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Ewe Proverbs - Proverbs and the African Tree of Life - akoto-abutiate2014

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Proverbs and the African Tree of Life
Studies in Systematic Theology
Series Editors
Stephen Bevans (Catholic Theological Union)
Miikka Ruokanen (University of Helsinki/Nanjing Union
Theological Seminary)
Advisory Board
Wanda Deifelt (Luther College, Decorah)
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena)
Jesse Mugambi (University of Nairobi, Nairobi)
Rachel Zhu Xiaohong (Fudan University, Shanghai)
VOLUME 16
The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/sist
Proverbs and the African
Tree of Life
Grafting Biblical Proverbs on to Ghanaian
Eʋe Folk Proverbs
By
Dorothy BEA Akoto-Abutiate
LEIDEN | BOSTON
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Akoto-Abutiate, Dorothy B.E.A., author.
Proverbs and the African tree of life : grafting Biblical proverbs on to Ghanaian Eve folk proverbs / by
Dorothy BEA Akoto-Abutiate.
pages cm. -- (Studies in systematic theology ; Volume 16)
ISBN 978-90-04-27440-2 (pbk. : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-90-04-27447-1 (e-book) 1. Bible. Proverbs-Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Proverbs, Ewe. 3. Christianity and other religions--African. I. Title.
II. Series: Studies in systematic theology (Leiden, Netherlands) ; v. 16.
BS1465.52.A36 2014
223.70609667--dc23
2014019819
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Copyright 2014 by Koninklijke Brill nv, Leiden, The Netherlands.
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To my parents
The Very Reverend Andrew Kwame Alifo Abutiate
and
Mrs. Josephine Afi Wosordoe Attipoe Adonu Abutiate
(of Blessed Memory),
Who Trained me, Showed me the love of God and Prayed for me that I will
achieve the best in life and made me into who I am
and my family: Monie Johnny Yao; Stephen O.K., Etornam E.K.,
Maakporye E.A. and Dzifa-Georgia A.A. Akoto
∵
Contents
List of Abbreviations
x
1 Introduction 1
1.1 General Introduction: A Brief Description of the ‘Grafting’
Metaphor 1
1.2 African/Eʋe Traditional Religion/s 6
1.3 Hermeneutic Orientations: Biblical Hermeneutics and the
‘Hermeneutics of Grafting’ 10
1.4 Earliest Attempts at Understanding the Bible in Africa 14
1.4.a Baeta on “The Critique of Missionary Religion” 15
1.4.b Dickson on “Theology in Africa” 17
1.5 Other Attempts at Understanding the Bible in the African Cultural
Context: Hermeneutical Strategies/Metaphors 18
1.5.a Adadevoh on “Christianization as Dynamic Religious
Encounter” 18
1.5.b Dzobo on “The Cultivation of True African Humanity as Spiritual
Development and Transformation” 19
1.5.c Martey on “Inculturation” and “Liberation” 20
1.5.d Ukpong on “Inculturation Biblical Hermeneutics” 21
1.5.e Oduyoye on “Theological Reflections in Africa” 22
1.5.f West on “Indigenization” and “Transaction” 24
1.5.g Ariarajah on the “Transplantation” of the Gospel 27
1.6 Conclusions 28
2 The Eʋe-Speaking Peoples 31
2.1 An Introduction to the Eʋe-Speaking Peoples 31
2.2 The Values or Virtues of Eʋe Proverbs: A Conversation with Noah K.
Dzobo’s Collection of African [Eʋe] Proverbs 32
2.3 Procedure for Analyzing the Characteristics of Eʋe Folk Proverbs 35
2.4 Types or Forms of Eʋe Folk Proverbs 38
2.5 The Virtues of “Diligence” and “Humility” 43
2.5.a Diligence 43
2.5.b Negative Proverb Forms 44
2.5.c Laziness and Poverty 47
2.5.d Acts and Resulting Consequences 50
2.5.e Perseverance and Determination Spell Success 53
2.5.f Order of Relationships 59
viii
Contents 
2.6 The Virtue of “Humility” 63
2.6.a Children—Awareness of Abilities/Capabilities 64
2.6.b Young Animals 68
2.6.c Other Animals 70
2.6.d Small Things/Agricultural Imagery 72
2.6.e Community Rules Governing Residents and Strangers 74
2.6.f Parts of the Human Body 77
2.6.g Natural Phenomena/Things 80
2.6.h Discipline 83
2.7 Conclusions 88
3 The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability” in Eʋe Folk Proverbs 89
3.1 Introduction to “Prudence” and “Sociability” 89
3.2 The Virtue of “Prudence” 90
3.2.a Better-Than Proverbs 91
3.2.b Transience of the Human Condition 93
3.2.c Act-Consequence 96
3.2.d Assessing Abilities 97
3.2.e Appropriate Reactions to Situations 100
3.2.f Adjustment to Change 103
3.2.g Rifts 106
3.3 The Virtue of “Sociability” 109
3.3.a Pride in What One Owns 110
3.3.b Sharing Resources 113
3.3.c Personal Relationships 116
3.3.d Mindfulness of One’s Own Personal Business 119
3.3.e Selflessness and Communality 120
3.3.f Value of Every Member of the Community 125
3.3.g Tradition and Orderly Procedure 127
3.3.h Vitality 130
3.4 Conclusions 132
4 ‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
On to the African Ghanaian Eʋe Tree of Life—Eʋe Folk Proverbs 133
4.1 An Introduction to the Origins of the Book of Proverbs 133
4.2 “Farm” versus “School” 135
4.2.a “Farm” 135
4.2.b “School” 137
4.3 Juxtaposing Proverbs 25–29 and Eʋe Folk Proverbs 141
C ontents
ix
4.4 The Virtue of Diligence—kutrikuku 143
4.4.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Diligence 144
4.4.b Grafting Conclusions 150
4.5 The Virtue of Humility—ðokuibɔbɔ 150
4.5.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Humility 151
4.5.b Grafting Conclusions 156
4.6 The Virtue of Prudence—ŋuđɔđɔđo 156
4.6.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Prudence 157
4.6.b Grafting Conclusions 166
4.7 The Virtue of Sociability—amedomesɔsɔ 166
4.7.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Sociability 167
4.7.b Grafting Conclusions 172
4.8 Relevance of the ‘Hermeneutic of Grafting’ for Teaching the Bible in
Contemporary African Christian Contexts 173
4.9 Conclusions on the ‘Hermeneutic of Grafting’ 176
Selected Bibliography 179
Index of Ancient Sources 196
Index of Modern Authors 198
Index of Subjects 201
List of Abbreviations
abd
ael
air
ane
A/etr
atr
bhs
btb
bts
bwant
bwl
bzaw
cts
etr
hb
idb
itc
jbl
jps
jsot
JSOTSup
nrsv
obo
ote
otl
p.e.
rv
sblds
sblss
scm
tdot
vt
VTSup
Anchor bible Dictionary
Ancient Egyptian Literature, Lichtheim 1973–1980
Ancient Israelite Religion
Ancient Near East
African/Eʋe Traditional Religion/s
African Traditional Religion/s
bhs Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, ed. K. Elliger and W. Rudolph (Stuttgart:
Deutsche Biblestiftung, 1977)
Biblical Theology Bulletin
Biblisch-Theologische Studien
Beiträge zur Wissenschaft vom Alten (und Neuen) Testament
Babylonian Wisdom Literature
Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die altestamentliche Wissenschaft
Chicago Theological Seminary
Eʋe Traditional Religion/s
Hebrew Bible
Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible
Interdenominational Theological Center
Journal of Biblical Literature
Jewish Publication Society – Hebrew-English tanakh
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement
New Revised Standard Version
Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis
Old Testament Essays
Old Testament Library
Personal Experience
Revue Biblique
Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series
Society of Biblical Literature Semeia Studies
Studies in the Christian Movement
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament
Vetus Testamentum
Supplements to Vetus Testamentum
L ist of Abbreviations
wbc
wmant
wcc
wtt
zaw
Word Biblical Commentary
Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament
World Council of Churches
Leningrad Hebrew Old Testament
Zeitschrift für die altestamentliche Wissenschaft
xi
Chapter 1
Introduction
1.1
General Introduction: A Brief Description of the ‘Grafting’
Metaphor
Proverbs and the African Tree of Life: Grafting Biblical Proverbs on to Ghanaian
Eʋe Folk Proverbs uses the agricultural art of grafting as a metaphor to discuss
selected proverbs from the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible and some
Eʋe1 folk proverbs from the Ghanaian cultural context. The book views both
sets of proverbs as ‘trees of life’. By viewing these two sets of proverbs as ‘trees
of life’, this book articulates and models a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’,2 in which
the agricultural art of grafting figuratively provides a model for understanding
how the Book of Proverbs might be adequately understood and engaged in an
African Ghanaian Eʋe context. In traditional grafting, a shoot or a small piece
of one plant is spliced into another full-grown plant. This grafting, which
results in the blending of the two plants, produces a new sort of hybridized
plant with fruits that taste differently from the fruits of either of the two plants
involved in the grafting. In the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ developed here a few
‘shoots’ from the biblical proverbial tree of life (i.e., the Book of Proverbs) are
grafted on to the African Ghanaian Eʋe tree of life (i.e., Eʋe folk proverbs).
1 The word Eʋe is a two-syllabled word pronounced variously as E-wey, E-vey, E-bey. The first
syllable, e, sounds like the English letter “e” in “ebony.” The second syllable “ʋe” begins with a
bilabial sound, pronounced with both lips slightly opened, pushed forward and a strong
vibrating puff of air blown out between the opened lips. The resulting sound is like a very
strong b/v (similar to the Hebrew “bet”/”vet”) without the b/v sound. The word, Eʋe, ends
with the vowel “e,” which sounds like the second e in “effect.” Eʋe stands for both the name
and the language spoken by the group of African peoples, who live in Ghana, Togo, Benin and
parts of the Niger basin. The Eʋe language is also called “Eʋegbe,” a compound name, which
means Eʋe language. Even though the sayings analyzed in this book are mostly Eʋe folk proverbs from Ghana, other African countries, like Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, etc., to
name a few, also have similar sayings, which have similar application contexts. Some of the
sayings can also be found among non-African peoples elsewhere in the world.
2 This phrase was coined by the present author in 2007 as a metaphorical description for how
scripture is heard in African contexts in general. See Dorothy BEA Akoto (née Abutiate),
“Hearing Scripture in African Contexts: A Hermeneutic of Grafting,” in ote 20/2 (2007),
283–306 and Akoto, “Biblical Interpretation and Postcolonialism: A Hermeneutical TheoQuake of Grafting,” in Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies Special Issue:
Religion and Postcolonialism, vol. 15 No. 1 (Spring 2008), 5–30.
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2014 | doi 10.1163/9789004274471_002
2
Chapter 1
The notion of a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ depends on, and grows out of
other efforts to articulate an adequate hermeneutic for the understanding of
the Bible by African peoples. It, therefore, avoids the ongoing, perhaps even
unintentional privileging of Western cultural and moral expressions of the biblical text, which are often used in other hermeneutics developed in African
contexts. Additionally, it avoids using academic jargons like inculturation,
acculturation, indigenization and others developed in the West. The ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ favors a concrete image of an agricultural practice, which is
widely known in Eʋe and other African cultures. Furthermore, although the
‘hermeneutic of grafting’ developed and modeled in this book is undertaken
only in relationship to the biblical Book of Proverbs and Eʋe folk sayings,
the main features of this hermeneutic may also be relevant for understanding
how other biblical discourses might be grafted on to other sorts of African
discourses that are more adequately encountered and engaged in Africa.
Additionally, even though the sayings used in this book are mainly Eʋe folk
sayings, most of them are used among other African peoples as well as elsewhere in the world.
The use of the imagery of trees in this book is very appropriate due to the
prevalence and importance of trees in the biblical texts, the ancient Near
Eastern cultural milieu, the Ghanaian Eʋe and other African contexts.
In Ghana, as well as elsewhere, trees provide shade, food, firewood for cooking,
and warmth, as well as lumber for building and furniture.3 Trees are also commonly used for making wooden images for different purposes, which include
the representation of deities and the homes of such deities. As such, they are
venerated through sacrifices,4 which are often made to the gods around or
under trees. These descriptions of trees make them sacred symbols of life.
The sacredness of trees as symbols of life is given expression in the Eʋe cultural
contexts and in the African world view in general, in which it is believed that a
mythical ‘tree of life’ from which all living things (especially, human life) originated, exists in the netherworld or underworld. This idea is further enhanced
by John S. Mbiti’s assertion that in the physical world of the African cosmogony, the wild fig tree and the Baobab tree are two of the most sacred trees.5
Perhaps, of these two trees, the more significant in the African cultural context
is the Baobab tree, which can be designated as ‘the tree of life’. The importance
3 1 Sam. 25:8; 30:12; Isa. 28:4; make references to trees (particularly, the fig tree) as sources
of food.
4 See Gen. 12: 6; 13:18; Judg. 6:11; Hos. 4:12, which refer to trees as holy symbols.
5 John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann Educ. Pubs.,
1969, 1989), 51.
Introduction
3
and magnificence of the Baobab tree as a ‘tree of life’ can be seen in John
Kirszenberg’s description of the Baobab tree below:
The Baobab tree grows in the African savannah. It is majestic, imposing,
and is one of the oldest of living things found on the planet. It often
thrives for more than two thousand years and provides shelter, fruit and
water. It has a cork-like bark, which is fire-resistant and its leaves, often
used as herbs (author’s emphasis in italics), for medicinal purposes.
It produces large white flowers that bloom only for a day. The branches of
the Baobab tree stretch upward into the sky and when they lose their
leaves and become bare, they look like roots. This latter characteristic
gives the Baobab tree the designation ‘the upside down tree’.6
Additionally, the trunk of the Baobab tree usually grows so wide that no
individual can wrap his or her hands around it. Its fruits are produced so high
up in the tree that they cannot be plucked by hand. These features of the
Baobab tree enhance its importance in such a way that Noah Dzobo uses the
Baobab tree as a metaphor for knowledge. According to Dzobo, “Knowledge is
like the Baobab (that is, the monkey-bread) tree and no individual can embrace
it with both arms.”7 For Dzobo, the moral lesson taught by this proverb is
that “Knowledge and truth are like the unbounded [limitless] ocean and no
individual can claim to have complete possession of them and as such, people
should be humble in their claims to knowledge.”8
Apart from the above description of trees including the Baobab tree, the
imagery of ‘the tree of life’ has been demonstrated in the work of at least one
scholar, who regarded the wisdom tree of life in the Bible as very significant
and adopted it as the title of his introduction to Wisdom Literature.9 Also in
6 John Kirszenberg, “Meditation and Spiritual Growth: The Tree of Knowledge” in http://­
meditationandspiritualgrowth.com. Powered by WordPress 2010 & 2011, 13. Accessed June,
2011.
7 Noah K. Dzobo, African Proverbs: A Guide to Conduct (The Moral Value of Ewe Proverbs), vol. 1
(Cape Coast, Ghana: Cape Coast University Department of Education, 1973), 45, Dzobo
proverb #75.
8 Dzobo, African Proverbs: 45.
9 Roland E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom (Grand Rapids,
Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006). For Murphy, the situation of life and death
are expressed in the image of “the tree of life.” See also the older works of Ivan Engnell,
Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East (Uppsala, 1943), 92ff. Geo Widengren,
The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religion (Uppsala, 1951). Both works
deal with the significance of trees of life in the ane cultural context.
4
Chapter 1
Thomas Christensen’s missionary work among the Gbaya peoples of the
Cameroon in Central Africa, he labels the soré10 tree, which the Gbaya peoples
consider as a life-giving tree, as an ‘African tree of Life’ and uses the expression
for the title of his Book.11
Further descriptions of the importance of trees, which portray them as very
potent symbols, can be seen in various parts of the Bible and in the Apocrypha.
The references particularly, to the ‘tree of life’ in the Hebrew Bible are not
numerous. Nonetheless, the few references to trees in the Bible and in extrabiblical (Apocryphal) sources sketch several characteristics of ‘the tree of life’
and other trees.12 In Genesis 3, for instance, the ‘tree of life’ is compared with
the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ in the Garden of Eden. Whereas the
former is portrayed as life-giving, the latter possesses both a life-giving and a
death-dealing attribute. The ‘tree of life’ and the ‘tree of knowledge of good
and evil’ in the Garden of Eden are thus placed in antithesis to each other.
The Book of Psalms also uses the imagery of ‘the tree of life’ extensively. A typical example is Psalm 1, in which the righteous and the unrighteous are
contrasted with each other. The righteous are likened to ‘a tree planted by the
waters that does not shed its leaves’ but the unrighteous are likened to ‘the
chaff that the wind blows away’ (v. 3). Furthermore, ‘the Lord knows the way of
the righteous but the way of the unrighteous perishes’ (v. 6). The images of the
‘tree of life’ provided in the Book of Proverbs do not possess the life-giving
nature of ‘the tree of life’ as depicted in Genesis 3. Proverbs 3:18, describes
Woman Wisdom as ‘a tree of life to those who embrace her’. Proverbs 11:30
also describes the ‘wisdom tree of life’ as producing the ‘fruit of righteousness’.
Furthermore, ‘a wholesome tongue’ is described as a ‘tree of life’ in Proverbs
15:4. Isaiah also uses the imagery of trees. In Isaiah, trees signify strength, arrogance and pride as exhibited by the ‘biblical’ cedars of Lebanon.13 Isaiah uses
the imagery of the tree as a metaphor for addressing the socio-political issues
of his day with fresh understanding.14 Descriptions of ‘the tree of life’ are not
10
11
12
13
14
The botanical name of the soré “tree of life” is “Anoma Senegalensis.”
Thomas G. Christensen, An African Tree of Life (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1990).
Gen. 2:9; 3:22, 24; Prov. 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4; 2 Esdras 2:12; 8:52; 4 Macc. 18:16;
Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19. These are a few of the references made to trees in the Bible and
extra-biblical sources.
See Isa. 41:19; 44:14. See also 2 Sam. 5:11, where Hiram sends his artisans with supplies
including cedar trees to build David a safe house. The value placed on the cedars of
Lebanon is also exhibited in Solomon’s specific request that Hiram should supply him
cedar trees (in addition to other trees) for building the Temple (See 2 Chronicles 8–9).
Kirsten Nielson, There is Hope for a Tree: The Tree as Metaphor in Isaiah. jsot Sup. 65
(Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 71–80. Here Nielsen extensively elaborates
Introduction
5
limited to the Hebrew Bible. They are also found in the Apocrypha. In 2 Esdras
2:12, for example, ‘the tree of life’ is described as providing fragrant perfume.
‘The tree of life’ is also said to be “planted for the sake of the humble and the
righteous” in 2 Esdras 8:52. From the above descriptions of trees, it can be concluded that trees, especially ‘the tree of life’, as depicted in biblical Wisdom
Literature and other literatures, can be used metaphorically to describe moral
virtues and human characteristics.
This brief, albeit inexhaustive, description of the ‘tree of life’ in the African
Ghanaian Eʋe cultural context and in some biblical and extra-biblical sources
aligns with the main objective of this study, which uses the imagery of ‘the tree
of life’ to understand how various proverbs or ‘shoots’ among the sayings in
Proverbs 25:1–29:27 (the so called ‘Hezekiah Collection’ of Proverbs), might
be ‘grafted’ on to the African tree of life, which is represented by a range of Eʋe
folk sayings. These two sets of proverbs are chosen because they are concerned
with promoting particular virtues similar in both traditions. The metaphor of
grafting, which blends the two proverbial trees here suggests that teaching and
learning the message of the Bible can be facilitated and better engaged by
African peoples in general, and Eʋe folk peoples in Southeastern Ghana in
particular, through the use of pre-existing images in their cultural context.
The metaphor, therefore, focuses on how moral values or virtues chosen from
Proverbs in the biblical discourse (considered as ‘shoots’ from the biblical tree
of life) can be ‘grafted’ on to an existing clear, and in some ways, a unique moral
system, articulated by Eʋe folk proverbs (i.e., the African tree of life). A number
of scholars, mostly, but not limited to Euro-American writers, compare proverbs from the biblical Book of Proverbs with proverbs from contemporary cultures. Some of these scholars like Claus Westermann, Friedemann W. Golka,
Harold C. Washington, Laurant Naré and others, are discussed later.15
15
on Isaiah’s metaphorical use of the tree to bring out fresh understandings of the sociopolitical, religious and other issues of his day. Ivan Engnell, “Planted by the Streams of
Water: Some Remarks on the Interpretation of the Psalms as a Detail in Psalm 1” in Studia
Orientalis Ioami Pedersen Dicata (Kobenhavn, 1953), 85–96.
See Claus Westermann, Roots of Wisdom: The Oldest Proverbs of Israel and Other Peoples
(Louisville, ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995). Friedemann W. Golka, The Leopard’s
Spots: Biblical and African Wisdom in Proverbs (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993). Harold C.
Washington, Wealth and Poverty in the Instruction of Aménémopé and the Hebrew Proverbs
(Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1994). Laurent Naré, Proverbes Salomoniens et Proverbes
Mossi: Etude Comparative A Partie D’une Nouvelle analyse de Pr. 25–29 (Frankfurt am
Main: Peter Lang, 1986). See also Kwesi Yankah, The Proverb in the Context of Akan
Rhetoric: A Theory of Proverb Praxis (Bern. Frankfurt am Main. New York. Paris: Peter Lang,
1989). Yankah’s work focuses on proverbs among the Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana.
6
1.2
Chapter 1
African/Eʋe Traditional Religion/s
The metaphor of ‘grafting’ used to describe how the values or virtues communicated by some “sentence sayings” in Proverbs 25–29 may be understood
in the African Ghanaian Eʋe cultural context comes from my understanding
of the Eʋe cultural context and its extensive use of folk proverbs in every­
day communication. We can note here that several African and other
thinkers have developed various metaphors and hermeneutical strategies for
understanding how Christianity in general and the Bible in particular, might
take root and be interpreted in non-Western contexts. This study takes cues
from some of these earlier thinkers but tries to avoid some of their shortcomings. To understand the metaphor of ‘grafting’ and the context within which
it is appropriate, some knowledge of African/Eʋe traditional religion/s might
be helpful.
In very broad terms, and encompassing the whole of Africa, Mbiti and some
other African scholars and anthropologists have studied and written about
several aspects of African Traditional Religion/s (atrs).16 Generally speaking,
aspects of Eʋe Traditional Religion (etr) are very similar to those of atrs.
Some aspects of atrs include, but are not limited to, the nature of God—the
Supreme Being,17 the existence and character of lesser gods or spirit beings and
natural phenomena. The above aspects of A/etrs relate to the cycle of human
life from the miry watery pre-birth stage to birth, through youth or puberty, to
young adulthood, adulthood, marriage, work and family life, to death, ancestorhood or the after-life (i.e., the living-dead and ancestor-veneration) and
16
17
Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy. In this book, Mbiti deals comprehensively
with “Time” and “God,” which constitute major aspects of the traditional religious and
philosophical world views of African peoples. See David T. Adamo, ed. Biblical
Interpretation in African Perspective (Lanham, New York: Univ. Press of America, Inc.,
2006). In this anthology, several seasoned scholars, including African, scholars provide a
variety of interpretations of scripture from the African perspective. See also Delanyo
Adadevoh, Approaches to Christianization in Africa (u.s.a.: ilf Pubs., 2009), ix. Here
Adadevoh discusses how Christianization affects the Eʋe peoples. He elaborates on how
the Eʋe peoples understand and practice their own culture vis a vis Christianity.
The supremacy of God (as the Supreme Being in A/etrs) is portrayed in the work of
Temba L.J. Mafico, Yahweh’s Emergence As Judge among the Gods: A Study of the Hebrew
Root špṭ (Lewiston.Queenston.Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006), 123ff. Here Mafico
proposes and argues that Israel’s religion is a “polytheistic monotheism” in which yhwh is
the Supreme Judge over all the other gods. This idea tallies with the belief in A/etrs that
the Supreme Being is above all the gods, an idea that can be explained in terms of the
Hebrew ’el Shaddai.
Introduction
7
the return to life through reincarnation. These aspects of atrs thus foster
a connection between the physical or secular world and the spiritual or
sacred aspects of the lives of individuals and society as a whole. Moreover,
these aspects of A/etrs encompass all activities in the African existential
cultural context. This is because in A/etrs, there is no dichotomy between
the sacred and the secular since every physical occurrence has a religious
or spiritual explanation. In popular terminology, ‘There is no smoke without
fire’ and vice versa in A/etrs because everything that happens in the cultural
context of the African or Eʋe peoples has a cause and an effect. For instance,
every death (no matter how old or how young the person might be) is attributed to some supernatural cause. When a healthy person dies suddenly,
for example, the cause of death is normally explained as resulting from an
evil spell cast upon the person by witches or wizards, who use witchcraft
or juju (i.e., demonic powers) to harm or kill other people. When there is
a cycle of births-and-deaths or some contagious disease in a particular
family, this is blamed on the effects of a generational curse pronounced
against an ancestor of that family, who was probably, an executioner, a
perpetual thief or an ‘evildoer’ of some sort. Also when someone consults
the gods for their help to succeed in a new life venture, and makes a vow that
he or she will venerate the gods in some way, but fails to honor the vow, the
person is stricken by the gods and he or she either dies or becomes maimed
for life. Additionally, events like fatal motor accidents, which claim the lives
of all the people involved, leaving no survivors, or an accident which maims its
survivors for life or serious epidemics in the community are all attributed to
some remote cause.
In A/etrs human life is seen as cyclical with no beginning or ending.
Life begins before birth and continues into the after-life or ancestor-hood
(i.e., a living-dead stage) and returns to life through birth or reincarnation.
In the world view of A/etrs, people who live good lives are reincarnated
but evil people perish with their death. As mentioned briefly above, the
African Eʋe peoples believe that human beings emerge from a miry watery
underworld and come to earth through birth and when they die they return
to the underworld where they exist in another form until they are reincarnated
through birth. In the context of this belief, when a child is born, enquiries
are made from the gods to find out which ancestor has been reincarnated.
When the identity of the reincarnated ancestor has been established, the
new born child is named after that ancestor and surprisingly, the child
often acts and speaks in the exact same way as that particular ancestor did.
A child who resembles a ‘good’ ancestor but does not exhibit the good character of that ancestor is often described by the Eʋe proverb, “Vi ɖi tɔ mewɔa tɔ
8
Chapter 1
nugbɛ o,” which means, “A child who looks like its father does not act like
its father.”18
Furthermore, because every stage of the life-cycle is considered as very
important in African Ghanaian Eʋe contexts, these stages of life are marked by
rituals, which are accompanied by appropriate sayings. These sayings teach
important moral values or virtues which are discussed in Chapters Two and
Three of this book. Apart from marking important stages of life, the moral
values or virtues expressed in the Eʋe folk proverbs and wise sayings in these
rituals constitute an indispensable part of the theosophical worldview of
the African peoples and the lessons they teach can be applied to a variety of
circumstances, contexts and concerns of life. The Eʋe proverb, “Vi vɔ̃ nyo wu
kotsitsi,” which means, “A delinquent child is better than being barren,”19 is
used for a woman who bears no children of her own throughout her married
life. This ‘better-than’ proverb implicitly, addresses the belief in the reincarnation of ancestors. In line with this belief, if a woman bears children, even if
they are delinquent, she is treated with more dignity than a woman who is
barren and has no children of her own. The former woman has more dignity
than the latter because while the former is a channel for the reincarnation
of ancestors, the latter prevents or blocks the way for the reincarnation of
ancestors. The barren woman is seen as a social misfit and is frowned upon by
society. When this childless woman dies, a special ritual, which consists of
sealing her female reproductive organ, is performed to symbolize that she had
closed the entrance of her womb to the ancestors who would have liked to
come back to life through her.
Another Eʋe folk proverb, “Ta menɔa anyi klo ɖɔa kuku o,” which means,
“The knee does not wear a hat when the head is present,” is very important in
the practice of A/etrs. The proverb illustrates the importance of role definitions in African Eʋe cultural contexts according to age, gender, talents, social
status, etc. During the celebration of major transitions in the stages of life, such
as moving from childhood to youth or puberty or from puberty to young adulthood or from young adulthood to the stage of an elder or into marriage, various
important rituals are performed to initiate the younger generation into a
18
19
Dzobo, African Proverbs, # 59, 39. Dzobo translates this proverb as “A child who resembles
his father does not necessarily take after his father.” The above translation of the proverb
is slightly different from Dzobo’s as it attempts to provide the literal meaning of the
proverb and to use inclusive language.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, # 187, 81. My translation of the proverb, “To be the mother of a
delinquent child is better than to be barren,” which is Dzobo’s translation, is also slightly
different as it attempts to capture the literal meaning of the proverb.
Introduction
9
higher stage in life. During these rituals, this Eʋe folk saying or proverb is often
used to teach the initiates the value or virtue of giving respect and honor to
adults or people who are more mature or at a higher stage of life. In the African
cultural context, for example, the head of a family, who can be a leader, a
parent, an adult or a person with some extraordinary talent, is supposed to
take the lead in getting things done. As such, this person cannot be side-lined
and the authority he or she wields cannot be usurped by anyone who is not
qualified to do so. This is the main reason why children or people, who are
transitioning from one stage to another in life, are taught to respect their
elders or those who have more mature skills. The above Eʋe folk saying, can be
explained with the English expression “Do not put a square peg into a round
hole” or vice versa. The Eʋe saying teaches the younger and less experienced to
desist from taking on roles for which they are not qualified while more qualified people are present.
The importance of the practices of A/etrs is not only limited to rituals that
mark the transitions in the stages of life. They are also important for understanding and appropriating Christianity and the Bible in African Eʋe contexts.
This latter characteristic of A/etrs is demonstrated in a lecture on ‘God, Sin
and Salvation in African Religion’ given by John S. Mbiti at the Pan-African
Christian Church Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988. According to Mbiti:
Conversion to Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) does not
mean that people shed off their traditional religiosity and go naked into
their new religion. They take their worldview, their culture, and their
spiritual needs with them into Christianity. …Furthermore, for African
Christians, the world of the Bible is not a world of three thousand years
ago, but a world of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.20
Mbiti attempts to show that even though the Bible may be traditionally considered as a history of three thousand or more years ago, African Christianity does
not consider it as such. This is because when it comes to the application of the
Bible to the lives of African Christians, the past, present and future are not
distant from but are in close proximity and intertwined with each other. Mbiti’s
assertion shows that in the belief system of African Christians there is no
notion of a remote past, an immediate present and a distant future. This last
concept suggests that a purely historical and hermeneutical reading of the
20
Mbiti, “God, Sin and Salvation in African Religion,” A Lecture Delivered by The Rev. Prof.
John Mbiti, at the Pan-African Christian Church Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, u.s.a.
(17–23 July, 1988), 2–3.
10
Chapter 1
Bible, which involves the notion of translating ‘what it meant’ into ‘what it
means’,21 as is mostly the case in academia, is inadequate for many people in
African Ghanaian Eʋe Christian contexts. Mbiti’s assertion further shows that
Christianity or the message of the Bible can never be presented in a vacuum
because no aspect of the African culture is dispensable and as such, every
aspect must be taken seriously as far as Christianity is concerned. Similarly,
since the moral values or virtues taught by A/etrs are very important and
affect the totality of the existence of the African Eʋe peoples, any strategy
developed for teaching the Bible among African peoples must take their values
or virtues seriously.
Furthermore, A/etrs (like some other religions), are neither the preserve of
specialists nor do they follow prescribed orders but rather they bring spiritual
reality down to everyday need. As noted earlier, in A/etrs, there is no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. The sacred, either directly or indirectly, affects the secular and vice versa and both together serve the everyday
needs of the people. In other words, A/etrs focus on praxis has effects on the
daily life experiences of the people. In this light, it can be surmised that
every kind of hermeneutic designed for a group of people must be concerned
with the totality of the ongoing experiences of the people among whom it is
to be practiced. The imagery of ‘grafting’ used in this book is, therefore, an
ideal metaphor for an African hermeneutic because it is an agricultural
craft which is widely used and can be understood in every African context.
Additionally, the metaphor of ‘grafting’ helps to safeguard an important concern alluded to by Mbiti, namely, it pays full attention to the African context
when interpreting the Bible. From this perspective, since the African Ghanaian
Eʋe tree of life acts as the full-grown plant on to which ‘shoots’ from the biblical wisdom tree of life are grafted, the African Ghanaian Eʋe cultural context
remains the primary one in which the Eʋe peoples can encounter and engage
with the Bible.
1.3
Hermeneutic Orientations: Biblical Hermeneutics and the
‘Hermeneutics of Grafting’
The word ‘hermeneutics’, which comes from the Greek word hermeneuein, is
derived from the name of the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods,
who had the task of mediating, explaining, translating and declaring the
21
Krister, Stendahl, “Biblical Theology, Contemporary,” in idb, vol. 1, George A. Butterick
et al., eds. (Nashville, tn: Abingdon Press, 1962), 418–432.
Introduction
11
announcements of the gods to humans. This word can be translated variously
as, “to interpret, exegete, explain or translate.”22 The task of hermeneutics,
therefore, is rooted in the ability to provide meaningful translations. Krister
Stendahl in his famous article on Contemporary Biblical Theology (referred to
above), suggests that the work of biblical theology involves translating ‘what it
meant’ into ‘what it means’.23 By this, Stendahl implies that in order to make
the biblical text meaningful in today’s context, a proper biblical theology must
involve both a descriptive and an interpretative approach. Stendahl’s idea,
thus calls for the exegesis of the biblical text, in the first place, from the ancient
Israelite (that is, ane) historical cultural perspectives, using historical-critical
tools, and secondly, for an interpretation or translation of the historical perspectives of the text into what the text means for the contemporary cultural
contexts in which the text has been appropriated. By implication, the message
of the Bible must to be interpreted with the particular cultural contextual
imagery of the ‘receiving’ cultures in mind. Gerhard Hassel, one of the representatives of Stendahl’s position on Biblical Theology, asserts that the biblical
theologian attempts to “get back there.”24 By this Hassel suggests that the biblical theologian attempts to do away with the temporal [historical] by bridging
the time span gap between ‘today’ and ‘the day’ of the biblical witnesses
through a historical study of the biblical documents. Hassel’s idea also suggests
that the task of the theologian is to return to the ‘former days’ (i.e., to the “history in and of the text”).25 The theologian accomplishes this by going backwards in time, to the past and after securing the context of the ancient message,
s/he must then translate the message meaningfully for application to contemporary issues. Bernhard Anderson, like Hassel, offers another version of
Stendahl’s position. Anderson considers biblical theology as both “descriptive
and constructive,”26 by suggesting that while, on the one hand, biblical
22
23
24
25
26
See Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 58ff. According to Schüssler-Fiorenza, the task of
Hermes involves active explication of divine commands and translating them into language that humans understand so they can obey them.
Stendahl, “Biblical Theology, Contemporary.”
Gerhard Hassel, Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids: Michigan, William
B. Eerdmans Pubs. Co., 1982), 169.
Hayes, John H. and Carl R. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook (Atlanta,
Georgia: John Knox Press, 1987), 45–58, 45. Hayes and Holladay suggest that the “history
in” the text refers to what the text narrates or relates about history and the “history of” the
text refers to the text’s own history.
Anderson, Bernhard, From Creation to New Creation: Old Testament Perspectives
(Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1994).
12
Chapter 1
theologians explain the ‘received’ text of scripture, on the other hand, they
work creatively on the text to make it suitable for and applicable to new
contemporary situations.
In contrast to earlier scholars, there are others who offer views on biblical
interpretation or hermeneutics, which are more suitable for the purposes of
this study. These scholars include Frederick C. Tiffany, Sharon H. Ringe and
Andrew D.H. Mayes, to name a few. While Mayes, perhaps more than some
others, recognizes the role of interpreting communities and maintains that
“the interpretation of the text takes place in the interaction between the text
and the interpretative community, a community which may or may not have
religious commitments, or may be characterized by different political or ethical concerns,”27 he does not go far enough. Tiffany and Ringe, on the other
hand, more helpfully suggest that “Biblical interpretation must begin at ‘home’,
with attention to the immediate contemporary environment in which the
biblical text is encountered.”28 As they rightly suggest, the unique sociopolitical, geographical, and other existential context of the listeners, which is
created by God, must be of primary importance to any meaningful venture
at biblical interpretation or hermeneutics. Thus we can infer from the above
that there is great importance on the interaction between the context of
the biblical text and the context in which the Bible is appropriated. In other
words, both the context of the text and that of the reader or receiver must be
taken seriously in biblical interpretation because texts cannot be understood
in a vacuum. Texts must have contexts within which to operate meaningfully.
This idea also suggests that the meanings of texts can be multifarious and as
varied as there are contexts of interpretation. This multifarious nature of
interpreting texts is similar to the idea of folklorists and paremiologists,
who emphasize the ‘performance’ context of folklore and proverbs. Taking into
consideration the importance of the contexts of the text and of the receiving
community, Jacques Derrida’s conclusion about the task of deconstructing
texts can be very helpful. According to Derrida, translation is a task that “exhibits an incompletion, the impossibility of finishing, totalizing, or saturating…a
structural order, a coherence of construct.”29 This description of the task
27
28
29
Andrew D.H. Mayes, Text in Context: Essays by Members of the Society for Old Testament
Study (Oxford, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), xv.
Frederick C. Tiffany & Sharon H. Ringe, Biblical Interpretation: A Roadmap (Nashville, tn:
Abingdon Press, 1996), 25.
Jacques Derrida, “Des Tour De Babel” in Post-Structuralism as Exegesis, Semeia 54, eds.
David Jobling & Stephen D. Moore (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1992), 3–34, 3.
In this work, Derrida deconstructs the story of the Tower of Babel and uses it to show that
Introduction
13
of translation by Derrida is apt for understanding the open-endedness and
ongoing nature of interpretation, translation or hermeneutics. Since the
task of this book is to make the Bible more meaningful to African Ghanaian
Eʋe peoples, the contexts of both the biblical text and the cultural context of
the Eʋe peoples must be taken very seriously as has been suggested by the
scholars discussed above.
Perhaps, even more potent than the ideas of the scholars discussed above, is
the seminal work of Hans Georg Gadamer, which informs my perspective on a
‘hermeneutic of grafting’. According to Gadamer, a major task of hermeneutics
is that of translating meaning from one world to another.30 By taking a cue
from Gadamer, my research attempts to translate meaning from the world of
the Bible to the world of the African Ghanaian Eʋe peoples. This translation of
meaning from one world to another is accomplished by taking some ‘shoots’
from the world of Proverbs 25–29 and ‘grafting’ them on to the world of the
African Ghanaian Eʋe folk proverbs. In other words, ‘shoots’ from the tree of
life, the biblical Book of Proverbs, are grafted on to the Eʋe folk proverbial tree
of life. In the course of this translation of meaning from one to the other world
by ‘grafting’, a unique blend of the two traditional cultural contexts (i.e., the
biblical and Eʋe) is achieved. As a result of this blending, a new hybridized
fruit is created with a completely different flavor than either of the traditions
or trees of life when viewed individually. The new flavor constitutes the means
by which the biblical Book of Proverbs can be made more understandable
through the ways it can produce new opportunities for the Eʋe peoples to
readily accept the message of Proverbs.
