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


B mi md k fi ornkn b.
Help me catch a chicken does not scrape his knees.
(Overzealousness in helping others is a fault.)

Bal il k, wn fi olknrn rl; kn gor kn.
The man of the house died and they put an invalid in his place; weeping climbs upon weeping.
(People known to be unsuitable should not be entrusted with important affairs.)

Bal p m nk w, hnhn n pa wn.
The patriarch of the compound called me but I did not respond dies of anxiety.
(A person who defies his/her main succor heads for ruin.)

Bn s, m b yn s; yn s; ay ti dk.
Counsel with your inside, do not counsel with people; good people are no longer to be found; the world has turned false.
(There are no people to trust, only oneself.)

B a b bu r j, k bu r sp.
If one takes a bite of a cricket, one should put a little in one's pocket.
(Even if one has only a little, one should still save something for the morrow.)

B a b bu ba t a s, ba a fini sl.
If one insults a king and denies doing so, the king leaves one in peace.
(One should not be held accountable for an insult one recants.)

B a b b ba, s; b a b b run, s.
If one insults the king, one denies doing so; if one insults the chief minister, one denies doing so.
(One may disdain authority, but one should not expose oneself to punishment for doing so.)

B a b dk, tara ni a bni dk.
If one keeps silent, what is in one's body keeps silent with one.
(If one does not disclose one's problems one can expect no help.)

B a b fa gb fgn, fi okn-un r sl.
If one drags a sheep to present to a masquerader, one lets go of its leash.
(When one has made a gift of something, one should forget about it.)

B a b frn r ni lfj, b b forgbn, j nd.
If one loves one's friend beyond reason, when that friend bumps his/her head a fight results.
(Friendship that knows no limits is a burden.)

B a b fi ddn h ifn, a hra d egun.
If one scratches an itch as long as the sensation is pleasant, one will scratch down to the bone.
(Even pleasures should be pursued in moderation.)

B a b fi oj igi gbgb wo tt, tt- l w pani.
If one approaches a dried-up tree as one would a green one, it is liable to crash on one and crush one to death.
(One should be alive to the peculiarities of whatever situations one finds oneself in.)

B a b fi dn mta pil- wr, j wo la bunij?
If one takes three years to prepare for one's madness, when will one start biting people?
(Preparations for an action should not be endless.)
See also the following entry.

B a b fi dn mta np, dn ml la fi f?
If one spends three years flapping one's arms, how many years will one take to fly?
(Preparations for an action should not be interminable.)
See also the previous entry.

B a b fi w kan fm fk, w mww k e gb m.
If one gives a girl away in marriage with one hand, ten hands will not suffice to take her back.
(Mistakes made casually are seldom easy to correct.)

B a b l ni, t a k b ni, wn l b ni- t m.
If one chases a person and does not catch up with the person, one should moderate one's hatred of the person.
(Envy should not turn into hatred.)

B a b n k b igi, a b yn.
If one attempts to cut a tree, one will cut people.
(If one behaved towards certain people as they deserve, one would offend innocent people.)

B a b n k j kuru k tn, a k gbn w- r swo.
If one wishes to clean one's plate of dry bean grits, one does not keep scraping the remnants from one's fingers onto the plate.
(If one wishes a quarrel to end, one does not keep recalling its cause.)

B a b j, b kk l w?
Even though we are quarrelling, should we wish each other dead?
(Quarrels should stop short of death wishes.)

B a b ret f, k fi ohun tr.
If one expects a loss, one should make a gift of what one has.
(Rather give things away than lose them.)

B a b per aj, k per kk t a fi s .
If one talks of the dog, one should also talk of the pot one will use to cook it.
(If one proposes a momentous action, one should also consider the consequences.)

B a b rbnrin lr ogun; b a b rbnrin sr j; b a d oj ogun ba bb.
When one sees women one boasts of war; when one sees women one talks of battle; when one gets to battle, one lies low.
(Before women one protects one's image; in battle one protects one's life.)

