(Covetousness is as bad as stealing.)

knjw- pn gbaf nn gbaje; n k wn pn gb kan t k, by igbiw tn l kan un.
The insatiable person receives twelve thousand cowries out fourteen thousand; he asked that the remaining two thousand be shared, perhaps two hundred of them will come to him.
(Greed knows no limits.)

kr gor rk, oj d- d.
The squirrel scrambles up the rk tre the fire in the hunter's eyes is doused.
(When affairs have gone out of one's control one should cease worrying.) [83]

k j, k j! gb t b r, k par n?
The boat is leaking, the boat is leaking! After it sinks won't matters end?
(There is little one can do about a problem whose outcome is inevitable.)

kkan lw y.
Broom sticks drop off one by one.
(Huge problems usually build up gradually.)

kn-n mn tl kj t f.
The millipede knew the way before it went blind.
(The old knew how to live before they became frail.)

knrin t f jw mj sl rni fi l.
A man who marries two jealous women has no one to tend his home in his absence.
(Jealousy is a terrible quality in a spouse.)

la ni m l, t fi koto e m.
Tomorrow I take my leave, who uses a shallow pot as his water jar.
(Short-sighted people make little provision for the future.)

l j k nrran; m w Ad t tann rn lsn-n.
Greatness won't let me see; the son of the w, king of Ad, who lights a lamp to walk with in broad daylight.
(One should not allow one's good fortune to go to one's head.)

lj n fi or gbgb.
It is the person who separates two fighters who gets gashed on the head.
(The peace maker is liable to suffer for his pains.)

ld k tor atgn ynbn.
A hunter does not fire off his gun because of the wind.
(One should be deliberate and attentive in pursuing one's profession.)

lgbn br- pte gr.
The excessively cunning person is trying his hand at stealing.
(Too much cunning is like thievery.)

m ad- f, a n rn l k!
A chick flies up, and we exclaim, A game animal has escaped, alas!
(Do not blow matters out of all credible proportion!)

m in ay - b bn.
The seeds in an ay game are not things to be angry at.
(One should not blame one's misfortune on innocent people.)

m orogn - k, o n n r lrun pur; b t b k k?
The child of your rival-wife dies and you say the person who saw you in heaven did not lie; what if your own child dies?
(One should not go overboard in sharing other people's sorrow.)

md b rk, boj whn; j n j?
A child insults an rk tree and glances back apprehensively; does it take revenge immediately?
(The fact that there has been no repercussion for a misdeed does not mean one is home free; repercussions may be delayed.) [84]
Compare A n rk ni y pa md . . .

md j ti oj orun w, n kr kjkj; wn ti m u k k t j, k k nk?
A child wakes from sleep and says in code, Bean fritters two-by-two. Had the others been taking them thus before he woke would any have been left?
(Never misuse what those before you made available to you by their wise husbandry.) [85]

mr od pani lt, k t w p k kn n lgn.
A pestle is a lethal weapon in itself, let alone after rubbing poison on it.
(Overkill is pointless. Also, if a situation is dangerous enough as it is, one should not aggravate it by acting provocatively.)

mt mu agb j.
The drunkard does not drink the gourd through.
(There is a limit to the pleasure a drunk can get from a bottle.)

n br d w olwa-a tl.
A short cut causes a person to land on his palms.
(There are perils to taking paths one is not familiar with.)

n gbl a ma j srun.
The road to the secret grove of the egngn cult may lead to heaven.
(People who do the forbidden may pay dearly for their temerity.)

n l mn; b a b ub, a k m r- d.
It is by missing one's way that one learns the way; if one does not fall one does not learn how to tie one's load properly.
(Errors and failures are opportunities to learn.) [86]

n ni y m ol; ahr ni y m olko.
The road will eventually expose the thief; the farm hut will eventually expose the farmer.
(When the habitual wrongdoer comes to grief, it will be in the course of his wrongdoing.)

n fun, n run: mjj bkann ni wn r.
The pathway of the throat, the pathway to heaven: the two are very much alike.
(One's throat may lead to one's death.)

p gbljk, a-thn-lj.
The walking-stick that is carried on the shoulder, which has its eye pointed backward.
(Said of people who pay no attention to their future.)

p ogn n ru m gle-gle.
It is a great deal of medicine that possesses a child and robs it of all self-control.
(A person who lacks moderation is like someone overpowered by bad medicine.)

pl lej bj, t w p il- ror?
Is it because a snake is biting a toad that one says the earth portends disaster?
(Do not make too much of insignificant events.)