30
translation is a task that cannot be completed because it is a dynamic and an ongoing
process. See also Derrida, “Deconstruction and the Other” in Dialogues with Contemporary
Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage of Paul Ricoeur, ed. Richard Kearney
(Manchester: Univ. of Manchester Press, 1984), 107–126. See Derrida, “The Ends of Man”
in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 30 (1969), 31–57. Here Derrida sees
hermeneutics as a free play of signs. This idea compares with Richard Rorty’s. See Rorty,
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1979), 315.
Rorty, on his part, sees hermeneutics as keeping the lines of communication open.
See also Rorty, “Pragmatism, Relativism, and Irrationalism,” in Proceedings and Addresses
of the American Philosophical Association 53 (1980), 719–738, 734. Rorty sees no
transcendent metaphysical standards in existence and suggests that pragmatism must
involve the “willingness to talk to, to listen to other people and to weigh the consequences
of our actions upon others” with no guarantee of success.
Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd revised ed. (trans. Joel Weinsheimer &
Donald G. Marshall; New York: Continuum, 1993). See also Gadamer, Philosophical
Hermeneutics (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976).
14
1.4
Chapter 1
Earliest Attempts at Understanding the Bible in Africa
The idea of a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ is of course not the first or only attempt
by an African theologian or biblical scholar to formulate an adequate biblical
hermeneutic for the peoples in the African context. Scholars who have
attempted to formulate biblical hermeneutics for African peoples took into
account Robert Schreiter’s idea that there must be “an encounter between
church traditions and local themes for the actual development of local theologies to take place.”31 This study, therefore, builds on and is informed by the
work of many other scholars, who have explored the kinds of encounters to
which Schreiter alludes. James H. Cone, for instance, writing on the oppression
of black people in America a little over a decade before Schreiter, suggests that
there is “no truth for and about black people that does not emerge out of the
context of their experience.”32 This statement may be specific to the oppression of black people but it can also be generalized for all other peoples including the Eʋe peoples. As we have alluded to earlier, every successful presentation
or interpretation of the Bible must take into account the experiences of the
people who constitute its recipients.
The earliest attempts at understanding the Bible in the African cultural context were marked by resistance, suspicion and outright rejection, on the one
hand, and unquestioned acceptance, on the other. While some of those who
heard the message of the Bible quickly adopted the missionary hermeneutic,
the early stages of receiving and appropriating the message of the Bible were
also characterized by some degree of displeasure with and even anger at the
missionary enterprise, which was suspected to be a foil for promoting Western
politics, religion, culture and economics. Among the scholars who featured
prominently during the early stages of the introduction of Christianity to
Africa, and who proposed some strategies for understanding the Bible, or for
doing theology in Africa, are Christian G. Baeta and Kwesi A. Dickson. Baeta
and Dickson highlight two related problems that have historically hampered
the engagement of African peoples with Christianity and the Bible in this
process. These problems are the devaluation of African cultures and the marginalization of African languages. In my opinion, the problems mentioned by
31
32
Robert J. Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books,
1986), 33. Here, Schreiter proposes that sound local theologies must be sensitive to the
traditions and themes that prevail in the locales into which the particular theologies are
introduced.
James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (San Francisco: HarperCollins Pub. Co., 1975),
17–18.
Introduction
15
Baeta and Dickson can be overcome with the help of the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ which I propose. Before any attempt to delve into the ‘hermeneutic of
grafting’, I will discuss some of the earlier hermeneutics and strategies proposed for the understanding of the Bible in African cultural contexts and
elsewhere.
1.4.a Baeta on “The Critique of Missionary Religion”
Christian G. Baeta critiques missionary religion in a J.B. Danquah Memorial
Lectures Series in Ghana by posing a rhetorical question: “African Theology:
What is that?” In this lecture, Baeta presents the colonizers, traders and missionaries in the bloom of European expansionism, as having “the same ethnocentric basic attitude, which regards everything associated with themselves
as the standard to which everybody else had to conform by unanimously
condemning everything African calling it ‘savage’, ‘devilish’ or ‘substandard and
unworthy’.”33 According to Baeta, the negative picture that was painted of
atrs and cultures produced tension between the ‘incoming’ and the ‘receiving’ cultures and this prevented the proper understanding, reception and
appropriation of the biblical message in Africa. The tension referenced above
was exacerbated in some cases by the attitudes of some local converts,
who sided with the missionaries in condemning and showing animosity
toward their own cultural and religious practices. Some of these converts
exchanged their native names for foreign ones and in extreme cases the converts deserted their families. Furthermore, the converts built new houses in
selected areas of the community, which they called ‘mission quarters’ and by
doing this they completely, separated themselves from the members of their
own families as well as from other members of the community because the
converts considered the latter as pagans.
The relationship between the missionaries and the new converts, on one
side, and the local people, on the other, was very tense from the beginning.
However, the tension eases with time when the missionaries began to acknowledge the importance of the traditional religious beliefs and cultural practices
of the local peoples. It is unclear whether this change in relationship was based
on a genuine, positive engagement of the missionaries with the peoples and
their religious practices, or whether they were merely pragmatic strategies
developed by the missionaries to evangelize the local peoples. What did
become clear, however, was that the missionaries befriended the traditional
33
Christian G. Baeta, “African Theology: What is That?” Presentations in the J.B. Danquah
Memorial Lectures Series (Ghana, Accra-Tema: Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences,
1981), 23, 34.
16
Chapter 1
rulers and worked more closely and more amicably with them. Due to this
friendship between the two groups, the traditional rulers persuaded their followers to tolerate the missionaries and work with them. This made the local
peoples less suspicious of the missionaries and they began to accept their message. Having established this relationship, the missionaries offered to train the
children of the traditional rulers to prepare them to take over the leadership of
the church and to fill important political positions in the national government
after the missionaries left the African countries in which they were doing missionary work. The traditional rulers willingly allowed the missionaries to train
their children and in addition, they donated large portions of their land to the
missionaries on which they built mission schools and hospitals. The amicable
relationships between the missionaries and the local peoples allowed the
Christian message to take root among the peoples. As has been shown earlier,
after Baeta’s vehement condemnation of the missionary enterprise, he later
suggests that progress can be made if theology “place[s] itself fairly and
squarely within the immediate context of the actual on-going life of the people
of God” and that theology “must be a reflection from, about and for practice”34
among the ‘receiving’ peoples. By this Baeta suggests that the African cultural
context must be taken seriously into account as far as theology and the interpretation of the Bible are concerned. This proposition by Baeta’s remains
an important practical insight today, and for many African theologians and
biblical scholars, thirty years later, Baeta’s view is now commonplace.
The ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ proposed in this book, goes beyond Baeta’s
suggestion by insisting that not only must the African cultural context be taken
seriously into account while doing theology but it ought to be the dominant
partner in the engagement with the Bible and the traditional modes of interpreting it. John Pobee, another African Theologian, who holds a similar view to
Baeta, asserts that “Many missionaries to Africa practiced the style of tabula
rasa: the assumption that African cultures had nothing to contribute to the
missionary process and had to be suppressed if deep Christian life was to
be nurtured.”35 For Pobee, the assumption by the missionaries that African
cultures are tabula rasa and have nothing to offer, is erroneous because African
cultures have a lot to contribute to the process of Christianity. In line with
Baeta and Pobee, the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ attempts to show that African
cultures do, indeed, have much to contribute to the understanding and acceptance of the biblical message among African peoples, in general, and among
34
35
Baeta, “African Theology: What Is It?” p. 8.
See John Pobee, West Africa: Christ Would Be An African Too. Gospel and Culture Pamphlet
9 (Geneva: wcc Pubs., 1996), 5.
Introduction
17
Eʋe peoples, in particular. The discussion below takes a brief look at some of
the scholars that have contributed immensely to African Theology.
1.4.b Dickson on “Theology in Africa”
Whereas people like Baeta (and some others) vehemently denounce the
missionary enterprise, Kwesi Dickson does not condemn it per se. In his work
on theology in Africa, Dickson laments the use of foreign languages at the
expense of local languages, which he thinks is a serious flaw in the praxis of
African theology. Dickson argues that “The faith can be meaningful only when
Christ is encountered as speaking and acting authentically, when he is heard in
the African Languages, when culture ‘shapes the human voice that answers the
voice of Christ’.”36 Dickson also suggests the need to present the scriptures, by
taking into consideration “the setting within which people may be seen in
their contextual reality.”37 For Dickson, therefore, “it is essential that African
Christians be in a position to express in a vital way what Christ means to them,
and to do so in and through a cultural medium that makes original thinking
possible.”38 Teresa Hinga, writing in a much later period than Baeta and
Dickson, makes a similar observation to Dickson relating to African women.
According to Hinga,
For Christ to be meaningful in the context of women’s search for emancipation, he would need to be a concrete and personal figure, who engenders hope in the oppressed, by taking their side to give them confidence
and courage to persevere.39
By this assertion, Hinga suggests that women can genuinely identify with
Christ only if they see him on their side in their oppression. For Baeta and
Dickson, the two most significant problems are related: namely the general
36
37
38
39
Kwesi A. Dickson, Theology in Africa (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1984), 5.
Dickson, Theology in Africa, p. 4. See Dorothy BEA Akoto, “Hearing Scripture in African
Contexts:” and Akoto, “Biblical Interpretation and Postcolonialism:” in footnote 2 above.
In both essays, the present author proposes that hearing and reading scripture (i.e., biblical interpretation) must take the already existing imagery in the ‘receiving’ cultural
context or interpretative community, seriously. See also [Durable] Dorothy BEA Akoto
(Nee Abutiate), African Theology/ies: A Contemporary Mosaical Approach (Bloomington,
in: AuthorHouse Pub., 2014), 2–25.
Dickson, Theology in Africa, 4–5.
Teresa M. Hinga, “Jesus Christ and the Liberation of Women in Africa” in The Will to Arise:
Women, Tradition, and Church in Africa, eds. Mercy A. Oduyoye and Musimbi R.A. Kanyoro
(Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992), 191–192.
18
Chapter 1
devaluation of African cultural contributions and the marginalization of African
Languages when engaging Africans in Christianity and the Bible in Africa. Both
issues can be overcome by the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’, in which ‘shoots’ of the
biblical tree of life, i.e., the Book of Proverbs, and the current modes of interpreting Proverbs are ‘grafted’ on to the African Ghanaian Eʋe tree of life, i.e., Eʋe folk
proverbs. This ‘grafting’ acts like proverbial sayings in all languages by only fully
making sense in the original language in which they are uttered.
1.5
Other Attempts at Understanding the Bible in the African Cultural
Context: Hermeneutical Strategies/Metaphors
Scholars like Baeta and Dickson identified problems with the genuine
encounter between Christianity, the Bible, and the cultural contexts of African
peoples, whilst other scholars also developed hermeneutic strategies and
metaphors that attempt to address them. These include theologians, Biblical
scholars, anthropologists, sociologists and scholars and religionists as well as
other thinkers. They are mainly concerned with developing programs that
recognize how Christianity and atrs relate to each other and how these can
facilitate more genuine and equitable engagements between Christianity and
atrs. For many of these thinkers, in order for Christianity to take root in the
African cultural or another non-Western cultural context, it must go through a
process of negotiation, which involves give-and-take on the part of Christianity
and the ‘receiving’ cultures. In this give-and-take process, there is a ‘no undo’
super-imposition of the ideas of one culture on the other. The give-and-take
between the ‘donor’ and the ‘recipient’ cultures in the works of the writers
which we offer below differs slightly, yet significantly, from the ‘hermeneutic of
grafting’40 which I am proposing.
1.5.a Adadevoh on “Christianization as Dynamic Religious Encounter”
Delanyo Adadevoh focusing on the development of contextual theologies
proposes a paradigm shift, which deals with the impact of the interaction
between Christianity and culture in Africa. He argues that in order to promote
theologies for understanding the Bible in ‘receiving’ cultures, there must be a
“dynamic conversation between Christianity and the other religious cultures
(that is, understandings between biblical and atrs).”41 Adadevoh refers to
40
41
See footnote 2 above. Akoto (née Abutiate), “Hearing Scripture in African Contexts:”
ote 20/2 (2007), 283–306.
Adadevoh, Approaches to Christianization in Africa, 1.
Introduction
19
this dynamic conversation as “Christianization”42 and goes on to argue that
“If Western Christianity had defined Christian concepts without significant
regard for atrs, African Christianity is being called upon to redefine Christian
understandings in light of African traditional religious understandings”43
with the ultimate goal of promoting life in its wholeness. Adadevoh’s idea of
“Christianization” involves an interaction between the Bible and African Eʋe
Traditional Religions (A/etrs). Adedevoh’s idea involves the interaction
between Christianity and A/etrs and is somewhat similar to the idea of
‘grafting’, which emphasizes a re-definition of the cultures involved in the
‘grafting’ process, in light of each other. His use of the term, ‘Christianization’,
however, explicitly points to Christianity as the dominant partner in this interaction. As such, the resulting redefinition of the biblical and African cultures
in light of each other remains focused on the Christian culture. The ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ proposed in this book contrasts with Adadevoh: the former
emphasizes a merger between Christianity and the pre-existing imagery and
moral theological discourses in the African Ghanaian Eʋe cultural context.
This pre-existing cultural context facilitates the understanding of the Bible
within itself. By discussing the values or virtues of the Book of Proverbs,
through ‘grafting’ Proverbs’ ‘shoots’ on to the Eʋe tree of life (i.e., folk sayings),
this study demonstrates how Proverbs can be understood anew in a primarily
African way. The ‘grafting’ metaphor, therefore, constitutes an ‘Africanization’
of the selected biblical proverbs rather than a Christianization. This
‘Africanization’ creates a distinct understanding of the biblical Proverbs,
which is different from the traditional understanding. Thus ‘Africanization’,
in principle, becomes identical with the moral vision that emerges from Eʋe
folk sayings.
Dzobo on “The Cultivation of True African Humanity as Spiritual
Development and Transformation”
In his article, ‘Life on God’s Farm’, Noah K. Dzobo, argues that the true spiritual
development and transformation of Africans lies in “the cultivation of their
true African humanity and human existence.”44 Dzobo condemns the lack
of original creativity that has kept Africans away from the total development
of self-dignity, greatness and grandeur. He suggests that “true spiritual
1.5.b
42
43
44
Adadevoh, Approaches to Christianization in Africa, 1.
Adadevoh, Approaches to Christianization in Africa, 2, 315.
Dzobo, “The Beginning of Life on God’s Farm” a Paper Presented at the Pittsburgh
Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania (May, 1995). See also Adadevoh,
Approaches to Christianization in Africa, 126.
20
Chapter 1
development and transformation” must involve a reshuffling of mentality
whereby the African peoples will value African-ness by becoming aware of
their self-worth and their potential for greatness. To achieve this, African peoples must deploy their cultural ideas in all areas of African existence and not
exchange them for ideas represented by the Bible. Although Dzobo’s concept
involves some transformation, it veers more towards African sociological
development, rather than towards African spiritual development. Dzobo’s
concept of the ‘development and transformation’ of true African humanity
contrasts with Adadevoh’s ‘Christianization’ in which there is a “dynamic
conversation or interaction between Christianity and other religions and
cultures,”45 in a way that Christianity has a privileged position in relation to
A/etrs. Unlike Dzobo and Adadevoh, however, the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’
proposed in this book, strikes a balance between both human development
and spirituality by deploying ‘pre-existing images in the life of the African peoples and blending them with the spiritual message of the Bible (Proverbs) to
promote a better understanding and acceptance of the latter.
1.5.c Martey on “Inculturation” and “Liberation”
Emmanuel Martey proposes that African theology should be seen as ‘inculturation’,46 on the one hand, and as ‘liberation’, on the other. As ‘inculturation’,
Martey highlights the focus of African theology on the cultural-religious
dimensions of an African revolution. For Martey, this African revolution can be
observed in three areas of African existence: political, cultural and religious, in
which African peoples have resisted foreign domination. He writes: “the struggle in the socio-economic, political and religio-cultural spheres of life, calls for
the development of a true African theology, which involves the praxis of ‘inculturation’ and ‘liberation’.47 Furthermore, Martey suggests that ‘inculturation’
and ‘liberation’ must be integrated into a new perspective for creating a unified
theology of cultural and political liberation”48 and this must be deployed for
understanding the Bible. An examination of Martey’s proposal shows that theology deals with three very important aspects of African life. This differs from
45
46
47
48
Adadevoh, Approaches to Christianization in Africa, 1ff.
Emmanuel Martey, African Theology: Inculturation and Liberation (Maryknoll, New York:
Orbis Books, 1996), 110–115, 113. See also Dickson, Theology in Africa (Maryknoll, New
York: Orbis Books, 1984), 15. Dickson proposes the idea of “situational reality” by asserting that “Theology is done meaningfully only in context, or with reference to a situation
or set of circumstances.”
Martey, African Theology, 129.
Martey, African Theology, 129, 130ff.
Introduction
21
the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ in that whereas Martey is concerned with a
theology in which African peoples resist foreign domination to attain freedom,
the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ advocates an amicable relationship between the
foreigners and African peoples to promote a better understanding and acceptance of the Bible in African cultural contexts. The ‘hermeneutic of grafting’
focuses on unmasking the continued dominating interpretative paradigms, by
suggesting that good relations can be created by ‘grafting’ ‘shoots’ from the biblical proverbial tree of life (the message of Proverbs) on to the African Ghanaian
Eʋe folk proverbial tree of life and not vice versa. In line with the above, while
the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ mainly views the encounter between the Bible
and African Eʋe readers as enhancing, it is not naïve about the potential
conflicts in the encounter. The grafting hermeneutic accepts that as much as
grafting involves some minimal cutting, it also involves immediate binding.
1.5.d Ukpong on “Inculturation Biblical Hermeneutics”
In the same year that Martey described African theology as ‘inculturation’ and
liberation’, Justin S. Ukpong, in his article, “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager
(Luke 16:1–13): An Essay in the Inculturation Biblical Hermeneutic,” also
coins the expression, ‘inculturation theology’, for describing “a hermeneutical
process in theologizing that cuts across all theological disciplines including
Biblical exegesis.” According to Ukpong, ‘inculturation theology’ is “a new way
of doing theology” and that an “inculturation Biblical hermeneutic” is the
application of inculturation theology to Biblical interpretation.49 Unfortunately,
the terminologies used by Ukpong to describe his “inculturation biblical
hermeneutic” are confusing because he does not explain what he means by
“inculturation Biblical hermeneutics” but uses the terminology to explain
itself. Although he does not explain the terminology in this article, Ukpong
offers a helpful explanation in another work in which he defines ‘inculturation’
as a “re-thinking and re-expressing of the original Christian message in an
African cultural milieu.”50 This explanation clarifies the ambiguity created by
his use of the term in his article on the “Parable of the Shrewd Manager.”
49
50
Justin S. Ukpong “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1–13): An Essay in the
Inculturation Biblical Hermeneutic,” in An Experimental Journal of Biblical Criticism:
‘Reading with’ African Overtures Semeia 73, eds. Musa W. Dube & Gerald O. West with
Phyllis A. Bird (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1996), 189–210; 190. See also in the
same source Musa W. Dube, “Readings of Semoya: Batswana Women’s Interpretation of
Matthew 15:1–28”, pp. 111–129, where Dube offers a re-reading of Matthew 15:1–28
through feminist lenses.
Ukpong, African Theologies Now: A Profile (Eldoret, Kenya, 1984), 30.
22
Chapter 1
Ukpong’s concept of ‘inculturation’ seems to refer to an interpenetration of the
Christian faith and African cultures which is very similar to the ‘hermeneutic
of grafting’. However, Ukpong differs from it insofar as it does not refer specifically to a re-thinking or re-expression of the Christian message in an African
cultural milieu, but rather to a blending of biblical and African imagery.
This blending has the result of not only promoting a better understanding of
the Bible in African Eʋe cultural contexts, but also of understanding new possibilities about being African and understanding the African/Eʋe proverbial,
moral tradition from a new perspective. By choosing an image widely understood from African/Eʋe experiences and not a term from the Western scholarly
world like ‘inculturation’, which inhibits any re-thinking or re-expressing in
African contexts, the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’, avoids any notion of privilege
assigned to Western modes of thought and expression over an African or
non-Western one.
1.5.e Oduyoye on “Theological Reflections in Africa”
Another voice in African theology and hermeneutics, which informs the notion
of a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’, is Mercy Amba Oduyoye. Oduyoye’s views of
Christianity in Africa suggest that it fundamentally involves “hearing and
knowing.”51 By this ‘hearing and knowing’, African Christianity not only comes
to grips with what is heard in the ‘received’ text, but it also integrates or imbibes
the knowledge of its praxis into “African” Christian theology.
In her discussion of African Christianity, Oduyoye considers themes like
creation and redemption, God’s transcendence, the salvation work of Jesus,
covenant and community, feminism, and Trinity and community.52 Although
Oduyoye attempts to show how these Christian theological ideas are enacted
in the African cultural contexts through ‘inculturation’, and ‘acculturation’,
these themes seem more applicable to Western Christianity because they
mirror ideas developed in Christian theology in the West rather than being
applicable to Christianity as reflected by African traditional socio-cultural religious understandings. By ‘inculturation’, an idea similar to that proposed by
Martey and Ukpong, Oduyoye shows that African social structures and religious practices are side-lined in Christian theology and in the process foreign
practices are imposed on African peoples. Drawing on the experiences of the
students of Achimota High School in Ghana, Oduyoye contrasts ‘inculturation’
51
52
Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in
Africa (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1986).
Oduyoye Hearing and Knowing, 78–149.
Introduction
23
with ‘acculturation’53 by asserting that the latter involves “a deliberate effort to
keep the products of African cultures (i.e., the recipients of [Christianity], here
the Achimota students) from becoming alienated from their natural milieu
while receiving an ‘English education’ in a boarding school staffed with black
and white teachers.”54 The students of Achimota School were ‘acculturated’ in
that though they were African externally, they were westernized internally.
Oduyoye also cites the example of Roman Catholic missionaries, who took the
idea of ‘acculturation’ seriously because it responded to the question, “How
can one be African and Christian at the same time?” Taking ‘acculturation’ seriously, these missionaries did not shun African drums and other local musical
instruments or regards them as devilish or pagan instruments but rather they
‘baptized’ and ‘consecrated’ them for use in the church.55 Oduyoye sees the
action of the Roman Catholic missionaries as an endorsement of true theology, which for her, must involve the knowledge of self, knowledge of history,
belief in the future, and transformation, which results from the divine/human
collaboration based on Jesus.
Furthermore, by relating the ideas of Christianity to the sources and expressions of concrete themes in African theology, which Oduyoye refers to as a
“theology for living,”56 she suggests a form of liberation, which is not bound to
the ‘received’ missionary Christian message brought to Africa, but to a Christian
message that involves what has been effectively adopted and adapted to suit
African cultural contexts. To this extent, Oduyoye’s ideas resonate with the
idea of the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’. However, Oduyoye’s concepts which focus
on adoption (i.e., ‘inculturation’) and adaptation (i.e., ‘acculturation’), have a
glitch, in that they are expressed in terminologies taken from the western academic world as their starting point and they do not relate to the real life experiences of African peoples. This means that Oduyoye’s adoption and adaptation
of the biblical message to the African cultural context is different from the
metaphor of ‘grafting’, which takes ‘shoots’ (moral values) of the biblical tree of
Proverbs and grafts them on to the African Eʋe tree of life as portrayed by the
moral values in Eʋe folk proverbs. The ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ does not result
in an adoption of the Christian message or adapting it to African cultural
understandings, but rather it blends the two discourses in such a way that the
encounter is kept rooted in its African cultural contextual soil. The encounter
53
54
55
56
Oduyoye, Hearing and Knowing, 67–76, 69, 73.
Oduyoye, Hearing and Knowing, 69.
Oduyoye, Hearing and Knowing, 73.
Oduyoye, Hearing and Knowing, vii. See also Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy
(1989), 15. Mbiti describes religion here as “an ontological phenomenon” for the African.
24
Chapter 1
of the two trees of life (of moral values) assigns privilege to the African contextual imagery and recognizes that the fruit that emerges from the blending has
a different flavor but it is still genuinely and fully African.
1.5.f West on “Indigenization” and “Transaction”
Gerald O. West also offers ways of understanding the Bible in his South African
cultural context, where Apartheid had reigned supreme for several years. West
focuses on Black African theology in South Africa and describes the reception
of the Bible in the South African context as ‘Indigenization’ and ‘Transaction’.
As a note of caution, even though all theology in Africa is often labeled African
Theology, the South African Theology, of the 1970s, which is similar to Black
Theology in the United States of America (usa), is very different from other
African theologies.57 Writing in 1991, West uses the idea of ‘indigenization’ to
describe the earliest interactions of the missionaries with his South African
ancestors. This interaction provides West with the metaphor of ‘bola’,58 with
which he describes biblical interpretation in the South African context.59
According to West, when his South African ancestors heard scripture clearly
presented to them by the missionaries, they concluded that the Bible is the
‘bola’, (i.e., the divining dice) of the missionaries. This substitution of ‘bola’
for the understanding of the Bible arises from the belief of West’s ancestors
that the missionaries used the Bible to understand the will of God just as they
used the ‘bola’ for divining the will of the Supreme Being. As a result of this
substitution the Bible is made comparable to ‘bola’ since both are used to fulfil
57
58
59
See [Durable] Dorothy BEA Akoto-Abutiate, African Theology/ies: A Contemporary
Mosaical Approach (Bloomington, in: AuthorHouse, 2014). In this recently published
monograph, the present author argues that instead of seeing theology in Africa as a single
African Theology, theology in Africa should rather be seen and designated as African
Theology/ies because there are numerous theologies in Africa. In this work, Akoto
proposes that African Theology/ies should also be approached as a “Contemporary
Mosaic” of various patterns.
The ‘bola’ is a kind of dice in the ditaola (divining beads/necklace), which traditional
healers or diviners (in South Africa) usually, hang around their necks.
Gerald O. West, “The Relationship between Different Modes of Reading and the Ordinary
Reader” in Scriptura S9 (1991), 87–110. Here West discusses various modes of reading
the Bible by academics and ordinary readers. See also West, The Academy of the Poor:
Toward a Dialogical Reading of the Bible (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: Cluster Pubs.,
2003). West presents a similar idea here as he does in his 1991 article to show that
reading the Bible is always a dialogical undertaking in which the ‘receiving’ culture
[i.e., ordinary readers] and [academic readings] (author’s insertion in italics) of the Bible
dialogue with each other to produce contextual meanings.
Introduction
25
similar purposes. West’s second terminology, ‘Transaction’, suggests how the
message of the Bible is understood in ‘recipient’ cultures (here, South Africa)
in their own indigenous cultural contextual imagery. This idea is demonstrated
by West, in “The Bible in South African Black Theology,” in which he proposes
that the Bible and the cultures of ‘receiving’ peoples ‘transact’ with each other
in order to promote an understanding of the Bible. According to West, ‘transaction’ in South African Black Theology encompasses a trust in the “literary
dimensions of the biblical text together with a focus on the central symbols
and thematic semantic axis or trajectory of the final canonical form, which is
fraught with a hermeneutic of suspicion, a hermeneutic of trust and a hermeneutic of hope.”60 In West’s ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’, the ‘receiving’ culture is
often suspicious of, sees the ‘incoming’ culture as a threat and is, therefore,
reluctant to accept it. At other times, the ‘receiving’ culture sees the ‘incoming’
culture as trustworthy and, therefore, accepts it whole-heartedly. In some
other instances also, the ‘receiving’ culture entertains the hope that the ‘incoming’ culture can provide answers to the religious and cultural longings of the
people and improve their living conditions.
West’s work challenges the approach of another African theologian, Kwame
Bediako, who believes that “the gospel of Jesus Christ…provides a means of
making manifest the dynamics of African spirituality for what it is” and that it
“clarifies in a new way the nature of identity ultimately rooted in God and
Christ.”61 Bediako’s emphasis lies in the notion that ‘understanding’ is a matter
of the ‘identity’ between African spirituality and Christianity. Bediako’s concept
portrays Christianity and the Bible as the ‘subject’ and considers Africa as the
‘object’. In contrast to Bediako, West suggests that Africa must be considered as
the ‘subject’ while Christianity and the Bible are considered as the ‘object’. West
argues that this reversal from ‘subject’ and ‘object’ to ‘object’ and ‘subject’ for
the Bible and Christianity and Africa and vice versa, respectively, is to enable
the developments in African Christianity to test the depth of the impact of
Africa on biblical interpretation and not the other way around. Furthermore,
whereas Bediako’s ideas of ‘understanding’ and ‘identity’ see the Bible and
Christianity as endorsement or proof-texting for existing African cultural imagery, West’s concept of ‘indigenization’ and ‘transaction’, suggest a dialogue
between the Bible and African cultural contexts for biblical interpretation.
60
61
Gerald O. West, “The Bible in South African Black Theology,” in Biblical Interpretation in
African Perspective, ed. David T. Adamo (Lanham: New York, Univ. Press of America, Inc.
2006), 31–59.
Kwame Bediako, Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in
the Second Century and in Modern Africa (Exeter, uk: Polester Wheatons Ltd., 1992, 1999).
26
Chapter 1
West’s contributions to African hermeneutics and the development of the
‘hermeneutic of grafting’ are considerable. First, West’s ‘bola’ metaphor, which
is similar to the idea of grafting, is a primary image for thinking about biblical
interpretation that derives from Africa and not Western academies. The imagery of ‘bola’ is, however, specific to South African contexts and its application
is, therefore, limited, unlike the imagery of ‘grafting’, which is much more
widely understood across traditional African cultures. West may be correct in
claiming (in contrast to Bediako) that African contexts ought to be the
privileged ‘subject’ and not the mere ‘object’ in the encounter of Christianity
and the Bible with African cultures. This idea is similar to the ‘hermeneutic of
grafting’, which I am proposing. Additionally, West’s idea of ‘transaction’ is also
similar to the idea of ‘engrafting’ as it shows how “ordinary Africans have
negotiated and transacted with the Bible and partially, appropriated it by relativizing it, resisting it, and modifying it with uncanny creativity.”62
In spite of this, there are caveats about West’s ideas and these can be
addressed by the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’. First, as noted above, West’s hermeneutic of ‘bola’ is limited to South African Theology, which is related to Black
Theology in the United States. However, the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ remains
fully rooted in African cultural contexts. Disregarding West’s partial concern
with South Africa, one can ask, “In what sense is the interpretation of the Bible
really ever ‘African’ in West’s model?” ‘Negotiation’, ‘transaction’, ‘relativization’,
‘resistance’, and ‘dialogue’ may all be inevitable aspects of interpretation in any
context to a different extent, but this type of adversarial engagement serves as
a reminder that the Bible and its interpretation are never really permitted to be
African, but are something other than African. What is considered as truly
African in West’s model is not really authentic biblical interpretation. In further contrast to West, the ‘grafting’ metaphor recognizes some minimal inevitable damage or conflict in interpretative encounters, but the ‘cutting’ involved
on both sides is minimal and is quickly and explicitly followed by a binding
and healing. The ‘grafting’ of the ‘shoots’ from the biblical proverbial tree of life
on to the African proverbial tree of life and not vice versa, likewise guarantees
that the African context remains the ‘subject’. As West suggests, the African context will not be inadvertently converted into an ‘object’ as suggested in Bediako’s
model of ‘understanding’ and ‘identity’. Despite some of the commonality,
62
West, “Mapping African Biblical Interpretation: A Tentative Sketch,” in The Bible in Africa:
Transactions, Trajectories and Trends, eds. Gerald O. West & Musa W. Dube (Boston,
Leiden: Brill Academic Pubs. Inc., 2000), 29–30. In this article, West sketches a map of the
varieties of ways in which African scholars have interpreted the Bible in African
contexts.
Introduction
27
West’s model of ‘negotiation’, ‘transaction’ and ‘dialogue’ work against the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ proposed here.
1.5.g Ariarajah on the “Transplantation” of the Gospel
Another metaphor for understanding the Bible in African contexts is ‘transplantation’, a term borrowed from Wesley S. Ariarajah. Though Ariarajah is neither an African, nor is he concerned with African contexts per se, his metaphor
provides insight into the process of the ‘reception’ of the Bible not only in his
own Asian context but it can be related to the similar process of ‘reception’ in
other non-European/non-North American cultural contexts, which include
also African Ghanaian Eʋe contexts. According to Ariarajah,
The Gospel had been brought to the nations as a [potted] plant, with the
pot being Western culture. This may have been inevitable. But now the
plant must be transferred into Asian or African soil, so that it might strike
deep roots and draw nourishment from it.63
Ariarajah’s idea of ‘transplantation’ is similar to the idea of “weaving a new mat
over an old one.” The latter idea was proposed by Thomas G. Christensen, a
missionary, who worked among the socially, economically, politically, and culturally, homogeneous Gbaya community of the Cameroon, in the Central
African Republic. In the Gbaya community, as in other African communities
(and also in many ‘receiving’ communities), religion is concerned with human
beings but it also embraces life as a unified whole. This encompasses the entire
creation, which includes the living, the living-dead64 and all non-living things,
which include natural phenomena. Everything contributes to the harmonic
functioning and the rhythm of life in the community. The metaphor of “weaving a new mat over an old one,” arose from Christensen’s missionary work
among the Gbaya peoples of the Cameroon: the Gbaya peoples accepted the
Gospel of Jesus Christ and appropriated the message of the New Testament
by relating the Gospel’s message to the existing imagery in their own cultural
63
64
Wesley S. Ariarajah, Gospel and Culture: The on-Going Discussion within the Ecumenical
Movement (Geneva: w.c.c. Pubs., 1995), 13.
The “living dead” are believed to be the people, who lived good, praise-worthy lives while
on earth and when they die they are turned into guardians/custodians that partake of and
preside over the affairs of the community of the living, invisibly. They are greatly respected
and venerated with food and drink and they bring good luck and blessings to those who
revere them and follow the norms of the society, but cause ill-luck, disaster and curses to
come on those who do not follow societal norms.
28
Chapter 1
context. By discovering the relationship between their own culture and the
Gospel about Jesus, the Gbaya peoples accepted Jesus because they saw him as
a substitute for their “soré cool-thing” (i.e., life-giver or peace-maker in life’s
challenges).65 Among the Cameroonians the soré tree is considered as the ‘tree
of life’ and the people always use some part of the soré tree in every ritual to
maintain peace in their community. This pre-existing knowledge of the
life-giving and peace-making nature of soré is instrumental in convincing the
Gbaya about the salvation nature of Jesus. The Gbaya peoples hear the Gospel
message and understand that Jesus is the one who provides peace in every
challenging or life-threatening situation and they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and corporate Savior.
Like Ariarajah, Christensen correctly understands the importance of culture
in the transmission of the Bible. This is similar to the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’
which blends two different religious cultures (the biblical Proverbs and of
Eʋe folk proverbs). Though Ariarajah’s metaphor of ‘transplantation’ and
Christensen’s ‘weaving a new mat over an old mat’ are quite distinct, they are
different from the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’: The metaphors used by Ariarajah
and Christensen clearly point to a problem (common to all the hermeneutical
strategies surveyed above) namely, preserving a genuinely African perspective
in the interpretation of the Bible, which is not inadvertently subordinated to
Western understandings and norms of interpretation. The preservation of genuinely African interpretations is so important that many of the strategies discussed above struggle to address the concern in one way or the other. Indeed,
an ‘uprooting’ of the message of the Bible from the Western cultural soil and
‘transplanting’ it into an Asian, African, or other cultural soil, as Ariarajah suggests, or an overlay of an ‘old mat’ with a ‘new mat’ as Christensen suggests both
remain significantly external and do not genuinely constitute a part of African
culture. In the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ which I am setting out in this study, the
African proverbial tree of life remains firmly planted in African soil and receives
the wisdom ‘shoots’ from the biblical Proverbs tree of life.
1.6
Conclusions
The hermeneutical strategies or metaphors, such as ‘inculturation’, ‘acculturation’, ‘bola’, ‘identity’ and others discussed above are very important in biblical
65
Thomas Christensen, An African Tree of Life (Maryknoll, New York: 1990), 8. The botanical
name of the soré “tree of life” is anoma senegalensis.
Introduction
29
interpretation. They all point to the necessity of taking the existing elements in
the African cultural context seriously when studying theology. However, all
these efforts have some shortcomings which hamper the effective understanding and appropriation of the biblical message in non-Western or nonEuropean cultural contexts. Some of them, like ‘inculturation’, and ‘identity’
have been developed in Western academic contexts and are not very suitable
for understanding the Bible in African cultural contexts. The metaphors of
‘transplantation’ and ‘weaving a new mat over an old mat’, for instance, are
intended to promote a mutual encounter between Christianity and African
cultural practices but they seem to be ‘cut-and-paste’ metaphors, suggesting
that the message of the Bible is used to replace or cover over the existing
African or other religious traditions and imagery as though the latter did not
exist at all. The metaphor of ‘Transplantation’ has the advantage of being
familiar to many traditionally, agriculturally-based cultures in Africa, but it
tends to result in a caricature of the ‘receiving’ culture. What actually takes
place in the ‘receiving’ culture in the face of ‘transplantation’ is that there is an
‘artificial’ translation of terminologies and practices from biblical cultures into
the African or other ‘recipient’ culture. This kind of translation considers both
cultures as similar in every aspect except linguistically. In contrast to these
metaphors, this study sees the need for a hermeneutical strategy which engages
critically the ‘sentence sayings’ in Proverbs 25–29 as they relate to the African
hanaian Eʋe cultural context using Eʋe folk proverbs.
We have discussed various metaphors for understanding the Bible and also
the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ in which ‘shoots’ from the ‘tree of life’ in the Book
of Proverbs are ‘grafted’ on to the African Ghanaian Eʋe ‘tree of life’ (i.e., the
tree of Eʋe folk proverbs). The blend of these two trees of life produces a
hybridized fruit, which has the taste of completely different flavor than the
taste of the fruits of the two individual trees. This metaphor is related to the
teaching of the biblical Book of Proverbs to make it more meaningful to African
peoples, in general, and to the Eʋe peoples of Southeastern Ghana, in particular. The ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ thus has the advantage of emerging from the
African cultural context and not from the Western academy. Furthermore, this
hermeneutic metaphor grants a privileged position to African contexts, since
it is the Eʋe tree of life that receives the wisdom ‘shoots’ from the Bible/the
Book of Proverbs (and other modes of interpreting it). Furthermore, this metaphor also shows how genuinely new or distinct understandings, of both the
Bible—the ‘shoots’—and the Eʋe folk proverbial moral tradition—the tree,
are interdependent in the process of grafting. Since the Bible and the modes
of interpreting it are neither ‘transplanted’, ‘indigenized’ nor ‘inculturated’,
nor are they completely the product of ‘dialogue’, the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’
30
Chapter 1
is something new and genuinely African. The imagery of ‘grafting’ is also apt, in
that it involves the cutting and binding up of the two plants involved. Since the
encounter of African peoples with Christianity and the Bible have historically,
neither been an encounter between equals nor has it been a harmless process,
the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ recognizes that even though a more just and genuinely African Christianity and biblical interpretation will not be painless, it
holds the promise of rich fruit yet to be tasted.