B a b s p y ni y j oj ni, b a r t--tn, a ma s l.
If one has been told that a bird will eat one's eyes, when one sees the tiniest of birds, one takes to one's heels.
(If one has prior warning of a peril, one takes extraordinary precautions.)

B a b sk s rn j, ar il ni n b.
If one throws a stone into the market place, it hits someone from one's household.
(One's random acts of wickedness are liable to affect those close to one.)

B a b sr fn olff, ajd agbn la s s.
Whatever one says to a talebearer one says to a basket that has lost its bottom.
(Words whispered to a talebearer are in effect broadcast.)

B a b d ni sk, m ary r omi gbgbn s i.
If one exposes one's anus to view, people will fill it with hot water.
(If one exposes one's vulnerability to people, one will be done in.)

B a b w a db we; b a b w a db j.
If one speaks it sounds as though one was speaking in proverbs; if one does not speak it seems as though one was picking a fight.
(In certain delicate situations no option is safe.)

B a k b ly-a rndrnd, a k j ayn.
If one's stomach is not immune to nausea, one does not eat roaches.
(One should avoid things one cannot stomach.)

B a k b l k, p l gb.
If one is unable (or unwilling) to die, one accepts consolation.
(Unless one would die of grieving, one should allow oneself to be consoled.)

B a k b l m k, a k na obnrin-in r.
If one is no match for the husband, one does not hit the wife.
(Never provoke a fight you cannot fight.)

B a k b lw aldn-n, jun ljmm, gbl sn wr.
If one has no money for lamp oil, one eats in the daytime, and one sweeps the house and goes to sleep in good time.
(One's plans and actions should fit one's resources.)

B a k b n s f, a k k iu je.
If one does not have twelve hundred cowries in savings, one does not purchase yams worth fourteen hundred cowries.
(One's aspirations should match one's means.)

B a k b r wl-wde a gbd wl ba.
If one cannot find the official gate keeper one dares not enter the king's palace.
Always ask leave before venturing into another person's domain. [15]

B a k b rgn, fkl b.
If one cannot find a vulture, one sacrifices a hornbill.
(One makes do with what one has.)

B a k b e fn il, a k fi w s .
If one has done nothing for Earth, one does not swear by it.
(One cannot expect sustenance from where one has not cultivated.)

B a k rw ra r, s ad ni lrk.
If one has no money to buy a slave, one gives one's chicken a name.
(One should somehow make do with what one has and be content.)

B a ti e n fi ara-a r hn.
How it will be accomplished will reveal itself.
(The way to accomplish a task will always reveal itself.)

B ad b gbl a ya pp.
If a chicken always keeps to the ground, it becomes flightless.
(Whatever endowment one has, one loses it if one neglects it.)

B jnk b gbkl fr, k mi d gbn.
If an elephant is not sure of its anus, it does not swallow whole coconuts.
(Unless one can cope with the consequences, one does not engage in an action.)

B j b mupo, oj-u r a r.
When a witch has drunk oil, she calms down.
(After one has achieved one's goal, one should relax.)

B algbra- b j ny, frn s i.
If a powerful person mistreats you, burst into laughter.
(Never protest against victimization by one against whom you can do nothing.)

B algm- b f kj, jpere n- j.
When the chameleon wishes to go by, the black ants refrain from stinging.
(The cautious person is immune to the dangers that beset others.)

B al b l, adt a rn, a yan.
When night falls, the leper walks and struts.
(Night is a welcome cloak for blemishes.)
This is a variant of, B il b d, adt a rn, a yan.

B b bn, sr l y lj.
If the kite is displaying anger, the best response for the trader is patience.
(One must learn forbearance in the face of provocation.) [16]

B a b ti f, b la ti sk s i.
It is according to the flight pattern of the standardwinged nightjar [17] that one throws stones at it.
(One responds according to the situation one is confronted with.)

B aw ti l law ti j.
As the initiate of mysteries drums, so the initiate of mysteries dances.
(One's actions are best suited to the circumstances.)

B bt b r rj, yya n ya.
If the bt drum sounds too loudly, it tears.
(Excess leads to disaster.)
See also, B ilu b dn dnj, y fya.

