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


pa Ayjnk, pa ylde Anwr; gb t pa yp gbgb ogun.
You killed Ayejenku and killed Iyalode Aniwura; but when you killed Iyap you forgot about wars.
(Past misbehaviors might have gone unpunished, but the latest will have dire repercussions.) [30]

bi albaun k gb dbi na-a r.
The Tortoise's guilt is not long in becoming that of his parent-in-law's.
(Incommensurate retaliation soon transfers public sympathy from the aggrieved person to the culprit.)
See l ti albaun . . .

bt per t e plpl; nu ni npani.
A trap does not kill an ant that is cautious; it's one's mouth that turns out to be one's death.
(The cautious will live long on the earth; the incautious engineers his or her own death.)

bt t kn m lj, un n y i lpn shn.
It is a trap that the giant rat disdains that wrenches its testicles backwards.
(Dangers that one belittles are liable to cause great havoc.)

gb md b; ni t gbninl- l pani.
The gba know the secrets of ba town; whoever throws a person has the ability to kill the person.
(Whoever holds a person's secret has some power over that person, just as the wrestler who can throw his opponents can probably also kill him.)

gb ja lja w t; gb y ly w l.
Fish swim in a school of their own kind; birds fly in a flock of their own kind.
(One should seek and keep the company of people of one's own station.)

hn jnk l y ogb; ta n j y agada lj erin?
It is after the demise of the elephant that one brandishes a cudgel; who dares draw a scimitar in the face of an elephant?
(One can be brave after the danger has been removed.)
This ia a variant of k jnk l y ogb s . . .

hn n dun ol-k-d s.
It is the back of the man with a blunt cutlass that suffers.
(A person who does not make adequate preparations for a task or test will rue his or her negligence.)
Compare gbhn n y olkd.

kan oo lm sn t n -sn-gb, -sn-t.
It is when a child sneezes only once that one wishes the child sneeze and grow old, sneeze and live long.
(Casual responses are appropriate only for minor difficulties; if the difficulties grow serious more appropriate measures must be adopted.)

k t k b lw lgb gb.
It is corn-loaf that has no leaf wrapping that the elder takes.
(If one is careless with one's property one is liable to lose it.) [31]

kn k yan k aj yan.
A leopard does not strut and be answered by strutting from a dog.
(One should recognize danger and avoid it.)

ld t k lgbod l n k fun jyn.
It is a pig that dies at the time of the harvesting of new yams that asks to be eaten with pounded yam.
(If one puts oneself in harm's way one deserves what one gets.)

lj k sl, alry k sta gbangba.
The person involved in an affair dies at home; the spokesperson dies out in the open.
(The busybody's fate is worse than that of the person involved in the affair.)

lkn sunkn b tir l; alrpa b sunkn k dk.
The person with a cause to cry cries and departs; if it were a person whose mind never leaves a problem he or she would never have stopped crying.
(One should not keep harping on one's injuries.)

lr n gb r k t ba k f.
The owner of the load must first lift it before one lends one's encouragement.
(Only those who make an effort on their own behalf deserve help from others.)

ll, w l fj pa ara- r.
Larkheeled Cuckoo, it was you that got yourself drenched in the rain.
(Whatever your difficulty is, you brought it on yourself.)

ni j p k mra il.
The person for whom the journey has not been profitable should prepare to return home.
(One should know when it is time to go home.)

n b rra pa er r fun in-u r.
Whoever takes great care in killing an ant will see its innards.
(One must handle delicate matters with great care.)

n b f abuk ni y ru m- r dgb.
Whoever marries a humpbacked woman will carry her child on his back until the child is weaned.
(If one knowingly gets oneself into a difficulty, one will bear the consequences oneself.)

n b f argb gbhn ni y snk-u r.
The last spouse of an old person will bury him or her.
(One should weigh the obligations an enterprise will entail before one embarks on it.)

n b m ay- j k gun gbn.
Whoever knows what makes for a good life never climbs coconut palms.
(Whoever cares about his or her welfare does not live dangerously.)

n b m ay- j k j.
Whoever knows how to enjoy life does not enter into a fight.
(The best way to enjoy life is to avoid conflict.)

n b m iin-n j a m ik oj-u r- y.
Whoever knows how to eat Akee Apple must know how to remove its deadly raphe.
(One should be sure of one's capabilities before one attempts dangerous feats.) [32]

n b na yk rj Ogb.
Whoever whips yk will have Ogb to answer to.
(If one assaults a protected person one should be prepared to answer to his/her protector.) [33]

n b s pp s.
Whoever talks a lot will misspeak.
(It is best to be of few words.)

n b p k kl m jk, oj-u r ly kk y j.
Whoever says the ground-hornbill should not eat carrion, he or she will be the first to lose his or her eyes to the bird.
(Whoever tries to prevent the inevitable will be trampled in the process of its occurring.)
Compare tkn t t p.. .

n bni- tni.
Whoever pleads with one makes one lose face.
(A person who beseeches one places one at risk of losing face.) [34]

n drjin t j.
Whoever forgives one defuses the dispute.
(Once the aggrieved person is pacified, there is no further point in pursuing the case.)