Chapter 2
The Eʋe-Speaking Peoples
2.1
An Introduction to the Eʋe-Speaking Peoples
Eʋe-speaking peoples, whose folk proverbs or wise sayings constitute the
African tree of life on to which ‘shoots’ from the biblical proverbial tree of life
might be ‘grafted’ are found in Kpando, Hɔhɔe, Ho, Tanyigbe, Adaklu, Peki,
Tɔŋu and Aŋlɔ̃ areas of Southeastern Ghana and in Togo, Agɔme Kpalime,
Agɔme Tɔmegbe and neighboring areas, in Benin and parts of the Niger basin.
These regions are occupied by three main migrant groups - the Northern Eʋes,
Central Eʋes and the Southern Eʋes, respectively.1 In Eʋe oral tradition, these
groups of Eʋe peoples migrated from the Ketu District of the Republic of Benin,
in the Niger basin2 and settled in an area of land, approximately eighty (80)
kilometers wide and one-hundred-and-sixty (160) kilometers long along the
banks of the Volta and Mono Rivers. This area lies in the Southeastern corner
of Ghana, and the Southwestern parts of the Republic of Togo and Benin,
respectively. The land of the Eʋe peoples is a former German colony, partitioned along a North/South axis during the Second World War (ww ii) by a
mandate endorsed by the then League of Nations and allocated to France and
Britain on an East/West regional basis. Some sources trace the Eʋe peoples to
Asia (i.e., the Far East), via Southeastern Nigeria and Ketu in Benin to Ŋɔtsie in
Togo. Their migration arose from a revolt against the wicked, autocratic King
Agɔkɔli in Ŋɔtsie.3
1 D.E.K. Amenumey, The Ewe in Pre-colonial Times: A Political History with Special Emphasis on
the Anlo, Ge and Krepi (Ho, Ghana: E.P. Church Press Ltd., 1986), 1–3. Amenumey provides a
very detailed history of the Eʋe peoples of Ghana from pre-colonial times through the 1900s.
See also E.B. Asare, Akwamu-Peki Relations in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. ma
Thesis (Ghana, Legon, 1973). Although somewhat dated, this resource helpfully describes
the strained relationships, which culminated in the wars between the various groups of Eʋe
peoples during the process of migration and occupation of the present localities.
2 See D.E.K. Amenumey, The Ewe in Pre-colonial Times, 2–20 for a detailed history of the migrations and formations of the various groups of Eʋe-speaking peoples. For more information
about the origins of the Eʋe peoples, see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewe_people.
Accessed October, 2013.
3 Cf., the migration of the Eʋe peoples with the history of the revolt and migration of the
Hebrews from Egyptian bondage under the Pharaoh, under King Solomon’s son Rehoboam
and other despotic kings, until the split in the United Israelite Kingdom, to the period of the
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2014 | doi 10.1163/9789004274471_003
32
Chapter 2
The language and culture of these groups of Eʋe-speaking peoples differ
from each other only slightly. The differences can be observed mainly in the
tone of voice, with some of the language groups speaking the Eʋe with either a
higher or lower-pitched voice. Others speak with excessively nasalized or gutturalized sounds in their speech. The cultural practices and religious beliefs of
the various groups of Eʋe peoples are also similar with only slight differences
in regional or locality-specific names and practices, which can be explained by
the Eʋe proverb, “Du sia du kple eƒe koklo koko,” which means, “Every town has
its own way of dressing chicken.” In spite of the slight linguistic and cultural
variations that exist among the various groups of Eʋe peoples, their fundamental social relations are not jeopardized by these differences.
Despite these differences among the Eʋe peoples, their folk proverbs, which
also sometimes, have universal application, are very similar and have common
cultural contextual applications to circumstances, which emerge from issues
relating to and addressing their daily life experiences. Eʋe folk proverbs teach
important values or virtues and can be used in unlimited performance contexts, which are relevant to the Eʋe peoples. Other African peoples and other
peoples globally can also find these proverbs very useful. It is in this context,
that this book focuses on how the moral values or virtues embedded in African
Ghanaian Eʋe folk proverbs can constitute an African tree of life on to which
‘shoots’ from the biblical tree of life—in particular sayings from Proverbs
25:1–29:27 can be ‘grafted’ and how such a ‘grafting’ can facilitate the teaching, learning, understanding and appropriation of the message of the Bible
(the book of Proverbs) in an African Eʋe context, and do so in a more fully
African manner.
2.2
The Values or Virtues of Eʋe Proverbs: A Conversation with Noah K.
Dzobo’s Collection of African [Eʋe] Proverbs
Proverbs and the African Tree of Life: Grafting Biblical Proverbs on to Ghanaian
Eʋe Folk Proverbs uses part of Noah K. Dzobo’s4 collection of Eʋe proverbs as a
Assyrian and Babylonian Exiles until the period prior to the emancipation, recorded in
the canonical books of Exodus through to Joshua; 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 and 2 Kings; [1 and
2 Chronicles]; Esther; Ezra; and Nehemiah; Daniel (from the Exodus through the
Deuteronomistic History, The Chronicler and The Writings of the Early Post-exilic Period).
4 Noah K. Dzobo, African Proverbs: Guide to Conduct (The Moral Value of Ewe Proverbs), vol. 1
(Cape Coast, Ghana: University of Cape Coast, Dept. of Education, 1973). See also Dzobo and
Simon Amegashie-Viglo, eds. The Triple Heritage of Contemporary Africa (Accra: Studio 7
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
33
basic resource for locating some of the Eʋe folk proverbs discussed. Several
values or virtues can be associated with Eʋe folk proverbs, which this book
considers as the African tree of life, on to which ‘shoots’ of the biblical tree of
life in Proverbs 25:1–29:27 can be ‘grafted’. Basing my study on Dzobo is very
important because it collates and studies a broad array of Eʋe folk proverbs
and attempts to identify some of the moral values or virtues embedded in
them. Due to the scarcity of written sources on African Ghanaian Eʋe folk
proverbs, Dzobo’s work serves as an essential but basic resource for providing
some of the fundamental moral categories into which Eυe proverbs can be
classified. Though many of the folk proverbs discussed later are taken from the
proverbs in Dzobo’s collection of Eʋe proverbs, other folk proverbs discussed
in this book come from my own personal observation of life and experience
as a Ghanaian Eʋe woman. Although the main focus of this work is on Eʋe
proverbs, a few proverbs from other parts of Africa, which teach similar moral
values or virtues, are also discussed.
Since Dzobo’s collection of Eʋe proverbs serves as the basic resource for the
folk proverbs discussed in this study, a brief description of the collection is
offered here. Dzobo’s work lists two hundred and two (202) Eʋe folk proverbs,
which are grouped together into seventy-five (75) moral trait categories and
fifteen (15) major or cardinal, moral themes.5 In listing and categorizing these
proverbs into moral themes, Dzobo focuses on a number of values or virtues,
some of which overlap, whilst others do not fit neatly into any clear cut category. Dzobo acknowledges that some of his proverbs do not fit into distinct
categories when he discusses the five possible ways of classifying the proverbs
in his book by concluding that “…it does not mean that each of the two hundred proverbs falls neatly into one or the other of these classes.”6 Sometimes,
the seventy-five (75) categories offered by Dzobo are helpful in specifying a
particular value or virtue, but they are often duplicated and the multiplication
of these categories is, therefore, unhelpful for analyzing the main moral features of Eʋe folk sayings.7 This duplication and multiplication of categories in
kat, 2005), 6–7. In this book, the authors offer comprehensive discussions of the African
cultural heritage from the pre-colonial, through colonial to the post-colonial era. In this
book, Dzobo and Amegashie-Viglo discuss what a proverb is, what its form, as well as its
content and evaluative functions are.
5 See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 86–98. In these pages, Dzobo collapses the two hundred and
two (202) proverbs into seventy-five (75) moral trait categories and further reduces them
into fifteen (15) major themes.
6 Dzobo, African Proverbs, p. 14.
7 Dzobo, African Proverbs, 16–18. Dzobo categorizes his two hundred and two (202) Eʋe
proverbs into seventy-five (75) moral trait categories.
34
Chapter 2
Dzobo’s work constitute major shortcomings which are overcome by the
‘hermeneutic of grafting’. By choosing ‘shoots’ from the tree of life in Proverbs
25–29 and ‘grafting’ them on to the Eʋe folk proverbial tree of life we focus on
four main virtues. These are discussed through the analysis of a number of
proverbs, which exhibit characteristics of four main virtues which my study
considers as chosen Eʋe folk proverbial trees on to which the selected ‘shoots’
from Proverbs can be ‘grafted’.
Although this study takes a cue from Dzobo’s Eʋe proverbs, the analyses,
discussion and application of the folk proverbs which I present are mostly my
own unique undertaking. I have reduced Dzobo’s many rubrics to a smaller
number of more helpful, but broader, moral categories or traits, focusing on
four principal virtues namely, Diligence, Humility, Prudence and Sociability,
which can be further sub-divided into a number of other categories or themes.
Although several other virtues can be identified in Eʋe proverbs, the proverbs
I have collated fall into the four broad moral categories listed above. Patience,
for example, is a unique virtue,8 but it is sometimes considered as the virtue of
humility. When Patience is considered as humility, people who are anxious to
do things that are beyond their capabilities, can be taught to be humble (i.e., to
be patient) and not to attempt to do things which are beyond their capabilities
prematurely. Patience can also be considered as the virtue of prudence or diligence.9 In this sense, the virtue of patience teaches people to apply wisdom to
their actions, and also to use determination to succeed in what they do.
The four principal virtues around which the folk proverbs are organized are
central to and find expression in Eʋe folk sayings. They encourage virtuous
moral living, on the one hand, while, on the other hand, they warn people
against indulging in vices that contrast with the virtues. The rhetoric employed
in these folk sayings discourages vice on the one hand and promotes virtuous
living on the other hand. In this book, I present with a discussion, analysis and
8 Dzobo illustrates the virtue of ‘Patience’ with proverb #113, “Agbo matsimatsi meɖoa kɔme
dza o,” which means, “A lamb [an immature ram] does not grow a mane.” Though this proverb
is listed under ‘Patience’, according to Dzobo, it can be used to teach children or people in
general to be humble and not try to take on assignments for which the time is not yet ripe,
prematurely. (Dzobo, African Proverbs, 57).
9 For example, Dzobo’s proverb # 104, “Dzigbɔɖi wotsɔ koa anyidi hafi kpɔa eƒe dɔka” translates, “If you dissect an ant patiently, you will see its entrails.” This use of ‘Patience’ can be
applied to the virtue of diligence, which is a necessity for success in any venture in life (p. 55).
Cf. the Buganda proverb from Uganda, which says, “By trying often, the monkey learns
to jump from a tree” which also teaches not only patience but also prudence and deter­
mination. This proverb is listed in www.afritorial.com/the-best-72-african-wise-proverbs.
Accessed October, 2013.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
35
application four sets of virtues in Eʋe folk proverbs which are divided into two
main parts. Two of the virtues, Diligence and Humility constitute the primary
focus of Chapter Two; Chapter Three focusses on the other two virtues of
Prudence and Sociability. Due to the diverse and dynamic proverbial tradition
among the Eʋe peoples, it must be noted that not all Eʋe folk proverbs fit neatly
into the four main moral rubrics of Diligence, Humility, Prudence and
Sociability, discussed here and indeed this is to be expected. It follows that as
one might imagine some of the Eʋe folk sayings analyzed here can also be
found among other African peoples (alluded to in this study) and they also
have similar application in other cultural contexts globally.
2.3
Procedure for Analyzing the Characteristics of Eʋe Folk Proverbs
To introduce our discussion of the Eʋe folk proverbs I have analyzed for this
study, a brief discussion of the analysis of the characteristics of these proverbs
is offered here. Dzobo’s collection of Eʋe proverbs provides tools for classifying
some of the moral values as well as the fundamental resource (among others),
for finding the Eʋe folk proverbs which constitute the African tree of life on to
which the chosen biblical Proverbs’ ‘shoots’ are ‘grafted’. For instance, in
classifying his seventy-five (75) moral rubrics, Dzobo lists together proverbs,
like Patience, Moderation, etc., which illustrate each of his overly duplicated
and multiplied moral categories, traits or virtues.10 In his analyses of the Eʋe
proverbs, Dzobo first, gives the proverbs in Eʋe, translates them into English,
explains the cultural images used in some of the proverbs, states the virtue or
value embedded in the proverbs, and sometimes, but not always, provides typical application contexts for the proverbs. Dzobo’s proverb #134, “Dzre mele
ŋku kple alɔ̃ dome o,”11 which means, “There is no quarrel between the eyes
and sleep,” which he lists under moral trait category 46, Relationship, Personal,
is an example of a proverb for which he provides a typical application context.
According to Dzobo, this proverb can be used to advise two sisters, who
are quarrelling or who are not on talking terms [with each other], to patch
up their differences and not allow anything to come between them and their
10
11
Dzobo, African Proverbs, vii–viii.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 63. This proverb is listed under the category of “Personal
Relationship.” A Congo proverb which is similar to and can be used in similar situations/
contexts like this Eʋe proverb says, “Sleep is the cousin of death.” See http://www.special
-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_congo_proverb/147855.htm. Accessed October,
2013. This proverb shows the closeness of the relationship between sleep and death,
a relationship in which one cannot be detached from the other.
36
Chapter 2
relationship. Dzobo suggests that “the closeness of personal relationships
should constrain relatives and friends to live amicably.”12 In most of the other
proverbs, Dzobo does not give typical examples of usage or application contexts. Although in this book I basically follow Dzobo’s process of analyzing the
Eʋe proverbs, my analyses differ from Dzobo’s in several instances. Apart from
avoiding duplication and multiplication of categories, the ‘hermeneutic of
grafting’ also avoids Dzobo’s lack of adequate examples or application contexts
for most of his proverbs which is a gap in his work. The ‘hermeneutic of
grafting’ approach which I have formulated attempts to fill these gaps by offering fewer rubrics of moral categories and giving several examples of how the
various proverbs analyzed are applied in context.
Although my analyses of the Eʋe folk proverbs follow Dzobo’s analyses to
some extent, the four main virtues of Diligence, Humility, Prudence and
Sociability discussed in this book, are novel and unique categories, as they
neither follow Dzobo’s moral categories nor adopt his classifications. Instead
of following Dzobo’s analyses of proverbs chronologically, I have listed the Eʋe
folk proverbs which have similar themes, values or virtues, imagery, characteristics or forms together to draw out the moral lessons in the four main virtues
discussed. The numbers assigned to each of the folk proverbs in Dzobo’s collection are enclosed in parenthesis or provided in footnotes at the bottom of
the page on which the proverb is listed and this sometimes, but not always,
facilitates the comparisons of the various analyses of the proverbs. Where
I have used an explanation of the Eʋe folk proverb from Dzobo’s collection,
I have added several examples of its application in a practical context.
The translation of some of the folk proverbs from Dzobo’s collection, are often
also different: I have done this to clarify and where doing so reveals an aspect
of the proverbial saying that Dzobo overlooks. Similarly, whenever an analysis
or translation of the proverb differs from Dzobo’s, an allusion is made to his
translation in the discussion of the proverb or in a footnote.
Another dimension of the analyses of the folk proverbs in my own study is
that the cultural contextual understandings or imagery is explained in detail so
that the logic and rhetoric behind the proverbs are made more explicit. This
cultural contextual explanation helps non-Eʋe speakers to become familiar
with the specific performance context of the sayings. Where applicable, and
whenever it seems important to enhance the understanding of the proverb,
common English expressions or other Eʋe wise sayings are also provided.
My analyses of the Eʋe sayings also follow how folklorists and paremiologists (who specialize in the study of folklore and proverbs) view the function of
12
Dzobo, African Proverbs, vii–viii.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
37
folk proverbs. They suggest that proverbs or folk sayings are meaningful when
they are used or performed in particular contexts. As an illustration of their
application in context, Musimbi Kanyoro, an African feminist theologian, had
heard her grandmother use the same proverb on two different occasions and
in two completely different situations in Kenya (East Africa). When Kanyoro
asked why and how this was possible, her grandmother offered the following
explanation:
Proverbs are sayings that are pregnant with meaning. The context of the
proverb, determines its meaning. Proverbs are like shadows. You have to
move with them and they have to move with you.13
In this explanation, Kanyoro’s grandmother personifies proverbs, attributes
their meanings to ‘pregnancy’ and highlights the importance of context to
the meanings of proverbs. She also metaphorically compares proverbs to
‘shadows’ that are able to ‘move’ with people as people move with them.
This proverb points to the dynamism of proverbs as well as to the importance
of their performance in context. Not only is their performance context crucial
but it is indispensable to their meaning; this explanation also shows the importance of the use of metaphorical language.14 Implicit in Kanyoro’s grandmother’s statement is the idea that proverbs can best be explained by other proverbs.
Paremiologists discovered over a long period of studying folklore what
Kanyoro’s grandmother knew instinctively and used in her explanation of the
proverbial utterance to her granddaughter. Her explanation also confirms the
assertion of paremiologist Archer Taylor that proverbs “are not easily recognized as proverbial sayings unless we have heard them applied to particular
13
14
Musimbi R.A. Kanyoro, “When Women Arise, the Earth Trembles,” in Claiming the
Promise: African Churches Speak. Margaret S. Larom, ed. (New York: Friendship Press,
1994), 63.
Wolfgang Mieder, Proverbs Are Never Out of Season: Popular Wisdom in the Modern Age
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), 9. See also Susan Niditch, Folklore and the Hebrew
Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 3. Niditch asserts that “Many modern folklorists
consider folklore to be lore in process or performance.” By the terms “process” and
“performance,” Niditch confirms the “living currency of a work in a social context,
during its very creation and in the experience of those who share in its becoming.” See
Dan Ben Amos, “Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context,” in Toward New Perspectives
in Folklore, eds. Americo Paredes and Richard Baumen (Austin, tx: Univ. of Texas Press,
1972), 9. See also Barre Toelken, The Dynamics of Folklore (Boston, ma: Houghton Mifflin,
1979), 38.
38
Chapter 2
situations.”15 The proverb used by Kanyoro’s grandmother and its explanation
also confirms a conclusion drawn by the anthropologist Ruth Finnegan who
studied African folk proverbs that “There is no proverb without a situation.”16
These assertions or conclusions endorse the importance of context and the
‘hermeneutic of grafting’ seeks to make the African cultural context the
primary one for understanding and appropriating the message of the Bible in
Proverbs 25:1–29:27.
2.4
Types or Forms of Eʋe Folk Proverbs
Eʋe folk proverbs like proverbs from other parts of Africa or even of the world,
generally, derive from careful observation of natural phenomena, social events,
common personal experiences, occupations, the lives of wild and domestic
animals, birds as well as of the art of agriculture. These observations embody
significant moral truths, which produce unique understandings and constitute
“the soul of the Eʋe [African peoples], their philosophy and the principles that
serve partly to integrate the personality of the individual.”17 There are various
types or forms of Eʋe folk proverbs. Dzobo provides some of the types or forms
by the classification of his Eʋe proverbs into five main categories. This classification is helpful for analyzing the folk proverbs in this study. The first and most
significant type of proverb is the Negative Proverb statement. The other four
types of proverbs are either grammatically negative or positive statements.
Proverbs of the second type suggest that negative or positive actions often have
corresponding consequences. In other words, the proverbs of the second
type embody a retributive principle which is inherent in the logics of acts and
consequence. The third types of proverbs often condemn socially unacceptable behaviors. The fourth type of proverbs consists of simple metaphors
and the fifth and final types of proverbs personify animals and use the
characteristics of these animals to teach moral lessons to human beings.18
15
16
17
18
Archer Taylor, “The Wisdom of Many and the Wit of One,” in The Wisdom of Many: Essays
on the Proverb, eds. Wolfgang Mieder and Allan Dundes (New York: Garland, 1981), 3–9, 6.
Ruth Finnegan. “Proverbs in Africa,” in The Wisdom of Many, 19, 27.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 11–13.
See Timothy J. Sandoval, The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty in the Book of Proverbs
(Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2006), 11. The idea of personifying animals to teach lessons
to human beings tallies with Sandoval’s conclusion that folk sayings “are used to say
something about the world and human beings in relation to quite particular contexts
of human life.”
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
39
The Negative type of proverb, which constitute the bulk of Eʋe folk sayings,
usually ends with a common negative marker or interjection which is represented in Eʋe by ‘o’.19 This ‘o’ functions in a way that preserves the syntax of the
sentence at the end of which it occurs. Apart from the negative ‘o’ ending,
there is also a particle, ‘me’ which never stands on its own but is always
combined with the main verb in a sentence or saying. While the combination
of the particle ‘me’ and the main verb normally appear earlier in the saying, the
negating particle ‘o’ always appears at the end of the saying and renders the
entire saying negative. In other words, while the ‘me’ negates the main verb/s,
with which it always combines in a saying, it is the ‘o’ at the end of the saying
that carries the weight of negating the entire utterance. The earlier ‘me’ and the
main verb of the saying are further combined in most cases with ‘a’ which
translates the verb into a simple present or habitual tense. Thus ‘me’ is combined with the main verb/s, with ‘a’ and the final ‘negative o’ at the end of the
saying to create the pattern: ‘me’ + mv + ‘a’… + ‘o’. This pattern comprises all the
relevant aspects of an entire syntactic construction or saying, which is rendered negative by the final ‘o’. As mentioned earlier, most Eʋe folk proverbs
have this construction and normally fall under the ‘negative proverbs’, type.
In spite of this construction and the designation as ‘negative proverbs’, the
final ‘o’, which negates the saying does not necessarily mean the morals or
virtues taught by the sayings are “negative” (i.e., undesirable or bad). The translation of a construction or a sentence, which ends with the interjection ‘o’ in
Eυe usually has the equivalent meaning of the English words ‘no’ or ‘not’20 or
the Hebrew word ‘‘al’, which transforms the utterance into a kind of prohibition (i.e., ‘do not’ or ‘you shall not’). This construction of Eʋe folk proverbs,
which end with the negating ‘o’, is complex because it makes people hear the
negation of a negative statement in many Eʋe folk proverbs.
The folk sayings, which end with the negative ‘o’, can also begin either as
positive or negative statements. This creates a rhetorical effect whereby the
negative ‘o’ ending reverses the expectations of listeners or readers even
though the saying is intended to provide a clearer and more forceful meaning
to the moral lesson or virtue taught by the proverb. For example, when the
19
20
G.A. Akrofi, G.L. Botchey and B.K. Takyi, An English, Akan, Eʋe, Ga Dictionary (Accra,
Ghana: Waterville Pub. House, Presbyterian Press, 1996), 180. This Dictionary gives the
meanings of the words listed in it in four different languages: English, with three other
languages, Akan, Eʋe and Ga, which are spoken in various parts of Ghana. Here ‘o’ is
represented by the Eʋe words, “ɖeke o,” “kpao” and “ao,” which mean “none,” emphatic
“no, no” and the refusal of something by saying, “no” either in response to a question or
request, respectively.
Akrofi et al., An English-Akan-Eʋe-Ga Dictionary, 180–181.
40
Chapter 2
sayings begin with a positive statement, those who hear or read it expect the
saying to be end as a positive one, but when the negative ‘o’ suddenly appears
at the end of the sentence, the expectations of the people are not fulfilled.
Similarly, when the sayings begin with negative statements, people normally
expect that the saying will be negative. However, when the negative ‘o’ appears
at the end, the expectation of people is still not fulfilled. In this latter instance,
the negating ‘o’ at the end of a saying, acts in the same way as double negatives
act in English, and they, therefore, cancel out the negative and render the
sentence positive. In other words, the introduction of a final negative ‘o’ at
the end of any saying does not necessarily show that the saying is negative.
This characteristic of Eʋe folk proverbs makes those who hear or read the saying to expect the saying to either be positive or negative. This characteristic of
the negative ‘o’ types of Eʋe folk proverbs also gives them a powerful rhetorical
effect, which makes the proverbs very easy to memorize.21
An example of a Negative type of saying illustrates how a negative ‘o’ functions in a folk saying.
Proverb: Tɔmedela menoa ba o. (Dzobo # 43).
Translation: The one who goes to draw water or [takes trips to the riverside to fetch water] does not drink mud.
This proverb begins as a positive statement but contains “me” + mv −
“no” + “a”… + the negative “o.” This combination means, “does not drink.” The
proverb describes a regular traditional chore of Eʋe women and children who
have to get up early in the morning and go to the well, river or public community hydrants to fetch water for the use of their households. The proverb begins
as a positive expression, “Tɔmedela,” which means, “the one who goes to draw
water,” and the listener would expect that the industrious women and children
who perform this go to draw water will drink fresh clean water which is what
they do. However, when the sentence ends in the negative “menoa ba o,” which
means, “Does not drink mud,” a rhetorical effect of pessimism or sarcasm is
created and the listener who expects to hear a positive or optimistic conclusion such as “drinks fresh clean water,” rather hears a negative conclusion.
In spite of the negative ‘o’ at the end of this and other similar Eʋe folk proverbs,
the moral virtues of diligence, industry and resilience are taught by the
proverb. By praising the industrious Eʋe women and children, the proverb
21
Furthermore, the rhetorical effect created by this use of the negative “o” at the end of the
sentence is similar to what one experiences in poetry and this aids the memorization of
the Eʋe folk proverbs.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
41
teaches people to be diligent in order to achieve good results. On the converse
side, the proverb implicitly speaks against or warns those who are lazy.
The basic meaning of the proverb can be explained by the English saying,
“The early bird catches the worm.” Irrespective of whether this Eʋe folk proverb is told to a woman, a child, a farmer, a student, a spouse, a doctor, or anyone
undertaking any venture in life, early in the morning or at any time, when the
person listens to the proverb’s teaching, they get a positive result from their
diligence in the undertaking.
Some Eʋe folk proverbs are doubly negative sayings: they begin as negative
statements and end with the negative ‘o’. The following folk proverb is an
example:
Proverb: Wometsɔa mia fia ame ƒe dume mɔ o.” (Dzobo, #116).
Translation: “You do not use the left hand22 to point the way to your
home-town.”
Though this proverb begins with the ‘me’ + mv − ‘tsɔ’ + “a’ construction and
ends with a negative ‘o’, the virtue taught by the saying is positive. Rhetorically,
this doubly negative proverb as can be expected has a positive meaning, i.e., to
teach humility. The proverb suggests that people should honor the places
where they were born. The use of the left hand has a very negative cultural
implication among the Eʋe peoples. To point at people, things or places with
the left hand, or to use the left hand in gestures while talking to people, is considered disrespectful or rude because the left hand is normally used for cleaning the anal parts, blowing mucus from the nose, picking up items soiled with
excreta or urine, cleaning filthy places like the toilet, commodes, trash cans,
gutters and performing other tasks that are considered ‘dirty’. As such, to point
at one’s birth-place with the left hand is socially unacceptable because doing
so means treating the place like dirt. The proverb teaches people to take pride
in what belongs to them, for example, a ‘home’, and to be loyal to the place and
the people of their birthplaces. This folk proverb can also teach people to be
patriotic.23 Dzobo encourages people to be proud of their home towns or
villages of origin no matter how humble or lowly these places might be.24
22
23
24
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 57. The use of the left hand to point to people, things or places is
traditionally, considered as improper because the left hand is often used to clean ones
private areas and for doing other ‘unclean’ things. As such, to use the left hand in reference to important things is a sign of denigrating those things.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 57, 116. Dzobo lists this proverb under “Patriotism” in his
moral trait 37.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 57, 114.
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Apart from the literal lesson taught in this proverb, it can be used metaphorically in a number of contexts to teach people to be humble. It can be
used, for example, to advise people to acknowledge their humble roots and not
to shy away from them. People who have reached important positions in life
should not condemn the lowly conditions from whence they come before
reaching their elevated status in life. Those who have become wealthy, having
risen from poverty, should not forget their former status. This saying can also
apply to people who disrespect or denigrate their parents especially when they
become old, grey-haired and sometimes frail. This proverb teaches such people
to be humble and not to forget how their parents provided for them when they
were young. It can also teach people who are ashamed of their family or careers
(babysitters who cared for their personal needs when they were infants) and
who perhaps were quite poor and are now to be respected from their current
status in life. Students who are successful in their careers but who are ashamed
of their alma mater, their poor teachers and professors at different levels of
their education (Primary through to higher education) are also included in this
folk saying.
In the application of this example in context, this proverb implicitly teaches
humility to avoid the disgrace associated with arrogance, disrespectfulness
and ingratitude. It reprimands those who exhibit these negative attitudes and
praises the virtue of humility which it teaches is positive. It advises people to
give honor where honor is due and to value the people who contributed to
their current good status in life. People should not forget to acknowledge the
lowly status from which they have risen when they become successful in life.
Although the proverb discourages people from pointing to their places of birth
with the left hand, when used metaphorically, it teaches people to avoid pride
and be humble in order to succeed in life.
We also need to note here the paucity of reference to God or the Supreme
Being in Eʋe folk sayings. This paucity of references to God is not limited to Eʋe
folk proverbs but is also seen in proverbs from other parts of Africa. Ambrose
Adinkamkwu Monye discusses the paucity of reference to God among his
native Aniocha peoples of Nigeria in an article on the “paucity of God-based
proverbs in Aniocha.”25 Furthermore, due to the excessive patriarchal nature
of African cultures, there is very little mention of women in proverbs. The few
African Eʋe folk sayings which dare to make references to women usually
25
Ambrose Adinkamkwu Monye, “The Paucity of God-Based Proverbs in Aniocha” in
Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, vol. 6; eds. Mieder, Wolfgang,
Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski (Burlington, Vermont: Univ. of Vermont Depart­
ment of German and Russian, 1989), 55–66.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
43
project only very negative images. Idris Amali’s case study of the image of
women in a traditional African society using Idoma proverbs on women26 is an
example of the lack of reference to women in folk proverbs, or when women
are depicted their image is negative.
2.5
The Virtues of “Diligence” and “Humility”
After having introduced the Eʋe peoples and the forms, types and characteristics of their folk proverbs, we now turn our attention to a discussion and analysis of two of the four major virtues which are the selected trees on to which the
‘shoots’ from Proverbs can be ‘grafted’. These are the virtues of Diligence and
Humility, indispensable virtues which promote good, successful and productive lives which are highly cherished among the Eυe peoples. The rest of this
chapter discusses and analyzes a number of folk proverbs which promote
these virtues. The first part focusses on a number of proverbs which teach the
virtue of Diligence and the second part focusses on proverbs which teach
Humility. Our discussion of these two virtues is organized around images,
themes, forms and characteristics which are inherent in the proverbs themselves. We can note here that in the discussion of the main virtues other
sub-virtues” sometimes surface and these are also discussed briefly.
The images and themes in the next group of folk sayings reflect mostly
rural life but the proverbs can also be used in contexts that are not particularly
rural contexts as shown by some of the application or performance contexts.
The ability or characteristic of Eʋe folk proverbs to be used in both rural and
non-rural settings allows Eʋe proverbs to be used in multiple contexts. This
also demonstrates how proverbs generally function: i.e., their usage depends
on the situation or performance context. This means they apply not only to
the context in which they arise but also allows them to be used in other more
universal contexts.
2.5.a Diligence
Two Eʋe words are used to describe Diligence. They are “veviedodo” and “kutrikuku,”27 The first word, “veviedodo” is a combination of two words “vevie,”
26
27
Idris O.O. Amali, “The Image of Women in a Traditional African Society: A Case Study of
Idoma Proverbs on Women” in Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship,
vol. 17; eds. Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski (Burlington,
Vermont: Univ. of Vermont Department of German and Russian, 2000), 27–42.
Akrofi et al, An English, Akan, Eʋe, Ga Dictionary, 68.
44
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which means, “important” or “valuable” and “dodo,” which means “putting on
or wearing” (e.g., clothing). The combination of these two words suggests the
putting on of or wearing what is important or valuable. Both words refer in
practice to relentless determination, which involves the painstaking toil and
hard work required to achieve anything that is worthwhile. The second Eʋe
word for “diligence,” “kutrikuku,” is a combination of three words. “Ku” is a
noun, which refers to “death.” “Tri” is an adjective meaning “massy” or “thick”
and “kuku” a verb that describes the act of “dying.” The combination of the first
two words, “kutri” can be explained as over-exerting or over-stretching one’s
self. To a large extent, “veviedodo” and “kutrikuku” have similar meanings and
can refer to situations to which “diligence” normally applies in classical Western
definitions.28 These two Eʋe words suggest that diligence involves strenuous
processes that can be described as “putting on or wearing” something important or “dying.” The rigorous nature of the activities undertaken in “veviedodo”
and “kutrikuku,” can be explained by the English phrases “Do and die” or “Do or
die.” In line with these definitions, a number of the Eυe folk proverbs and
sayings from other African countries which teach the virtue of “diligence,” are
analyzed below. For the Eʋe proverbs, a number of proverbs from the Dzobo
collection are used and though Dzobo has his own designations, my analyses
here do not necessarily use Dzobo’s designations. My own analyses have
pruned Dzobo’s duplicated and multiple categories by grouping together
proverbs which teach the virtue of “diligence.”
2.5.b Negative Proverb Forms
All the proverbs, which teach the virtue of “diligence” in this section, have “negative” forms. These proverbs, which can be understood literally, encourage
those who hear them to be determined, focused and not negligent about the
performance of every task they take on. Conversely, the proverbs warn people
against laziness.
Proverb 1: Klemeɖoa metsria ŋuifie o. (Dzobo # 29).
Translation 1: The person who walks into a patch of giant-grass does not
complain of skin irritation.
28
Karl Anders Ericson, et al., eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert
Performance. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006). This anthology, as the title implies, is the
work of several celebrated scholars, who offer insights into the practical value of work
ethic/diligence cultivated over varying periods or lengths of time in various fields of study
and areas of life.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
45
Proverb 2: Zu mekpea zu tɔ o. (Dzobo # 122).
Translation 2: The anvil is not too heavy for its owner.
Proverb 3: Dɔdɔameɖokui meyɔa mo o. (Dzobo # 123).
Translation 3: You do not grumble [lit., frown your face] about selfimposed or self-chosen tasks.
Proverb 4: Womeɖoa tɔ tso gakɔa ko ɖe dzi o. (Dzobo # 30).
Translation 4: If you make up your mind to cross a river by wading through
it, do not complain about getting your stomach wet.
Proverb 5: Fiafitɔ meɖua wua agbletɔ o. (Dzobo # 31).
Translation 5: The thief does not reap (lit., eat) more than the farmer
[lit., farm owner].
These five proverbs refer to activities like farming (Proverbs 1 and 5), the work
of the black[gold]smith (Proverb 2). Proverbs 3–4 also refer to tasks people
do voluntarily. Proverb 1 comes from farming communities where people who
work on the grassland often have to deal with tall grass which causes skinirritation.29 Tall giant grass, like poison ivy, irritates the skin and people pay
dearly for walking into them unknowingly.
Proverb 1speaks about a person who walks into tall giant grass and in so
doing does not escape skin irritation, but it can also be applied metaphorically
to a person who embarks on a very challenging task like creating a large farm,
building a house, studying to achieve academic goals, raising a family as a
young couple or single parent, or working as an apprentice to become a competent craftsperson. This proverb can be used when any of these people
encounter problems with the tasks they are undertaking. The proverb encourages and motivates them to be steadfast and not give up on their undertaking.
Whether taken literally (walking into tall giant grass and not escaping skin irritation) or undertaking a challenge with many obstacles, this proverb teaches
people not to give up as every valuable venture in life comes with a certain
number of challenges.
Proverb 2 refers to a professional blacksmith or goldsmith, who uses an
anvil (a very heavy hammer) to produce other tools. The smith’s profession
demands that he should use an anvil and he cannot refuse to work because of
the weight of the anvil. Proverbs 3 and 4 are similar to Proverb 2. In Proverb 3
29
See Dzobo, African Proverbs…, 28–29.
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people, who voluntarily impose tasks on themselves should not grumble about
self-imposed tasks even if they feel the tasks are too demanding. Similarly
those who wallow in water or to swim should not complain about getting their
stomachs wet (Proverb 4). Proverbs 1–4 can all be used in similar contexts to
teach people to be diligent. When people take on tasks they have chosen they
must be prepared to face the challenges if they are to succeed and not be
deterred by the obstacles that come along with the tasks.
Proverb 5 refers to the thief who does not reap or eat more than the farm
owner. The thief must act surreptitiously by taking only a little bit of the farm
produce to avoid being caught. This proverb warns the ‘thief’ not to avoid necessary work by using illegitimate means to take other people’s possessions.
Thieves who use illegitimate means lack diligence and will reap little in
comparison to the diligent farmer who owns the farm and thus reaps the full
harvest. Proverb 5 teaches that it would be better for the thief or anyone who
is looking for a quick gain to be diligent and do some profitable work (like the
farmer), rather than living off the means of others. Proverb 5 also encourages
the farmer that every undertaking in life (like farming) has challenges.
The farmer risks that some of his produce will be stolen and so he must be
prepared for the great challenge of some loss of farm produce. But this should
not be a setback to deter him from reaching his full potential and doing his
work persistently and diligently.
Apart from the literal meanings and applications, each of the five folk proverbs can be applied metaphorically to a variety of other situations to promote
diligence and a positive work ethic, e.g., for people who are about to embark on
a new trade, business venture, long journey or training for a profession. These
activities may involve several difficulties which may force those who embark
on them to give up or withdraw from the project. The proverbs teach people
that in spite of the challenges, they must persevere. These proverbs can also be
used to warn people to be aware that any project they plan to undertake may
have many challenges and they must think carefully before embarking on it
them; they must be steadfast and proceed with diligence to complete the project successfully. Dzobo explains these proverbs suggesting that all efforts at
gainful pursuit in life come with concurrent challenges and deterrents such as
the losses which may ensue.30 However, people must persist and be diligent in
performing their duties cheerfully without grumbling.31 Each of these proverbs
30
31
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 28–29.