B ekl b k eb, ara-a r ni y gbn s i.
If a worm makes a heap, it is itself that it will plant in it.
(The consequences of a person's actions will fall on the person's own head.)

B ik b e gbn ngbn yyin.
It is when the snail wants to invite death that it lays eggs.
(A person who knows an action will be disastrous but carries it our anyway deserves what he gets.) [18]

B j b sn, ja fi ja j.
If fish sleeps, fish will devour fish.
(If one does not wish to be taken advantage of, one must be ever watchful.)

B lhnkl sn, p lhnkl-e r tt; b p tt orun a gb onl l.
If the owner of the backyard does not sleep, one stays in the backyard for a long time, sooner or later the owner of the house will fall asleep.
(Patience accomplishes all ends.)

B lj b m j- r lbi, k p nknnl.
If the person involved in a case acknowledges his or her guilt, he or she does not last long on his or her knees.
(Penitence invites leniency.)

B nkn b foj di Or, Or a gb e.
If anyone defies the Or mystery, it does away with him or her.
(Whoever disdains potential dangers eventually pays for the disdain.)

B nkn e ohun t nkan e r, oj-u r r ohun t nkan r r.
If a person does what no one has ever done before, his eyes will see what no one has ever seen before.
(Those who do unusual things should expect unusual consequences.)

B d kok k b d a lj, k gb egungun m.
If the wolf does not have faith in its anus it does not swallow bones.
(One should not attempt a thing whose repercussions one cannot withstand.)

B f b f lmd fi drn wl.
As though he were stumbling on treasures, thus a youth brings trouble into the household.
(A youth seldom realized what actions of his will involve his household in trouble.)

B il b d, adt a rn, a yan. When the house is deserted, the leper will walk and strut.
(When one is unobserved, one does as one pleases.)
This is a variant of, B al b l, adt a rn, a yan.

B l b dn dnj, y fya.
If a drum makes too much noise, it breaks.
(Disaster follows excess.)
See also, B bt b r rj, yya n ya.

B in b jni, t j m ni, tara ni l k gbn.
If one is on fire and one's child is on fire, one douses one's fire first.
(Without first attending to one's needs, one cannot attend to others'.)

B iu n b funfun, fw b j.
If one's yam is white, one eats it furtively.
(One would be unwise to flaunt one's good fortune.)

B k b s on i le l; b k b s lw a k w; khns lw l p.
If the owner of the job is absent the job does not progress; if the person who engaged the help is absent no help is given; when the back of the person who engaged help is turned, one lifts one's hands from the job.
(The employee is most industrious when under the supervision of the employer.)

B o ma ra il ra il, b o ma gba n gba n; md k w sja Agb-mkn k w m eku.
If you wish to buy okro, buy okro; if you wish to receive a gratuity do so; a child does not come to a tiger hunt and catch rats.
(One's deed's should be appropriate to the location.)

B obnrn b wgb or, a l r b- m.
If a woman enters the ritual grove of the or cult no one will ever see her return.
(Any person who engages in forbidden action courts destruction.) [19]

B gb ni b dnilj, a k fi gbr w.
If one does not trust one's cudgel, one does not try it on one's own head.
(One should not swear by something about which one is not certain.)

B oj alkdun d igi, k gn n.
If the monkey is not certain about a tree, it does not climb it.
(One should not embark on projects one cannot accomplish.)

B oj ons b sunwn, a k l .
If the face of the person who farted is baleful, one does not make a big fuss about the fart.
(One does not incite a person spoiling for a fight.)

B olgb- b pa eku, a fi r-u r dl.
When a cat kills a mouse, it uses the tail as a sentry.
(One should save something of one's fortune for the future.)

B olgb- b pa m, m p ma l.
When a cat begins to kill guinea pigs, one knows it is ready to go.
(A person who embarks on improper behavior invites ostracism.) [20]

B olwe- b m we-e r, t k j a, r j b ni.
If the butt of a proverb recognizes it but does not acknowledge it, he is afraid of a fight.
(A person who has reason to take offence but does not is avoiding a fight.) [21]

B n ti r, la r b, ni babalwo- fi df lrrn.
As today is, tomorrow will not be, hence the diviner consults the oracle every five days.
(Since no one knows the future, one must constantly reassess one's decisions.)

