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Part 4: On perseverance, industry, resilience, self-confidence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, daring, fortitude, and invulnerability


A hn kok lw tn, a hn kok ls s; ku ni t y k lj.
We lop off the hyena's right fore limb; we lop off the hyena's left hind limb; the question is, who will face it now?
(Inflicting such injuries on the hyena is no victory; it only makes the animal more dangerous.)

A k d r ok l ba argb.
One should not attempt to scare an old woman with a huge penis.
(A person who has seen everything is not easily frightened.)
Compare Oj t ti rkun l rs k br.

A k dbl ub.
One does not fall from a prone position.
(Hunger cannot make one faint and fall if one goes to sleep.)

A k fi ojoojm r ol j k d b-i tw ni.
One is never so fortunate at daily thievery that it matches owning one's own things.
(Self-sufficiency is far better than fortunate opportunism.)

A k fi oj olj w k jr.
One never trades with other people's eyes and profit.
(There is nothing like attending oneself to one's own business.)

A k fi ojbr gba m lw kr.
One does not easily or casually take the child from the palm-nut.
(It takes effort to accomplish a good end.) [1]

A k gb gb rw.
One does not hear the thud of a falling leaf.
(Incantatory assertion that an accident will not befall the subject.) [2]

A k m ibi t l k rn w ni.
One does not, despite knowing where one is going, suffer a constricted neck from one's heavy load.
(If one knows the size of the task, one should regulate one's effort accordingly.

A k s p j- ngb; b b ngb, kne t wn tn n a?
One does not say there is a time for the market; if it were so, why would people continuously patronize it?
(Any time is a good time to trade.)

A k e j e oj t m; konko loj algbe.
One does not carry the j masquerade and yet affect bashfulness; the mendicant's eyes must always be like flint.
(One must assume the attitude one's trade demands.) [3]

A k e t eranko gn--gn; b a b he gbn d l n .
One does not conduct one's feud with an animal in a half-hearted manner; if one finds a snail one hits it with a matchet.
(Give your all to every enterprise you embark upon.)

A k wal fn ad j.
One does not scratch the ground for the chicken to find food.
(Each person is responsible for his/her own welfare.)

pa kuk, kuk rw; yan nn aro, aro dgb; kbs gn, ara gn le.
The more one weeds kuk the more it sprouts leaves; the more one tramples aro the more it grows; the more one rails against gn the more he thrives.
(The two plants are hardy and virtually indestructible, while gn is the formidable god of metals and war. The proverb bespeaks resilience and invulnerability.)
Compare the following entry.

py k ap, ap k ap; py k o, ap k o; py k knga, k bn k s.
We make circles round the mahogany bean tree, but it is too much to handle; we make circles around the baobab tree, but it is too much to handle; we makes circles around the well, but it is nothing to jump into in anger.
(The three items listed are formidable in their different ways, and have nothing to fear from people.) [4]
See the previous entry.

A my lrun y e k j k bn k.
We know not what God will do keeps one from committing suicide.
(Often it is hope that keeps people going.)

A pa m lko il, a j s k lasa; il m lm l.
A giant rat is killed on an okra farm and thrown it into a sack containing okra leaves; the giant rat has arrived at its home.
(The resourceful person will find a way to adapt to any situation.)

Abr l k n okn t d.
The needle will pass before the way of the thread is blocked.
(Unlike the thread's, the passage of the needle through the cloth is ever smooth.)

Abw w t fnra .
He who summons others to render him communal help seeks enemies.
(It is best to be self-sufficient.) [5]

Abiyam t gn; n i t l.
Nursing mother, enemy of the barren woman; working person, enemy of the idler.
(The mother incurs the envy of barren woman; the hard worker incurs the hatred of the idler.)

Aboyn b, h t .
The pregnant woman delivered; her sides are much eased.
(Relief comes in time to the persevering sufferer.)

dn t sn sd sn r he, bs od t n n j d.
Bat, who slept by the orange tree, found no orange to pick, let alone parrot who said it came over very early at dawn.
(The more persistent person will surely be rewarded before the less persistent.)