These Eʋe proverbs also teach the value of “patience” in that once people have set their
faces to do something, they must be prepared to work at it patiently, persistently and with
determination, even if the results of their hard work take a long time in coming.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
47
can be explained by [similar] English proverbs, “One does not befriend a leper
and yet shun the leper’s embraces” and also “Know before you go; It is of no use
to enter the water before enquiring, about which shark is the bad shark.” Dzobo
is probably correct when he compares these proverbs to Jesus’ saying “Whoever
puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for service in the Kingdom
of God.”32
2.5.c Laziness and Poverty
A good number of Eʋe folk proverbs are used to warn people against negative
character traits like laziness and mediocrity which result from a lack of
diligence and risk poverty. The proverbs discussed below show that acts and
their consequences go together. They teach diligence by encouraging hard
work and condemning laziness.
Proverb 1: Kuviatɔ ƒe agbleme da dzia vi ɖo. (Dzobo, # 42).
Translation 1: The lazy man’s [person’s]33 farm is the breeding ground for
snakes.
Proverb 2: Kuviatɔ meŋlɔa mɔ to o. (Dzobo # 200).
Translation 2: A lazy man [person] does not make a farm close to the
footpath.
Proverb 3: Zemeɖuɖɔla meɖia ƒo o. (Dzobo # 44).
Translation 3: The person who licks the soup pot will never be filled.
Proverb: 4: Dadi ƒoakae ɖua afi kuku. (Dzobo, # 46).
Translation 4: The lazy cat eats dead mice.
Proverb 5: Hiãtɔ ƒe agbo meɖoa kɔmedza o. (Dzobo # 48).
Translation 5: The poor man’s [person’s] ram does not grow a mane.
The Eʋe folk Proverbs 1 and 4 have positive forms while Proverbs 2, 3 and 5
have negative forms. While Proverbs 1, 2 and 3 use human beings to teach
the virtue of diligence, Proverbs 4 and 5 use personified animals, for the same
32
33
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 28–29, 59–60. See also Luke 9:62.
Ghanaian society (including the Eʋe) is steeped in patriarchy and the use of patriarchal
language is very common. In the discussion of Dzobo’s proverbs, the present author
avoids patriarchal language by using inclusive language as much as possible. See http://
www.allthingsghana.com/ewe-proverbs website for some of these Eʋe proverbs.
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purpose. Proverbs 1 and 2 explicitly use the image of “the lazy person.” Proverb
1 paints the picture of the negligent lazy person whose farm is overgrown with
weeds so that snakes make the farm their breeding place. Though Proverb 1
speaks specifically about the lazy person whose farm is taken over by snakes,
the proverb can be used to warn people who are careless with their work
against laziness and to teach them to become diligent. Children, students,
parents, leaders or workers, who neglect their duties until they experience
negative outcomes from their lack of diligence,34 can all be the subjects of
these proverbs. When a matter that needs to be settled is allowed to linger
unresolved, this proverb can be used to describe those who should have acted
diligently to prevent the negative outcome. These proverbs teach people to
employ positive work ethic for success and a good life.
Like Proverb 1, Proverb 2 describes the consequences of slothfulness.
It criticizes the lazy person who farms by the roadside and does not tend the
farm. It suggests that the lazy farmer shows lack of diligence by not travelling
to cultivate his farm he advertises laziness and shows public lack of diligence.
The attitude shown by the farmer in Proverb 2 is similar to that of the
farmer in Proverb 1 whose untended farm breeds snakes. Proverb 2 teaches the
virtue of diligence in the performance of one’s duties. Both Proverbs 1 and 2
can be used to advise people against slothfulness and to avoid displaying their
infirmities which have public negative outcomes. Metaphorically, the proverb
can also be used for children or for those who behave as though they know
everything yet lack knowledge about many issues. The proverb also warns
older people who exhibit undesirable character traits in the community,
for their lack of diligence and advise them to become diligent and reform
their ways.
Proverb 3 refers to the person who is a pot-licker and gets no satisfaction
from licking other people’s pots. Proverb 4 speaks about the lazy cat that eats
dead mice. Just as the pot-licker does not cook but goes from house to house
licking other people’s empty cooking pots, the lazy cat does not hunt and kill
its own prey but rather feeds on the mice that have been killed by others.
Proverbs 3 and 4 present images of people who lack diligence and whose laziness causes them to live off the means of others and by so doing lose their
dignity. Metaphorically, in real life contexts, these proverbs refer to those who
34
For example, just as a wound, which is left untreated can become an ulcer and develop
into gangrene, and result in possible amputation, any matter that is left unaddressed can
have very detrimental effects on the people involved. A child who pilfers or steals little
things at home but is not checked by parents or guardians can become an armed robber
in the near future.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
49
avoid diligent work to make a decent living but go about “living on the crumbs
from the tables of others.”35
A truanting child can be described as a ‘soup pot-licker’, who is not satisfied
(Proverb 3) or a ‘lazy cat’, that eats dead mice (Proverb 4) because he/she
refuses to attend school or to work diligently for a living. Parents can warn their
children about lack of diligence and teach them the virtue of diligence acquired
through persistence in performing their duties so that they will have selfdignity and other people will not take advantage of them in the future. Parents
who fail to bring up their children according to acceptable moral social standards and whose children are left to be wayward social misfits or adults can
equally be described by these proverbs. A farmer, business leader, or anyone
in a position of responsibility who fails to put in the effort needed for the
success of the venture can also be admonished by these proverbs. Proverbs
3 and 4 also teach people to be diligent in dealing with personal challenges,
personal family issues between spouses and siblings, and misunderstandings
in friendships and other challenges in life. The proverbs teach people not to be
over-dependent on other people for solutions to their problems since other
people may not be able to offer them the correct solutions which fully address
their needs. People who are over-dependent on others can be referred to as
lazy ‘soup-pot lickers’ or ‘dead-mice eaters’. These proverbs teach people to
work diligently to get to the root of their problems and work on appropriate
solutions or resolutions.
Proverb 5 speaks about the ram of a poor person which does not grow a
mane. In Eʋe traditional society a ram takes some years to grow a mane.36 It is,
therefore, considered unfortunate for a person to sell his ram before it has
matured enough to grow a mane. A person who is poor for lack of working diligently can be compared to the poor owner of a ram who sells off the ram before
it has grown a mane. This proverb suggests that people who lack persistence or
diligence in their projects often dispose too quickly of what can be beneficial
to them before the plans have been completed. Any premature venture that
fails due to lack of diligent planning or adequate preparation can be referred to
as “a ram without a mane.” Projects carried out diligently can be compared to a
ram with a mane: the completed project is more valued. Proverb 5 can also be
applied to a poor family who lacks the means to support its young members
35
36
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 34–35. Each of these proverbs has the form or logic of acts and
consequences. Laziness results in poverty and dependence on others, while implicitly
diligent hard work produces good rewards and self-sufficiency.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 35. This proverb can be used for any good venture that is
undertaken prematurely and aborted because the conditions are not ripe for it.
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through school or vocational training. When young members of the family
are compelled to grow up faster than they should by performing adult tasks
prematurely, this proverb teaches the family to become more responsible and
encourage the success of their young ones to boost the image of the family
in future. The children in the above examples are, metaphorically, the ‘rams’
of the poor (their families or parents). The children are unable to develop
their potential which can be compared to not ‘growing a mane’ before they
are abandoned by their families. This proverb also has implications of a class
hierarchy (poor versus rich–implied). Poor people often do not succeed
because they lack the means to follow through their undertakings, whereas
the rich (implied) can easily succeed because they have the means to do so.
Proverb 5 can also be used in contexts where parents give up their daughters
prematurely to be married to resolve their own economic needs. This group
of proverbs teaches people to be diligent and to promote self-dignity for
success in life.
2.5.d Acts and Resulting Consequences
Like the previous five proverbs which address issues of laziness and poverty
due to lack of diligence, the following four proverbs also speak about laziness,
with similar results in life. As stated above, African Eʋe community frowns
upon laziness but teaches the virtue of diligence through hard work and persistence to earn self-respect and dignity.
Proverb 1: Avutɔ masẽmasẽ ƒe avu meléa lã o. (Dzobo #77)37
Translation 1: The dog of a timid owner can never be a good hunting dog.
Proverb 2: Fia maƒo nu ƒe du ɖe wògbana. (Dzobo, #90).
Translation 2: The town (i.e., the chiefdom) of a chief who does not talk
falls apart.38
37
38
A similar proverb, used in Egypt says, “If you have to drag a dog to the hunt, neither he
[i.e., the dog], nor his hunting is any good.” See http://www.special-dictionary.com/
proverbs/source/e/egyptian_proverb/189084.htm. Accessed October, 2013. Also there is
another Ghanaian proverb, which says, “The strength of the palm tree is in its branches.”
See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/g/ghanaian_proverb/163628.htm.
Acessed October 2013. Both of these proverbs can be used in similar situations as the Eʋe
proverb above to show that diligence is not acquired through laziness or mediocrity but
through hard work. This proverb about the “timid dog-owner” is used again later in this
book to teach the virtue of diligence in antithetical/coordinating relationships.
This proverb is similar to another African proverb, which says, “If you close your eyes to
facts, you will learn through accidents.” See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/
source/a/african_proverb/182397.htm. Accessed October 2013.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
51
Proverb 3: Ne èbe mafia o la mabi hã o. (Dzobo #45).
Translation 3: If you say it will not burn, it will not cook either.
Proverb 4: Malee, malee, ɖie wodɔna. (Dzobo, #130).
Translation 4: I am going to bathe, I am going to bathe, leads to not taking
a bath.
Proverb 1 suggests that the timid person who owns a dog lacks the diligence to
train his or her dog to be a brave and good hunter. Proverb 2, which speaks
about the mute chief, whose chiefdom falls apart, is similar to Proverb 1. Like
the owner of a timid dog, the mute chief is unable to make or enforce laws that
can sustain the wellbeing of his town or chiefdom. Apart from their literal
meanings, both Proverbs 1 and 2 can be used metaphorically in relation to
for parents and their children. When children become social misfits because
their parents do not prepare them to live according to socially acceptable
moral standards, they can be compared to the ‘timid dog-owner’, whose dog
(children) cannot be good hunters or to the ‘mute chief’, whose chiefdom
falls (children who become social misfits). In Proverb 1, the children can be
metaphorically referred to as ‘timid dogs’, because they bring no honor to their
parents, their ‘owners’. The lack of training by parents prevents the children
from becoming good hunters (i.e., children who fit into society). These two
proverbs can also be applied to supervisors who are not diligent in supervising
their team members: they too can be described as ‘timid dog-owners’ or ‘mute
chiefs’, and their supervisees as the ‘dogs’, which cannot be either good hunters,
or as the ‘fallen chiefdom’ of the mute chief. In the above examples, the retributive logic or ‘act-consequence’ logic becomes evident in the negative or positive results of the acts involved, respectively. Diligence produces positive
rewards and failure to work diligently can produce negative results.39 Apart
from referring to parents and their children or supervisors and trainees these
proverbs can also be used for people in other leadership positions, who are not
diligent in their duties and close their eyes until the situations get out of hand.
This is vividly portrayed in another African proverb discussed which suggests
that when people close their eyes to the facts they must learn through accidents. When people ignore what is important they must face the consequences
of their negligence. The proverbs can also be used for teachers or managers
who lack diligence in performing tasks appropriate to their position, failing to
correct mistakes of their employees. Both Proverbs 1 and 2 teach people to be
39
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 33–36. Dzobo here suggests that negative acts go with negative rewards and vice versa.
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diligent by attending to important matters in the ‘teething stages’ so that
the problems do not get out of control. When the negative consequences
of people’s lack of diligence are exposed, these two proverbs highlight their
disgrace for not being diligent.
Proverbs 3 and 4 also convey a retributive logic. This logic is seen in the
negative evaluations of the acts that lack diligence. Proverb 3 speaks about
how something cannot be completely cooked unless some of it burns up, and
Proverb 4 notes how procrastination in taking a bath can result in not bathing
at all. Proverb 3 refers to the practice of roasting yams in farming communities
during the planting season. When yam heads (seeds) are being prepared for
planting, the pieces that are cut from the yam seeds are either boiled or roasted
for food on the farm over or in open firewood fires. When the cut pieces of yam
are roasted in the fire, the outer part of the yam is completely charred or burnt
along with a little piece of the edible part and this partial burning of the edible
yam ensures that the yam is properly cooked for eating. Anyone who is impatient and does not allow a piece of the edible yam to burn would have to eat
the partially cooked yam. In effect, the English saying, “If nothing is invested,
nothing can be gained,” can be used to explain Proverb 3. This proverb teaches
people to be diligent when performing their duties and it also teaches people
to make allowances for some eventualities or losses if they want to gain something more valuable from their undertakings. Proverb 3 further teaches people
to be intentional about sacrificing some of their physical pleasures or comforts
such as, their time and energy in doing things from which they expect success
or good outcomes. This proverb can teach a student who does not spend
time studying but expects good grades or a worker who does not work
diligently that good grades or results require the investment of time and energy.
This proverb can be related to the English saying, “No cross, No crown,” which
suggests that success can be achieved only by making worthwhile sacrifices
in life.40
Apart from promoting diligence, Proverb 3 can also be used to teach people
who lack diligence and are set in their ways to be flexible and open to advice to
forge ahead and succeed in life. It teaches people who insist that their ideas are
always correct to be diligent through their openness to the constructive ideas
and opinions of other people. The proverb can also be used to teach people
who are difficult to deal with (children, parents, spouses, siblings, or managers) to be diligent in acknowledging that their ideas may not always be correct.
As such, they must sometimes change to agree with other people. Proverb
40
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 34. Dzobo suggests that success in life must be accompanied
by worthwhile sacrifices.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
53
3 teaches people that to succeed they must not be rigid. An English expression,
which can be used to explain this proverb is “If you would not bend, you
would break.”
In Proverb 4, the person, who keeps procrastinating and postponing taking
a bath, often never takes a bath before going to bed. In farming villages, sometimes, when a farmer returns from the farm and is asked to take a bath, the
farmer might decide to recline in a lazy chair or couch for a little while with
the excuse that he will take a bath later. However, as it often happens, the
farmer falls asleep and does not take a bath till the next morning. Proverb 4,
teaches people who keep putting off what they can do now to later to be
diligent. The proverb can be used in other situations, e.g., when a farmer keeps
postponing when to sow his seeds during the farming season until the planting
season is over, when people delay taking important actions with the excuse
that they will do so later, when children play truant and refuse to go to school
when they should be in school, when people plan new business ventures but
never actually implement their plans. The proverb warns against procrastination to avoid the negative consequences which might result from putting off
what they can do now till later. This proverb can be explained by the English
sayings, “Procrastination is the thief of time” and “Time and Tide wait for no
one.” The performance contexts, in which the foregoing African Eʋe folk proverbs are used, suggest that proverbs can be applied to single or multiple situations; one proverb can be used to teach the virtue of diligence in a number of
different situations or several proverbs can be used to teach a single lesson.
2.5.e Perseverance and Determination Spell Success
In contrast to the above proverbs which warn people against negative character traits or vices and the consequences of lack of diligence, the following proverbs encourage positive action and teach virtues that promote the good of the
community and its members. The following group of proverbs, which fall
under the rubrics of “Diligence: Perseverance and Determination Spell Success”
can be easily understood literally. However, they can take on a variety of metaphorical meanings and have several moral applications depending on the circumstances to which they are applied. The proverbs teach the virtue of
diligence, perseverance and determination, which lead to success in life.
Proverb 1: Tɔmedela menoa ba o. (Dzobo # 43).41
Translation 1: The person who goes to draw water does not drink mud.
41
This proverb is also discussed earlier in this chapter as an example of a negative “o”
proverb.
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Proverb 2: Mɔzɔlae sea ‘ɖoaƒe’.
Translation 2: The traveler is the one who hears ‘welcome home’.
Proverb 3: Agbonyila medɔa akɔlɔ̃ e o. (Dzobo # 198).
Translation 3: The keeper of a ram does not take a nap.
Proverb 4: Womeɖoa sisi gadɔa alɔ̃ o. (Dzobo # 151).
Translation 4: You do not go to sleep when you plan to escape.
Proverb 5: Ati si le amesi lae wotsɔ ƒoa dae. (Dzobo # 99)
Translation 5: You kill a snake with the club you have in your hand.
Proverb 6: Atadi memaa aɖe o. (Dzobo # 50).
Translation 6: The tongue is never used to the sharpness of pepper
(slightly modified).
These six (6) proverbs speak about a range of human activities. Proverb 1 refers
to one of the chores of women and children in traditional Eʋe society who get
up early and go to fetch fresh, clean water from the public wells, springs or
community hydrants.42
Although Proverb 1 is used for the diligent activity of those who fetch water
and do not drink mud, it can also be used to praise people, who have been diligent and succeeded in undertaking an arduous or challenging task. Their diligence can be likened to “going to fetch water” and their success can be likened
to “not drinking mud.” This proverb can also be used to praise the diligence of a
student who has passed a major examination, an apprentice who has successfully completed training, a trader or a farmer who has brought in good harvests
after unfavorable weather conditions, a parent who has brought up wellbehaved, successful children, or indeed anyone who has successfully completed
a challenging task. The proverb seeks to teach people to be diligent in the performance of their duties so that their efforts can be crowned with success.
Proverb 2, speaks about a person who is welcomed home after returning
from a long journey and is similar to Proverb 1. Just as the person who goes to
fetch water and does not drink mud, so the traveler who returns from a long
journey is welcomed home. Though Proverb 2 speaks about a traveler returning from a long journey, the lesson it teaches about diligence is applicable to
the contexts and situations of Proverb 1. Proverbs 1 and 2 can be used to praise
the achievements of people who have worked diligently and have successfully
42
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 33–34.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
55
completed challenging undertakings. Proverb 2 metaphorically, refers to such
people as those who have “traveled” “a long journey” and to their achievements
and successful undertakings and the praises that go with them as “welcome
home.” Proverb 2 is similar to another proverb, “Mɔ didi megbɔa du ŋuti yina
o.”43 This proverb means, “Every long journey has its destination.” Thus, a person,
who has diligently completed a long journey by persevering and succeeding with
a very challenging task can be said to have arrived at a destination. This proverb,
like Proverb 2, teaches people not give up when they embark on any project
because they are bound to reap the fruits of their labors if they persevere diligently to the end. Apart from praising people for succeeding in the face of challenges, these two proverbs can also be used to warn people against laziness and
to teach people to be diligent in whatever they do. A child, spouse, housekeeper,
farmhand, apprentice, who is bullied, abused or mistreated yet is diligent and
succeeds in life, can be the subject of these proverbs. To succeed in spite of challenges, teaches people that “No condition is permanent” and that every obstacle
can be overcome. An abused person who nonetheless succeeds in life can be
encouraged by this proverb: a state which seemed unbearable at the time, like a
long journey, can have an ultimate destination. The English saying, “The end
crowns the work,” is a good illustration of the meanings of these two proverbs.
Proverb 3 refers to a person, who breeds rams, a common practice in traditional African Eʋe society. The ram is a very strong and steady animal and is
normally kept tethered except when let loose to graze. When it is left unattended, a ram can cause a lot of damage to other people’s property or can get
lost, either in another person’s pen because it follows the females or it can be
stolen. The ram is a quick animal and can lead its owner on a wild chase if it is
left unattended. The owner of a ram must be very alert to void debt from damage caused to another person’s property.
Proverb 4 is similar to Proverb 3 and its message is that if a person plans to
escape, he must not go to sleep. Proverbs 3 and 4 can be applied, metaphorically, to anyone who is involved in an important undertaking or a challenging
venture. The proverbs advice the person to be focused to succeed since veering
off can result in loss or failure. The parents of a clever child can be advised to
43
Another similar African proverb to this one is “However long the night, the dawn will break.”
See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_proverb/60538.htm.
Accessed October, 2013. This proverb suggest that no matter how arduous a task may be, if
it is performed diligently, its end is crowned with success. This is similar also to an earlier
Buganda proverb, which says, “By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from a tree.” See
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/c/cameroonian_proverb/63047.htm.
Accessed October, 2013.
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do all they can for their child to succeed. The parents or spouse of a beautiful
young woman or a handsome young man can also be advised to be vigilant to
guide their children or spouses in the right direction. An industrious business
person can be warned not to be lax but to be diligent to preserve what has been
built up. The proverbs teach people to be as vigilant as the keeper of a ram and
not to be lax when facing challenging or difficult situations, or figuratively, not
to go to sleep when they plan to run to succeed in life. These proverbs teach
people by advising them to be diligent in their undertakings to preserve what
they have worked for or by warning them not to allow anything to prevent
them from pursuing their goals.
Proverb 5 speaks about using whatever club one has for killing a snake; it
can also be used metaphorically to teach people to make the most of what they
have by fully employing their abilities in accomplishing tasks in hand.44
Proverb 5 can be used for a child who is never content with anything and craves
for what other people have (siblings, parents, clothing, family, etc.). The proverb is used to teach such a child to be content with what he or she has and not
ask for what belongs to others. Parents who think they have the worst children
can also be advised by this proverb to appreciate what they have. Farmers,
masons, carpenters or trades persons, who keep feeling that they are inadequate or do not have the tools for performing their jobs well, can be taught by
this proverb to make the best use of the tools or talents they have to produce
what they can to an optimum level.
According to Proverb 6, the tongue never gets used to the sharpness of pepper. This proverb teaches, metaphorically, that there is no shortcut to diligence
and perseverance. The proper discharge of one’s duties calls for diligent preparation for the challenges that come with every undertaking. Proverb 6 can be
used to encourage a child or anyone working at a task in which other people
have succeeded in that life’s ventures are always accompanied by challenges,
which cannot be wished away; people must adjust to them just like pepper is
always sharp to the tongue yet the tongue continues to taste it.
Along with the proverbs analyzed above under “Diligence: Perseverance
and Determination” are the following three Eʋe folk proverbs, which employ
animal imagery to teach diligence as we have already shown in a number of
proverbs. The following three proverbs have similar application contexts as the
six in the preceding group. In this group the animals are not merely ordinary
44
Apart from teaching people to be diligent with their undertakings, the proverb also
teaches people to make the most of what they have for maximum results. A person who
has $10.00 (ten dollars) in his or her pocket book for shopping can only buy what is worth
the ten dollars and not what is worth a $100.00 (hundred dollars). Such a person must,
therefore, shop for what is of the uttermost worth that the pocket book can pay for.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
57
images but they actually speak thus giving the morals more emphasis. In the
first group, the proverbs speak about the activities of human subjects, but the
following group speaks about human activities in which animals are personified as subjects. As well as their literal meaning, these proverbs can be used,
metaphorically, for people who are determined to succeed and who do not
quit until they succeed, in spite of the challenges. The positive results of the
activities in these proverbs show that diligence pays off.
Proverb 1: Klo be yedila meli o, eyata yedia ye ɖokui le agbe me.
(Dzobo, # 131).
Translation 1: The tortoise says it has nobody to bury it when it dies that
is why it buries itself while it is still alive.45
Proverb 2: Ha be ŋdi tsie nye tsi. (Dzobo, # 157).
Translation 2: The pig says the morning rain is the best.
Proverb 3: ʋaʋã46 be degbɔdegbɔe tua xɔ. (pe).47
Translation 3: The wasp says it is by going and coming [i.e., taking
frequent trips to the mud pit] that you build a house.
Proverbs 1–3 above are declarations made by the tortoise, the pig and the
wasp, respectively. In Proverb 1 the tortoise has no one to bury it when it dies
so it buries itself while it is still alive. In the cultural context of the Eʋe peoples,
it is rare but not uncommon to find a dead tortoise. The live tortoise is often
found buried in a hole, which the tortoise digs for itself in the sand. People who
see the tortoise lying in the sand hole often mistake it for being a dead one but
when the tortoise is left alone in that hole, after a while, is crawls away from the
sand hole in which it was originally found. Since no one bothers to bury a dead
tortoise, the tortoise is cognizant of this and, therefore, it simulates its own
45
46
47
See Dzobo’s explanation of this proverb in African Proverbs, 62.
In some communities the words “lĩlĩ,” “wasp” or “anyidi” (i.e., red, white or black ants) are
used instead of ʋaʋã. An observation of these little creatures at work is a source of encouragement and a lesson for human beings that determination and diligence in undertaking
a task results in success or great achievements.
The African proverb “By crawling a child learns to stand” (see http://www.special-dictionary
.com/proverbs/source/w/west_african_proverb/91274.htm. Accessed October, 2013) and
the Buganda proverb from Uganda, which says, “By trying often the monkey learns to
jump from a tree,” (see http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/b/buganda
_proverb/191861.htm. Accessed October, 2013) also teach the value of diligence through
persistence and perseverance.
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burial in its lifetime. This proverb teaches people to be diligent and to always
make advance preparations for the future since the future is uncertain and
nobody else can make the appropriate provisions for another person’s future.
The proverb further, teaches people not to be over-dependent on others but to
work diligently toward their own survival and success. Parents can advise their
newly employed children to put aside part of their income for a rainy day or for
any eventuality. This proverb can also advise people to purchase some kind of
insurance against any adversity that can befall them in future. Parents can also
be advised by this proverb to take good care of their children so that when the
parents grow old and cannot provide for themselves, their children would take
up the responsibility of caring for them. A diligent, industrious youngster, who
works hard to avoid poverty, can be praised by this proverb to show that in
order to avoid the hardship and disgrace that go with poverty, he or she must
work diligently. If the ancestors of this youngster had been poor, he overcomes
poverty by his diligence.
In Proverb 2, the pig says, “The morning rain is the best” because its skin gets
hot in the sun and it loves to wallow in water. As such, when it rains in the
morning, it is very soothing to the pig. In the African Eʋe cultural context, the
morning is figuratively aligned with early success in life and Proverb 2 can,
therefore, be applied to grabbing opportunities when they come and making
the most of them. Young people can be taught by this proverb to be diligent, to
work assiduously and to be productive in their youthful days. This proverb
also teaches people to see the best part of things, to appreciate and make use
of them, and not take chances or toy with golden opportunities. The contexts
of Proverb 1 can apply to Proverb 2 as well.
Proverb 3 speaks about the activity of the wasp in going back and forth to
the mud pit to bring mud for building its nest or “house.” The task of getting
mud for building a nest in this way is very arduous but the wasp is persistent
and gets the work completed. Proverb 3 creates the image of wasps flying back
and forth from the mud-pit to a particular corner of a house and through their
diligence and perseverance they are able to build large nests of mud. A close
observation of the nest after every trip reveals a little wet clay addition to the
nest, which becomes a sizeable nest in which the wasp lays its eggs and breeds
its young ones. This proverb teaches people that when they are determined and
diligent in performing their duties, they will achieve great things. Students can
be encouraged by Proverb 3 to keep on studying little by little even though
learning is a tough exercise until they succeed. The proverb can also be used for
masons who think building a house is difficult, or for weavers who think weaving cloth, baskets and mats is hard work, or traders, housekeepers or others who
consider their jobs as being too difficult to accomplish. The proverb spurs these
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
59
people on to begin and keep going steadily at the tasks even if they seem difficult and take a long time to accomplish. The proverb, therefore, teaches people
that if they take one necessary step at a time, diligently with determination
without relenting, they can accomplish huge tasks. The proverb can also be used
in other instances to warn lazy people to apply themselves to diligent work.
As with the other Eʋe proverbs analyzed above, there is a degree of retributive or act-consequence logic embedded in all of the foregoing proverbs. These
proverbs speak implicitly about the value of diligence, alertness, a good work
ethic and intentionality, which bring success in life. They teach people that
when they put the necessary effort into any good venture, they will achieve
good results. These proverbs suggest that those who work diligently eat the
fruits of their labor and that hard work provides comfort and satisfaction
because hard work has its own rewards.48 While the proverbs encourage people
to work hard, to attain success and have a good life in the future, they also warn
people to steer away from laziness. The proverbs apply to people of lower status
in society but they can apply equally to those with higher status who engage in
business ventures. When a manager or business owner fails to exercise good
supervision or have a clear vision for success, the business can easily collapse.
This group of proverbs therefore, advises anyone engaged in any kind of undertaking to be diligent, to persevere to succeed and not fail for lack of diligence.
2.5.f Order of Relationships
In the Eʋe community, great importance is attached to the order in which
things happen in relationships. Such relationships can be between two things
or people, who can either be antithetical or opposed to each other or one
relationship can follow the other as a norm. The first parts of the following
proverbs acts as a prerequisite or condition for the fulfillment of their second
parts. The rhetoric employed in describing these relationships in the proverbs
makes the proverbs very easy to memorize.
Proverb 1: Fiẽ medaa aba via zɔna le anyigba o. (Dzobo # 79).
Translation 1: The mother monkey does not swing from a tree, while its
young walks on the ground.49
48
49
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 34–36, 59, 69, 71, 84. All the proverbs listed above teach
people the virtue of diligence, which is exhibited through working with perseverance in
order to achieve success in one form or another in life.
The Tonga proverb, “A child of the kwale bird learns to fly,” (see http://www.afriprov
.org/index.php/african-proverb-of-the-month/19-2008proverbs/388-july2008
.html. Accessed October, 2013) which is used also in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, is
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Proverb 2: Ati si fofo tsɔ kpa dati lae via hã tsɔ kpanɛ. (Dzobo, # 82).50
Translation 2: A child makes a bow from the same type of tree that his
father uses.
Proverb 3: Ta menɔa anyi klo ɖɔa kuku o. (Dzobo # 81).
Translation 3: The knee does not wear a hat while the head does not.
Proverb 4: Gbamido be ahamenɔla memua aha o. (Dzobo, 78).
Translation 4: The oil palm beetle says, “The palm wine tapper does not
get intoxicated.
These proverbs speak about human beings (Proverb 2), animals (Proverbs 1
and 4) and body parts (Proverb 3), respectively. In their application, they teach
people in positions of leadership or authority to be diligent by setting good
examples for their followers. They also teach those, who follow leaders or people in authority to be diligent in emulating their leaders or authority figures.
Proverbs 1 and 2, for instance, show how parents set examples for their
young. In these two proverbs, the mother monkey and the human father set
examples for the baby monkey and son, respectively. As the mother monkey
swings from tree to tree, so does the baby monkey. Similarly, as a son watches
his father make bows, he learns to use the same type of stick as his father does
to make a bow. While Proverbs 1 and 2 are used in real life contexts in the Eʋe
community to teach parents to be intentional in setting good examples for
their children, they are also used to teach children or the young to diligently
observe and emulate their parents. For instance, the daughter of a good
home-maker can be taught by these proverbs to do the things her mother does
so that she too can be a good home-maker. These proverbs can also describe
the children who emulate their parents and have successful marriages like
their parents whose marriages are successful. The children of a diligent farmer,
lawyer, doctor, nurse, drummer or singer can also be taught by these proverbs
to be as diligent as their parents by learning and engaging in the occupation of
50
similar to the above Eʋe proverbs and also teaches diligence, which comes by emulating
good examples of determination and hard work. See http://afriprov.org-daily-lifeline/
proverbs.com/category. Accessed October, 2013.
Proverbs 1–3 are similar to an Asante proverb from Ghana which says, “When you follow
in the path of your father, you will learn to walk like him.” In effect, if a person emulates
his or her parents, he or she will exhibit the character traits and other virtues of his or her
parents. This proverb is found in http://afritorial.com/the-best-72-african-wise-proverbs.
Accessed October, 2013.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
61
their parents. In these proverbs both parents and children are taught to be
diligent by either teaching or learning from each other.
These proverbs can also be used for parents or leaders who lack diligence
and who do not set good examples for their children and other people to
emulate. In this latter context, the proverbs serve as a form of criticism of the
parents or leaders, who lack diligence, and who are not focused about setting
good examples for their children or followers to emulate. This proverb can be
deployed for a tradesperson who does not allow others to learn the trade or for
a chief, who does not allow his heir to practice how to rule. A parent who is a
thief and has a child who is also a thief can also be shamed by these proverbs.
If, however, a child is lazy and does not learn the parents’ trade, that child can
also be disgraced by these proverbs. The proverbs teach the lazy child to learn
the parents’ diligence, on the one hand, or on the other hand, they can teach
parents to help their children to emulate them. Also, if some members of a
wealthy person’s family become poor, the proverb can be a disgraceful reference to the wealthy person for neglecting family members. In this latter use the
proverb can also refer to lazy family members advising them to get involved in
honest diligent work to maintain the status of their wealthy families. Proverbs
1 and 2 can be explained by the English saying, “Like father like son,” or
“Like mother, like daughter.”
Proverb 3 speaks about a fact of life, namely that a hat is usually worn on the
head and not on the knee. This proverb teaches diligence encouraging people
to do things appropriately. Metaphorically, it warns against altering the natural
order of things (i.e., the head should not shift its responsibility to the knee nor
should the knee usurp the authority of the head). In Proverb 3 the head, which
can figuratively represent a parent, leader or someone in authority admonishes that person not to shirk responsibility but to carry out the duties pertaining to the position with diligence by instilling good morals. Conversely, the
proverb teaches the child or apprentice not to try to usurp the roles of an adult
or a master just as the knee must not wear a hat when the head is present. If a
supervisor is not diligent, this proverb can be used to call him or her to take
responsibility by being diligent and not shifting responsibility to supervisees or
subordinates. The proverb will act as advice to the supervisor to be diligent by
exercising the appropriate authority and a supervisee, who tries to usurp the
authority of the supervisor, can be advised that as a “knee” he or she should
remember that the hat is meant for the head. Since it is the head that wears a
hat and not the knee, Proverb 3 can also be deployed in teaching the virtue of
humility in which case honor or respect must be given appropriately.
Proverb 4 describes the palm wine tapper [one who literally dwells in palm
wine], by the oil palm beetle as one who does not get intoxicated. The oil palm
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beetle is a white fatty worm that teems in the felled oil palm tree and is often
seen floating inside the fermented alcoholic palm wine. It can be concluded
that the beetle drinks the fermented alcoholic juice and is, therefore, already
intoxicated. Since the beetle is so used to the situation of dwelling in the booze
from the oil palm tree, boozing has become its second nature. This is the reason why the beetle cannot be intoxicated by the booze any more than it already
is. Metaphorically, when a person is diligent, the person is so meticulous that
nothing can hinder their diligent performance of duty. Another explanation of
Proverb 4 suggests that the palm wine tapper is comparable to a business manager who must be level-headed at all times.51 It can be concluded that people,
who apply themselves diligently to what they do and do not care what others
say about them, often justify their opinions and call on others to do the same.
Thus people should not allow circumstances or other people to deter them
from their intentions but must resolve to follow through in spite of all odds
especially those that occur in relationships and other matters in life.52
Proverb 4 can be applied to people, who are very diligent but complacent
with their work and will not give in to what others say by way of correction.
Another Eʋe proverb from my own personal experience is “Tɔmekpe mesea
avuvɔ o.” This proverb means, “A rock in the river does not feel the cold.” In a
positive way, a person who works diligently but is not appreciated or a person
who becomes attuned to hard work can be compared to the beetle or the palm
wine tapper, who is inside the booze, and nothing can move it away from the
determination to succeed. This proverb is similar to another Eʋe proverb,
which says, “Ame nɔŋu menya nyɔna o.” This means, “A person who is wide
awake cannot be awakened.” The interpretation of this proverb can be, “It is
futile to try to change the outlook of people who are set in their ways or who
hold certain opinions about work ethic and themselves.” Any attempt to do
this will not succeed because that person will never change just as the palm
wine tapper, who never gets intoxicated.53
As much as the foregoing proverbs can be understood literally, they can
also be used metaphorically to encourage the qualities of diligence, courage,
51
52
53
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 46. According to Dzobo, “The leader must be steadfast and levelheaded and he or she cannot afford to lose his or her head because of the position or
status as a leader.”
The proverbs can also be used in reference to traits that are hereditary (e.g., agility,
wisdom, industry, various talents and other exceptional characteristics of parents or
authority figures) that are passed down from parents to their children or from leaders to
their followers.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 46.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
63
boldness, level-headedness, responsible action and hard work, on the one
hand, and to discourage negative examples, on the other.54
2.6
The Virtue of “Humility”
This part of Chapter Two focusses on the discussion of the virtue of Humility
using a number of proverbs as was the case with the virtue of Diligence above.
In the Eʋe cultural context, the virtue of humility is highly cherished and this
is shown by the Eʋe words used to describe it. These words are “ɖokuibɔbɔ” and
“fafa.”55 The first word is a combination of two words “ɖokui” meaning “self”
and “bɔbɔ” meaning “bending down,” “lowering,” “abasing,” or “exhibiting meekness.” The second word, “fafa” means being “peaceful,” “calm” or “cool.” These
Eʋe words are similar to what John K. Roth describes in the ethical tradition,
which is upheld in the West, as humility. In this ethical tradition, “humility” is
considered to be “self-deprecation, modesty or submission, a lack of egoism or
arrogance.”56 According to Roth, the significance of humility is “based in a
belief in one’s inferiority or simply in one’s lack of superiority rooted in the
equality of all.”57 Roth sees the ethical status of humility as very different in
different value systems, whereby individualist and non-egalitarian systems
despise humility, but those for whom pride is a sin, esteem humility as one of
the greatest goods.58 The latter part of Roth’s definition that “those for whom
pride is a sin, esteem humility as one of the greatest goods” is the meaning that
pertains among the Eʋe peoples who consider humility also as selflessness,
respect, self-examination, making sacrifices in the face of difficult and tedious
tasks, giving credit where credit is due, faithfulness and a lack of false pride,
among others. These descriptions of humility fit Aristotle’s list of moral virtues,
which he describes as the intermediate mean between two vices, one of excess
and the other of deficiency. For Aristotle, while the vice of pride or boastfulness is having an excessively favorable opinion of oneself, “humility” is being
deficient in favorable opinion of oneself.59
54
55
56
57
58
59
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 46–47.
Akrofi, et al, An English, Akan, Eʋe, Ga Dictionary, 125.
John K. Roth, ed. Ethics: Revised Edition vol. 2 (Pasadena, California, Hackensack, New
Jersey: Salem Press Inc., 1994, 2005), 694–695. See also Aristotle’s, Nichomachean Ethics
(trans. and ed. Roger Crisp; New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).
Roth, Ethics, ibid.
Roth, Ethics, 694.
See Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 695.
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Humility, among the Eʋe peoples also involves what R.E.C. Browne describes
as awareness or a consciousness of a person’s defects or shortcomings which
prevent the person from being proud or self-assertive, by exhibiting modesty
which reduces arrogance and self-dependence and encourages meekness and
submission; this is often used reflexively in reference to the divine.60 Even
though some of the definitions offered for humility implicitly refer to selfabasement or a form of timidity, this trait is sometimes despised—i.e., when
someone is “humiliated” or when the person displays humility instead of courage. In spite of this notion of self-abasement, humility may be seen as negative:
the proverbs we discuss in this part of Chapter Two point to the virtue of
humility which avoids pride and is honored and respected. Among the Eʋe,
those who exhibit the virtue of humility, as described above, are highly
respected. Conversely, the lack of humility – pride, arrogance or self-­assertion –
is seen as a vice and is frowned upon. Humility is highly valued: thus many
proverbs in the Eʋe language teach the virtue of humility. Several are discussed
by Dzobo but he does not necessarily categorize them as humility apart from
some exceptions.61 We should note here that many Eʋe proverbs about humility refer to children, baby animals and other “small” or immature things. Due to
the natural limitation of children and other small creatures in the world, proverbs using such images are an excellent vehicle for teaching the positive values
of humility.