B on b fi iu-u r se b, gbn a tn nn a-tu-po-j.
If the owner of the yams cuts them for porridge, the person who gleans what sticks to the peelings is at a loss for what to do.
(If the perennial victim learns to protect himself, the victimizer is stumped.) [22]

B oor b p lpj, ibi n d.
If goodness is excessive, it becomes evil.
(There can be too much of even a good thing.)

B we b j we, a k pa .
If a proverb does not apply to a situation, one does not use it.
(One's comparison's should be apt.)

B m n b dra, k s p dra; b-i k fi aya ni k.
If one's daughter is beautiful, one may acknowledge that she is beautiful, but one may not make her one's wife.
(However much one might be attracted to a forbidden thing, one must avoid it.)

B md b dr s ap, ap p; b b dr s rk, rk a k ln.
If a child strikes his head against the mahogany bean tree the tree will kill him; if he strikes his head against the rk tree, the tree will accost him on his way.
(Whoever incites a terrible force to fight will rue his folly.) [23]

B md r jk-u knn nn igbo, a n k ran b kn pa un.
If a child has not seen the leavings of a lion in the forest he prays that he might be killed by an animal like the leopard.
(One is liable to disdain forces the extent of whose powers one is ignorant of.)

B n- d or pta, ne n pin.
When a trail comes to a rock, it ends.
(When an insurmountable obstacle intervenes, matters must come to an end.)

B rn-n b knkn, b w lb.
If a matter is dark, one peeps at it under cover.
(If the facts of a matter are a close secret, one should quietly investigate it.)

B rn tn, ib kan l gb; arkt lohun e.
If a problem is not over, one stays in place; it is the over-eager person who comes to grief.
(One should await the outcome of a confused situation before embarking on further action.)

B t b kn in, t pm; b orn-n b p lpj a s m di wr; b a b lba lnj a snni nwn; tt gn p ld o di ol eri.
If wine fills the stomach it intoxicates a child; if there is too much sun it makes a child go insane; if one has too much authority one goes mad; spinach grew in too great abundance by the stream and became ordinary weed.
(Excess in anything is evil.)

B w b t k id, a k br ik t pa baba ni.
If one has not laid one's hand on the hilt of the sword, one does not ask what death killed one's father.
(Until one is able, one should not attempt to right an injustice.)

Bbi l bi od w k t w .
One asks a river before one enters it.
(One must study well any situation before one involves oneself in it.)

Brknn ej, oko olw ni mni l.
Excessive devotion to fashion leads one to pawn oneself.
(Excessive trendiness depletes a person's resources.)

Brknnn lt l; afnj lba pa.
The dandy is the enemy of the town; it is the finicky person that the king kills.
(The people of a town may envy a dandy; but it is the reckless person who comes to grief.) [24]


15. Wl-wde, literally enter-come out, is another designation for the ms or mw, the king's chief messenger.  [Back to text]


16. lj, which literally means the owner of the merchandise or the owner of the market, is also used as a designation for a king, inasmuch as he owns the main market, which is usually sited outside the palace.  [Back to text]


17. A bird characterized by erratic flight.  [Back to text]


18. Snails supposedly die after laying eggs.  [Back to text]


19. Women are forbidden from having anything to do with the Or cult and ritual.  [Back to text]


20. Guinea pigs are kept as pets.  [Back to text]


21. Olwe (Owner of the proverb) in this instance means the person to whom the proverb is applied.  [Back to text]


22. Yams cut for porridge leave no remnants sticking to the peels.  [Back to text]


23. The trees are reputed to be homes for fearful spirits.  [Back to text]


24. The idea is that the dandy knows his place, even if he incites envy, whereas the finicky person who is afraid of death refuses to show respect for the king in the usual way-prostrating himself before the king-and loses his head therefore.  [Back to text]