n dr de ern dr dek; n dr dfn-n dr dj; n dr de egn algangan, run l f- l.
Whoever waits in a charging elephant's path waits for death; whoever waits in a buffalo's path waits for an attack; whoever tarries before a fleet-footed masquerader hankers for a trip to heaven.
(Whoever sees trouble approaching and does not flee courts disaster.)

n fi pnj k yn k bn; n fi pnj roj jbi ba; n fi pnj l gb h gb ih awnrnwn.
Whoever gathers palm fruits in desperation will gather unripe ones; whoever states his or her case in desperation will be adjudged at fault by the king; whoever digs a hole in desperation will dig out an iguana lizard.
(Nothing turns out well if done in desperation. Easy does it.) [35]

n gnyn kal y jb b.
A person who has made pounded yams must pay homage to the stew.
(The prudent person cultivates the source of what he/she needs.)

n gb ad t- gb ti alry.
Whoever steals a poor person's chicken steals from an incessant complainer.
(One should choose one's adversaries with prudence.)

n knj jay knj l srun.
Whoever is in a hurry to enjoy life will go to heaven in a hurry.
(Patience is what life calls for.)

ni mj k bn egbinrin.
Two people do not hold a grudge and refuse reconciliation.
(If there is to be any hope of ending a quarrel, one of the parties at least must be willing to make up.)

ni ynb frn n t ml.
It is the person the white man likes that the white man incarcerates.
(Whoever becomes too friendly with a white man deserves what the white man does to him. A favorite, being more likely to take liberties with his or her benefactor, is more likely to get in trouble than the unfavored.)

n e rn jb: et gb bn.
Whoever provokes an Ijbu person, his or her ears will hear gunshot.
(If one incites a bellicose person one asks for trouble.)36

ni t a b b i k l; br b tnni e a k t br.
The person being lent a hand does not malinger; if Providence favors one, one is not easily disgraced.
(One should make the most of unexpected good fortune, and not squander the opportunity it presents.)
Compare n b i . . .

ni t a b m yw b w fn k garn.
The person to whom a bride is being brought does not strain his neck (to see her from a distance.)
(One should not be unduly impatient for what is coming one's way anyway.)

ni t a b ti r k tn ba ml m.
A person who has been seen has no further need of hiding.
(Once the damage is done, prevention comes too late.)

ni t a f- sunj k fepo para l jk sd in.
A person being eyed for barbecuing does not baste himself with oil and sit by the fire.
(One should not facilitate one's own undoing.)

ni t a l lgb mf, t a n k fiydn: gb t k fiydn k?
A person is hit with a cudgel six times and then urged to learn forbearance; what other option does he or she have?
(A victim with no access to any remedy needs no advice to let matters drop.)

ni t a l m, a k g d .
One does not lie in ambush for an adversary one is no match for.
(One should pick fights only with those over whom one can prevail.)
Compare ni a l m l ld m.

ni t a l m, lrun l fi l lw.
An adversary over whom one cannot prevail, one leaves to God's judgement.
(If an adversary is too much for one, one sets God at him or her.)

ni t sr kiri nn-u pp w n ti jn s kt.
The person who runs about in the bush courts the danger of falling into a ditch.
(Reckless action leads to disaster.)

ni t b w od ni y k, y fo od.
It is the person who enters a river who is terrified, not the river.
(It is the person who takes on an invincible adversary who has a problem, not the adversary.)

ni t jn s kt- k ar yk lgbn.
The person who falls into a ditch teaches others a lesson.
(One learns from the experiences of those who have gone before.)

ni t t od t k dhn y b Olwri pd.
Whoever follows the river without turning back will come face to face with Oluwri. [37]
(Whoever persists in courting danger will eventually find it.)

ni t b mu t ogj sr ok.
Whoever drinks forty cowries worth of wine will talk twenty cowries worth of talk.
(A little wine opens the way for only a little information.)

ni t y gbaf t k san n, bgi d n egbje.
The person who borrows twelve hundred cowries and does not pay them back blocks the path of fourteen hundred cowries.
(A person who defaults in little things does himself or herself out of the opportunity for larger ones.) [38]

ni t ba ogn-un baba r j, ja k run ll, y s di ni fib.
Whoever ruins his or her father's bequest robs the dead, and becomes a person of reproach.
(One must keep faith with one's ancestral heritage.)

ni t m u lr n k, w t o m u ls- n jwr.
The person holding it by the head says it is dead; you who are holding it by the feet say it is going through death throes.
(Novices should not presume to be more knowledgeable than the experts.)

ni t b obnrin k l sl-e r y sn nn r.
A man who goes with a woman to her house will sleep in fear.
(Illicit acts carried on indiscreetly are attended by great anxiety.)

ni t f- w ks k b aj e er-e gle.
A person who does not wish to wear rags should not engage in rough play with a dog.
(People should avoid situations that might earn them disgrace.)

ni t tni- n gbd e k--d sni.
A person who is not strong enough to beat one up should not adopt a threatening pose towards one.
(People should not challenge forces they cannot withstand.)