rn k y lr albaun.
The responsibility for trouble never fails to fall on the head of the tortoise.
(Said of people who are invariable the source of problems.) [87]

rn l-l n b p; rn k-k n b o.
Only huge problems befall the mahogany bean tree; only minor problems befall the baobab tree.
(Different people have different levels of vulnerability.)

rn dun gbr; a d a lr, y ll.
Problems have hardly any effect at all on the pumpkin shoot; broken off in the morning, it reappears the following night.
(Said of people who are unimpressed by correction or punishment.)

rn gd t ohun t y d s.
The problem posed by the banana tree is nothing that calls for a machete.
(Do not make too much of a minor crisis.) [88]

r lm et j.
Words are what the child of the ear eats.
(People who misbehave must endure tongue-lashes.) [89]

r p, kw-e l p.
The matter in question is not overwhelming; it is the elaboration for it that is almost forbidding.
(Creating a problem is easy; explaining it is not quite as easy.)

rn k- n ba; ay n wn.
There matter pertaining to corn has a limit; life has its measure.
(To everything there is a proper limit.)

r pp kn agbn; ir n m w.
A lot of words will not fill a basket; it will only lead to lies.
(Brevity is wise in discussions; wordiness leads to invention.)

r t a d n gbdg: bo dwe kk y fya.
A matter that is wrapped in gbdg leaves will, if wrapped in cocoyam leaves, rip them to tatters.
(If delicate matters are handled carelessly the result will be the opposite of what was desired.) [90]

r t n ohn ff, ddk l y .
A matter that does not have a means to voice itself had better be silent.
(Matters that should not be mentioned should be left unbroached.)

onbj p isn; onnb ju dn l.
The beauty bestowed by tattooing with the juice of the bj plant does not last nine days; a prostitute's beauty does not last more than a year.
(Fast living plays havoc with people's looks.)

tt l t r; tt l t eruku.
One step after the other is the manner to walk through mire; one step after the other is how one walks through dust.
(With great care, one can extricate oneself safely from any problem.)
Compare kkan l y s lbt.

w- baba l w, wo s- baba.
Your eyes are on the patriarch's hand, but they ignore his feet.
(People who do not pay attention to details are liable to go astray.) [91]

wn ynl, p- ynj.
Expensive commodities come to the home; inexpensive ones go to the market.
(If one overprices one's goods one will find no takers.)


76. br is one of the minor chapters of If called m Od, (the children of Od, the main corpus).  [Back to text]


77. Apart from its noisiness, it is not clear why the introduction of a gngan drum (the talking drum) into town would be disasterous. A suggestion is that the bearer carries the drum on his head to signal sorrow.  [Back to text]


78. The Yorb use the word b, literally monkey, to designate fools.  [Back to text]


79. Cotton will not thrive in too wet a condition; but the avaricious farmer thinks the more moisture the better the yield.  [Back to text]


80. The morsel is obviously too big for him to swallow without pain or effort.  [Back to text]


81. The cat in the doorway is not paying attention to the mice inside the house; its attention is directed outside.  [Back to text]


82. O is the ritual rod ng priests carry; it is reputed to have the power to invoke lightning. The name Bmgb means Help me carry a ritual rod.  [Back to text]


83. It is taboo for hunters to shoot at an rk tree.  [Back to text]


84. The rk tree is believed to house powerful spirits; any one who insults it is foolhardy.  [Back to text]


85. The child's real meaning is kr mj-mj (Bean fritters two at a time), and the rejoinder is, Wn ti m b k t j b b nl? (Had people been taking grabbing them like that, would he have found any left?). The child is using the sort of scrambled speech known as n[Back to text]


86. The second part is used as a proverb by itself.  [Back to text]


87. This proverb is based on the fact that albaun (or jp) the tortoise is the Yoruba trickster figure.  [Back to text]


88. The trunk of the banana plant is so soft that it does not take much effort to cut it down.  [Back to text]


89. m et, literally the child of the ear, refers here to the inner ear.  [Back to text]


90. Gbdg leaves are used for wrapping kola-nuts, and are therefore well regarded; cocoyam leaves are for all-purpose wrapping.  [Back to text]


91. The underlying story is that a man entertaining a guest sent his son out to go buy a goat to kill for the guest's dinner. He indicated the size of the goat by lifting his arm to the midpoint of his thigh, but at the same time he lifted his foot just slightly above the ground. The son returned with a rather small goat, and the guest wondered why he did not pay attention to his father's instructions. The son replied with the proverb.  [Back to text]