2.6.a Children—Awareness of Abilities/Capabilities
Most Eʋe folk proverbs which are concerned with humility employ children as
their subjects. This is because children lack the physical size, strength and maturity of adults and are unable to perform some tasks. Thus, the proverbs in this
category compare easy and difficult tasks and usually involve what a young person
or novice can accomplish easily and what they cannot. The proverbs which follow
in the next two groups employ the imagery of the young to teach humility.
Proverb 1: Ɖevi gba abɔbɔgo megbaa klogo o. (Dzobo # 3).
Translation 1: The child who breaks a snail’s shell cannot break a tortoise’s shell.
60
61
R.E.C. Browne, “Humility” in A Dictionary of Christian Ethics, John Macquarrie ed.
(London, scm Press Ltd., 1967), 159–160.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 39–43. Dzobo lists these proverbs (60–69) under his moral traits
category 23.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
65
Proverb 2: Ɖevi ka akplẽ gã mekaa nya gã o. (Dzobo # 8).
Translation 2: A child can swallow large quantities of cornmeal food but
cannot handle challenging matters.
Proverb 3: Ɖevi ɖɔ ametsitsi kuku eƒe ta ɖe wòbuna ɖe eme. (Dzobo, # 12).
Translation 3: The head of a child that wears an adult’s hat is always all
covered up to his face.62
Proverb 4: [Ðe]Vi dzro nu medzroa golo ƒe azi o. (Dzobo # 7).
Translation 4: A [child] beggar can beg for some things but cannot beg for
the egg of an ostrich.63
Each of these four proverbs about children describes two sets of activities.
In Proverb 1, a child can easily break the shell of a snail because it is soft but
the shell of a tortoise is too hard for a child to break. Likewise in Proverb 2 a
child, who is able to eat a big morsel of food, cannot tolerate tough issues otherwise he or she will get into trouble. Proverb 3 speaks about a child who can
put on a hat, but whose head and face get lost in a hat designed for an adult as
it is too big for a child’s small head. Proverb 4 cautions that a child who craves
things should not crave an ostrich egg since this egg is too large for the child to
hold or eat. An ostrich lays its eggs on mountains far away from human habitation and is rare so it cannot be easily found and given to a child who craves it.
A child craving for the egg of an ostrich would be seeking to die as the ostrich
guards its eggs jealously and would not allow anyone, let alone children, to
tamper with its eggs.
Each of these proverbs, when taken literally, is easily understood and shows
that the first activity is easy but not the second. A child or an immature person
can perform the first task, but the second activity is difficult even impossible.
These second situations can be hazardous and are beyond the power of a child
62
63
A Sudanese proverb, which is similar to the above proverb says, “A large chair does
not make a king.” See http://afritorial.com/the-best-72-african-wise-proverbs and www
.quotationspage.com. Accessed October, 2013. This proverb teaches humility in that a
chair may be large but it does not turn the person who sits on it into a king. In other
words, the English saying, “Appearances are deceptive,” can be an explanation of these
proverbs.
Dzobo’s translation of proverb 4 is different from its literal meaning. He renders it as
“A child that craves for things, does not crave for the egg of an ostrich” (African Proverbs, 20).
The translation of the proverb given above seeks to provide a more literal meaning than
Dzobo gives.
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or an immature person to perform. The literal meanings of the sayings form
the basis for the different ways in which they are used.
Proverbs 1, 2 and 4, for example, can be used for people who have succeeded
with some tasks but are not quite prepared for more challenging things. Junior
High school students who pass their Junior High School examination and
brag about their ability to pass examinations at a higher level like College or
Graduate School examinations can be addressed by these proverbs. If the
student attempts and fails higher level examinations, these proverbs can be
used to teach that student to accept with humility that which he or she can do
with the ability of a Junior High School student and not to attempt what is
beyond that level. A person, who gets hurt trying to ride a motor bike and can
only ride a bicycle, can also be taught by these proverbs to be humble in assessing their own capability for undertaking risky tasks.
Proverbs 2 and 3 can teach children or immature people to be humble.
When a child emerges as a leader among his peers and begins to act like an
adult by interfering with the affairs of adults, this child can be overwhelmed by
adult affairs. This proverb can then be used to teach the child to be wary of
trying to deal with issues beyond his/her ability because as in Proverb 3 the
head of that child would be lost in the hat of an adult. The proverbs speak
about some tasks that a child can perform and others that are impossible and
they are intended to teach that young people are immature and can only do
certain things but not everything. They teach young human beings to be humble and learn to “Cut their coats according to their cloth,” as the English saying
expresses it. The sayings can also be used in several other life contexts to teach
other people, including youth and adults not to over-estimate their abilities
but to know their limits and with humility not to over-step them. An adult who
accomplishes one feat in life and boasts about being able to perform more
difficult tasks can be taught to be humble. An adult, who claims to have knowledge about matters he or she is ignorant of and tries to put down those who do
have the knowledge can be advised by this proverb not to be proud by claiming
knowledge of everything. An adult who claims to know everything about
marriage or child-bearing, but does not know much about these matters can
be taught to be humble.
The following three Eʋe proverbs also use children or the young to teach
humility, but they differ from those analyzed above. Whereas the earlier
proverbs teach people to know their limits and not overstep their boundaries
or over-estimate their capabilities, this further group of proverbs deal with
unacceptable behavior which goes against societal norms or the hierarchical
structure of society. In these proverbs importance is attached to doing things
properly and in an orderly manner by teaching that young people should
‘know their place’ and not attempt to usurp the authority of adults.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
67
Proverb 1: Adekplɔvi menɔa ŋgɔ na adelã o. (Dzobo # 67).
Translation 1: The hunter’s apprentice does not lead his master-hunter.
Proverb 2: Vi metsɔa fofoa ɖe kɔ dzi be wòakpɔ yame o. (Dzobo # 62).
Translation 2: A child does not pick up his father on his[her] shoulders to
help him [i.e., the father] see the sky.64
Proverb 3: Fiavi meyɔna na azɔlĩ o. (Dzobo # 109)
Translation 3: The chief’s son [i.e., the prince] should not be in a hurry to
walk royally like a chief.
Proverb 1 derives from hunting and is applied to teaching the hunter’s apprentice to be humble and not attempt to usurp his master’s authority. In the Eʋe
cultural context, it is a common practice for hunters to go hunting with their
apprentices. The hunter always leads the way because he is more mature and
understands the woods, the dangers involved as well as the techniques for catching game. The apprentice normally follows the hunter so he or she can learn
from the master hunter. It would be dangerous for the apprentice to go ahead
since he does not yet know the techniques of hunting and the dangers involved.
Apart from its literal application, the proverb can be used in other situations,
e.g., any situation where a less knowledgeable or less mature person attempts to
act as a guide for a more knowledgeable or mature person. The proverb can also
be applied in connection with parents and children, teachers and pupils, doctors and patients, counselors and their clients, supervisors and their trainees.
The former in each of these two person relationships should be given respect as
the former usually has more technical know-how than the latter.
Proverb 2, which shows that a child cannot carry his or her father on his
shoulders to look at the sky, is similar to Proverb 1. The proverb alludes to a
child’s desire to exchange roles with the parent under the pretense of being
able to help the parent to have a better view of the sky. This proverb can
be used to correct instances of extreme disrespect for an adult or when an
inexperienced child acts in a way that suggests he or she claims to know better
64
A similar proverb used in Gambia is “An adult squatting sees further than a child on
top of a tree” and (see http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/g/gambia
_proverb/176466.htm. Accessed October, 2013) another used in Krio Sierra Leone, “An
okra tree does not grow taller than its master” (see http://afriprov.org/index.php/
african-proverb-of-the-month/27-2001proverbs/164-mar2001.html. Accesed October,
2013) explain the above Eʋe proverb. They also teach the virtue of humility and can be
used in similar situations to show that respect must be given to the person to whom it
is due and that authority should not be usurped by those whose it is not.
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Chapter 2
than the parents or more experienced elders of the community. It can be used
to teach a child or less-experienced person to be humble and not to underestimate the experience of the more mature. The proverb can also be used to
instruct people of any age who presume to teach or lead when they ought to be
learning or following. These sayings can be explained by the English saying,
“More haste, less speed.”
Proverb 3 speaks about the son of a chief or a prince who must not be anxious to walk like the chief. This proverb alludes to the anxiety of children to
perform adult roles which cause them to overstep their boundaries and to take
on new roles prematurely. The proverb can, therefore, be used for anyone who
lacks expertise but wants to force themselves to perform specialist duties.
Young women or men, who are rushing to become parents, can be taught by
this proverb that they will definitely become parents some day and should not
force it before the appropriate time comes. The proverb can also be used to
remind people who think they have expertise in certain areas of life not to try
to use the expertise before the appropriate time. When young people growing
up begin to exhibit the positive traits seen in their parents, this proverb can be
used to praise them. The sons or daughters of farmers, masons, carpenters,
engineers, mathematicians, chemists, linguists, judges or business people who
follow in the footsteps of their parents can be described by this proverb. In this
latter instance the proverb would be a positive compliment for the humility
with which the children appropriately emulate their parents. The proverb
teaches people to be humble and act only when the situation is appropriate.
2.6.b Young Animals
Apart from the use of human children to illustrate the virtue of humility in
Eʋe proverbs, young animals are also sometimes personified and used as the
subjects in proverbs to promote the virtue of humility. As has been shown in
the case of Diligence, images of animals are not uncommon in folk proverbs
including Eʋe sayings. Yet the use of animal imagery in these proverbs does not
mean that they are concerned with zoological observations. They describe rhetorically stereotypical behavior in animals in order to figuratively or metaphorically offer lessons applicable to human life and morality. Unlike the proverbs
in the group ‘Children: Awareness of Abilities/Capabilities’ which teach
the immature to be humble and not to be act prematurely as they will mature
in the near future, the group of proverbs which follows dissuades young
and other animals (and by implication human beings) from performing
daring tasks which are reserved for those who are mature and capable of performing them. Some of the proverbs implicitly have a negative side to them.
For example, if young people fail to be humble or to behave themselves to give
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
69
respect where it is due the result can be disastrous. The following are some
typical examples of baby animal proverbs used for teaching humility in human
beings.
Proverb 1: Dadivi afivi wòléna. (Dzobo, # 9).
Translation 1: A kitten catches baby mice.
Proverb 2: Agbo matsimatsi meɖoa kɔmedza o. (Dzobo # 113).
Translation 2: A lamb [an immature ram] does not grow a mane.
Proverb 3: Xe matsimatsi mexlɔ̃ na le zã me o. (Dzobo # 112).
Translation 3: A baby bird does not chirp in the night.
Proverb 4: Koklovi mekua atɔ o. (Dzobo # 114).
Translation 4: A chick does not crow.
Proverb 5: Kpɔ̃vi meyɔna na azɔlĩ o. (Dzobo # 110).
Translation 5: The cub [of a leopard] should not be anxious to walk
majestically.65
Proverb 1 refers to a kitten and what it can do: it can be applied to teach young
people that the ability to perform a simple task does not guarantee the ability to
perform more difficult or more challenging tasks. It also dissuades people from
being arrogant and cautions them not to claim more power for themselves than
they actually have by teaching people of any age to be humble. The primary caution in the proverb is against over-ambition, but it also teaches people to assess
themselves, what they are capable of doing and what they are not capable of as
a lack of humility combined with over-ambition can have detrimental effects.
The other proverbs in this category (Proverbs 2–5), which speak about a
lamb [that is, an immature ram] not growing a mane, a baby bird not chirping
at night, a chick not crowing and the cub of a leopard not being anxious to
walk majestically, all deal with situations that warn the immature not to force
themselves to do things which are done by those who are mature.
65
The Egyptian proverb, “The cub is from that lion” (see http://www.special-dictionary
.com/proverbs/source/e/egyptian_proverb/92190.htm Accessed October, 2013) is similar to the above Eʋe proverb and teaches humility but unlike the Eʋe proverb, it can be
used to compliment a child who has emulated the good characteristics of his or her parents or for a child who emulates the evil ways of his or her parents. This proverb can,
therefore, also teach either diligence or lack of diligence.
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Among the Eʋe peoples a fully grown lamb (a ram with a mane, implied by
Proverb 2), is used, for example, as a gift on the engagement or marriage of a
woman. It is also used to pay fines at the chief’s palace for offences in the community. In events like the peaceful and joyous celebrations (e.g., when a soldier
returns home after a war that has taken the lives of many others, or when a
person escapes unharmed from or armed robbers, or when a woman gives
birth after a difficult pregnancy) rams are slaughtered and cooked for a feast
with family and friends in the community. Hence much importance is attached
to the mature ram with a mane in contrast to an immature one without a mane
which is not valued as much.66 In Eʋe society, therefore, people who are considered less mature or less important are not given much respect and if such
people attempt to show off their ignorance or immaturity, this proverb can be
used to teach them to be humble.
A baby bird which chirps in the night can become prey for another mother
bird because mother birds chirp as they go out at night to find food for their
young. The chirping of a baby bird at night can be mistaken for an invitation by
another mother bird for combat which can result in the death of the baby bird
which becomes the victim of another mother bird looking for food to feed its
young ones. Figuratively, the proverb admonishes an immature person not to
take on the role of an adult. The proverb also teaches people to be humble and
not place themselves in harm’s way by posing challenges to others in precarious moments or circumstances.
The above three proverbs and Proverbs 4 and 5, which speak about a chick
not crowing and the cub of a leopard not being anxious to walk majestically
also have the same logic. While all the five proverbs teach the young animals
concerned to be humble, the proverbs also metaphorically teach young, less
experienced people not to attempt to perform adult roles prematurely or to
take on tasks for which they are not trained which can be detrimental to their
wellbeing. The proverbs acknowledge that all people, young and old, have abilities but they must be humble enough to do the right things at the right times
and not to attempt to do what is beyond their abilities.
2.6.c Other Animals
A number of Eʋe folk proverbs also use images of mature animals which are
not baby or young animals; they also teach humility by following the same
logic as the previous group that speak about the young human and young
animal.
66
See Dzobo African Proverbs, 57, 113.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
71
Proverb 1: Avu lénu meléa dzata o. (Dzobo # 4).
Translation 1: A dog can catch some animals but [it] cannot catch a
lion.67
Proverb 2: Avu ɖu ƒu meɖua ga o. (Dzobo # 5).
Translation 2: A dog that breaks bones does not break iron (copper coins/
money).
Proverb 3: Xe ƒonu meƒoa tɔmelo o. (Dzobo # 6).
Translation 3: A predacious bird does not prey on a crocodile.
Proverb 4: Ahlɔ̃ e medoa nyi fɔkpa o. (Dzobo # 60).
Translation 4: The antelope does not wear the shoes of the elephant
[cow].68
The foregoing proverbs personify animals and also refer to two activities, as
with the proverbs in the group ‘Children—Awareness of Abilities/Capabilities’.
In these proverbs, as in the earlier ones, one of the activities is easier for the
animals to perform than the other more challenging activity. The animals concerned can easily accomplish the first activity but not the second activity
which can be fatal.
These proverbs can be used in similar contexts like the proverbs about the
kitten and baby mice. However, they can also be applied in a number of other
social contexts. For example, a person who has been able to trap a wild cat and
who boasts about being able to trap a tiger can be likened to any of the animals
in these proverbs (a hunting dog that cannot catch a lion, a dog that breaks
bones but cannot break copper coins, a predatory bird that cannot prey on a
crocodile and an antelope that attempts to wear the shoes of a cow or an elephant). The antelope has very tiny feet and if it attempts to wear the shoes of
an elephant its feet will be lost in the shoes making walking or running difficult; this is risky since the antelope can become prey to hunters. The proverbs
in this category can be used to teach young people in general to be humble and
67
68
Dzobo’s translation of proverb 2 above is different from the literal meaning of the proverb, which is “A dog that catches things (that is, hunts for game), does not catch (hunt for)
a lion.”
The Sudanese proverb “A large chair does not make a king,” which was analyzed earlier
(see p. 65n62) has a similar meaning as the proverbs in this section. This proverb teaches
the virtue of humility. See http://afritorial.com/the-best-72-african-wise-proverbs. Accessed
October, 2013.
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Chapter 2
not impudent. These proverbs can also be used for over-ambitious people to
teach them not to claim to have more ability than they actually have and to
instruct people to act with moderation.
2.6.d Small Things/Agricultural Imagery
In addition to the use of human children and baby animals to teach the virtue
of humility, a range of ‘small’ things in nature are also often personified and
used as the subjects in some Eʋe folk proverbs. The following proverbs make
use of agricultural imagery to teach the virtue of humility.
Proverb 1: Ne tekpoɖoe mekpɔ eɖokui ƒe ge me o la meɖoa ŋku o.
(Dzobo # 11)
Translation 1: A small roundish yam69 always assesses its sprouting ability before it does so.
Proverb 2: Wometsɔa deku eve dea alɔgo ɖeka me o. (Dzobo # 10).70
Translation 2: You cannot crack two palm-nuts in the mouth at the same
time.
Proverb 3: Asi tu nyede metua agɔɖɔ o. (Dzobo # 13).
Translation 3: The hand that unties the tender leaves of the oil-palm does
not untie the tender leaves of the fan-palm.
These three proverbs are unique to Eʋe farming communities. Proverb 1
alludes to how seed-yams from one harvest season are prepared for planting in
the next farming season. The saying personifies the roundish yam as assessing
its sprouting ability but it is the farmer, who assesses the ability of the roundish
yam to sprout before setting it aside as seed yam for replanting. Though Proverb
1 refers to a farming situation, it can be used metaphorically to teach people to
be conscious of what they are capable of doing and what they are not capable
69
70
The roundish yam grows out of the twine from which the mature yam has already been
harvested. The yam twine/vine is normally left in the yam mound and after a while it
produces a little bulblike yam (the size of a large potato or so but is roundish and not
oblong-ish) to be used as seed-yam for the next planting season.
A Nandi proverb, “Even if the elephant (rich man) is big, it does not bear two cubs,”
teaches that there is a limit to everybody’s generosity. See Golka, The Leopard’s Spot, p. 58.
This proverb can be used in similar situations as the Eʋe proverb above to teach humility.
The rich man or anyone may have it together in one way or another but may not have
everything together always. The proverb also teaches people not to be greedy.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
73
of doing. The proverb teaches people to be humble and not to “bite more [of a
matter] than they can chew.” This proverb can also be used for people who
want to get married or take on some business but do not make adequate preparations. The proverb thus teaches people that in order to succeed they must be
humble enough to acquire the necessary expertise for any endeavor they
intend to undertake before they embark on the task.
The reference to cracking “two palm-nuts” in the mouth at the same time is
ridiculous (Proverb 2). The palm-nut kernel is small and has a very thick outer
shell that cannot be easily cracked in the mouth. It also usually has a little
blackish sharp pointed stalk protruding from one part of the nut which can
pierce or cut the inside of the mouth. Hence, to speak of cracking two of these
nuts in the mouth at the same time is a sign of pride and an attempt to do the
impossible which is an act lacking in humility. While this proverb can be
applied to teach people to be humble, it also warns them against greed. In a
typical situation children or adults who are not humble enough to appreciate
what they have but crave things beyond their abilities to attain, can be advised
by this proverb to acknowledge and be content with what they have. People
who brag about their abilities to perform two or more challenging tasks which
they are not capable of performing, can also be advised by this proverb to prevent them from being too greedy or ambitious but to focus on individual tasks
to maximize their performance. A precocious student, who claims to be able to
study different subjects like engineering, philosophy, or medicine at the same
time can be taught to be humble and not over-estimate his or her ability.
Similarly young people who want to have children, while at the same time pursuing their education, can be advised by this proverb to be humble and to
avoid trying to balance two very challenging tasks as they may not be able to
handle both tasks at the same time.
The leaves of the oil palm (Proverb 3) are more or less single soft, tender
stalks that are very easy to disentangle from each other but the leaves of the fan
palm are rough and tightly knit together in the shape of a fan. Thus even a child
can easily disentangle the leaves of the oil palm, but even the most experienced farmer or adult cannot easily disentangle the tender leaves of the fan
palm due to its coarseness. Proverb 3 can, therefore, be used to warn people
against attempting to perform impossible tasks. The proverb can also be used
for someone who has completed a challenging task and brags about being able
to perform a more challenging yet impossible task when the prevailing conditions are similar. This proverb teaches such a person to be humble and to
acknowledge that the ability to perform the easier task does not guarantee the
performance of the more challenging task even if the circumstances are the
same but in a different context. A similar proverb in Eʋe can be “Ze wu ze tɔ
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Chapter 2
ŋgɔ wokpɔnɛ lena.” This means, “It is at the riverside that the pot of pots [that is,
the pot that is larger than an ordinary pot] is seen.” This proverb refers to the various sizes of pots that industrious women use for fetching water at community
hydrants. Some of these pots can be extraordinarily large and people who carry
them often find it difficult to find people who are willing to help them carry the
pot. In this context, the proverb refers metaphorically to extraordinarily challenging tasks which people should not claim with arrogance to be capable of undertaking. The proverb teaches people to be humble to desist from bluffing vainly
about what they cannot do as well as to avoid putting themselves in danger.
All the proverbs grouped under ‘Children—Awareness of Abilities/
Capabilities’, ‘Young/Other Animals’ and ‘Small Things/Agricultural Imagery’,
teach the virtue of humility in one way or another. Although they can be taken
literally, they are intended to teach people to be humble and honest by not
over-estimating their abilities but by acting within limits.71
2.6.e Community Rules Governing Residents and Strangers
Humility shows itself in the norms that govern various actions in certain contexts in the Eʋe community. The proverbs in the following section, which speak
of strangers and residents, teach people how to conduct themselves humbly in
unfamiliar places and circumstances in which they might find themselves.72
Proverb 1: Du sia du kple eƒe koklokoko. (Dzobo, # 22).
Translation 1: Every country/town has its own way of dressing chicken.
Proverb 2: Dua ɖe me gbede ʋuyɔvi wòzuna le du bubu me. (Dzobo, # 23).
Translation 2: The black[gold]smith in one village/town becomes a
black[gold]smith’s apprentice in another.
Proverb 3: Amedzro ŋku gã menya xɔdome o. (Dzobo # 24).
Translation 3: A stranger with big eyes does not know the by-ways.73
71
72
73
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 19–22.
These proverbs can also be used to teach sociability whereby members of the community
collaborate and have common goals in maintaining social norms as will be seen later in
Chapter 3.
The Swahili proverb, “The country rooster does not crow in the town,” (see: http://www
.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_proverb/81596.htm. Accessed October,
2013) can be used in similar contexts as the above Eʋe proverbs to teach the stranger to
be humble and not over assert him or herself in a foreign town or country since he or she
might not know the rules that govern the new community or the norms and prohibitions
of the new place to avoid getting into trouble.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
75
Proverb 4: Amedzro mekoa du lã o. (Dzobo # 25).
Translation 4: A stranger does not skin the sheep [ram] that is paid as a
fine at the chief’s court.
Proverb 5: [Amedzro]Dzrovi metsɔa ame kuku ƒe tagbɔ o. (Dzobo # 26).
Translation 5: A stranger does not hold [carry] the head of a coffin [corpse].
Whereas Proverbs 1 and 2 speak about the different ways of dressing chicken
in different towns and the different ways in which each town rates its
black[gold]smith or apprentice, Proverbs 3–5 explicitly function as reprimands to people who are strangers to a community. Proverbs 1 and 2 by implication teach that what pertains in one community may not be the same in
another community. Proverb 1, for instance, can be used for people, who
think they know everything, and who try to teach or show other people to do
things their way. Parents who insist that all children should behave like
their children may be addressed by this proverb. The proverb can also
be applied to teach wealthy people who think everybody’s lifestyle must be
like theirs. A teacher who moves to a different community and tries to use
the techniques that worked in the former community can be advised by
this proverb to be humble to know that the techniques that work in one
school may not work in every community. These two proverbs teach people to
be humble and to be aware that each person and community is unique and
that things are not done in the same way by people everywhere. This proverb
can be explained by the English expression, “When you go to Rome, you do as
the Romans do.”
Proverb 2 teaches that what may be acceptable or considered very important among one group of people may not have equal value for another group;
the humble person must acknowledge this. Proverb 2 can be used to advise
people like traders, market women, or professionals in other fields (not just the
black[gold]smith of whom the proverb speaks), who are highly respected in
one community, to be humble because they may not gain the same respect in
a community other than their own. In other words, the skills and status of people are relative to individuals and localities and people must learn to assess
themselves accordingly, by taking time to learn the ways of behavior of other
people and adjusting to them accordingly.74 Furthermore, since people in
different countries or communities do things differently, when people go to a
new country/community, they must not take their knowledge and status for
granted but “must be prepared to re-evaluate them and let the estimation of
74
Dzobo’s point here underscores my own view. See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 25.
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their new status guide their conduct.”75 Both Proverbs 1 and 2 can be used to
teach people to be humble by learning to understand how communities function and the differences in status to live amicably with the people of other
communities, whose world views are different from their own.
In Proverb 3, the stranger has “big eyes” but “does not know the by-ways.”
This is a metaphor for having “a great deal of knowledge” or some expertise
about things that go on in a community. However, in spite of the pretention to
understand the community, the person who is a stranger to the community
cannot possess the subtle knowledge (that is, the “by-ways”), which are only
accessible to members of that community. In other words, the stranger can
only know the “broad-ways.”76 This proverb implies that certain sacred aspects
of the culture and patterns of behavior in every community are not accessible
to everyone, especially outsiders. As such, these sacred aspects may be actively
concealed from people who are strangers to the community. No matter how
much the outsider might learn or know about a community, he or she remains
in the dark about certain aspects. A novice to some activity (be it a game, a
trade, a subject being taught in school, parenting, or some other activity), must
be humble in acknowledging that they do not know the rules and be willing to
learn new things. The proverb teaches humility to novices in an area of knowledge or place where they must acknowledge their shortcomings to learn from
those who know the rules.
Proverbs 4 and 5 speak of a stranger who does not skin the ram paid as a fine
in the chief’s palace and of a stranger who does not carry the head part of a
corpse. These proverbs also relate to the knowledge of community rules that
are unknown to strangers. In Proverb 4, when a member of the community
commits some crime or serious offence that person is fined by the traditional
council and normally pays a ram (a mature one with a mane). This ram is
slaughtered at the chief’s palace and the meat is apportioned to the members
of the council in the palace and in the community according to their status.
Thus if a stranger skins the ram, he might not know who receives which part of
the meat and this can, ironically, earn the stranger a further fine or some punishment. Proverb 4 can also be used for a person who is totally ignorant about
the intricacies of the arbitration of community cases and yet tries to arbitrate
such cases. The proverb teaches this person to be humble and be willing to
learn what pertains in the community or to leave the arbitration of cases to the
more knowledgeable to handle.
75
76
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 25–27.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 26. The second part of this proverb, which is given by Dzobo
as the stranger “knows only the broadways” is implied in the proverb but not explicit.
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Proverb 5 prohibits the stranger from carrying the head part of a corpse
because corpses are buried with their head in a certain direction depending
on the cause of death, either naturally, by suicide, accident, or murder, etc.
The stranger will not know which direction corresponds with which cause of
death in the community and will likely not know in which direction to turn the
head of the corpse. Proverb 5, like Proverb 3, is used to teach people in general
to conduct themselves humbly in unfamiliar territory. The proverbs can also be
used for people, who come or return to town from another country or town
and attempt to do certain things without consulting the elders for their guidance or direction regarding how to do those things. When they fail due to their
ignorance, lack of humility and lack of knowledge of the norms of the community, these proverbs are used to advise them to be humble and give respect
to those who know what they do not know. The purpose of these proverbs is,
therefore, to teach people to be humble and also to warn people to avoid
getting into trouble due to their refusal to learn and become knowledgeable of
the rules and guiding principles of the new environment in which they find
themselves.77
2.6.f Parts of the Human Body78
In different cultures, parts of the human body are often personified and made
the subjects of folk proverbs that teach important lessons and moral virtues.79
This is true in the Eʋe cultural context as well, where proverbs use images which
personify body parts to teach the virtue of humility. This use of personification
for body parts teaches human beings to be humble and not selfish in thinking
that they know everything. These proverbs also encourage people to show virtues of “unity” and “cooperation.”80 In general, the body is a whole and none of
its individual parts can presume to do much on its own; each part of the body
must be humble enough to accept its role and perform it without complaint, as
Paul suggests in his use of the body metaphor in the New Testament.81
77
78
79
80
81
All the proverbs in this section about community rules and strangers can also be illustrated
by a Swahili proverb, which says, “The country rooster does not crow in the town” (analyzed earlier). Since the rules of the country are different from those in the town, the country rooster may get into trouble when it crows in the town. See http://www.special-dictionary
.com/proverbs/source/a/african_swahili_proverb/81596.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
Proverbs 2 and 3, which speak about the virtue of humility in this section also speak
about the virtue of sociability but they are explained differently in both sections.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, proverbs, 135 about the foot (p. 63–64), 13, about the hand
(p. 22), the head, Proverbs 76 and 81 (pp. 45 and 46), the eye (#134, p. 63) to mention a few.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 45, 78.
1 Corinthians 12: 12–26.
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Proverb 1: Ge metua xo na aɖaba o. (Dzobo # 61).
Translation 1: The beard does not tell the eye-brow about ancient
happenings.82
Proverb 2: Ta ɖeka medea aɖaŋu o. (Dzobo # 76).
Translation 2: One head does not go into consultation.83
Proverb 3: Abɔ ɖeka meléa to dzo o. (Dzobo # 178).
Translation 3: One hand cannot hold [catch] a bull’s horns.
Proverb 4: Wometsɔa ŋku eve kpɔa atukpa me o. (Dzobo, 41).
Translation 4: You do not look into a bottle with both eyes.
In Proverb 1, the beard can be likened to people or novices in an undertaking
who think they know better than those who are more experienced in a trade or
profession. The eyebrow can be likened to adults or those who are more knowledgeable about a trade or profession than the more inexperienced. The proverb is used to teach the virtue of humility, so that younger people and the
immature, can respect those who are older because the young owe respect to
older people. It can also be used to teach people not to usurp the authority of
others but to acknowledge with humility and accept their own limitations.
This proverb (1) can be used for new parents who think they know more about
children than their parents or other parents who have had children and
brought them up. It can also be used for a student or apprentice in any
trade who thinks and acts as though he or she knows better than their teachers. The student and apprentice can be likened to the “beard” while the teachers and masters can be likened to the “eyebrow.” In this arrangement, the
former are taught to be humble since they cannot claim seniority over the
latter, which was there before the former came into being.
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83
Implied in this proverb is the idea that the eye-lashes are older than the beard since people are born with eye-lashes but grow beards later in their lives.
The foregoing three proverbs are similar to three other African proverbs: a Nigerian,
Yoruba proverb, which says, “The strength of one person only does not go far,” (see http://
afritorial.com/the best-72-african-wise-proverbs. Acessed October, 2013) a Gikuyu proverb, “One finger does not kill a louse” (see: http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/
source/k/kenyan_proverb/87577. Accessed October, 2013) and a Bondei proverb, “Sticks
in a bundle are unbreakable.” See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/b/
bondei_proverb/163588.htm. Accessed October, 2013. All these proverbs teach both
humility and sociability in that people should not see themselves as indispensable and
they should not be selfish. These proverbs, which can be used to explain the above Eʋe
proverbs, can also be used in similar situations.
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Proverbs 2 and 3 speak about one head that does not go into consultation
and one hand that does not catch the bull by the horn. These two proverbs also
teach the same moral lesson about humility as Proverb 1 does. Together these
three proverbs teach people not to exalt themselves above others, to believe
they are indispensable, or to feel that no one else has anything to offer apart
from what they themselves can give or do. This proverb can also be used to
advice people who rely too much on their own strength that they must learn to
co-operate with others in undertaking difficult tasks or solving problems.84
People, who are always boasting about their personal greatness and prowess, for
example, a team leader in athletics or anyone who feels and says they are better
than everybody else in a group can be taught by Proverbs 2 and 3 to be humble.
When a large task is accomplished with the input of many people, these proverbs can be used positively: the proverb can be used on the successful outcome
of this large task to praise the processes that led to its accomplishment, by saying, “Truly, one head does not go into consultation” or “One hand does not catch
a bull by the horn” or “One tree does not build a house.” It follows, therefore, that
Proverbs 2 and 3 above teach the virtue of humility through the personification
of the beard and eyebrow, the head, the hand (and the tree).
Unlike Proverbs 1–3, however, Proverb 4, which speaks about not looking
into a bottle with both eyes, teaches people to exhibit humility by not attempting to do impossible things. Metaphorically, this proverb speaks about people
who attempt to perform impossible tasks due to their pride. These proverbs
can be used to describe people who try to “bite off more than they can chew,”
as the English expression puts it. In the Eʋe cultural context, such people are
described as looking into one bottle with two eyes. The proverb teaches that
one person must not attempt to do everything at once since any attempt to do
the impossible out of greed cannot succeed. According to Dzobo, “If you try it
[i.e., to look into a bottle with both eyes], it is only your nose that looks into it
(the bottle).”85
Proverb 4 can be used for a person, who is never satisfied or content with
anything. The proverb teaches such people to be humble in accepting what
they have and to be content rather than arrogantly down-playing what they
have at the expense of other people’s things. The proverb can be used subtly for
people who are greedy and crave the things intended for other people. People
who are greedy and attempt to take on tasks that are more than they can do
can be told this proverb. A person who has a demanding occupation and
attempts to take on the responsibility for another demanding job to make
84
85
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 45, 78. This proverb can also be used to teach sociability.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 33, 114.
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money or a name can be told this proverb to teach him/her to humbly focus on
one task since he or she cannot do both jobs well. As Dzobo rightly puts it, the
moral lesson of this proverb is that “You invariably get nothing from being
greedy” as such people must learn to be content with the little that they have.86
The proverb teaches people to be humble and learn to appreciate and be
content with what they have.
2.6.g Natural Phenomena/Things
Although most Eʋe folk proverbs employ human beings, animals and other
creatures as their subjects, they also use natural phenomena and objects to
illustrate the virtues that are desirable for human beings to practice. These
proverbs also describe activities that are prohibited or frowned upon. Though
these proverbs refer to the actions of natural phenomena they are used to draw
the same logical conclusions as can be drawn from proverbs which speak about
human beings. The following are some examples of proverbs that teach the
virtue of humility using natural phenomena.
Proverb 1: Ati ɖeka metua xɔ o. (Dzobo # 179).87
Translation 1: One pole cannot build a house. (Note this proverb and the
three proverbs discussed above also teach the value of sociability).
Proverb 2: Kpe megblɔna na anyigba be ne wòate ɖa yeanɔ anyi o. (Dzobo
# 63).
Translation 2: The stone does not tell the ground to push [move] away so
that it will sit down.
Proverb 3: Dze mekafua eɖokui o. (Dzobo # 65).
Translation 3: Salt [or the flute] does not praise itself.
Proverb 4: Ne agble medidi o la wometsɔa tsigo gã denɛ o. (Dzobo # 103).
Translation 4: You do not take a big gourd to a farm that is close by.
86
87
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 33. According to Dzobo trying to look into a bottle with both
eyes will mean looking into it with the nose and as result you cannot look into it at all. See
a discussion of this proverb above.
This proverb (with the three earlier proverbs) is also used to teach the virtue of sociability.
However, this proverb is used differently to teach sociability later. A variation of this proverb, which can be applied to similar situations, says, “Rain does not fall on one roof alone”
and is found among the peoples of the Cameroon. See www.specialdictionary.com/
proverbs/source/a/african_cameroon_proverbs/188818.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
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Proverb 5: Ðe wònye tɔsisi kpɔ avuléla la, ne meɖo aga o. (Dzobo # 39).
Translation 5: If a river had had somebody to help it (i.e., to obstruct/stop
it), it would not have plunged downhill.88
Proverb 1 speaks about one pole that does not build a house. The proverb mirrors how certain houses in the community are built completely with several
poles or planks (sawn from trees) for the rafters, doors and windows frames, etc.
This phenomenon of building is translated into a lesson of humility.
Metaphorically, in the Eʋe community, the people or families, who think and act
as though they were better than every other person or family in the community,
are usually addressed by this proverb to teach them the need for being humble
to know that they are not indispensable. Similarly, some students, business/
trades people or parents, who think more highly of their education, businesses/
trades or children than other people’s and consider themselves as having everything together can be addressed by this proverb. The proverb teaches them that
no single person is self-sufficient or can do everything and they should be humble enough to know that everybody needs somebody else and of course, other
people, for survival. The proverb can also be used for those, who are arrogant and
selfish, and would not contribute to the success of any task that is on hand. The
proverb admonishes them to be humble and to contribute their part to the success of the undertaking since those who are contributing toward the success of
the task cannot do it all by themselves. This proverb can, therefore, be used for
members of a household, a team of athletes, a community or township, etc., to
teach them the need for humility and the need to contribute their quota to the
wellbeing of the household, team, community/township, etc., which should be a
communal responsibility. This proverb also teaches the virtue of sociability.
Proverb 2 speaks of the stone that cannot tell the earth to move for it to sit
down. The earth is larger than the stone and the earth can never move away for
the stone to sit down. Furthermore, the relationship between the earth and the
stone is so close that one cannot do without the other. As such, for one to ask
the other to move so it can sit down, is an impudent request. This proverb can
also be used to teach the virtue of sociability whereby people learn that they
are dependent on each other and that no one can completely shun the company of other people. In addition to the foregoing uses of the proverb, a child
or subordinate, who tries to deflect an adult or leader out of disrespect and
88
This proverb can be explained by the Gambia proverb, “A fly that has no one to advice it,
follows the corpse to the grave,” (see http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/
g/gambia_proverb/176467.htm. Accessed October, 2013) which can be used similarly.
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take over that person’s responsibilities, can be the subject of this proverb.
It teaches the child or subordinate to be humble and accept the authority of
the adult or leader. An arrogant child who displays an attitude that his or her
parents and siblings are not worthy of respect and says that he or she has nothing to do with them can be admonished by this proverb to be humble since no
one can completely shun his or her family.