ni t Or- ma m ba wn e sn or.
The person who will be the sacrificial victim of or is joining in the revelry on the eve of the sacrifice.
(The intended victim innocently helps in making preparations for his or her own demise; if there is the slightest possibility of peril, one should not act carelessly.)

nkan k fi b t n ju.
No one eats yams with a lost knife.
(People are loath to admit they are at fault in any matter.) [39]

nu y n py; nu rof n prof; rof bm mf, n il un-n kn .
The bird's mouth is its death; the green fruit pigeon's mouth is its death; the pigeon hatches six chicks and boasts that its house is bursting at the seams.
(To boast about one's good fortune is to invite predators.)
See nu ni par fi pe r . . . , and nu fr n pa fr . . . below.

nu in n pa in; nu r n pa r..
The mouth of the louse is its death; the mouth of the nit is its death.
(The reckless person brings disaster on his or her head by his or her own actions.) [40]

nu ni par- fi pe r; a n Kk r, kk r!
With its own mouth the partridge invites its own ruin; it cries, Nothing but fat, nothing but fat! [41]
(Conspicuous display of one's good fortune invites predators.)
Compare nu y n pye . . . above, and nu fr n pa fr . . . below.

nu fr n pa fr; fr- bm mj, k wn w sb n, n m- m y koro-koro.
The squirrel's mouth summons its death; the squirrel has two children, takes them to the edge of the path, and says, My children are hale and well indeed.
(Excessive boasting about one's good fortune invites predators.)
Compare nu y n py . . ., and nu ni par- fi pe r . . . above.

nu t gbn fi b r n fi- ll l b a.
The same mouth with which the snail insults the god is the one on which it crawls to the god.
(The person who insults a powerful person will in time eat his or her words before the person insulted.) [42]

nu- mi k ni wn ti ma gb p y ba- lj.
It is not from my mouth that people will learn that the king's mother is a witch.
(I will not place myself in jeopardy by speaking dangerous truths; one should not acknowledge or comment on everything one sees.)

r kdn ni y kl fn a-l-r-gbl a.
The mud on the plains will teach a lesson to the person whose loincloth has a train sweeping the ground.
(The thoughtless person will learn wisdom when his or her thoughtlessness comes to roost.)

r k n ba p t n k d un s, ntor mu la ni.
It is not out of fear that the palm-tree pleads to be allowed to stand; it is on account of tomorrow's palm-wine.
(What we have the good sense to preserve today will yield benefits for us in the future.) [43]

in iwj ni ti hn w sr.
The leading horse is the one by which the followers set their pace.
(One takes one's examples from those that have gone before.)

s s la fi l b t gbn.
Slowly, slowly is the way to eat soup that is scalding hot.
(The more dangerous the task, the greater care one must take.)

t n gbhn alej.
Disgrace is the reward of excess.
(Lack of moderation results in disgrace.)

y k lo ma pa t fi kk e ogn t?
What sort of bird do you hope to kill that you use a cock in the birdlime charm?
(It is unreasonable to expend something of great value in pursuit of something of lesser value.)

yin lr; b b bal ff n f.
Words are eggs; when they drop on the floor they shatter into pieces.
(Words are delicate things; once spoken, they cannot be retrieved.)

yin ad gbd for s pta.
A chicken egg should not strike its head against a rock.
(It is unwise to take on forces one cannot withstand.)


30. The references are to real events and real people in Ibadan history in the 1870s. The three named persons are notables, ylde fnsetn Anwr being the leader of the women in the community, Ayjnk a person of worth, and yp apparently a great warrior whose demise places the community at risk.  [Back to text]


31. gb (elder) should not be taken literally here; the proverb plays on the syllable gb (take from), the sense being that what-takes (construed here as a-gb) only takes what is unprotected.  [Back to text]


32. Iin, Akee Apple, is a fruit whose fleshy part is eaten raw or cooked. Its raphe is deadly and must be carefully removed before the flesh is consumed. (See Abraham, 323.)  [Back to text]


33. Ogb is the chief of the chapters comprising the If divination corpus, while yk is one of the junior chapters. These chapters are regarded as spirits.  [Back to text]


34. The idea is that whatever one's justification might be and however great the beseecher's unworthiness, one is liable to appear heartless if one refuses his or her plea.  [Back to text]


35. The digging of holes in this case would normally be for the purpose of finding something edible, a crab, for instance. An iguana lizard is not only unsuitable as food, it is also considered dangerous.  [Back to text]


37. Said to be a river goddess.  [Back to text]


38. Cowries were the medium of exchange in traditional Yoruba society.  [Back to text]


39. Once a knife is lost, no one will admit that he or she used it last.  [Back to text]


40. If lice and nits did not bite, no one would know of their presence and crush them.  [Back to text]


41. The proverb is based on the call of the partridge, which is here suggested to be what attracts the attention of the hunter to where it is. r is fat, but it can also mean being eliminated.  [Back to text]


42. Snails are used as sacrifices to some gods. The suggestion is that the reason why snails crawl mouth down is because a snail once insulted a god.  [Back to text]


43. Palm-wine is collected from the top of the palm-tree; it is a milky juice that oozes out of an incision and ferments as it collects in a gourd or bottle.  [Back to text]