Adknb du oy; br ni.
Adknb is not contesting a title; he is merely asking a question.
(One should not be coy in demanding one's rights.) [6]

Adn n gbhn ewro.
The aftertaste of the bitterleaf is sweet.
(Sweetness and pleasure come after bitter exertions.) [7]

Adn-n tn lra a ogje; a n n han ni mje; a b w a r in mje; di j keje fya.
One's delight in a cloth costing a hundred and forty cowries is over; one spreads it out to show to seven people, one finds seven lice, and on the seventh day it is torn.
(One gets what one pays for.) [8]

A-fkr-jk m iy b.
He-who-eats-corn-meal-with-bean-fritters does not know the virtues of stew.
(Whoever leads a sheltered life misses out on some great experiences.)

Aff k f k omi in gbn dn.
The wind does not blow against the liquid inside a coconut and cause it to spill.
(Certain people are not susceptible to certain disasters.)

fjtoto m knrin.
Glaring wildly does not bespeak manliness.
(Action is more persuasive than appearance.)

fk l f in.
Blowing from all directions is how one blows at a fire to kindle it.
One should apply one's best effort to any task.

Agm - j lnu.
The chameleon is not a thing to eat in one's mouth.
(Certain propositions are beyond the pale.)

gd j lb- Gs.
The Catholic missionary is not in the pay of the British administration.
(An assertion of non-dependence on a supposedly higher authority.)
Compare ni t j lb Jgd...

gb t k t md- rn n n s p k bu omi w k jo m.
It is an elder who lacks the authority to send a child on an errand who tells the child to go fetch water so they could drink it together.
(If one was sure of one's authority one would not need to sweeten one's orders with incentives.)
Compare F k k j m . . .

gbb di tni.
A foster child does not become one's own child.
(There is nothing like having one's own.)
Compare gbt j ob . . .

gbb- kt, b k fnni ls a oni; rm-rm ni ohun ni bani mu.
Borrowed trousers, if they are not too tight around the legs, they will be too loose; one's own things fit one exactly.
(Borrowed articles are never like one's own.)

gbk lf gba igb.
It is completely that smoke fills the forest.
(Whatever is worth doing is worth doing diligently and thoroughly.)
Compare gbtn ni gggba fun and gbk ls gba n.

gbk ls gba na.
It is completely that the feet take over a path.
(Indulge not in half measures.)
Compare gbk lf gba igb and gbtn ni gggba fun.

gbagb e b, lwo lr san-san.
Despite all difficulties, the animal gbagb sprouts prominent horns on its head.
(Perseverance overcomes all difficulties.)

gbr k ni y gb omi l.
It is not the flood that will make away with the river.
(The upstart cannot prevail against the well-established person.)

gbtn ni gggba fun.
It is completely that goitre takes over the neck.
(One cannot stop matters from running their course.)
Compare gbk lf gba igb and gbk ls gba n.

gb gbko r.
A farmer remains on the farm and sees the moon.
(The conscientious farmer spends long periods on the farm; persistence in the key to success.)

gbinsn legbin gbin; knsn lkn kn; hn hn hn ld in ld n gb.
Groaning-internally is how an antelope groans; rumbling-internally is how a leopard rumbles, the grunts of a pig stay inside the pig.
(People may grumble, but they dare not voice their complaints openly.)

Agbjlgn fi ara-a r f ta.
He-who-places-his-hopes-on-inheritance delivers himself to destitution.
(One should secure one's own living.)

gbl ni tgbnrn; j t gbnrn b gb ni j ik-u r y.
Baying-and-surviving is the fate of the deer; whenever a deer bays, on that day its death is averted.
(Every reverse portends good fortune in the end.)

dr l p nj.
Not standing still is what is described as dancing.
(Continuous striving deserves praise, whatever the outcome.)

t ehn-n k ni fw b .
It is not-having-attained-the-age-for-losing-one's-teeth that makes one cover (the mouth) with one's hand.
(One should not be reticent in asserting oneself.)

Aj il md- e.
A domesticated dog does not know how to hunt.
(Pampering kills initiative.)

j k jn m olgb ls.
The snare does not snare a cat's paw.
(Some people are immune to certain perils.)

Aj t ma rn k ly; olgb to ma j kr ki oj b omi.
A dog that will chew dried corn must be brave; a cat that will eat a frog will dip its face in water.
(It takes a great effort to accomplish a great feat.) [9]

Aj wr-wr n pa ikn.
It is an agile dog that kills a squirrel.
(The world belongs to the quick.)

Aj wo y lwmj.
The dog looks at birds with eyes full of disdain.
(Against adversaries beyond one's powers, one must be satisfied with futile gestures.)