Proverb 3 referring to salt not praising itself is used to teach people to be
humble and not boast about their achievements. Salt does not have a mouth to
praise itself but this proverb assumes a quality of salt, namely it does not praise
itself for preserving food or making food taste good. Similarly, the flute plays
good music but it does not praise itself. This proverb is used to teach people,
like linguists, students, farmers, or others, who have achieved greatness in life
and who tell others how good they are that they should avoid praising themselves and exhibit humility. Such people are advised to rather allow those who
observe their greatness to comment because the person’s greatness is evident
to observers who do not need to be told about it. In other words, people who
boast about their abilities can be told Proverb 3 to teach them to be humble for
others to praise their abilities or talents. Conversely, the proverb can be used to
refer to an achiever who does not boast about the achievement. In this latter
instance, the proverb acts as a compliment and teaches others to emulate the
“quiet” achiever’s good deeds.
Proverbs 4 and 5 speak about not taking a big gourd of water to a nearby
farm and the river that would not have gone into a ditch if it had had someone
to help it, respectively. Though these proverbs are used here to teach humility,
they can also be used to teach sociability. They take the form of conditional “if”
sayings or proverbs. As such, one action either leads to the other or the occurrence of one action is dependent on the occurrence of the other. Proverb 4
speaks about a common practice in traditional farming communities, where
due to the heat of the day, people normally carry water containers, made from
gourds, to the farm to quench their thirst. If the farm is far from home, the
farmer carries a big gourd of water but if the farm is close by only a small water
gourd is needed. Proverb 4 can be used in a number of situations to teach the
virtue of humility. A young man or woman, who experiences challenges in life
(e.g., puberty, marriage, young adulthood, career, or other) and does not seek
help from immediate relatives or those close by but goes to seek outside help
can be told this proverb to teach him or her to be humble enough to seek help
from family and people who have experienced what they are experiencing
rather than going further to seek help. Similarly, the proverb can teach a student who does not research good schools close by or who thinks the nearby
schools are not good enough and goes far away to look for schools when there
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are good schools close by. Such a student can be taught to be humble by choosing nearby schools.
Proverb 5 comes from observing rivers, creeks and other natural sources of
water, especially falls that run from mountains or hilltops and descend into
valleys; there is nothing to obstruct these waterfalls, so they descend rapidly
into the valleys. Proverb 5 observes that if the river had been given some direction, it would not have gone into a ditch. It teaches people who are arrogant
and refuse to take counsel (e.g., in commerce, education, marriage, profession)
to be humble. The proverb can also be used for adults who have succeeded in
a family but who do not provide the means for younger members of their families to succeed. When the younger generation fails, this proverb can be used to
teach the adults that if they had humbly done their duties, the young members
would have succeeded too. In other words, the proverb teaches the adults that
they should have been more humble in taking responsibility of their young.
The lack of success of the young or other family members can, therefore, be
described as their having no one to guide them hence their descent into ditch
(i.e., failure). The proverb serves as a lament over family members or the trade
venture that fails as a result of lack of humility, which is likened to the counsel
of those who know better. All the five proverbs above, therefore, in one way or
another, teach people to be humble either by giving or taking counsel to
encourage success in life.
2.6.h Discipline
Self-discipline is also considered as a major characteristic of humility and
the Eʋe peoples use several proverbs to teach humility through self-discipline.
The following proverbs use images from plant and animal life to teach human
beings to be humble and self-disciplined. For example, people who forget their
humble beginnings and refuse to learn anything from people who are not as
fortunate as they are can be told these proverbs.
Proverb 1: Nunya adidoe asi metunɛ o. (Dzobo # 75).
Translation 1: Knowledge is like a baobab (monkey bread) tree and no
one person can embrace it all alone with both hands.89
Proverb 2: Ati gɔglɔ̃ dzi wònɔna tsoa dzɔdzɔe. (Dzobo, # 66).
Translation 2: You stand on a crooked branch to cut a straight one.
89
A similar proverb to this is a Somali proverb, which says, “Wisdom does not come
overnight.” This means, wisdom comes in bits and pieces and not all at once. See http://
afritorial.com/the-best-72-african-wise-proverbs. Accessed October, 2013.
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Proverb 3: Fetri kɔ wu agbletɔ hã ebinɛ ɖena. (Dzobo, # 68).
Translation 3: Even if the okro plant is taller than the farmer s/he bends
it to pick its fruits.90
Proverb 4: Ne taɖa nyo ʋuu hã kukue nɔa edzi. (Dzobo, # 69).
Translation 4: However good the hair may be a hat is worn [sits] on it.
Proverbs 5: Ame nɔŋu menya nyɔna o. (Dzobo # 89).
Translation 5: It is difficult to wake up a person who is not sleeping.
Proverb 6: Womedoa dzo yeye tsɔa abɔbɔ dea eme o. (Dzobo # 150).
Translation 6: You do not put a snail into a new fire.
Proverb 1 speaks of the nature of knowledge. No one person can lay complete
claim to it. This proverb is a simple metaphor comparing knowledge to the
baobab (monkey bread) tree, which has a very large trunk and produces fruits
so high up in its branches that no one can either embrace its trunk or handpluck its fruits.91 People, who claim that they alone have the ability to do the
greatest things, can be told Proverb 1 to teach them that whatever talent they
have does not cover the whole group, community or entire world because
other people also have important talents to offer. Trail-blazers in some field of
learning or occupation like engineering, medicine, farming, or carpentry who
assume that no one else’s talent is as good as theirs, can be told this proverb to
teach them to be humble and know that other people also have equally good
talents.92 Another Eʋe folk proverb, that can be used to express the same idea
as that in Proverb 1, but in a different way, is from military life and says,
“Aʋaŋgɔgbea mesea aʋamegbea zuna o.”93 This proverb means, “The frontline
soldier easily becomes the rear guard.” This “military” proverb literally, gives
the scenario of soldiers in a battle whose position on the battle field depends
on the direction from which the enemy is coming or launching its offensive.
If the enemy suddenly appears from behind, rear-guards turn into frontline
soldiers and vice versa. The proverb can be used to advise people to be
90
91
92
93
See the Krio (Kru) Sierra Leone proverb, “An okra tree does not grow taller than its master”
(see http://afriprov.org/index.php/african-proverb-of-the-month/27-2001proverbs/164
-mar2001.html. Accessed October, 2013) explained above.
See the description of the baobab tree by John Kirszenberg’s in Chapter 1.
This proverb also applies to the virtue of “sociability” in which corporative work is encouraged in community.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, #87, p. 49.
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prepared for eventualities in life since what is good today may not be good
tomorrow. Wealthy people, leaders, people in authority, businessmen or
women can be taught by these proverbs to be humble in their dealings, in
their estimations of themselves by being aware that sudden changes in their
circumstances can happen.
In the Eʋe community people use straight planks for the beams, door and
window frames of their houses. People have to stand on planks which are
closer to the ground and which are often crooked (Proverb 2), before they can
cut the straight planks which are higher up. Metaphorically, a child, who
condemns the school in his or her village as rural with no modern facilities and
is ambitious to go to a school (which in their own mind) has better facilities
can be told Proverb 2 to teach the need to start from a humble beginning and
rise up further. A person who wants to get rich overnight and yearns for a large
business without working for it can also be told this proverb to teach the need
to start on a small scale. Furthermore, the proverb can be used for a medical
doctor who does not want to practice in a poor community but to start his or
her career in a very big and lucrative city. The proverb teaches the doctor selfdiscipline and humility to work at a lower level before the getting to the more
lucrative one. Similarly, a new worker who wants to be the manager at the start
can also be told this proverb to teach him or her humility to start lower before
rising up to become a manager or boss.
Proverb 3 employs agricultural imagery from farming communities, where
the okra plant grows even taller than the farmer but the farmer bends the
plant and harvests the okra. This proverb can be used metaphorically to teach
children that no matter how big or tall they might look or how much more
educated or more financially capable they are than their parents, they must
submit to the authority of their parents by giving them due respect. A supervisee who thinks he or she is better than the supervisor, a student who thinks
he or she is better than the teacher, and is disrespectful can also be taught by
this proverb to be humble and self-disciplined because the supervisor or
teacher are more experienced and deserve respect.
Proverb 4 suggests that in spite of how good the hair is, a hat sits (is worn)
on it. This proverb is similar to Proverb 3 about the okra plant and the farmer.
Proverb 4 does not use agricultural imagery but it also is applicable to similar
situations of discipline. Whereas in Proverb 3 the parent is the farmer, and the
child is the okra plant, in Proverb 4 the parent is the hat and the child is the
hair. In both proverbs no matter the physical size or social status of children or
subordinates, parents or leaders have the right to discipline them as needed.
Furthermore, a servant, who tries to ride over his or her master or mistress, or
a person, who flaunts the authority of the elders who oversee the rules and
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regulations of the community can also be taught by this proverb to be humble
and self-disciplined by not trying to usurp the authority of the master or elders
since this can have serious repercussions.
According to Proverb 5, it is impossible to wake up a person who is wideawake. Metaphorically, a person who is stubborn in the Eʋe community and
who deliberately performs acts that are frowned upon by society with impunity and deems those actions appropriate in spite of numerous warnings to
amend his or her ways can be admonished by this proverb to succumb to the
counsel and correction of others or those in authority. Proverb 5 can, therefore,
be used, for example, for a thief, who knows that it is wrong to steal but continues to do so in spite of numerous warnings. Such a thief can be considered as a
person, who is wide awake but refuses to be awakened (i.e., to take counsel to
stop stealing). Apart from the thief, the person who always gets intoxicated
and insults other people deliberately can be described by this proverb since
both of them are aware that stealing and insulting other people are unacceptable acts. These evil doers may use poverty or drunkenness as a foil for their
evil actions. The proverbs, therefore, can refer to people, who are knowledgeable about their evil deeds but who refuse to be convinced to change their
ways. In the Eʋe community, any attempt to wake up such people can be
referred to as “Tsi kuku kɔ ɖe kpe ŋuti.” This means, “Pouring water on a rock.”
The water will only run down the surface of the rock but will never penetrate
into the rock since the person is so impervious to understanding that no warning or advice can change the person’s mindset regarding the evil deed.
Even though Proverb 5 and these other proverbs teach people in general to be
humble and disciplined, to heed advice and desist from doing evil, they also
warn other people to avoid emulating the evil ways of stubborn people, who do
not heed counsel, for their own good and that of the community. By contrast to
the “wide-awake” people who cannot be “awakened,” those who humble themselves by disciplining themselves, letting go of their arrogance and reforming
their evil ways, can be likened to people who have allowed themselves to be
awakened from sleep.
Another proverb in this category is “Ẽ kple ame yezɔna lẽ vuvu dzi.” This
proverb means, “Yes. It is by obedience to instruction that a person can walk on
a broken bridge.”94 This proverb refers to the delicate bridges, which are built
over creeks or rivers that people have to cross sometimes when traveling or
going to their farms. For the fear that people might fall into the creeks or rivers
94
The above translation differs slightly from Dzobo’s. See Dzobo, African Proverbs, # 97, p. 52.
The Eʋe-speaking Peoples
87
while walking over the bridge, a guide is often stationed at the bridge to give
instructions to people about the best way to safely cross over the bridge.
Anyone who fails to obey the instructions of the guide due to arrogance or a
lack of humility can fall into the river below and drown. Metaphorically, this
delicate bridge can be likened to life and because life is very delicate, only
those who follow proper instructions can safely cross over or make it safely
through life.95 This proverb, therefore, teaches people to humbly and meticulously follow instructions in challenging situations for their own good. The
proverb can be used for anyone who is at a crossroad in life and is about to
make an important decision regarding marriage or career or in a life and death
situation. In this instance the proverb teaches them to be humble enough to
take advice from those who know the way or who have ‘gone before’ and can
instruct others about the paths they have already trodden. A child who thinks
parents are worthless and would not take their advice, a student who despises
teachers or seniors, an apprentice, who looks down on his old-time master as
archaic, can be advised to be humble and obey the counsel of their forebears
and superiors.
Proverb 6 refers to the practice of roasting snails in open hearth firewood
fires or over coal pots (a kind of cooking stove). When people put a snail into a
new fire, the slime from the snail, which is very thick, normally puts out the
fire. Thus, metaphorically, anything that people do to undermine their initial
efforts, which can either produce success or failure, is likened to the slime from
the snail that quenches a new fire. The proverb teaches people to be humble
and self-disciplined so as not to allow anything to weaken their beginning
efforts.96 The proverb can be used to teach humility that comes through
patience and self-discipline. The proverb can also be used for very arrogant
people, who can easily dampen the spirits of other people or destroy relationships even before the relationships have started. The proverb, therefore,
teaches such people and others not to be like the slime from the snail, which
quenches a newly set fire. An arrogant and disrespectful young man or woman,
who wants to start dating and to get married, can be told this proverb to teach
him or her to be humble so as to have a successful relationship. Parents, who
are so strict that they chase away their children’s friends from them, can be told
this to teach them to exercise restraint and be humble by accepting their children’s “new” friends or prospective daters, who could become their in-laws in
the near future.
95
96
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 52.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 69.
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2.7
Chapter 2
Conclusions
The Eʋe folk proverbs, which have been analyzed above, focused on activities
and images that promote “Diligence” and “Humility.” While these proverbs
warn against acts that do not work in the interest of industry, perseverance,
proper work ethic and the good life, they are also used to teach the virtue of
diligence whereby people consciously and conscientiously apply themselves
to important tasks so as to succeed and have a good life. Whilst the proverbs
that promote “humility” also condemn acts of pride and lack of humility, they
at the same time, teach people to be self-disciplined, humble, and not to assign
to themselves, more ability than they have. Furthermore, though most of the
proverbs use images of children, animals and natural phenomena, they all
highlight virtues that affect human beings by teaching people to take a cue
from the animal subjects of the proverbs, to avoid their negative characteristics
but to learn and use the positive ones for success and a good life.
As seen from the foregoing, some of the proverbs in these categories teach
virtues that overlap with other virtues. Thus some proverbs, which teach diligence, can be used to teach humility and vice versa. While some of the proverbs that teach either diligence or humility can be used to teach prudence and/
or sociability, some of those that teach prudence and sociability, as will be analyzed in Chapter 3, can also teach diligence and/or humility. In spite of this
overlap in the virtues, which are taught and learned in the proverbs, it is the
contexts in which the Eʋe peoples apply the proverbs that determine the
meanings of the proverbs and show how ready these folk proverbs are, as
recipient Eʋe plants (trees of life) on to which the ‘shoots’ of the biblical proverbial tree of life can be ‘grafted’. As will be shown later in Chapter 4, the
proverbs that promote “diligence” and “humility” analyzed above (Chapter 2),
and the proverbs that promote “prudence” and “sociability” (analyzed later in
Chapter 3) are considered as parts of the existing African tree of life on to
which biblical proverbs ‘shoots’ can conveniently be ‘grafted’ to promote a better understanding of the biblical message of Proverbs among African peoples
in general and Eʋe peoples of Southeastern Ghana, West Africa, in particular.
In the next chapter, attention will be given to the virtues of “Prudence” and
“Sociability,” which are the other two practical virtues that Proverbs and the
African Tree of Life: Grafting Biblical Proverbs on to Ghanaian Eʋe Folk Proverbs
considers as the full grown African tree of life, which is ready to receive the
‘shoots’ from Proverbs 25–29.
Chapter 3
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability” in Eʋe
Folk Proverbs
3.1
Introduction to “Prudence” and “Sociability”
Chapter 2 presented two of the four major values or virtues, Diligence and
Humility, which are highly cherished by the Eʋe peoples and that are given
expression in Eʋe folk proverbs. In Chapter 3 we present the other two values
or virtues, Prudence and Sociability. These two virtues are also central to Eʋe
life and morality and are part of what this book considers as the African tree of
life on to which ‘shoots’ from the biblical tree of life, Proverbs can be ‘grafted’
to ensure a better understanding of the book of Proverbs in the African Eʋe
cultural context.
In order to elucidate the virtue of prudence, we will examine briefly what is
meant by ‘prudence’ in some other cultural contexts and how this meaning
reflects on its use in the African Ghanaian Eʋe cultural context. In the Greek
moral tradition, phronesis, which is regularly rendered in English as ‘prudence’,
receives its classical analysis from Aristotle, who regards ‘prudence’ as one of
the four cardinal virtues in addition to justice, courage and temperance.
Aristotle defines phronesis as “a truth-attaining rational quality, concerned
with action in relation to things that are good and bad for human beings.”1 This
definition of phronesis—prudence relates it to moral virtues that are either
good or bad. In line with Aristotle’s definition, Lawrence C. Becker and
Charlotte B. Becker have defined “prudence” as “moral Wisdom resulting in
morally correct choices and actions.”2 They regard “prudence,” primarily phronesis, as “practical moral intelligence” “related to other moral values and
ingrained dispositions to act rightly” in accordance with “developed practice.”3
1 Aristotle XIX The Nicomachean Ethics: With an English Translation by Harris Rackham
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press and London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1968), 337,
339. This source compares “Prudence” with “Practical Wisdom” and gives the explanation
that while we can speak of “excellence in Art,” we cannot speak of “excellence in Prudence”
because it is clear that “Prudence is an excellence of virtue and not an Art.”
2 Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker, eds. “Prudence” in Encyclopedia of Ethics vol. 3
P–W Indexes (New York: Routledge, 2001), 1214–1215, 1214.
3 Becker and Becker, eds. “Prudence”, 1214.
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2014 | doi 10.1163/9789004274471_004
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Apart from focusing on Aristotle’s idea of prudence, Becker and Becker also
highlight Thomas Aquinas’ (1225–1274) definition of “prudence” as the “application of right reason to action” and “wisdom about human affairs.”4 In this
latter sense, “prudence” becomes central to the activity of the four cardinal
virtues5 and is considered as their “measure,” “prototype,” “prerequisite” and
“foundation.” Somewhat related to the foregoing, Becker and Becker further
refer to “prudence” or phronesis, as a kind of practical worldly wisdom, that
offers “fiscal responsibility” and “self-interested carefulness.”6 This latter definition of prudence falls in line with what Eʋe folk proverbs project as the practical virtue of prudence. Thus, as a practical virtue, prudence involves being
considerate, judicious and cautious, as well as acting deliberately with one’s
own discretion and in one’s best interest.
3.2
The Virtue of “Prudence”
In the Eʋe language, “prudence” is represented by the words “aɖaŋudzedze,”
“ŋuɖɔɖɔɖo,” “aye,” “nyasa” and “belélé.” The first Eʋe word “aɖaŋudzedze” implies
wisdom in the sense of craftsmanship (i.e., being wise or talented in crafts like
carpentry, masonry, counseling, etc.) The second word “ŋuɖɔɖɔɖo,” which
means “being awake to correction,” suggests being meticulous, extremely careful or treading the thin line in everything one does. The third word “aye” has to
do with “trickery,” but not in a negative sense. Rather it involves knowing how
to make the right decision and to take the appropriate action in every situation. The fourth Eʋe word for “prudence” has to do with the use of the brain
or natural intellectual ability by being knowledgeable or “brainy” in acting
4 See William E. Davie “Being Prudent and Acting Prudently,” in American Philosophical
Quarterly 10 (1973), 57–60. See also Daniel M. Nelson, “Prudence” in Ethics John K. Roth, ed.
(Pasadena, California: Salem Press, Inc., 1994, 2005), 1397–1401. See also Ralph McInerny,
“Prudence and Conscience” in The Thomist 38 (1974), 291–305. See also James F. Keenan,
“The Virtue of Prudence IIa IIae, qq. 47–56” in Stephen J. Pope ed., The Ethics of Aquinas
(Washington, dc: Georgetown Univ. Press, 2002), 259–271. See also Daniel Westberg, Right
Practical Reason: Aristotle, Action, and Prudence in Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press,
1994). See Daniel Mark Nelson, The Priority of Prudence: Virtue and Natural Law in Thomas
Aquinas and the Implications for Modern Ethics (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ.
Press, 1992).
5 The Four Cardinal Virtues on which all other virtues hang, according to St. Thomas Aquinas,
include Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. See Scott P. Richert, The Cardinal
Virtues: The Four Hinges of the Moral Life (about.com Guide). Accessed October, 2013.
6 Becker and Becker, eds. “Prudence,” 1214.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
91
properly. The final word “beléle” refers to taking extra care with something or
some action. The literal meaning of this Eʋe word is, “To hold on to a straw or
a blade of hay.” This final word suggests the carefulness with which the delicate
straw or blade of hay must be handled to prevent it from breaking easily.
These words are not explicitly used in Eʋe folk proverbs to explain the virtue
of prudence but their meanings are implied in the application contexts of several Eʋe folk proverbs. Among the Eʋe peoples the idea of ‘prudence’ involves
the careful use of the brain or natural intelligence, and physical talents of
craftsmanship. It must be noted here that although, some of the proverbs analyzed in this chapter teach prudence as a dominant value or virtue, they can
also teach other virtues (e.g., diligence, humility and/or sociability) when performed in other contexts.
3.2.a Better-Than Proverbs
Several Eʋe proverbs, have the form of “better than” (nyo wu) sayings, which are
analogous to the Hebrew “tōb-mîn” proverbs known from biblical poetry. These
proverbs reflect the value that Eʋe peoples place on the practical virtue of prudence. Each of the proverbs compares two situations, a positive and a negative,
and declares one situation to be ‘better than’ the other.
Proverb 1: Avu gbagbe nyo wu dzata kuku. (Dzobo, # 186).
Translation 1: A live dog is better than a dead lion.
Proverb 2: Nyi ɖiku nyo wu lãxɔ gbɔlo. (Dzobo, # 190).
Translation 2: A lean cow is better than an empty kraal.7
Proverb 3: Vivɔ̃ nyo wu kotsitsi. (Dzobo, # 187).
Translation 3: To be the [parent] of a delinquent child is better than being
[childless].8
Proverb 4: Avɔ nɔ amesi nyo wu trenɔnɔ. (Dzobo, # 189).
Translation 4: To be married to a woman who cannot make a good wife
(i.e., a second rate woman) is better than remaining a bachelor.
7 A kraal refers to the pen house or stall, where animals are kept before they are taken to the
slaughter house.
8 The Ganda (Uganda) proverb, “An ugly child of your own is more to you than a beautiful one
belonging to your neighbor” (see http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/g/
ganda_proverb/178595.htm Accessed October, 2013) is another rendering of the above
proverb and can be applied to similar situations..
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While the Eʋe Proverbs 1 and 2 above speak about animals, Proverbs 3 and 4
speak about human beings. Both sets of proverbs, however, teach practical
moral lessons that can be applied to human situations. In Proverbs 1 and 2,
comparisons are drawn between a live dog and a dead lion, and a lean cow and
an empty kraal, respectively. In both proverbs, an existing less desirable condition is considered as more desirable or better than a more desirable but nonexistent condition. The more powerful lion, considered as the king of the
animals, is more respected by the Eʋe peoples than a dog. However, if the lion
is dead, of what use is it? The more useful animal in this proverb will be the live
dog. Proverb 1 can be used for people, who have high qualifications, or wield a
lot of power, but lack prudence and are unable to use their authority or power
for good and are content with mediocrity by merely filling positions that do
not fit their qualifications.
The lean cow mentioned in Proverb 2 is not the most desirable since it cannot produce much meat, milk or hide. However, if a person has no cow in the
kraal to produce milk, hide, or meat, he is better off having a lean cow. This
proverb can be used to teach people, who have a limited amount of, for example, formal education, professional training, degree of knowledge about life
but, who are never content with their lot. They are prudent with what they
have and make the most of it since they are better placed than those who do
not have as much or who have nothing at all.
Proverbs 3 and 4 describe a delinquent child as better-than childlessness,
and marrying a woman, who cannot make a good wife, as better than having
no wife at all. In the Eʋe community delinquent children are seen as social
misfits but being childless is even worse since childlessness is considered as
blocking the chance of or preventing ancestors from reincarnating. The social
classification of the role of the wife makes the woman who cannot make a
good wife “bad,” yet the woman can still offer companionship, which is better
than remaining single. Proverb 4 is one of the few proverbs in Eʋe, which name
a female as its subject. Another proverb with a female subject is “Nyɔnu
dzetugbe ɖe mesa gbolo zuna o,”9 which means, “A beautiful woman can easily
turn into a prostitute.” These two proverbs paint negative pictures of the
women described in them which reflects the patriarchal nature of African Eʋe
society. These negative descriptions of females show that the virtues that are
9 See Dzobo, African Proverbs: The Moral Value of Ewe Proverbs Vol. 1 (Cape Coast, Ghana: Univ.
of Cape Coast Dept. of Education, 1973), 79–80. Dzobo explains this proverb as a caution
against beautiful appearances in general. Dzobo’s explanation of his proverb #183 that a
beautiful woman easily becomes a prostitute above is fallacious because there are many
beautiful women who are not and do not turn into prostitutes.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
93
cherished in African Eʋe society are seen via a male-dominated lens. Another
proverb, which does not mention a woman but does so by implication is,
“Evedzila memlɔa axa ɖeka dzi o.”10 This proverb means, “The “birth-er” of
twins does not lie on one side.” Dzobo uses a neuter pronoun (i.e., the “birther”/the one who gives birth to), and this is used in the above translation. Since
it is women who give birth it can be concluded that this is a third proverb in
Dzobo’s collection of proverbs which refers to women. Proverbs 3 and 4 above
can apply, metaphorically, to several other situations, for example, to teach
people to be prudent by looking positively on whatever they have, no matter
how little it might be and not to crave for what they cannot have. All the above
four “better-than” proverbs can be explained by the English sayings, “A bird
in hand is better than two in the bush” and also as “Half a loaf is better
than none.”11
3.2.b Transience of the Human Condition
Another set of proverbs which promote the virtue of prudence implicitly talk
about the transience of the human condition. In the Eʋe community, while
some people see their current success as permanent and are proud of it, other
people act prudently. The latter do not take things for granted but rather see
occurrences in life as neither permanent nor static. For the latter, life is dynamic
and has several different phases that must be taken seriously.
Proverb 1: Adetagbatsu be xexeame le ŋgɔ gale megbe hã. (Dzobo, # 85).
Translation 1: The big housefly says, “The world [i.e. life] is in front and
also behind.”
Proverb 2: Xexeame la agama gbalẽ wònye. (Dzobo, # 86).
Translation 2: The world [i.e., time] is [like] the skin of a chameleon.
Proverb 3: Womekafua ŋkeke le ŋdi o. (Dzobo # 193).
Translation 3: The day is not declared beautiful in the morning.
10
11
Dzobo, African Proverbs, proverb #73, p. 44. This translation is different from Dzobo’s but
he is credited with unraveling the implicit part of the proverb by adding that “while she is
in bed with the twin children.” Twins are believed to act together on instinct so that if one
wants to suck their mother’s breasts, the other also wants to suck it at the same time. As
such, their mother must lie down flat on her back with the twins sucking her breasts from
both her sides. This avoids her being partial and as Dzobo explains it, the proverb can be
used “to warn people against discriminatory practices.”
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 80–82.
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Chapter 3
Proverb 4: Ŋdi menyona na ame wokoa nu o. (Dzobo # 192).
Translation 4: You do not rejoice because the morning is good for you.
Proverb 5: Đetsɔ̃ evi meɖia ŋdi ƒo dzɔa dzi o. (Dzobo # 191).
Translation 5: The orphan does not rejoice after a heavy breakfast.12
Proverbs 1 and 2 explicitly speak about the “world,” which implies life or time,
while the remaining three (3–5) make reference to the morning, and some
human evaluations of the morning. Proverbs 1 and 2 by implication teach that
“no condition is permanent” but that every condition can change. When the
“big housefly” (Proverb 1) perches on something, it rubs its fore legs and then
its hind legs together, alternately on to the surface of that thing, e.g., food, filthy
things or places; in fact everything it perches on. The big housefly’s action is
taken as an indication that the world is both behind and before.13 This proverb
teaches the virtue of prudence: people should have both foresight and hindsight and not settle for one thing.
Proverb 2 is a metaphor that compares the world, life and time, to the skin
of a chameleon.14 Among the Eʋe peoples, children playing often observe the
skin of the chameleon changing color according to its environment. This proverb indicates that situations in life are dictated by their contexts. Thus people
must be prudent and act accordingly.
Proverbs 3–5 speak about the morning and some human judgments about
the initial hours of the day. These proverbs teach people to be prudent by acting promptly at daybreak, when the sun is bright, since the weather can easily
change in the course of the day. People who are fortunate particularly early in
life, should not be over-confident that things will remain the same forever. This
is illustrated by an orphan who begins to rejoice after eating a full breakfast; he
is cautioned not to rejoice after breakfast because there is no certainty about
the next meal which might never come. The proverb, apart from teaching the
orphan to be prudent, also warns people not to assess initial successes with
excessive optimism.15
12
13
14
15
Contrast the Fulani proverb, “A satisfied person does not know what a hungry one feels
like.” See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/f/fulani_proverb/178588
.htm Accessed October, 2013. This proverb teaches prudence as well as sociability so that
those who have should not take advantage of those who do not have. The proverb shows
the selfishness or callousness of a person who is self-sufficient and cares less about the
plight of others.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 48.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 49.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 82.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
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Another proverb, which teaches prudence but has a logic that contrasts
with the five proverbs above is, “Ha be ŋdi tsie nye tsi,” meaning, “The pig says,
‘The morning rain is the best’.” This proverb teaches the virtue of prudence by
using the pig to praise a condition of life. Since the pig’s skin gets hot in the
heat of the sun, when the morning rain comes before the sun heats up both the
pig’s body and the water in which it wallows, the morning rain is refreshing
for the pig. This proverb teaches people to act prudently at every given moment
by making the most use of opportunities at their disposal. The proverb also
teaches diligence as was shown in Chapter 2 above. As Dzobo correctly
expresses it: the morning, believed to be the best time for doing things, refers
to success in early life.16 Even though success can be attained early in life,
­people should not generalize initial successes or draw conclusions based on
partial evidence because the human condition is unstable and uncertain.17
All these proverbs teach people to act prudently and not to be over-­confident
as their current condition may change suddenly. The world and time are likened to the good or bad things that happen in human life. The human condition is not static, rather dynamic; people need to be ready to make adjustments
and to adapt to change. A poor person who is being oppressed by a rich person
can address these proverbs to a rich person to teach the latter to be prudent by
being aware that riches may provide temporary happiness, but circumstances
can change and the rich can become poor at any moment. The proverbs can
also be used to encourage the poor that their condition can change for the better. These proverbs can be applied to people in good circumstances (like married people) or those who have achieved some success in life and who look
down on the unmarried or less successful. The proverbs can also apply to a
clever student who does not respect fellow students, or a successful business
man or woman who despises the less fortunate in business or people who find
themselves in difficult circumstances. People who condemn those who are
considered as failures by society’s standards can be taught by these proverbs to
be prudent in assessing both sides of an issue and to be prepared either for
change or to adjust to situations18 since seeming success or happiness can turn
into failures or sad situations and vice versa at any time.
16
17
18
Dzobo, African Proverbs, proverb #157, pp. 48–49, 82 and 157. Another proverb “Di be ŋdi
gbe yedea ami.” (Dzobo # 156) This proverb means, “The bush rat says, ‘The morning grass
is juicy’” and is similar to Dzobo # 157 about the pig and the morning rain. Both proverbs
can be used to admonish people to make the best use of time and not procrastinate.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 82.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 71.
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3.2.c Act-Consequence
As shown earlier in Chapter 2, many Eʋe proverbs promote diligence and humility
by using a retributive, or act-consequence logic. Indeed, among the Eʋe peoples,
“There is no smoke without fire” or vice versa. There is always some explanation
for things that happen in life. In the following proverbs, the importance of listening to and heeding advice are highlighted: paying attention to advice promotes
the wellbeing of those who act accordingly but those people in the community
who lack prudence because they refuse to heed advice are destroyed.
Proverb 1: Nyaseto menye abaka o. (Dzobo # 93).
Translation 1: The ear that heeds words of advice is not as big as a
basket.
Proverb 2: Tɔ-gbe-mase, nɔ-gbe-mase, agɔbayae ɖia ame. (Dzobo, # 94).19
Translation 2: The child who refuses to heed the warnings of his or her
parents is buried with branches of the fan palm.
Proverb 3: Vi masenu aŋɔkae kua to nɛ. (Dzobo, # 96).
Translation 3: The ear of the disobedient child is always pulled by a vine
thorn.
Proverb 4: Wɔ baɖa ku baɖae wua ame. (Dzobo, # 95).
Translation 4: If you live recklessly (immorally), you always end up with a
disgraceful death.
These four proverbs speak about the importance of listening and obedience.
Proverb 1, via a simple metaphor, compares the ear to a basket, which can be
filled with things (implied), but the human ear can never be filled with words
of counsel. By implication, although, a big basket can be filled with goods, the
small ear hears many things but it can never be filled with counsel or advice.
This proverb teaches people to be prudent by heeding advice. For instance, a
young man or woman who plans to marry, but refuses to take advice from
those who are married about how to find a good partner and succeed in marriage, can be taught by this proverb to heed advice to choose the right partner
for a successful marriage.
Proverbs 2 and 3 are similar. While in Proverb 2 a disobedient child dies a
shameful death, in Proverb 3, when a child refuses to take advice, his or
her ears are pulled by a vine thorn. Both proverbs refer to the disastrous
19
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 51–52.
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97
consequences of failing to listen to or obey parents or adults. The proverbs
teach people to be prudent by following wise advice to avoid self-destruction
or disaster. The message of Proverbs 2 and 3 can be directed to children and
anyone who refuses to obey instructions or to heed advice. Since obedience is
a virtue in traditional society, disobedient children are never given decent
burials, with flowers and words of praise rather they get disrespectful burials
with the harsh branches of the fan palm.20
The images used in these proverbs point to how Eʋe society judges negatively those who lack prudence in their dealings with other people regardless
of age or social status. These proverbs can be used for a persistent thief or a
notoriously disrespectful person who is advised to desist from inappropriate
behavior but who refuses and disregards or flaunts the authority of the chief
and traditional rulers who oversee the norms of the community. People who
commit shameful acts in the community can be addressed by these proverbs
to teach them to be prudent, by following the rules laid down by the society
and thus avoid being disgraced or punished.
Proverb 4 shows that when people do evil it can result in a tragic death.
Though this explanation may not necessarily be true, or proved by empirical
fact (since many bad people seem to live fairly long lives), in Eʋe society, acts
normally go together with consequences. This proverb is used to deter people
from doing evil; it encourages people to be prudent in their actions to avoid
tragic consequences. All the proverbs and their explanations in the foregoing
section are similar to and can be related to o the Nyanja, Mozambique,
Zimbabwe, Zambia proverb, which says, “A child or youth, who does not listen
to an elder’s advice, gets his leg broken.”21
3.2.d Assessing Abilities
As we have discussed in Chapter 2, a number of Eʋe folk proverbs teach the
virtue of humility through the assessment of a person’s abilities. Similarly, a
number of proverbs teach the virtue of prudence through the assessment of
one’s abilities. Though some of these proverbs are discussed under “humility” in
Chapter 2, the proverbs in this section are used to teach ‘prudence’. When the
20
21
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 51–52.
See Afriprov.org/index.php/African-proverb-of-the-month, August, 2007. Similarly, the
Kenya, Tanzania, Ngoreme proverbs, “If you refuse the advice of an elder, you will walk
until sunset” (see http://www.afriprov.org/index.php/african-proverb-of-the-month/30
-2004proverbs/200-apr2004.html Accessed October, 2013) and “If you refuse the elder’s
advice, you will walk the whole day” (see http://www.afriprov.org/index.php/african
-proverb-of-the-month/26-2000proverbs/152-march2000.html. Accessed October, 2013)
can be used to explain the above proverbs and can be applied similarly.
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proverb is explained primarily as the virtue of prudence, the idea of humility is
not lost because the two virtues, humility and prudence, are closely related.
Proverb 1: Asi tu nyẽde metua agɔɖɔ o. (Dzobo # 13).22
Translation 1: The hand can be used to pull the tender branch of the date
palm, but cannot be used to pullout the tender branch of the fan palm.
Proverb 2: Vi dzronu medzroa golo ƒe azi o. (Dzobo # 7).
Translation 2: A child can crave certain things but cannot crave the egg of
an ostrich.
Proverb 3: Avu lénu meléa dzata o. (Dzobo # 4).
Translation 3: A dog can catch some animals but it cannot catch a lion.
Proverb 4: Avu ɖuƒu meɖua ga o. (Dzobo # 5).
Translation 4: A dog can break bones but cannot break a piece of iron
[copper coins/money].
Proverb 5: Xe ƒonu meƒoa tɔmelo o. (Dzobo # 6).
Translation 5: A predatory bird can prey on some animals but it cannot
prey on the crocodile.
In each of these proverbs, two seemingly similar yet different tasks are
described one of which is easier than the other and one more difficult or even
impossible. Proverbs 1 and 2 speak about the actions of the human hand and
a child. Proverbs 3–5 refer to actions by animals (a dog in Proverbs 3 and 4, and
a bird, in Proverb 5).
Proverb 1 compares pulling leaves from the tender date palm branch to the
pulling of rough and harsh branches of the fan palm by hand. The leaves of the
date palm are tender, with single easy-to-handle leaves but those of the fan palm,
as its name implies, are tightly connected to each other in the shape of a fan with
very tough rough edges and a surface which makes it difficult to handle.
In Proverb 2, a child can crave certain things but definitely not the egg of an
ostrich. The ostrich is wild and very protective of its eggs; any threat to its eggs
is a threat to the life of the ostrich, which causes it to swoop down angrily on
its victim. In Proverbs 3 and 4, whereas a hunting dog can easily catch some
animals and break bones, the dog does not dare catch a lion or break iron,
22
This proverb is used to illustrate “humility” in Chapter 2. It is used here to teach the practical virtue of “prudence.”
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
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copper coins.23 Similarly, in Proverb 5, though a predatory bird can catch some
animals, it dares not venture to prey on the crocodile. Metaphorically, these
proverbs teach people to be prudent in the performance of tasks by doing only
what lies within their capabilities and not attempting to perform impossible
tasks, which might even be fatal.
All these five proverbs can be used in a variety of situations to teach the
value of prudence. For instance, a child who killed an earthworm or small
insect should not boast of the ability to kill a snake or a wasp as easily. The latter tasks are very dangerous because the child can be bitten by the snake or
stung by the wasp. Thus an apprentice, who thinks he or she can take on the
role of the trainer, can fail due to the lack of technical experience or knowledge. The child or apprentice can be taught by these proverbs to be prudent by
not taking on responsibilities for which they are not qualified.
These proverbs can also be used for people who inflate their abilities to run
large businesses because they have been successful in smaller scale commerce.
The proverbs teach such people to be prudent in assessing their abilities.
Though Dzobo does not state that these proverbs are specifically about prudence, he recognizes that they are about prudence when he talks about the
importance of “accepting one’s power and acting within limits” by avoiding
“excessive ambition.”24 Comparable English sayings can be “Cut your coat
according to your cloth” or “Do not bite more than you can chew.”
The following three Eʋe folk proverbs, which also have the act-consequence
logic, also teach people to be prudent in carefully assessing their capabilities
for doing things.
