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Part 5: On consistency; honesty, openness, plain speaking, reliability


A k p lr, k p lb.
One does not call it a slave and call it a child of the house.
(One must be clear about one's attitude to a thing or person; ambivalence causes trouble.)

A k p lr k p l.
One does not call it a burden and also call it an adornment.
(An event is either a boon or a disaster; never both.)

A k r in n so.
One does not find a horse on tether.
(Too easy and too convenient a find suggests stealing.)

A k r i k tn s p a ri m.
One does not see a thing and then say one does not see it.
(Always stand by your word.)

A k r a aj sd k dj dodo lbi.
One does not wear the ritual loincloth for presiding over a trial-by-ordeal and judge the righteous guilty.
(One must not violate the oath one is sworn to observe.)

A k so ran mran k kn n pa.
One does not tie a goat with another goat and keep one from butting the other to death.
(One must not injure a person committed to one's protection.)

A k sr kk k m diyn n gba-n-gba.
One does not conspire in secret without the matter eventually causing a public argument.
(Whatever is done in secret soon becomes exposed.)

A k e lj n Ngb?
One does not ask the main litigant, How about it?
(Do not expect impartial witnessing from an interested party.)

bt pani; bt pani; k s p od- gbni l.
He died in the mire; he died in the mire; let us simply say that the person drowned.
(One should prefer plain talk to euphemisms.)

btl n fj ondj.
It is bribery that blinds a judge.
(Bribery beclouds judgement.)

Adnu t j il: n r il by?
Cleft-lipped person eating okro; he complains, Can you believe what a mess the floor is?
(The culprit complains about a condition as though he or she had nothing to do with it.) [1]

dp ol n j fwr.
It is simply a euphemism for theft to say fwr (literally, causing to disappear through the operations of the hand).
(The use of a euphemism does not change the nature of a thing.)
See the following entry.

dp ol n j m- mi fw.
It is a euphemistic description of stealing to say, My child's hands are uncontrollably nimble.
(One should face facts and not skirt them.)
Compare the preceding entry.

dp r j k m tum ork.
Riddling makes it impossible for one to know the meanings of names.
(Circuitous talk is liable to lead to confusion.) [2]

Adt sr mj, o fkan pur; n ngbt n lu m un lbr, n ja lknn pt.
The leper said two things, one of them being a lie; he said after he had struck his child with his palm, he also pinched him severely with his fingernails.
(One fools only oneself when one claims to have done the impossible.)

A-dgbn-pgntn-j lr, n oj ba un lr.
Person-who-schemes-to-kill-a-sheep-to-eat, native of lr, he says that he is afraid of its eyes.
(One should avoid dissembling.)

Afasgbj tan ara-a r j.
He who would collect rain water in a sieve deceives himself.
(The shiftless person hurts himself more than others.)

Afatarnilj, al-e bale.
One-who-smears-one's-eyes-with-pepper, one's husband's concubine.
(The illicit lover of a woman's husband is no friend of hers.)

Afnilbnrin ro ire sni.
He-who-has-an-affair-with-one's-wife harbors no good will towards one.
(One knows one's friends by their behavior.)

Afkkjal, b ba ay r , trn r .
You-who-steal-in-secret, if an earthly king does not see you, the heavenly king sees you.
(Nothing is hidden from God.)

Afj jnk, k m igi, k m yn.
A blind elephant does not know a man from a tree.
(Fate is no respecter of persons.)

fwr n j ol.
Employing-the-hands-to-make-things-disappear is called stealing.
(Euphemistic circumlocution does not relieve a crime of its true nature.)

Agada mor algbd.
The sword cannot tell the smith's head from others.
(Natural justice does not play favorites.)

gbdo k e yn; ta n r m lhn esn.
The maize plant is not human; who ever saw children on the back of elephant grass?
(One should not overestimate the value of things.) [3]

gbk lodi gba l.
It is completely that a fortification wall encircles a town.
(Brook no half measures.)

gbk nigb gba p.
It is completely that the climbing rope encircles the palm-tree.
(What is worth doing at all is worth doing well; there will be no obstacle in the way of one's ventures.) [4]

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

A-gbj-nkan-dj, k yn.
He-who-decides-a-case-after-hearing-only-one-side, (is) the dean of wicked persons.
(Justice requires considering both sides of a case.)

gbgbtn gn, j n d sl.
Imperfect understanding of gn (a language to the west of Yoruba) brings nothing but dissension.
(Half-knowledge is a bad thing.)