Aj s m n b k.
Wealth throws a person away like a stone.
(The search for wealth takes one into distant lands.)

jgb nign jb.
Eating without adverse effects is the vulture's way of consuming sacrificial offerings.
(Some people can engage in daring and dangerous behavior with impunity.)

Ajnfn, m ta oj il; pl jnfn m ta oj tijde.
You who have fallen into the dungeon, do not be impatient to arrive home; when the toad drops into a pit it cannot be impatient to get out.
(Certain predicaments one does not get out of in a hurry.)

A-jk--kunkun j k a-jk-jj jko.
The sit-tight person denies the tentative sitter a place.
(The meek will not inherit the earth.)

jmb kan ti rn;k alp m ap-a r k le.
Familial obligations do not extend to diseases; let each person look well to his or her arms.
(Relatives will not bear one's disease for one.)

A-k-gb-t- nw ik.
He-who-plucks-the-African-locustbean-tree-seeds-to-sell spends death's money.
(Whoever engages in a dangerous venture more than earns his/her pay.)

kne lf md; jagan or ran se.
The arrow for a warthog is a major project; an ordinary poison has no effect on the cat.
(Certain tasks call for deliberate and extraordinary efforts.)

kek n n kr n kkr-o k ny?
Scorpion says that its status transcends what-type-of-insect-is-this?
(Stature and importance are not always commensurate; some people should not be under-estimated.)

kek rn tap-tap.
The scorpion travels accompanied by venom.
(The stalwart is never unprepared to answer a call.)

Akkanj-kankan, ogun n l;abww, j n n; knn bk, b b t a ma r j.
For the exceptionally brave person the proper profession is warring; for the gregarious person, trading; the illustrious he-goat, even when it is poor, finds enough to eat.
(Proper application of one's talent makes one prosper.)

ktn ni gg k fun.
It is completely that goitre takes over the throat.
(Calamities give no quarter.)
This is the same as gbtn ni gg gbfun.

kk- k, l- p.
The cock crows, and the lazy person hisses.
(The coming of the morning is an annoyance to the lazy person.)

Algm- ti bm- r n; m-j k sw- r.
The chameleon has given birth to its young; inability to dance is the responsibility of the child.
(A parent has done his/her part by having a child; the child's fortunes are the child's responsibility.)

Algbr yege; al gb b dla.
She who borrows a wrapper-skirt to wear is not home free; the owner of the cloth will take it back come tomorrow.
(There is nothing like having one's own.)

Alkatap oj l ta ran pa.
A person with cross-bows in his eyes cannot kill an animal.
(The most vicious of looks cannot kill.)

Algb t j ltor rk t k fs , n bnkan yn un un yinra un.
The lizard that fell from atop the rk tree without breaking its limbs says if no one admires his feat, he will do the admiring himself.
(One should be self-confident enough not to have to rely on validation by others.)

Alra n gbra- ga;bd b ma wd a br.
It is the owner of the body that elevates the body; when a chicken wishes to enter the porch it stoops.
(One should sound one's own trumpet and not be unduly humble.)

A-lj-m-l-j-p, lgb ojo.
He-who-can-fight-but-cannot-fight-for-long, the equal of a coward.
(Ability to start a fight is nothing like the ability to see it through.)

lej or ni kk.
The lump is only the head's visitor.
(One should learn to live with afflictions.)

Ap lar; gbnw niykan.
One's arms are one's relatives; one's elbows are one's siblings by the same mother.
(Even more reliable than one's relatives and siblings are one's own resources.)

pd- gbko k r.
The potsherd lives on the farm but does not decay.
(Resilience is a fortunate quality to have.)

pagb lOr pagi.
Killing-without-recourse is Or's way of killing trees.
(When unanswerable disaster befalls a person, there is neither recourse nor response.) [10]

Apr n foj di ab.
It is a bald person that may be disdainful of the razor.
(The bald person has no use for razors.)
Compare pd l t ko in lj.

Apj k j bj.
A person who waits patiently for a long time before eating will not eat unwholesome food.
(Those who are patient will have the best of things.)

pntn k w p k od m sun.
Scooping a spring dry does not stop more water from collecting.
(If one's resources are limitless, some use will not exhaust them.)

Ara k wwo k alra m l gbe.
A body cannot be too heavy for the owner to lift.
(Whatever others might feel, a person is never put off by himself or his own habits.)