Proverb 1: Dadi metsana lã ƒuƒui si o. (Dzobo # 201).
Translation 1: A cat does not go into meat or dried fish trade.
Proverb 2: Avɔ vuvutɔ mewɔa dzre o. (Dzobo # 202).
Translation 2: A person in tattered clothes does not enter into a fight.
Proverb 3: Ɖetifudola medzona toa dzo ŋgɔ o. (Dzobo # 152).
Translation 3: The one who is clothed in cotton wool does not hover or
jump over a flame.
23
24
The Eʋe word “ga” can have multiple meanings. It can refer to iron or any kind of metal as
well as to money (i.e., minted copper coins).
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 21–22. Furthermore, if people give heed to these proverbs and
are not overly ambitious, they will be spared the pains of “unfulfilled and unrealized
aspirations.”
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These three proverbs do not have an over-arching connection except that they
implicitly teach people to be prudent in assessing their capabilities before taking certain actions.
In Proverb 1, since the cat loves meat and dried fish, if it attempts to trade in
meat or dried fish the business will collapse because the cat will eat his own
merchandise. The cat’s weakness works against the success of this trade venture and it must be prudent by not engaging in such a trade.
Proverbs 2 and 3 refer to wearing tattered clothes (Proverb 2) and clothing
made of cotton (Proverb 3). The person who wears the former does not enter a
fight, while the person who wears the latter does not jump over an open flame of
fire. Whereas in Proverb 2, if the person enters a fight, the tattered clothes will be
completely torn to shreds, and the person will be stripped naked and disgraced,
in Proverb 3, if the person in cotton clothes tries to jump over the fire, the cotton
clothes will catch fire and both the clothing and person would be burnt.
All these three proverbs can be applied in similar situations to teach people
to be prudent, to know their own limitations and avoid doing things that pinpoint their weaknesses. Metaphorically, people undertaking a new project
must assess it to ensure they have the capability to follow through with it to
avoid being disgraced for lack of ability to follow it through (Proverb 1), or for
the complete failure of the project (Proverb 2). A student, who is not serious
with his studies, a teacher, doctor, farmer or any professional who is careless
about work, or a person who is not ready for marriage or adult life can all be
advised by these proverbs. In these instances, the proverbs teach them to be
prudent in assessing their abilities to avoid failure. As Dzobo expresses this:
people should not foolishly advertise or underestimate their weaknesses, but
they must assess and protect them realistically.25
3.2.e Appropriate Reactions to Situations
In the Eʋe community, it is always advisable for people to act prudently according to prevailing circumstances since inappropriate actions can be seen as lack
of feelings for other members of the community, being inconsiderate or rebellious against authority. The following Eʋe folk proverbs which also teach prudence can be applied metaphorically in a number of contexts.
Proverb 1: Avi metsoa agbleta wodzɔa dzi o. (Dzobo # 1).
Translation 1: You do not rejoice when you see people arrive from the
farm weeping.
25
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 85. See pp. 69–70 for Dzobo’s explanation of Proverb 4 above
suggests that people should not foolishly expose themselves to things that will ruin them.
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Proverb 2: Ketiba medona wodoa dzaa nɛ o. (Dzobo # 2).
Translation 2: You do not welcome gladly a bundle made of mats.
Proverb 3: Womekpɔa tsiɖoɖo trɔa zɔme tɔ ƒua gbe o. (p.e.).
Translation 3: You do not throw out the water in your pot when you see
rain clouds gathering.
Proverb 4: Đe wokpɔa nyɔnu hafi ɖoa aba. (p.e.).
Translation 4: You must find a woman before you lay the bed.26
In Eʋe communities an alarm is raised by crying or beating the gong-gong,27 a
twin-tubed metal with two openings at one end and a closed end where the
two tubes are connected to each other. The chief instructs the town-crier to
beat the gong-gong, which can be likened to a fire alarm or siren to call the
whole township to attention and people become very alert whether they are at
home or on their farms. Important announcements about mishaps (usually a
death or some disaster) or issues that need immediate attention are relayed by
the gong-gong, which summons people to the chief’s palace. The action of a
person who refuses to respond to the gong-gong or who laughs or rejoices at
the sound of the gong-gong is seen as inhuman.
When people come from the farm crying it is an indication that there has
been some mishap like a death by snake-bite, a falling tree has killed someone,
or someone must have fallen from a tree to death. The death might also be by
murder or someone who was mauled by a wild animal or suicide by hanging on
a tree in the farm. Proverb 1, therefore, warns against rejoicing when people
return from the farm crying. Similarly, in Proverb 2, if a bundle of raffia mat (a
type of mat made of grass in which dead bodies/corpses of people who died on
the farm or did not die “naturally” are wrapped) comes to the town from the
farm, it is not welcomed. Proverbs 1 and 2 can be used in similar contexts to
teach people to be prudent by acting appropriately according to prevailing
situations or circumstances.
These proverbs are used for people who rejoice over the misfortune of
others. When a person returns from facing the traditional council, is
depressed or looks unhappy, this proverb can be used to teach observers to
be prudent and not ridicule or laugh at the person, who may have been punished. Similarly, when people return to the village from the city or overseas
26
27
Dzobo lists only three proverbs about women in his work. This proverb about finding a
woman before laying the bed is from my own personal experience.
This is a kind of a local siren or fire alarm.
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looking unhappy, they probably have bad news and those at home should
act prudently with sensitivity to the situation. These proverbs can also be
used when a letter or message about the death of someone abroad or in
another house or family has been delivered to the person’s family. This proverb teaches friends and neighbors to be sensitive to the feelings of the
bereaved families as they mourn their loss. In another instance, if traditional
birth attendants come out of a delivery chamber with sad faces, those waiting for the good news of the birth of a new baby should act prudently by not
rejoicing since a stillbirth has probably taken place or the mother, or both
mother and child have died.
Unlike the grave situations described in Proverbs 1 and 2, which teach the
virtue of prudence, through reacting appropriately to deaths or unfortunate
events in the Eʋe community, Proverbs 3 and 4 are more light-hearted. Yet they
also teach the virtue of prudence by speaking about anticipated actions and
the result of lack of prudence in certain situations. In Proverb 3, when rain
clouds begin to gather, it is normally an indication that there will be rain.
Sometimes, however, the wind blows the rain clouds away and the weather
clears up and it does not rain: the proverbs teach people to be prudent by not
acting irrationally.
In Proverb 4, if a person wishes to make love with another person, there
must be prior agreement or arrangement to ensure that both parties are in
agreement. Lack of prior preparation or working on assumptions lacks prudence. In this instance, people must be prudent by ensuring that they understand situations before they react to them so as to avoid senseless emotional
reaction to events.28 The proverbs teach people to be prudent by being sensitive to situations confronting them or others. Proverbs 3 and 4 can be
explained by the English saying, “Do not count your chicks before they
are hatched.” since you cannot know how many of the eggs, will produce
live chicks.
Apart from the literal applications of these proverbs, they can also be
used metaphorically. Proverbs 3 and 4 can be used to teach people to be
prudent and not take chances. People must be careful not to discard what
they have before they have what they want or anticipate getting. The proverbs can also be used for people, who do away with their old friends because
they have found new friends, who they think are better than the old ones,
only to find out that the new friends are not friends at all. Similarly, a person
who divorces his or her spouse because they have found someone new or
someone who has been promised a better paid job and resigns from the old
28
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 19.
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job but does not get the new job can be told this proverb to teach them that
their actions lacked prudence. These proverbs can teach prudence to people
who have no respect for parents, siblings, family, culture and who think that
a foster family or foreign culture is better. The proverb teaches them to be
prudent, by giving respect to whom and what they have since what they
think is ideal or better than their own may fall short of the ideal. These proverbs teach people to act prudently as they do not know what the future
holds. The proverbs can be explained by the English saying, “All that glitters
is not gold.”
3.2.f Adjustment to Change
Prudence demands that people should have wisdom to know how to adjust to
changing conditions. The following five proverbs teach this lesson vividly. Life
in the Eʋe community is prevented from being monotonous by activities that
promote change from time to time.
Proverb 1: ʋutɔtrɔ ŋue wotrɔa ɣeɖuɖu ɖo. (Dzobo, # 20).
Translation 1: You change your steps according to the change in the
rhythm of the drum.
Proverb 2: Tukpee fia aʋadzedze ame. (Dzobo, # 127).
Translation 2: Flying bullets teach you how to deploy your troops.29
Proverb 3: Yatsie fia xɔmɔnu ɖeƒe ame. (Dzobo, # 126).
Translation 3: The rainstorm indicates the position of the door of
a house.
Proverb 4: Ta meɖua ame woƒoa tsi klo o. (Dzobo 128).
Translation 4: When you have a headache you do not offer the knee for a
treatment.
Proverb 5: Womeɖoa sisi gadɔa alɔ̃ o. (Dzobo # 151).
Translation 5: You do not go to sleep when you plan to escape.
Drumming and dancing, the images of Proverb 1 are major sources of entertainment and very important pastimes that are learned and cultivated among
Eʋe peoples. In this pastime, both the drummers and dancers are quick to
29
Proverbs 2 and 5 have already been treated in Chapter 2 under “diligence” but they are
used here to teach prudence.
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know when they should change the beats or the rhythm of the drum music as
well as their steps accordingly. As the drummers play the music the dancers are
alert for the rhythm of the drum that gives them the cue to move their steps in
another direction.30 Metaphorically, the proverb teaches people to be prudent
and make adjustments that conform to circumstances. Proverb 1 can even
refer to prudence in dressing up for either a special or an ordinary occasion.
The attire for church, for dancing, for performing house chores, for farming all
differ according to the importance of the occasion.
Proverb 2 emerges from military life and personifies how “bullets” are
deployed in the defensive in a battle. In Proverb 2, the direction of the offensive, enemy gun-shots or arrows show which way to launch the defensive.
Proverbs 1 and 2 teach similar lessons. As Dzobo suggests, there are no general
fixes or solutions to problems because the solutions to problems are determined by the nature of the problems.31
By contrast to Proverbs 1 and 2, Proverb 3 is from the domestic sphere and
is a saying to heed when building a house. It teaches that to prevent rain water
from entering your room in a rain storm, the main door of the house must be
positioned in the opposite direction away from the storms. Although, when
taken literally, Proverb 3 offers a piece of important practical wisdom, in a new
context, it can be used like Proverbs 1 and 2 to teach prudence. Proverb 3 can
be applied for understanding how to handle new and diverse situations. These
three proverbs can be applied to every venture in life, business, education, economics, to teach people to be prudent by knowing the best action to take in
any particular situation since there is no single tailored one-fits-all action.
Unlike Proverbs 1–3, which are positive statements, Proverbs 4 and 5, which
speak about not treating the knee when you have a headache and not going to
sleep when you plan to escape, are negative statements. Proverbs 4 and 5, like
the earlier three proverbs (1–3), teach prudence through setting priorities and
taking actions appropriate to each situation to achieve success. Proverb 4 can
be applied to a person who is not prudent when dealing with a problem or a
negative trait like excessive drinking by refusing to deal with it despite warnings. Proverb 4 can be used to admonish people to tackle problems directly by
not being evasive. Thus, a young man or woman, who misuses his or her body
and fails to heed advice, a parent who refuses to rebuke his or her children for
30
31
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 24. Changing dancing steps according to the rhythm of the leading drum teaches people to conduct themselves according to changing circumstances
and not to be unreasonably rigid in their thinking and behavior.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 60–61 and 69.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
105
wrong deeds but always points to other people’s children who are worse, a
weak student who refuses to study but always blames the teacher, a lazy worker
who blames the tools and other people, can all be taught by these proverbs to
be prudent and take responsibility for their actions. Proverb 5 can be applied
to anyone who plans to undertake a challenging task like marriage, farming, or
some profession, but who becomes lazy to teach them to be prudent by being
intentional about their plans and not to turn away from the vision. Thus
Proverbs 4 and 5 teach people to be prudent in addressing the real issues facing them by not playing the “blame game” or dodging responsibility. All five
proverbs, therefore, teach people to respond prudently according to the
demands of the situations in which they find themselves.32
Two other proverbs that speak about the importance of prudence are:
Proverb 1: Đe wokplɔa agbadzi hafi kplɔa anyigba. (Dzobo, # 101).
Translation 1: You [sweep] the ceiling before you [sweep] the floor.
Proverb 2: Womedzena le fɔ̃ ŋuti va sia de o. (Dzobo # 102).
Translation 2: You cannot cut the oil palm fruit without first cutting the
branches (that protect them).
In the Eʋe community, one of the household chores of children includes
sweeping and they are taught by their parents and carers to sweep the ceiling
before they sweep the floor so as not to dirty the ceiling with the dirt from
the floor or dirty the floor with the soot and other dirt that might fall from
the ceiling. This situation is mirrored in Proverb 1. Metaphorically, the proverb speaks about the importance of being prudent in setting priorities in life.
Proverb 2 has a similar meaning. Before the farmer can physically reach the
juicy fruits which are held together in single palm “heads” which grow bigger
than the head of a human being and are embedded between the branches and
trunk of the palm tree, he must be prudent to first remove the palm branches.
In context, Proverbs 1 and 2 teach people to be prudent but they also have
secondary metaphorical meanings: these two proverbs teach prudence by
warning people to set priorities in whatever they do by taking the necessary
initial steps before taking other supporting steps. These proverbs can be used,
for example, for a person, who plans to marry but who avoids pre-marital and
engagement counseling. Similarly, someone who walks into another’s property
without prior consultation with the property owner can be told this proverb to
teach them respect for the property owner; lack of prudence can mean trouble
32
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 61.
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for the trespasser. Members of a traditional society must visualize the seriousness of problems and work out appropriate solutions; to over or under-­estimate
a problem is a serious defect.33
3.2.g Rifts
One major aim of the Eʋe community is to promote prudence by which people
can adapt to situations of conflict. In spite of this overarching aim, instances of
misunderstanding and petty rifts do occur among members of the community.
These rifts are often connected with jealousies in regard to class, status, gender
and age. Normally, nothing can be done practically to remove these rifts. Eʋe
proverbs acknowledge and address this aspect of community life. The following
proverbs speak about these rifts; they are not concerned with mending those
relationships, but teaching people to be prudent and to recognize that some
social relationships will be difficult. These proverbs personify animals, a common feature of Eʋe folk proverbs. The proverbs use their typical behaviors to
comment on and evaluate human society. Proverbs in this category can also be
used to teach sociability though with a slightly different application context.
Proverb 1: Koklovi ƒe nya medzɔna le aʋakowo de o. (Dzobo # 137).
Translation 1: A chick is never declared innocent in the court [land] of
the hawks (because hawks prey on chicken).34
Proverb 2: Bliku ƒe nya medzɔna le koklowo de o. (Dzobo # 138).
Translation 2: Corn [lit., a seed of maize] is never declared innocent in the
court [land] of the chicken [because chicken feed on corn].
Proverb 3: Adoglo be mɔtonɔlae dzeasi eƒe futɔ. (Dzobo, # 172).
Translation 3: The lizard says that “you know your enemy by resting at the
road side.”
Proverb 4: Adoglo be agbe ɖe wò vena le yeŋu eyata yeme ƒuna dzo lãlẽ o.
(Dzobo # 148).
Translation 4: The lizard says, “Life is precious to him and so he does not
sunbathe.”
33
34
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 53–54. According to Dzobo, these proverbs teach the need
for doing things according to specific procedures.
Cf., the Fante proverb, “A poor man [person] cannot win a court case,” which teaches the
value of community relations/sociability, can also be used in similar contexts as the Eʋe
proverbs. See Golka, The Leopard’s Spots p. 62.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
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Proverb 5: Đaɖi be nue le yeŋu eyata yemedzea atilɔ dzi o. (Dzobo # 196).
Translation 5: The partridge says, “People always speak evil of her and so
she does not rest on twigs.”35
It is natural for hawks to swoop on chickens just as it is natural for chickens
to peck at corn for food. The hawk and the chicken must eat to survive and
the chicken and corn are their means of survival. Proverbs 1 and 2 build on
an understanding of this natural state of affairs and add a legal metaphor –
the court – to justify it. As with all folk proverbs, the literal meanings of the
sayings give way to a metaphorical application. Proverbs 1 and 2 can be used
to describe people with bitter hatred between them; nothing done by the
one pleases the other. This enmity can be between step children from an
earlier marriage and children from a current marriage who share the same
father or mother. The children of the current marriage might feel or enjoy
some privileges that their step siblings might not and this makes the deprived
children angry with the privileged children. In such a situation nothing the
latter do appeases the former. Similarly, the children from the earlier marriage can also feel deprived of their privileges for being younger than their
step siblings and so nothing their older step siblings do ever appeals to them.
The proverbs can also be applied to two students, one of whom is favored by
the teacher while the other is not. Someone in a position of authority who
feels intimidated by a subordinate can turn his or her anger on the subordinate, so that the boss never sees anything good in what the subordinate does.
In spite of the difficulty of the relationship, people must be prudent and
learn to co-exist.
Proverbs 3 and 4 speak about lizards and the value they place on their lives.
In the Eʋe cultural context, lizards particularly the large orange-headed male
agama lizards, and the female grey ones, are often seen chasing each other on
walls or on the ground in people’s compounds or across the street. When children see these lizards, they throw stones or slings at them and this makes the
lizards run very fast. Apart from the lizards’ lives being in danger from the
stones thrown at them, they are even in more danger if they are found resting
on a wall. In this instance, the lizards become aware of their enemies, either
35
Cf., the Wolof proverb, which says, “The partridge loves peas, but not those that go
into the pot with it”. See www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_wolof
_proverb/73112.htm Accessed October, 2013. The way that people speak evil of the partridge is to boil it in the pot with peas, that is why it is very careful not to rest on twigs
where it can become easy game for hunters.
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children at play or other predators. Similarly, the partridge of Proverb 5, whose
delicious meat is prized by the Eʋe peoples, is careful not to “rest” too long
on tree branches, where it can be vulnerable to those who “speak evil” of the
partridge, who are the hunters who catch or kill it for food. Both proverbs can
be applied in similar situations.
All the foregoing proverbs teach people to be prudent and avoid stepping on
the toes of others, lest the aggrieved people should lash back at them. Though
the proverbs do not bring about any change or foster reconciliation between
enemies, they create awareness of rifts in the community. These proverbs teach
prudence by suggesting that since life is very precious it must not foolishly be
exposed to danger.36 People must act prudently so that they do not fall into the
traps of their enemies. These proverbs can be used for people who are careless
about their work or about life in general to teach them to be prudent in whatever they do.
The application contexts of Proverbs 3–5 are similar. The lesson of prudence learned in these proverbs is given expression in the Eʋe proverb, which
says, “Koklo[tsu] be vɔvɔ̃ e nye agbe.”37 This proverb means, “The cock says,
‘Fear is live’.” In the Eʋe community, country chickens are very common. They
can be seen scratching for worms, red/white ants and other things for food.
When country chickens see people coming toward them, they begin to run as
fast as they can away from the people because they are always afraid that if
people catch them, they would be slaughtered. Hence an observation of the
action of the country chickens running away from people is interpreted as
their saying, “Fear is life,” which means running away in fear from people is to
remain alive. This proverb teaches prudence by suggesting that “there is time
to show bravery and time to be afraid by retreating cautiously from dangerous
situations.”38 When the parents of children from two families are not on good
terms with each other, their children, who try to enter into a relationship can
be cautioned by these proverbs. In such an instance, the proverbs would
admonish the children to be prudent with their relationship with each other so
as not to worsen the already strained relationship between their parents. For
example, if the parents of a young man do not like the parents of the young
woman he wants to date or vice versa, these children can be taught to be prudent in their relationship with each other since their relationship might never
work out because of the rift between their parents.
36
37
38
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 68 and 76.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, Proverb #34, p. 30.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 30.
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3.3
109
The Virtue of “Sociability”
In an attempt to deal with the virtue of “sociability” in the Eʋe cultural context,
an article in which Martha Nussbaum dialogues with Aristotle concerning traditions, relativism and objectivity, is helpful in providing some clues to the virtue of sociability. For Nussbaum every culture has its own ideas about which
virtues are most important. She points out that there are some virtues like
sociability, that are universal and, therefore, common to all societies, even
though in any particular context they might be presented in unique ways.39
Nussbaum agrees with Aristotle that “our dependence upon the world outside
us: some sort of need for food, drink, and the help of others,”40 is also essential.
She highlights this latter point in Aristotle’s argument that “we would want to
include sociability as well, which is some sensitivity to the needs of and pleasure in the company of other beings similar to ourselves.”41 The foregoing partial dialogue between Nussbaum and Aristotle shows that virtues are aimed at
the common good, not only at individuals; we also interact with our society or
community and the circumstances around us. This dialogue plays out in the
Eʋe community where one of the highly cherished virtues is sociability.
The Eʋe words used to describe sociability provide evidence of the high
value placed on this virtue in the Eʋe cultural context. The Eʋe word for “sociable,” from which the word “sociability” is derived is “sɔ ame dome.”42 The words
“sɔ ame dome” is a verbal expression that can be used as an imperative or a
command to people to “be sociable.” Another Eʋe word used for sociability is
“amedomesɔsɔ,” which is a combination of the three words, “ame” a person or
people, “dome” among or in the midst of and “sɔsɔ” fitting or being in equality
with and is a verbal noun and can be used adverbially to mean “sociability.”
These expressions together mean to “fit in well among people or to be in equality with people,” where “people” is equivalent to the Hebrew word ‘adam
humanity. Great value is placed on the virtue of sociability in the Eʋe community, where communality is highly cherished over individuality.
John S. Mbiti, writing on the traditional religious and philosophical world
view of African peoples, expresses the idea of sociability vividly by asserting
that “I am because we are and because we are, therefore I am.”43 This assertion
39
40
41
42
43
Nussbaum, “Traditions, Relativism, and Objectivity” in The Quality of Life eds. Martha
Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 266.
Nussbaum, “Traditions, Relativism, and Objectivity” p. 266.
Nussbaum, “Traditions, Relativism and Objectivity” p. 267.
See C.A. Akrofi, G.L. Botchey and B.K. Takyi, An English, Akan, Eʋe, Ga Dictionary, 252.
John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann, 1979), 1.
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points to the sociability or communality of African peoples, where the wellbeing of one member of the society is tied in with the wellbeing of everyone else
and vice versa. Since sociability is taken very seriously, an anti-sociable person
is often suspected to be an evil person. In light of the above definitions, Eʋe
folk proverbs often thematize ideas that promote sociability.
From the foregoing, “sociability” can be considered in terms of a group of
human beings, which here can be related to the Eʋe peoples as they cooperate
with one another, with a social consciousness for social reform on social
issues. Additionally, because the Eʋe community sees itself as a social unit,
sociability plays out as members live together in associations and groups.
They enjoy each other’s company, are friendly, agreeable and get along well
with each other. They are often in companionship and offer practical help,
vocational advice and other forms of assistance. The relationship of the Eʋe
peoples is characterized by pleasant, informal conversation, much of which
contains folk proverbs that constitute the African tree of life in this Book. The
virtue of “sociability” is thus given expression in acts that foster social harmony and show sensitivity to the needs of other members in the Eʋe society
or community.
Loyalty to the social group, community and selflessness promote the success of many activities in the Eʋe community, since as social obligations, all
members are expected to help each other. This is achieved by members helping others generously, without ostentation and without making those who
receive the help feel inferior. On the other hand, those who receive help are
taught to appreciate the help of others. Neither those who help others nor
those who receive help from others intentionally should take advantage of
each other but both giver and receiver must learn to appreciate each other.
By contrast, anything that works against the communality involved in sociability is disruptive, throws the equilibrium of the society off balance and is,
therefore, not acceptable. This does not mean that there are no activities that
work against sociability in Eʋe communities. Such activities exist since there
is always some degree of misunderstanding about which nothing can be
done except to advise people to act prudently as shown by the rifts in the
community (which we discussed earlier). The proverbs that address rifts in
the community serve as warnings to dissuade members of the community
from acting against the social equilibrium but to act to make people fit in
with each other.
3.3.a Pride in What One Owns
Eʋe society frowns upon any act or person whose actions denigrate the society
and people are always taught to be wary of deeds that may suggest any form of
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negativity toward the community. These are given expression in a number of
Eʋe folk proverbs. The following are some examples:
Proverb 1: Kokloxɔ mekpea ŋu na koklo o. (Dzobo # 115).
Translation 1: The chicken is never ashamed of its coop.
Proverb 2: Wometsɔa mia fia ame ƒe dume mɔ o. (Dzobo # 116).
Translation 2: You do not use your left hand to point the way to your
home-town.
Proverb 3: Dumenyo mesɔa aƒe o. (Dzobo # 117).
Translation 3: A comfortable foreign country is not the same as your own
home country.
Proverb 4: Aƒenya mewua ame o. (Dzobo # 118).
Translation 4: You are never overcome by troubles at home.
Proverb 5: Ame ŋutɔe yɔa eƒe akplẽkɔe be akplẽkɔ. (Dzobo, # 119).
Translation 5: The person who is eating refers to his/her small lump of
“cornmeal” food as a big one.
These proverbs call upon members of the community not to denigrate what
they possess. Proverbs 1 and 2 speak about chickens not being ashamed of
their coop, and people to not point to their home-towns with the left hand.
Among the Eʋe people, the left hand (used in Proverb 2) is considered “unclean”
because it is used for doing certain things, which are considered unclean (e.g.,
cleaning one’s anal areas, blowing the nose, picking up trash and doing other
“filthy” things). This proverb has been analyzed under “Types or Forms” of Eʋe
proverbs in Chapter 2. To use the left hand even in gestures when talking with
people is, therefore, considered disrespectful. Proverbs 1 and 2 call on members to be sociable by taking pride in the community and not to be ashamed of
or disrespect where they come from.
Though Proverbs 1 and 2 literally, refer to chickens and the left hand, these
proverbs also teach people to respect their places of origin or home-towns and
to show pride of ownership in what they can call their own. The proverbs can
also be deployed in cautioning people against disrespecting their parents, siblings, families, places of abode, or some status in life, especially, when people,
places and things have made important contributions in some way to what the
people have become. To disrespect such people and places is tantamount to
pointing to a person’s home-town with the left hand, or being a chicken
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ashamed of its coop, which is unacceptable in the society. These sayings warn
against anti-sociability; by teaching the virtue of sociability which promotes
unity among the members of the community.
According to Proverb 3, no matter how good a foreign country may be, it can
never compare to a person’s own home and in Proverb 4, a person cannot be
overwhelmed by the problems of the person’s home because there is a support
system of relatives to help out.44 When a person gets into trouble, his immediate family can be in a better position to help by sharing the burden so it does
not become overwhelming; this role will be less likely borne by someone who
is not a family member. These two proverbs suggest that people should never
leave what they have—their own culture and customs—for those of other
people since nothing else can compare with what a person owns. Though
Proverbs 3 and 4 refer to the value of a person’s home, they can also be used to
instruct a child or anyone, who is never content with anything and complains
that his or her parents, teachers, friends or possessions are worthless and not
good enough and keeps comparing them to those of other people. The virtue
of sociability is fostered by these proverbs which teach what can be explained
by the English expression, “All that glitters is not gold,” in that, what children or
adults consider as better than what they have can be a mirage.
The lessons of the above four proverbs are endorsed by Proverb 5, which
says a person must describe the morsel of food he or she is eating for what it is.
Even if the morsel is little, the value placed on it by the person eating it is what
causes other people to respect the small morsel. Though the meaning of
Proverb 5 is obvious, a farmer who brings home a portion of his small harvest,
but makes much of it for people to know that he is a very good farmer can be
praised by this proverb. In such a context, even if no one else recognizes how
good the harvest is, the farmer is proud of it and praises it as such. A person
who does not appreciate what he or she has e.g., education, parents, or occupations like farming, driver’s mechanic, house keeper and not more “decent” job,
or whose son is not an Engineer but a teacher or construction worker, etc., and
is always wishing for something better, can also be told this proverb. The proverb teaches the latter that they must value and be proud of what they have so
others will value them too. When people place great value on whatever belongs
to them, the entire community also sees the value of those things and praises
the persons who have those gifts, although the gifts may be seen by some people as mediocre or insignificant. The moral lesson of Proverb 5 is to show
appreciation for and make the most of whatever a person has and not envy
44
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 58. According to Dzobo, proverb 4 teaches “a reasonable contentment with what one has.”
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other people for what they have.45 These proverbs are similar to the antelope’s
claim in the Eʋe proverb, “Ahlɔ̃ e be asiketi si le yesi lae nye yetɔ,”46 which
means, “The antelope says, ‘It is the tail that he has behind him that is his own’.”
Thus these proverbs do not only teach individuals to value what they have but
they also teach the virtue of sociability, which affects all the members of the
society via the individual concerned.
3.3.b Sharing Resources
In the Eʋe community, it is the duty of every member to be helpful to others in
order to foster sociability and communality. Even though mutual assistance is
commonplace, some members of the community are selfish. Several Eʋe proverbs are variously used in teaching the virtue of sociability whereby members
share their resources and do not take advantage of the less fortunate members
of the community.
Proverbs 1: Hotakpotɔ meɖua nu tea hokatɔ o. (Dzobo # 52).
Translation 1: The person who is semi-affluent does not refuse to give to
the one who is affluent indeed.
Proverb 2: Fiafitɔ meɖua wu agbletɔ o. (Dzobo # 31).
Translation 2: A thief does not reap more than the farmer himself.
Proverb 3: Ne wònyo na nu eyae hafi wògbana ɖe ge me. (Dzobo, # 55).
Translation 3: The mouth must have enough to eat before it spills over
into the beard.
Proverb 4: Ame nɔvi menɔa yɔkuti dzi woɖua yɔ gbogbo o. (Dzobo # 57).
Translation 4: If your brother [sibling] is in a sheanut tree, you do not eat
green sheanuts.
Proverb 5: Detsi vivi ye hea zi ve. (Dzobo, # 21).
Translation 5: Tasty soup (meal) draws seat (people) to itself.
Since class and social status cannot be ignored in any society among the Eʋe
peoples, some people are wealthier than others. Proverb 1 teaches that the less
affluent should not refuse to share with the genuinely affluent. In other words,
45
46
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 53.
Dzobo African Proverbs, Proverb # 100, p. 53.
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the person who is not very wealthy must not refuse to do a good deed for the
person who possesses a lot more wealth. If the less affluent helps the more
affluent, it is likely that when the former needs help, the latter would gladly
offer it. Conversely, if the less affluent refuses to offer help to the truly affluent,
it may be difficult for former to get help from the latter when the need arises.
As an example, if a wealthy trader asks for a tuber of yam, or some farm produce or other favor from the peasant farmer, the farmer must not refuse to give
it to the trader. Should the peasant farmer refuse to help the trader, this proverb can be used to remind the farmer about the value of sociability, which
requires members of the community to help each other. The proverb also cautions the peasant farmer that he or she may need the help of the wealthy trader
one day, and as such, it would be better for him to provide the trader with the
needed help.
Similarly, the proverb can teach students, who are good at one subject but
not very good at another subject, to be sociable by helping each other. This
proverb can be used to remind people that since they all need help in some
area in life, they should help each other in order to foster the bonds of sociability. These proverbs teach sociability so that when people offer help to those
who are in some need those who receive help can also offer their help at
another time to those who helped them when they were in need. It follows that
some degree of self-interest is exhibited when helping others. This self-interest
expresses itself in members helping those in need at one point in time, and
getting help from others at another point in time.47 Helping others albeit out
of self-interest allows for eventualities in any undertaking and influences giving judiciously in all undertakings in the community. This sometimes works
against sociability but people who really understand sociability who are truly
sociable, will “share” with others without any expectation of getting back what
they contributed. In contrast to giving out of self-interest, sharing is something
done in the Eʋe community because members are a community, and not
because members are a group of individuals engaging in implicit contracts
with one another. This community-based spirit of the Eʋe peoples promotes
the cherished virtue of sociability.
In Proverb 2, the thief cannot reap more than the farmer because the farmer
owns the property. This proverb, also used to teach diligence in Chapter 2,
refers to a typical situation in which some people in the community delight in
taking what belongs to other people. As “diligence,” the images used for the
thief and the farmer in the proverb, teach people to avoid living off the means
of others but engaging in honest work. Furthermore, they encourage people,
47
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 29, 36–37.
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like the farmer, not to be dissuaded from pursuing their dreams in spite of little
obstacles and eventualities that occur. The proverb teaches people like the
thief not to take advantage of others, and others like the farmer not to be selfish with what they have. Although the image of the thief who takes other people’s property without permission may sound negative, the saying nonetheless
promotes the positive value of sharing. It can also be understood metaphorically to show people who cheat to avoid such anti-social behavior, as they cannot claim complete ownership of what does not belong to them. In other
words, people who delight in eating off the toils of others can be taught to
reform their ways because they can never succeed if they continue to live that
way. The proverb can teach an affluent person who incurs losses through assisting others in the community not to be perturbed by the losses since such loses
are bound to be incurred in every social venture. It teaches the affluent person
to consider a little amount of loss as help to other members of the community;
this must not prevent him or her from continuing to assist others which will
not deplete what he or she has.
In the Eʋe community, it is believed that when things go well with one person others in the community also benefit from it. This belief makes it mandatory for members of the community to assist each other for the common good.
Similarly, people who are helped by others have the responsibility of also helping others. Proverb 3 which uses an image of food or drink running out of a
person’s mouth into the person’s beard can be performed in a wide range of
contexts to promote social cohesion and wellbeing. The proverb can be
explained by the English saying, “One good turn deserves another.” Thus the
success of one member spills over to other members of the community.
Proverb 3 can be used for a person who needs encouragement to succeed in an
undertaking; e.g., if one child in a family attains a high standard of achievement, the family is encouraged to help that child to succeed so that that child
will also help other children or members of the community. The first daughters
or sons who get married in a family can thus be the subject of this proverb.
When they succeed in marriage and give directions to those who follow them
the latter would also succeed in their marriages.
Proverb 4 speaks about a person who does not eat the green but the ripe
fruits when his or her siblings are on top of a sheanut tree. This proverb
refers to a common phenomenon in the Eʋe community: children climb
mango, papaya, guava, black berry, cherry, apple, avocado, orange, grape
fruit and other fruit trees when the fruit trees are in season. When the yield
is abundant the children who climb the trees tend to pick both the green
and ripe fruits. As they pick the fruits they would throw down the ripe fruits
to their own biological siblings and good friends but throw the unripe or
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green fruits to those who are not their siblings or friends. This Proverb (4),
similar to Proverb 3, can be used in a number of situations. It can be used as
a compliment for someone whose relative has succeeded in life and has
helped that person to do well. When used in this context the proverb means
the one who is given the compliment is fortunate that the goodwill of his or
her predecessor has spilled over to them. Proverb 4 can also be used to
advise an older brother or sister who is leaving for college or to start working to remember to help younger siblings by setting a good example. The
proverb encourages those who have not yet made it to the top to assist those
who are at the top that when things go well with them the benefits will spill
over to others in the community. It teaches the virtue of sociability by
encouraging members of the community to help each other and warns people not to be selfish.
According to Proverb 5, when soup or food tastes good, people draw their
seats towards it because they would like to taste or eat it. This proverb stands
on its own among the others in this category and can be used to explain a
situation in which good food attracts “eaters.” However, metaphorically,
Proverb 5 can be used to teach similar lessons like the other four proverbs.
Just as good food is delicious, by implication, good deeds are admirable. The
proverb teaches people to do what is good so they will gain admiration from
the whole community. Proverb 5 can be used for any member of the Eʋe
community, who makes a name through an extraordinary achievement. The
whole community is honored by such deeds and the praise accorded to the
person who achieves the feat spills over to his or her family and community.
Thus the son of a farmer, who becomes a pilot, an engineer, or a politician,
can be praised by this proverb. It may also be applied to a good teacher, doctor, surgeon, lawyer, farmer, leader, etc. When people put their confidence in
other people, the latter must prove their worth by handling competently
matters entrusted to them. A blacksmith or goldsmith, a traditional native
doctor or herbalist, who produces good tools or herbal concoctions, is always
sought after. Children can be taught by this proverb to make the most of
their education and life in general to boost the pride of their families and
society as a whole.
3.3.c Personal Relationships
Personal relationships are important for promoting sociability in the Eʋe community and thus anything that works against amicable relationships in the
community is frowned upon. Several proverbs are used to teach good social
relationships with both friends and enemies. Corporate responsibility for
actions seeks to promote the wellbeing of all members of the Eʋe society.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
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Proverb 1: Dzre mele ŋku kple alɔ̃ dome o. (Dzobo # 134).
Translation 1: There is no quarrel between the eye and sleep.48
Proverb 2: Tre eve nɔ tsi ŋgɔ megbea ŋui ƒuƒu wo nɔewo o. (Dzobo # 136).
Translation 2: Two calabashes on the surface of the same water are bound
to touch [rub against] each other.
Proverb 3: Ame eve mesia du le mɔlu ʋaʋã me o. (Dzobo, # 143).
Translation 3: Two people do not race through a rice farm.
Proverb 4: Evedzila memlɔa axa ɖeka dzi o. (Dzobo # 73).
Translation 4: The mother of twins does not lie on one side while she is
feeding the twins.
Proverb 5: Afɔ megblẽa ame dome o. (Dzobo # 135).
Translation 5: The foot does not disrupt personal relationships.
Proverb 1 speaks about the close relationship between the eyes and the act of
sleeping. Metaphorically, misunderstandings among family members or
between siblings over issues that can lead to enmity between the parties
involved are addressed by this proverb, which teaches the contending members of a family or community that they are interdependent and must value
their relationships. Since the eye and sleep do not quarrel “because they are
naturally related,” this proverb can be used for two sisters or family members
who are not on speaking terms with each other to show them that they must
not allow anything to destroy the closeness of their relationship.49 The proverb
teaches people to be sociable by living amicably with each other. Proverb 1 can
describe the misunderstandings between a worker and a supervisor, an apprentice and a master, step siblings, parents and their children, a chief and his
elders, etc. The relationship between these pairs of people is very close and
nothing should be allowed to disrupt it.
In the Eʋe community, people cannot avoid inadvertently stepping on each
other’s toes but this should not prevent people from living amicably and in
48
49
This proverb can also be explained with the Congolese proverb, which says, “Sleep is
the cousin of death.” See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african
_congo_proverb/83443.htm. Accessed October, 2013. This proverb shows the close relationship between death and sleep. By implication, the two cannot have misunderstandings
between them due to their ­similarity/close resemblance to each other.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 63–64.