-f-lej-e l w p r r- m d; k ti w p, r- m d.
Reluctance-to-extend-hospitality makes one say, My friend's friend has arrived; one should simply say, My friend has arrived.
(If one believes that one's friend's friend is one's friend, then one should not stress that the friend is once removed; one should avoid doubletalk.)

fsk bs ni k gb.
It is an alarm that is raised without moderation that finds no helpers.
(If the person who raises an alarm puts people off by his or her methods, they will not come to his or her aid.)

Aj n un ba m d oko r un b s p run ni wn ti kl w.
The dog says that if it had never been to a farm it would have thought that okra came from heaven.
(People are apt to hoodwink the innocent or the ignorant.)

Aj t lt dgb.
A dog without ears is no good for stalking prey.
(A person who cannot be instructed is useless.)

Aj ti ere r b dnilj l d s ehoro.
It is a dog in whose speed one has faith that one sics at a hare.
(One entrusts important tasks only to those one can trust.)
This is a variant of Aj to l sr . . .

jl, ta n n ? w n k un?
Ajala, who whipped you? It is none other than you, isn't it?
(An evil does is often also a dissembler.)

jnk kro ni A r kan fr; b a b rrin k w.
The elephant is more than something of which one says, I caught a fleeting glimpse of something; if one saw an elephant, one should say so.
(One should not hedge when one discusses the obvious.)

A-j-m-j-kan, a-fk-mf-ogn-arn.
He-who-wakes-in-the-morning-and-eats-nothing; he-who-makes-a-worm-er-of-six-loaves.
(The deceitful person deceives himself.) [5]

j wuniyn l df s.
It is a journey one does not want to make that one consults the oracle about.
(Where there is no desire, excuses are easy to find.)

A-kp-m-d, t ranko, t yn.
He-who-carries-a-hunting-bag-but-does-not-hunt, enemy alike of man and beast.
(Be not a dog in the manger.) [6]

ks faratil faratil; b ni t a fhnt b yni a w fnni.
A ladder rests on the ground and leans on the house; if the person one leans on must remove his support he should warn one.
(A person one trusts should be completely trustworthy.)

Akni j akni; afinihn j afinihn; wo ni k, ar jy! ljde gnml?
A person that will greet one should greet one, and a person that will betray one should do so; what is the meaning of Hello, jy person! before gnml's house?
(One should not do evil to others in the guise of being good to them.) [7]

Ak asn k gb ohn m- r k dr; abiyam k gb kn m- r k m tara .
A male asn rat does not hear the cry of its young and remain still; a nursing mother does not hear the cry of her baby without responding anxiously.
(One must take one's chief responsibilities seriously.)

Alkatap m ir ran.
The user of a cross-bow does not know what type of game he shoots at.
(Some people lack a sense of discrimination.)
See Alpat m ir ran.

Alpat m ir ran.
The butcher does not know what type the animal is.
(A butcher is indifferent to the type of animal he butchers.)
See Alkatap m ir ran.

Amrnbini y, b o b gb kete lr, wn a n oko l l tb od.
People-who-know-the-answer-yet-ask-the-question, natives of y, if they see you carrying a water-pot they ask whether you are on your way to the farm or the stream.
(If the answer is plain to see, one does not ask the question.)

Apajj- n r ad ba un.
The-person-who-kills-and-eats-dogs claims to be afraid of chickens.
(A hardened criminal pretends to have scruples about mere peccadillos.)

Apani k j k m id kj npk un.
A murderer never permits the passage of a sword behind his skull.
(The criminal is ever suspicious of other people's intentions.)

pjwe lalgbd r.
The blacksmith manufactures from a description.
(Unless a person speaks his or her mind, others cannot know what the person has in it.)

