Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Of proverbs and sayings...

A country can be judged by the quality of its proverbs.

A German Proverb

This weekend I ’discovered’ a gem of a book written by Peggy Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah (her son) and Ivor Agyeman Duah called Bue Me Bє or Akan Proverbs for those of us that speak English. This was a compilation of over seven thousand Akan proverbs translated into English and their meanings given. A most impressive piece of work!

Of course growing up with a grandmother for most of my childhood I was subjected to the usual Jamaican proverbs. This of course was a source of constant annoyance as I wished she would just speak in plain English! Those that I remember include:

  • Hog say, di fus water im cetch, I'm walla (literal translations pigs will wallow in the first pool of water they come across) i.e. make use of the first opportunity
  • Rockstone a riva battam noh know' sun hot (literal translation stones at the bottom of a river don't know how hot the sun actually is) i.e. if you are in a sheltered situation, you don't know what hardship is
  • Yu mek yu sail too big fi uy boat, yu sail wi capsize yu (literal translation, if you make the sails for your boat too big, then your boat will capsize) i.e. don't try and be someone you're not
  • “Cockroach nuh business inna fowl fight (literally roaches must not get involved in chicken fights i.e. don't get involved in things that don't concern you. Straight forward lesson I think as chickens love to eat roaches!

Needless to say nothing prepared me for some of the Akan proverbs I read. In between rolling and crying with laughter I could of course see the truth and wisdom. Enjoy:

  • The vagina has no teeth but it slowly chews up the lion cloth: i.e. slowly does it
  • If the vagina is sick, the penis hangs itself i.e. without a woman’s help, a man is nothing
  • A fresh vagina wakes up a weak penis i.e. something new stimulates interest
  • If your penis dies, don’t cut it off; use it to urinate i.e. members of the family who are useless for one thing may be useful for another so don’t reject them.

And my personal favorite:

  • If the vagina is not sweet, at least the foreskin contracts i.e. things may not be perfect but at least they have some effect

Just bought my copy of the book, am already feeling worried for my grandchildren! No, didn't buy it to voraciously read the more explicit ones! Rather, I wanted to see the links between some of the Jamaican proverbs and the African (in this case Akan) ones. For example there is one we have that says ' if you can't ketch Quarshie, yu ketch him shut' , a literal translation 'if you cannot catch Quarshie, then you catch his shirt' meaning if you cannot get the person or thing you want then you may have to settle for the closest. I remember my Mother dying with laughter when she came to Ghana and met a friend of mine whose last name was Quarshie. One wonders - who was this Quarshie? was he a slave in Jamaica that was notorious and was wanted? Was this a saying that was carried over by the slaves from the then Gold Coast? Would be interesting to find out.

On a more serious note it seemed that Peggy Appiah nee Cripps was a formidable woman indeed. The youngest daughter of an English Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer she caused an international social calamity when she married a black Ghanaian lawyer in the early fifties. This was something that was just not done! I found her obituary online in The Times. Interesting to read - both of the person herself, as well as the times in which she married and moved to Ghana. Will definitely be getting more of her works.


Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

You came back with a roar, you strong Jamaican woman! I loved this piece. Not just the proverbs, but how you introduced them and mixed them up. Please don't be gone for too long from now on. ;)

Denise said...

Thanks Nana. Have you read it by any chance?

Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

No, Denise, I have not read it. Now you have shown me glinmpses of it, I feel my education is incomplete! :(