Ara- m gba tt, gba nini.
My body can endure chills, and can endure coldness.
(I am long-suffering.)

rb l foj di k.
The huge sik-cotton tree belittles the axe.
(It takes a mighty person to defy a powerful force.)

r gr t b gbj, tun tolwa r lgbra.
A subordinate military officer who is audacious is the equal of his superior.
(Audaciousness will get one one's way.)

re lrk.
Having an opportunity to act is also having an opportunity to tell stories.
(Whoever accomplishes something worthwhile has a story to tell.)

Ariwo jj n drun.
It is only the noise of the whirlwind that reaches heaven.
(One's enemies may be clamorous, but all they are capable of is noise.)

ro- p lko, k tn m l- l.
ro stayed so long on the farm that he forgot how to beat the drum.
(If one neglects one's specialty long enough, one becomes incompetent at it.) [11]

Asrtete n woj j.
It is the person in a hurry who studies the complexion of the day.
(When one has important tasks in hand one pays particular attention to impinging conditions.)

gbd nkk; gbangba l gbd.
The kite does not snatch chicks in secret, it snatches them openly.
(What one dare do, one does openly.)
Compare tehnk l fw b . . .

l bal k gbwr.
The kite cannot swoop down and carry off a goat.
(Whoever attempts the impossible deceives him/herself.)

wo ahun tt; wd wo ahun tt; id baba , k l l fi ahun e?
The kite looks long at the tortoise; the eagle looks long at the tortoise; what can the hawk, father of the kite, do to the tortoise?
(When the prey's defences are impenetrable, the predator can only glare.)
See the next entry. [12]

wo gbn kr; karaun-un r j k gb e.
The kite looks slyly at the snail, but its shell stops the bird from snatching it.
(This is a more mundane version of the previous entry.)
See also wd k t wkaraun kr . . .

wb k rw gb e.
The kite watches the monkey but has no hands to carry it off.
(A monkey is no prey to a kite.)

r kok, aj k ni y t u.
The secrets of the hyena's being will not be revealed through the actions of the dog.
(The stalwart's comeuppance will not come at the hands of a no-account person.)

tlw ni k tanni.
One's palm does not deceive one.
(One's trust is best placed in one's own resources.)

y k h ad k m d d ba-a r.
The space is never so tight that a chicken will not be able to reach its incubating nest.
(No obstacle should keep one from one's duty.)


1. The child in this case is the soft nut in the shell.  [Back to text]


2. It is not in the nature of leaves to crash.  [Back to text]


3. The j masquerader engages mainly in begging for gifts.  [Back to text]


4. There is a play on the word ap, which is the name of a tree, Afzelia Africana (Ceasalpinaceae) (See Abraham, 57), and the word for arm. The expression, ap k a, meaning, the arms can enfold it, means that one can deal with it. Both ap (the tree) and o are reputed to be inhabited by powerful spirits, and to be favored as venues for witches' covens.  [Back to text]


5. "w was a traditional means of assuring a large work force for large projects; people pooled their resources to help a colleague in need on his farm. The custom is to provide such help when asked, but that does not obviate secret grumblings.  [Back to text]


6. The proverb is based on a deliberate misinterpretation of the name. It is the contraction of the sentence, Ad kn m b, meaning, It is my turn to give birth to a person destined to wear a crown. The proverb takes the name to be a contraction of the sentence, Ad kn m b? in which the word b is taken not to be the verb to give birth to, but the interrogatory, is it that? In many instances, succession to Yorb chieftaincies is contested by many aspirants.  [Back to text]


7. Ewro, bitterleaf, is one of the most popular stew vegetables. It is very bitter to the taste, and all of its juice must be squeezed out before it is cooked. Although it is bitter at first taste, its aftertaste is quite pleasant.  [Back to text]


8. The proverb plays on the number seven. Ogje is a contraction of Ogn mje, seven twenties, i. e., a hundred and forty; that many cowries represent an inconsiderable amount in traditional monetary terms.  [Back to text]


9. Dogs' teeth are not made for chewing corn; a dog that will chew corn must, therefore, have fortitude. Likewise, a cat with a taste for frogs must pay the price.  [Back to text]


10. Or is one of the traditional mysteries of the Yoruba.  [Back to text]


11. ro is one of the titles of the secret order of gbni; the proverb suggests that the member, from lack of practice, has forgotten the funerary rites of the order.  [Back to text]