Ar bdn k sgun; rn shn ni wn w.
Ibadan people do not run from war; what they say is, We will fall back a little.
(There are ways of avoiding battle without seeming to do so.)

Artnimw, fi pd rbt bo tir ml.
He-who-eagerly-speaks-of-one's-problems, he covers his own with a huge potsherd.
(People will talk about others' problems, while carefully hiding theirs.)

rkanl la ayaba; wkanl ni ti yr.
Wrapping-from-waist-to-the-floor is the style of the queen's wrapper; digging-down-to-the-deepest-bottom is the requirement of yr, the dry moat.
(Whatever one has to do, one must be thorough, and not be satisfied with half measures.)

Argb odgbs, n ml ni un dr san nb?
The old person who incurs debt, he says how much of it will he be around to repay?
(A person whose days are numbered can afford to freely take on long-term obligations.)

Asrlw b ln ogun; Ap b ln r; B-p-tt-ng--l b lb, j sun iu.
He-who-hurries-after-riches is on his way to battle; He-who-has-in-abundance is off on his travels; By-and-by-I-will-be-rich is back in his hut, eating roasted yams.
(Wealth comes to those who exert themselves, not to those who wait for it to find them.)

srld l pa Elempe j t n igb wwo ju wo.
Speaking-without-explaining killed the first Elempe who said that calabash was heavier than china.
(Excessive economy in speech leads to obscurity.) [8]

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 . . .

Aeburk ts mn.
The evil doer makes a brisk exit.
(The evil doer would not wait for his nature to catch up with him.)

A-tn-s-m-ba-ibkan-j; ir la b nb.
One-who-is-tight-with-the-right-and-tight-with-left-without-alienating-either; what one will find in that characterization is a lie.
(There is no way to be tight with both sides of a quarrel without betraying one side.)

wr lobnrin w nkan b.
Seeking-until-finding is how a woman seeks ingredients for stew.
(The dutiful person does not permit difficulties to keep her from accomplishing her duty.)

wy n m rn yni; dnrn okn la fi sin gbta; b a b l , k yeni.
Explicitness makes matters clear; it takes three-hundred strings to string six hundred; unless one explains it, no one understands.
(Too much economy in speech leads to confusion.) [9]

wy nIf f; gbangba lor pran.
Explicitly is the way If speaks; it is openly that Or kills animals.
(Whatever one has to say, one should say without mincing words.) [10]

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. Okro, because of its sliminess, is difficult enough for a person with no labial deformity to eat.  [Back to text]


2. People are apt to be cryptic in naming their children. The Yoruba give names that indicate the circumstances of the family at the time of the birth, comment on the hopes of the family, or otherwise express the chief concerns of the people at the time. Usually, of course, only those who are intimate with the family understand the full import of the names, because they are not always explicit.  [Back to text]


3. When the maize plant develops fruits the Yoruba say, y mliterally, It is carrying a child. The expression does not, however, mean that the people believe that the plant is human. Elephant grass is almost identical to maize in size and looks, even though it bears no fruit.  [Back to text]


4. Igb is used by palm-wine tappers to climb palm-trees. It works the same way as the ropes lumberjacks use for climbing posts.  [Back to text]


5. A person who says his condition forbids eating, but eats six loaves as a means of expelling worms, is inconsistent, and deceives no one.  [Back to text]


6. During the internecine Yoruba wars of the nineteenth century gnml led Ibadan's forces in their war with jy[Back to text]


7. During the internecine Yoruba wars of the ninetheenth century Ogunmla led Ibadan's forces in their war with Ijaye.  [Back to text]


8. The reference is to a certain character who came to grief by asserting the point, without explaining that he was comparing a full calabash with an empty china plate.  [Back to text]


9. The message is that it takes a string costing three hundred cowries in the old currency to string six hundred cowries.  [Back to text]


10. The references are to the oracle at If, and to one of the religious mysteries of the people, which is audacious in claiming its victims.  [Back to text]