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unity. Proverb 2 is similar to Proverb 1 but it is expressed positively in the
image of two calabashes50 on water rubbing against each other. A calabash is a
ball-like plant that grows on a vine and looks like the water melon or cantaloupe fruit; it is usually called a gourd. When it gets big enough to harvest, it is
cut from the vine, split in two halves along its circumference. The seeds and
fruity inside are scooped out and it is washed out thoroughly. The two halves
are then sundried until they look golden brown or greenish brown. Each half
of the calabash is then used like a cup, for drinking water, porridge, cereals or
other liquids. Calabashes are so light that they never sink in water but float and
when two half calabashes are placed on water; they easily rub against each
other. Proverb 2, which mirrors the relationship between two calabashes on
water, can be used for two friends, relatives, students or workers who dislike
each other to teach them that they need to live with a little tension sometimes,
but they must quickly make good misunderstandings and not allow them to
destroy good social relationships.
Proverb 3 is similar to Proverbs 1 and 2. It speaks about the context of ricegrowing communities, where a lot of care is taken of the rice throughout the
entire cultivation process until the crop is harvested. The rice plants grow very
close to each other and their stalks are very delicate and can easily break if care
is not taken. Thus if two people run through a rice farm when the crops are ripe
and ready to harvest, they will cause damage by trampling the crop under foot.
Anger towards other members of the community is not acceptable: this proverb teaches people to live peacefully with each other. Proverb 3 can be used
figuratively to warn people against acting in anger or in an unfriendly manner.51 It can teach two hot-tempered people who are quarrelling to control
their anger and patch up their differences. Just as trampling rice causes damage to the crop, so when anger, bitterness, and misunderstanding are not
resolved, they damage personal relationships, social survival and the wellbeing
of the community. Conflicts between members of the community must be
addressed to prevent them from working against sociability.
Apart from being applicable to the mother of twins, Proverb 4, like all folk
proverbs, can be applied in a wide range of contexts to teach the virtue of
sociability. Anyone, like the elder or leader in a community who takes sides in
a dispute by showing favoritism toward one party against the other party and
who does not treat all subjects or followers fairly, but rather plays some against
50
51
The calabash is a gourd-like receptacle. It looks like a scooped out half cantaloupe or
honey dew and is sometimes used like a cup for fetching water and for drinking cereals
and other liquids.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 66.
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others can be advised by this proverb. In this case, it disgraces the elder for
failure to do his or her duty toward the community in an appropriate manner.
The proverb teaches that taking sides works against sociability; everyone must
be treated fairly just as the mother of twins must lie down flat on her back so
each of the twins can suck from either breast. The final proverb in this group
(5), which says, “The foot does not disrupt personal relationships,” is slightly
different from the other four but it too can be used to teach similar lessons: In
the Eʋe cultural context, cordial relationships are normally maintained by paying frequent visits to people by walking to their houses.52 In the Eʋe community
people cherish good conversation and friendly visits to and from each other.
When people visit friends and family in their homes, those visited feel cared
about and those who make the visits feel valued. People use the visits to enjoy
each other’s company and as opportunities to share their individual and corporate histories, to listen to others and be listened to. Proverb 5 can be applied
metaphorically to offer praise and give commendation to people for their good
deeds which maintains good relationships among the Eʋe peoples. All these
five proverbs teach the value of sociability, which avoid deeds which cause strife
in the community by promoting and encouraging cordial social relationships.
3.3.d Mindfulness of One’s Own Personal Business
To preserve amicable relationships and social harmony in the community, the
Eʋe proverbs encourage people to ‘mind their own business’, and not meddle
in the personal affairs of others. The following proverbs reveal this valued
aspect of the virtue of sociability.
Proverb 1: Glã tutɔ meɖua nu glã tutɔ ʋana o. (Dzobo # 140).
Translation 1: The jaw that is engaged in chewing food is the one seen
moving.53
Proverb 2: Ave ma-tsɔ-ame-gbɔ womeɖea ka le eme o (Dzobo # 91).
Translation 2: You cannot gather vines from a forest that is too far away
from you.
Proverb 3: Gli matsɔ-ame-gbɔ womedea me o. (Dzobo # 92).
Translation 3: You cannot lean against a wall that is too far away from you.
52
53
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 63–64.
Dzobo translates this proverb positively but the real translation of this proverb is, “One
[that is, another] jaw does not engage in chewing/eating while another (that is, a different) jaw is seen moving.”
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Proverb 4: Vudo matsɔ-ame-gbɔ womedua tsi le eme o. (p.e.).
Translation 4: You do not draw water from a well that is too far away from
you.
Proverb 1 speaks about the jaw that is seen moving because it is chewing.
This proverb has act-consequence logic in it like the other three proverbs
(2–4). Proverb 1 can be used for people, who get into trouble because they
called for it. This proverb can be used either to praise somebody who does a
good job and is rewarded for the good deed or to point out the evil consequences which result from a person’s evil deeds. An industrious young man or
woman, a business man or woman, a hardworking farmer, trader, student, or
professional can all be praised by this proverb for the success they attain. In
contrast to the praise for good deeds, this proverb can be used for a person who
openly flaunts the authority of the chief, or a thief who gets caught and is made
to face up to the consequences of his or her action, being brought to justice.
This also teaches them and others, who may be contemplating doing the same
kind of thing as the person being punished to act sociably. As a lesson, the
proverb can be translated into telling the evil-doer that “it serves them right”
and the proverb serves as a deterrent to those who are contemplating stealing
or these who have not been caught. Additionally the proverb can warn people
who do evil in private to desist from such acts because these acts affect the
community negatively. The proverb can be explained by the English saying,
“It is the one who pays the piper that calls for the song.”
Unlike Proverb 1, Proverbs 2–4, which have the same logic and speak about
a faraway forest, wall and well, teach the importance of not meddling in the
affairs of others to maintain the bonds of sociability in the community. Proverbs
2–4 teach people to be wary of their actions and to be prepared for the consequences. If any member of the community attempts to meddle in the affairs of
others (e.g., of married couples, two friends, family members, team mates,
etc.,) when those affairs do not concern them, they will have to face the consequences. Thus, as much as members of the community are dependent on one
another, these proverbs teach people to keep their distance from other people’s
personal affairs to avoid getting into trouble as well as to maintain peace and
sociability in the community. All these proverbs teach the virtue of sociability
and the need for preserving amicable relationships in the Eʋe community by
avoiding anything that destroys the equilibrium of the society’s fabric.
3.3.e Selflessness and Communality
In the Eʋe community, selflessness is highly cherished as a virtue that helps to
establish and maintain sociability. Folk proverbs that promote sociability teach
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people to avoid selfishness and to be willing to collaborate. Most of the proverbs in this category generally have the negative form; as such they reinforce
rhetorically the idea that individuality or selfishness is unacceptable in the Eʋe
community.
Proverb 1: Ame ɖeka media ƒo be du nyo o. (Dzobo # 146).
Translation 1: When one single individual has had his fill [i.e., has been
satiated] he cannot say that the town is good.
Proverb 2: Ame ɖeka meyina zã dona o. (Dzobo # 147).
Translation 2: Night does not fall after one person has gone through or
gotten there.
Proverb 3: Ta ɖeka medea aɖaŋu o. (Dzobo # 76).
Translation 3: One head does not go into consultation.
Proverb 4: Abɔ ɖeka meléa to dzo o. (Dzobo # 178).
Translation 4: One hand cannot hold [catch] a bull’s horns.
Proverb 5: Ati ɖeka metua xɔ o. (Dzobo # 179).
Translation 5: One pole cannot build a house (i.e. carry a roof).
In the Eʋe community, when people who are selfish have eaten to their fill,
they ignore the needs of those who are hungry by thinking that everybody else
is as satisfied as and should be as comfortable as they are. Proverb 1 suggests
that when one person has eaten to his or her satisfaction, the person must not
assume that everybody else is satisfied.54 Metaphorically, this proverb teaches
people not to assume that because they are fortunate all others are equally
fortunate. This proverb can teach a farmer with a good harvest who assumes
that all other farmers have had equal success that other farmers may not have
had a good harvest and they must be considerate and not make assumptions.
A person who finds a well-paid job and assumes that all other job-seekers also
have good jobs or do not need work at all can also be the subject of this proverb. People who have succeeded in life like the children of wealthy families, or
people with successful businesses, good teachers and students who are inconsiderate towards their less fortunate neighbors or colleagues can also be taught
by this proverb that no one’s success is success until the whole community
54
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 67–68.
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succeeds. The proverb teaches people who are doing well in society to avoid
assuming that all others in the society are equally successful.
Proverb 2 speaks about travelers who must cross a border on foot, by road or
by boat to get to other towns or villages in the Eʋe community. Since people
keep crossing to the other side until night falls and visibility becomes poor, the
proverb suggests that night does not fall immediately after one person has
crossed over, but only after several people have done so. As Dzobo explains this
proverb, people depend on the daylight to do their work and it would be selfish
for anyone to wish that night should fall immediately he or she has finished the
task for the day.55 Metaphorically, this proverb, like Proverb 1, suggests that
one person must not claim to have control over everything that is good but
rather they must be morally concerned that other people also have the right to
share the good things.
Proverb 3 speaks about one head that does not go into counsel. It is similar
to Proverbs 1 and 2 and reflects what happens in traditional Eʋe society. When
the chief and the elders, who constitute the traditional legal, council or local
court have to arbitrate cases, all the members of the traditional court normally
take counsel together and come up with the best solution. When the case of an
evil-doer in the community comes before the traditional council, the chief
does not decide the fate of the evil-doer alone but the corporate council of the
chief and his elders make decisions. Similarly, when family disputes are
brought before family heads, the disputes are not settled by the family head
acting unilaterally, but all the elders of the family consult to bring about a
peaceful settlement of the dispute. Additionally, this proverb can teach a
teacher, a parent or anyone in a leadership position, who does not respect others but takes unilateral decisions, to be sociable by his or her flexibility in
accepting ideas from other people in the society.
Proverb 4 has the same logic as the three earlier proverbs. When a butcher
wants to slaughter a bull, he does not catch and kill the bull single-handedly
because the bull is very strong and could even kill the butcher. Instead, he joins
hands with several other butchers to kill it. This proverb can, therefore, be used
for people, who attempt to carry out very challenging tasks that need many
heads and hands to accomplish it single-handedly. It teaches them to be sociable by collaborating with others for success.
Proverb 5 uses the imagery of building a house with wood or poles. It also
follows the act-consequence logic and has similar application contexts to the
other four proverbs. The point of this proverb, like the other four, is to avoid
selfishness by thinking about other people in the community and not only
55
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 67–68.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
123
about one’s own welfare. The proverb teaches people to be sociable since people are interdependent and one person cannot do everything successfully.
Metaphorically, all the proverbs in this section about one person (Proverbs
1 and 2), one head (Proverb 3), one hand (Proverb 4) and one pole (Proverb
5), can be used to teach the value of sociability in dealing with the needs of
others people. They advise people not to project their own good fortune or
success selfishly onto others. The principle or logic behind the foregoing proverbs is vividly portrayed in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, where he
uses the image of the human body to explain spiritual gifts. For example,
every part of the body needs all the other members of the body and no part
can say to the others, “I don’t need you.”56 Though these proverbs are used for
teaching sociability, they can also be used to teach prudence whereby people
use practical wisdom in their actions when dealing with other members of
the community.
A couple of other Eʋe folk proverbs, which have similar explanations and
can be used as the above proverbs are: “Nunya adidoe, asi metunɛ o” (Dzobo
#75). This means, “Knowledge is like the baobab (monkey bread) tree and no
one person can embrace it all alone.” This proverb suggests that no one person
can gather all knowledge. The other proverb, which is from my own personal
experience, is similar to the words of the Poet laureate John Donne that “No
man is an Island.” The Eʋe folk proverb says, “Ame ɖeka aɖeke menye ƒukpo o,”
which means “No single individual is an Island.” This means no one is independent but people in community are interdependent, which is the goal of sociability. This proverb shows that “There is strength in unity” as the English saying
goes, and has similar application as the foregoing Eʋe proverbs. The proverb
can, therefore, be used in similar contexts.57 A proverb from Congo, which says,
“A single bracelet cannot jingle”, has a similar application context as all the
foregoing proverbs and stresses the virtue of sociability.58
56
57
58
See 1 Corinthians12:12ff, where Paul uses the imagery of the body to explain the idea of
unity in diversity with regards to the gifts of the Spirit given to believers for the benefit of
all. Here no single body part [believer] is able to perform every task of the body but every
member is dependent on the other members for the proper functioning of the whole
body.
See www.quotationspage.com and http://www.afriprov.org/index.php/african-proverb
-of-the-month/32-2006proverbs/232-december-2006-proverb-qunity-is-strengthq
-ganda-uganda-.html. Accessed October, 2013. This proverb speaks against individuality
and promotes sociability and unity. The English saying, “Together we stand, divided we
fall,” can also be used to explain these proverbs.
See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/c/congolese_proverb/83416.htm website. Accessed October, 2013.
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These proverbs promote the virtue of sociability, which involves co-­operation
in society. They teach people that nothing in life is the bona fidé property of any
one person. They teach the value of sociability to people who are greedy and
want to have everything; the proverbs invite them to be selfless and to share what
they have with others in the society. People who behave as though they have
everything and can survive without the help of others can be warned by these
proverbs that since they cannot manage alone they must cooperate with others.
Parents who think their children are the best and boast about them, supervisors
who claim to know the job better than anyone else, farmers who claim to have
the best farming skills, can all be advised by these proverbs. They are warned that
everyone needs the help of others. These proverbs teach that every member of
society is valuable and has gifts and talents to contribute to the wellbeing of the
society; thus everyone must be respected. According to Dzobo these proverbs
refer to people who over-generalize due to their self-centered judgment of
events. The proverbs teach people to be concerned about the moral welfare of
their friends and neighbors too.59 All the proverbs in this section can be explained
by the Bondei proverb, which describes “Sticks in a bundle” as “unbreakable.”60
In contrast to the above proverbs, which speak against individuality and
teach the value of sociability through selflessness and caring about the wellbeing of others, the following proverb teaches a similar lesson. “Ɖetika be hame
wonɔna tsɔa kpe”61 (Dzobo, # 177). This proverb means, “The cotton thread
says that ‘It is only as a team that you can carry a stone’.” This proverb alludes to
the art of weaving in rural Eʋe communities, where stones are used to stretch
out and hold the various strands of weaving yarn or thread in place while
59
60
61
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 67–68.
See www.quotationspage.com. See similar proverbs from Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria,
“One hand does not catch a buffalo” (see http://afriprov.org/index.php/african-proverb
-of-the-month/46-2010apotm/553-afpotmnov2010.html Accessed October, 2013) and
“A single bracelet does not jingle” See note on page 123n58 above. (Congo); the NigeriaYoruba, “The strength of one person only does not go far” (see http://afritorial.com/the
-best-72-african-wise-proverbs/ Accessed October, 2013) and “One finger does not kill
a louse” (Gikuyu). See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/k/kikuyu
_proverb/177248.htm Accessed October, 2013. These proverbs can also be used to teach
humility as shown above in Chapter 2.
See the Bondei people’s proverb discussed above, which says, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” See http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/b/bondei_proverb/163588.htm
Accessed October, 2013. This proverb teaches similar lessons and can be applied in similar
contexts like the Eʋe proverbs. The Ethiopian proverb, which says, “When spider webs unite
they can tie up a lion” (see http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/e/ethiopia
_proverb/191890.htm Accessed October, 2013) is also similar to the proverbs analyzed above.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
125
weaving. Since the stones used are very heavy, a single strand of yarn/thread
cannot hold up the large stones but the many strands of the yarn together are
able to do so. Hence, instead of being concerned about “one” as in the proverbs
above, the cotton tread is concerned with the success gained through teamwork. What the cotton thread says in this proverb is similar to the idea that is
implicit in the English expressions, “Unity is power” or “United we stand.”
Sociability is fostered by strong core values of unity and co-operation. A person who has goodwill toward a disintegrated family with rifts, quarrels, misunderstandings among its members, can use this proverb to invite the family to
set aside their differences and unite as a family. A group of students or workers
with grievances to present to their authorities or employers but who are
divided on the major issues affecting them can be advised by this proverb. It
teaches them to have a common purpose and make a concerted effort to have
their grievances properly addressed. The proverb can teach married couples or
two friends who are quarrelling, the value of sociability, to bury their differences and to unite for the common good of the community. All the proverbs in
the foregoing sections are similar to the Cameroon proverb, which says, “Rain
does not fall on one roof alone.”62 This latter proverb can also be used in similar
situations like the others.
3.3.f Value of Every Member of the Community
In the Eʋe community, as in other communities, every member has some value
regardless of his or her social status. Even though some members are defined
by their social roles as worthless, certain Eʋe proverbs offer reminders that
everyone in the community has something to offer. The following four proverbs exhibit this idea.
Proverb 1: Atɔe be dzosagbe hã yeanyo tsã. (Dzobo, # 184).
Translation 1: The mole says it is always found useful when medicine
men are about to prepare their medicines.
Proverb 2: Ne naneke mele tulĩ si o hã la, ha lɔlɔ̃ ya le esi. (Dzobo, # 185).
Translation 2: Even if the mosquito has nothing much to boast of, it
[a least] has got a voice for humming songs.
Proverb 3: Du sia du kple eƒe koklokoko. (Dzobo, # 22).
Translation 3: Every country has its own way of dressing chicken.
62
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/African_cameroon_proverbs
191869.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
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Proverb 4: Dua ɖe me gbede ʋuyɔvi wòzuna le du bubu me. (Dzobo, #23).
Translation 4: The black[gold]smith in one village becomes a blacksmith’s apprentice in another village.
As we have seen with many other Eʋe sayings, Proverbs 1 and 2 use animal
images to communicate matters about human existence. The mole and the
mosquito are considered odious because the mole stinks and the mosquito
bites and gives Malaria. As such, these two creatures are considered worthless
and have nothing good to offer. However, in these two proverbs, the mole and
mosquito teach people that everyone has some special talent to offer. The
strong stench associated with the mole makes people dislike any association
with it but when the traditional priests or priestesses and herbalists are
consulted to cure sicknesses that medical science cannot cure, the priests or
priestesses ask their clients to bring the feces of a mole and the priests or
priestesses mix the feces of the mole with the herbal preparation or concoction. The mixture, which now stinks, makes the concoction more potent. In
this way the mole is proud that even though its stench is disliked by people.
When the herbalist wants to prepare herbal medication or cures, the mole
becomes valuable and indispensable. These sayings teach sociability by considering everyone useful to society; people should not be judged based on their
outward appearances.63
Proverb 1 can be used by people who are seen by others as worthless in the
community to teach people that even though they may be considered worthless, other people can send them on errands that the “normal” people will not
run. Such errands include, but are not limited to, menial jobs like sanitation
work, digging graves, day laborers on other people’s farms, etc., which many
“normal” people will not do because they see such jobs as “dirty.” When those
who do such jobs go on strike and refuse to do their jobs, their absence is
strongly felt. Thus when people denigrate them they can defend themselves
with these proverbs to show that the services they offer will be needed some
day. These proverbs can also be used by people whose gifts or talents are not
appreciated until their help is needed. Similarly, although the mosquito is tiny,
bites and gives Malaria, for which the mosquito is disliked Proverb 2 suggests
that the mosquito can make good music (referring to the humming sound it
makes around people’s ears). These two proverbs teach people to be sociable
and to associate with all other members of the community because no one is
totally useless.
63
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 80.
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
127
Proverbs 3 and 4 have already been used to teach the virtue of humility in
Chapter 2. However, like sociability, they are similar to Proverbs 1 and 2 in
certain respects. Every town has its own way of dressing chicken (Proverb 3)
can describe the various styles and ways of performing different tasks. People
should not think there is only one way of doing things. Furthermore, since
people have various abilities for performing various tasks, people must appreciate this and not expect everybody to have the same ability for performing
tasks. As an example in Proverb 4, the expert blacksmith or goldsmith in one
town becomes the apprentice of a black[gold]smith in another town. This
proverb teaches people to examine every situation in the community critically. Yet the proverb also teaches people to exhibit their sociability by not
overestimating or underestimating either themselves or other people.
Furthermore, the proverb teaches people to avoid over-generalizing situations. Although Proverbs 3 and 4 emerge from village life contexts, they can be
used to clarify aspects of city life, and aspects of the relationship between the
two life contexts. In the village, there is not much development and a person
with little knowledge of a trade can be well-respected or something can be
hailed as celebrities. However, when such a person goes to a larger city, his or
her talents are much smaller when compared to the skills of experienced traders in the city. A student with good grades in the village school may not be able
to compete with a student with poor grades in the city school due to the differences in environment (e.g., availability of good teaching and learning
resources). A Gikuyu proverb from Kenya, which says, “The one who milks the
cow is not the same person as the one who removes (plucks off) ticks from a
cow,”64 is similar to Proverb 4 and can be used in similar contexts.
3.3.g Tradition and Orderly Procedure
In the Eʋe socio-cultural context roles are defined by a widely acknowledged
order of traditional standards and procedures. As such, it is what tradition
decides that constitutes the norm in the society. Traditional standards compared to individualism, maintain social stability and demonstrate the high
value placed on communal life. This communal life is seen not only as embracing the people who are alive today, but also the community of the past or the
ancestors who are called the living-dead. The following proverbs are some
examples of traditional standards and orderly procedure, which teach the
value of sociability among the Eʋe peoples of Southeastern Ghana, West Africa.
64
See African Proverb of the month, September 2009 used in http://www.afriprov.org/
index.php/african-proverb-of-the-month/42-2009proverbofthemonth/475-sep-2009-qq
-.html. Accessed October, 2013.
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Proverb 1: Xoxotɔ nu wogbea yeyetɔ ɖo. (Dzobo, # 162).
Translation 1: The new is woven on to [according to the pattern of] the
old.65
Proverb 2: Tababla aƒeme wòtsona. (Dzobo, # 163).
Translation 2: The headgear comes from home.66
Proverb 3: Abui yome ka nɔna. (Dzobo, # 164).
Translation 3: The thread always follows the needle.
Proverb 4: Ami mevɔna le agãlã goe me o. (Dzobo # 165).
Translation 4: There is always some fat under the shell of a crab.
Proverb 5: Wɔ mevɔna le teƒo o. (Dzobo # 167).
Translation 5: There is always some flour left on a millstone.
In the Eʋe society, one of the major trades is kente-royal cloth weaving. The patterns that are created by the yarns and threads used for weaving kente cloth have
their special names and meanings. Due to the importance attached to the names
and meanings of the patterns in the kente cloth, when the weavers (mostly men)
are given a work order or an assignment for production, they normally follow
the older patterns in making the new pieces of kente cloth. Hence, Proverb 1
uses this image of kente cloth-weaving to teach sociability. This proverb can,
therefore, be used in reference to norms and traditional patterns of behavior
which keep recurring because they are cherished by society. Respect for adults
by children, the training and discipline of children by the whole community,
upholding acceptable social standards to promote success by avoiding antisocial behavior are all values that the community upholds from one generation to
another. These are honored on an ongoing basis and are vital for the cohesion of
traditional communities. Anything contrary to traditional standards and orderly
procedures is frowned upon by the whole community. The cherished aspects of
the society are the old patterns according to which the new patterns are woven.
65
66
Thomas G. Christensen, An African Tree of Life (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1990),
5. Christensen refers to the presentation of Jesus Christ to the Gbaya people of the
Cameroon as “weaving a new mat over the old.”
See the Egyptian proverb, “The cub is from that lion,” (see http://www.listofproverbs.com/
source/e/egyptian_proverb/92190.htm Accessed October, 2013) which can be used in
similar contexts. This proverb can be explained by the English sayings, “Like father, like
son” or “Like mother, like daughter.”
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
129
Proverb 2, like Proverb 1, is also used to teach the importance of following
traditional standards which uphold the norms of the community. Proverb 2,
which speaks about the headgear,67 which comes from home, refers to the
scarf worn by the adult women as a sign of maturity or for being married
women. The style in which the headgear is tied varies according to the occasion for which it is worn. The headgear commands respect for the adult
women and as such, when the young women become adults they emulate
the way adults wear the headgear by wearing their own headgears in the
right way.
Proverb 3 speaks about the thread which always follows the needle. This
proverb has the same logic as Proverbs 1 and 2. The image employed here of a
thread following the needle is easy to grasp, however, this proverb emphasizes
the value of following customs laid down by the community which normally
constitute the pattern on which newer ways of doing things are modeled.
Along with Proverbs 1 and 2, Proverb 3 teaches the virtue of sociability, the
right way of doing things. The daughters or sons whose education, marriage,
business is successful, can be told this proverb to spur them on to emulate their
parents’ achievements. Furthermore, the children of farmers, trades people,
and professionals can be described by these proverbs if they become as successful as their parents. These proverbs can describe the lineage of a family or
clan which has admirable talents to teach people that just as talents are
ingrained in people’s genes, so older ways of doing things are ingrained in the
fabric of society. People must be sociable by adhering to these ways of doing
things. The wisdom of the elderly is still to be treasured and their advice always
sought to restore amicable relationships in marital and other disputes in the
community.
Proverbs 4 and 5 teach the same lessons using different images like the
shell of a crab, which always has some fat in it, and the mill stone which
always has some flour on it. The inside of the narrow pointed edges of the
crab’s shell, where the tongue or fingers are not able to penetrate when
people eat crabs, have fatty residues. The mill stone is never completely free
of flour from the grains that are ground on it because the stone is coarse
and although most of the flour can be collected, some of the flour remains
stuck between the small crevices of the stone. Proverbs 4 and 5 can, therefore, be used to teach people who shun traditional ways of doing things,
that the older generation and experienced professionals in e.g., carpentry,
67
The headgear is a piece of head cloth or scarf worn by adult Eʋe women (particularly,
married women).
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masonry or tailoring are valuable to the preservation of the fabric of
society.
These sayings about tradition also teach sociability and they seem to suggest:
“This is the way we do things. This is how we have always done things. This is the
way we will continue to do things.” Apart from the use of these proverbs to laud
the positive achievements of those who uphold traditional ways, they can also
be used to refer to negative characteristics of children or bad people who behave
like their parents.68 For instance, if the children of a thief become a thief or lazy
people follow in the footsteps of their parents, these proverbs can be used like
the English sayings, “Like father, like son.” “Like mother, like daughter.” In general, the proverbs teach people to value the elderly as well as the norms laid
down by society and their contribution to the wellbeing of the community.
Dzobo holds the opinion that these proverbs can refer to the traditional practices of the past and people must develop a positive attitude by showing respect
for these practices.69 If change occurs too quickly then society can be radically
transformed to the point that some would argue the change might destroy society. These proverbs promote the preservation of societal norms.
Another saying that can be used as in the foregoing proverbs is, “Ŋɔŋlɔ̃ mevɔna
le kpɔ̃viwo ŋu o.” This proverb means “The cubs of leopards never lose their spots”
because the cubs of a leopard can never be washed clean of their spots.
Metaphorically, this means anything that is ingrained in the fabric of the society
cannot be easily eradicated. This latter proverb is so important that at least one
author has deemed it appropriate to use it for part of the title of his book on
Biblical and African wisdom (proverbs).70 All the foregoing proverbs promote
the virtue of sociability by teaching that no matter what other (newer) ways are
learned by the members of the community, they must always do so with the
ideas from traditional standards and orderly procedures of the past in mind.
3.3.h Vitality
Among the Eʋe peoples, life is considered as very precious and people will
go to great lengths to preserve life in the society. Hence a number of Eʋe folk
68
69
70
The proverbs can also be used derogatorily to show that evil behavior is hereditary and is
transmitted from one generation to the other such that nothing can change that pattern.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 73–74. Furthermore, Dzobo explains Proverb 2 above as illustrating that the training a person receives from home shows up in the person’s public life.
Children or people who are well-behaved are seen us having undergone good training
from home since it is the behavior they learn at home is reflected when they go into
public.
See Dzobo, African Proverbs, #166, p. 74. See also Friedemann W. Golka, The Leopard’s
Spots: Biblical and African Wisdom in Proverbs (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993).
The Virtues of “Prudence” and “Sociability”
131
proverbs speak about the importance of life and vitality. The following are
some to the proverbs that show the importance attached to life and illustrate
the virtue of sociability.
Proverb 1: Atadi biã hã ŋɔ le eme. (Dzobo, # 175).
Translation 1: The [short red] pepper is very sharp but you find
worms in it.
Proverb 2: Agbitsa ɖiɖi kple eƒe ŋɔ. (Dzobo, # 182).
Translation 2: Ripe garden egg and its worm are found together.
Proverbs 1 and 2, which speak about worms in the short red pepper and in ripe
garden eggs, both have similar applications. The short red pepper is spicy hot
and sharp to the tongue, yet worms are able to infest it and survive in it.
Proverb 2, which can be seen as a direct opposite to Proverb 3, refers to worms
living in the ripe garden egg. The ripe garden egg, though red like the short red
pepper, is not sharp or spicy hot but worms survive in it too. These two proverbs teach that conditions for survival in the community differ from situation
to situation and, therefore, people must learn strategies for survival that help
them adjust to their conditions. Another African proverb that can be applied
in similar situations as the two proverbs above is “It grows in dry wood, yet
comes to maturity.”71 This proverb can refer to the worms or insects that grow
up inside faggots. In spite of the seeming unfavorable conditions in the dry
wood in which they live, they are able to survive and grow to maturity.
Proverb (1) can be used for a hot-tempered person who has some soft spots.
Such a person’s hot temper can be likened to the spicy red-hot short pepper
and the worms that live in it are the soft spots. Proverb 1 can, therefore, be used
to teach people to co-exist with hot-tempered people or evil doers. In other
words, as Dzobo puts it, the ripe pepper in Proverb 1 can refer to the world and
its hostile forces but in spite of this, human life is preserved providentially and
Dzobo explains this preservation of life in the face of hostile forces theologically as being due to trust in God.72 Proverb 2, on the other hand, can be used
for a tender-hearted person, with whom people must learn to co-exist. For
example, a student who has to go through difficulties to make it through school
successfully can be the subject of Proverb 1. Additionally, people who suffer
hardship and succeed in life can also be the subjects for this proverb. These two
71
72
See African proverb of the month, September, 1998 in http://www.afriprov.org/index
.php/african-proverb-of-the-month/23-1998proverbs/135-september-1988-proverb
.html. Accessed October, 2013.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 76–77.
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Chapter 3
proverbs can be used in reference to harsh (Proverb 1) and mild (Proverb 2)
conditions in life. People, who are able to cope with such conditions and to
succeed, reflect the vitality that results from being sociable. Proverb 2 can also
be used negatively, for a person who looks good outwardly but has a bad character. In this case, the person represents the ripe garden egg and the worms in
it represent the bad characteristics that can be seen in that person. Both
Proverbs 1 and 2 teach people to learn to adapt to conditions for survival in
society. These proverbs can, therefore, be used to also teach the virtue of prudence. In this instance, they are used to teach vitality that comes out of being
sociable in the Eʋe community. By implication, these two proverbs teach people that there are always things that can threaten their survival but they should
act in ways that promote vitality. Thus in spite of the dual nature of society,
people must learn to live with each other amicably.
3.4
Conclusions
We have analyzed Eʋe proverbs that can be used to teach the virtue of Prudence.
Prudence encourages people to apply practical wisdom, use extreme care and
be meticulous in performing their duties. Proverbs that promote the virtue of
Sociability, by which people’s actions and behavior patterns can either promote
or disrupt the wellbeing of individuals and the entire community, were also analyzed. People who uphold the ideals of prudence and sociability (analyzed in
Chapter 3) and diligence and humility (analyzed in Chapter 2), which are cherished in the Eʋe community, are rewarded with praise and succeed in their
undertakings. Values which are contrary to social norms or acceptable traditional standards and procedures work against sociability and people who exhibit
these values are considered as social misfits and are punished accordingly. The
Eʋe folk proverbs that teach the four main virtues of diligence, humility, prudence and sociability, which we have analyzed in Chapters 2 and 3, provide us
with the receiving African Ghanaian Eʋe tree of life on to which the ‘shoots’
from Israel’s tree of life in the biblical Book of Proverbs 25–29 can be ‘grafted’.
In the next chapter we will juxtapose some selected biblical proverbs from
Proverbs 25–29 and some selected Eʋe folk proverbs. This juxtaposition is
accomplished by using the agricultural imagery to ‘graft’ ‘shoots’ of the biblical
proverbial tree of life in Proverbs 25–29 on to the Eʋe folk proverbial tree of
life. The tree of life is represented by a number of Eʋe folk proverbs used to
produce a new and unique hybridized fruit, which blends the tastes of the two
different trees of life, namely Israel’s tree of life and the African Eʋe tree of life
to facilitate a better understanding and appropriation of the message of
Proverbs among African Ghanaian Eʋe-speaking peoples.
Chapter 4
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs
25–29
On to the African Ghanaian Eʋe Tree of Life—Eʋe Folk Proverbs
4.1
An Introduction to the Origins of the Book of Proverbs
Having sketched the nature and advantages of a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ and
having examined closely the deep roots and rich fruit of the African Tree of
Life through a presentation and analyses of a range of Eʋe folk sayings, we will
now show how ‘shoots’ from the biblical Tree of Life might be ‘grafted’ on to the
Eʋe tree of life. To achieve a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’, this chapter will concentrate on sayings from Proverbs 25–29, the so-called Hezekiah collection of the
Book of Proverbs. This collection is used because at first reading the similarities between these biblical sayings and the Eʋe folk proverbs make them good
candidates for the ‘grafting’ process. To offer some background to the selection
of these five chapters of Proverbs we will first discuss the suggested origins of
the Book of Proverbs.
Traditionally Solomon has been attributed as the author of the Book of
Proverbs; however, the text appears to be an anthology. We have identified for
a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ a clearly defined section of this anthology, namely,
Proverbs 25–29. Although the sayings in this section are associated with
Solomon, they are presented in the Book of Proverbs (see superscription of
Proverb 25:1) as the work of the “men of Hezekiah.” If this superscription is
accurate, then this section of the book (and some other sections with other
superscriptions) would not be entirely the work of Solomon and would not
have emerged fully till the 10th century, but rather in the 8th century bce.
Critical scholars have also long questioned Solomonic authorship of Proverbs
on various grounds and have tried to date the various parts of the book to different eras; most of the scholars suggest that the final form of the text emerged
in the Persian period.1 Given this complexity, rather than ask about authorship
and date, it is more helpful to study the origin and social location of Proverbs,
especially the short, sentence sayings in Proverbs Chapters 25–29.
1 Claudia V. Camp, Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs. Bible and Literature 11
(Sheffield: Almond Press, 1985).
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2014 | doi 10.1163/9789004274471_005
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Scholars have also been engaged in a major debate over whether the sayings in the Book of Proverbs are of rural folk or elite scribal origin. André
Lemaire uses archaeological findings to show the part played by schools in the
composition of the Bible in ancient Israel. His evidence is too scanty to be
used as concrete data to prove the existence of schools for training scribal
classes in the period concerned.2 David Jameson-Drake, whose research was
published a decade after Lemaire, shows that evidence of the existence of
schools in ancient Israel can only be seen from the 8th century onwards when
political sophistication and urbanization were very high and demanded vigorous scribal activity.3 Opposing this view are the studies by Roger Whybray and
Friedemann Golka, both of whom dismiss the existence of schools in any formal sense in ancient Israel. They suggest that education in ancient Israel was
less formal and less structured; education was in familial settings with scribal
activity being hereditary.4 This complex debate has been schematized by
Michael Fox into the categories of “Farm” and “School.”5 Some scholars locate
the origins of the sayings in Proverbs in pre-literate rural folk settings, agricultural land-holders and peasants, whilst others locate the origins of Proverbs to
the royal court with literary scribes as authors. The first group base their claims
on the short sentence structure and form of the sayings which they believe
closely resemble folk sayings in other cultures; the second group base their
claims on the literary sophistication of the sayings and the elite scribal contexts required for the production of such literary work. Some in this second
group have also compared Proverbs with similar material in the sophisticated
literatures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, where schools for training courtiers
were fully established. Others, however, who do not rely on such comparisons,
insist on an elite educational context like a scribal guild in Israel.6
2 See André Lemaire, Les écoles et la formation de la Bible dans l’ancien Israel (Fribourg,
Switzerland: Editions Universitaires, 1981). Lemaire’s archaeological evidence for the existence of schools in ancient Israel is too scanty to be of any significance.
3 David W. Jameson-Drake, Scribes and Schools in Monarchic Judah: A Socio-Archaeological
Approach (Sheffield, uk: Almond, 1991).
4 Roger N. Whybray, The Intellectual Tradition in the Old Testament (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1974)
and Friedemann W. Golka, “Die isrealittische Weisheitschule Oder ‘des Kaisers neue Kleider’” in
Vetus Testamentum 33 (1983), 257–271. Both Whybray and Golka suggest that education in
ancient Israel was hereditary and that instructions were either transmitted or passed on from
parents to children or between apprentices.
5 Michael V. Fox, “The Social Location of the Book of Proverbs” in Texts, Temples, and Traditions:
A Tribute to Menahem Haran ed. Michael V. Fox, et al. (Winona Lake, in: Eisenbrauns, 1996),
227–239.
6 Whybray, The Book of Proverbs: A Survey of Modern Study. History of Biblical Interpretation
1 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995).
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
4.2
135
“Farm” versus “School”
4.2.a “Farm”
Claus Westermann, the most prominent advocate for the “farm” setting of the
bulk of the proverbs in Proverbs 10–25, is interested in the original sayings,
which he locates in the context of the rural pre-literate “einfachen Menschen”
(“simple folk”),7 who comprise small land-holding farmers, craftsmen, laborers, slaves, and housewives in pre-exilic times. Westermann’s studies of African
proverbs, especially folk proverbs of the Eʋe peoples, an agrarian community
in Southeastern Ghana, is of special interest here since his study is concerned
with African peoples in general and in particular the Eʋe peoples of Ghana. At
the end of his studies, Westermann claims that African proverbs are thematically, comparable to or “concur with the sayings in the Book of Proverbs.”8 He
illustrates this by asserting that ancient Israelite Wisdom evolved from an oral
tradition of an agrarian setting and progressed logically from simple observation to become more universal in outlook. This logical progression is accomplished through the urbanization that occurred at the time and the scribes put
the work into collections.9 Westermann acknowledges that original folk sayings would probably have changed when scribes put them into collections.
This, however, poses a methodological problem. Critics of Westermann, among
which I include myself, and of the ‘farm’ hypothesis, in general, question how
Westermann can be so sure that he can strip away the scribal sections of
Proverbs that were compiled by scribes in order to get to the sayings, which he
7 Claus Westermann, Roots of Wisdom: The Oldest proverbs of Israel and Other Peoples
(Louisville, ky: Westminster/John Knox, 1995), 17. This book is the translation of his German
work, Wurzeln der Weisheit: Die ältesten Sprüche Israels und anderer Volker (Gottingen,
Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990), 27. Westermann attempts to sift the original folk
sayings in Proverbs 10–25 from what he considers as distorted because they have been put
into collections. See also Westermann, Wurzeln der Weisheit, 75. Contra Fox, “The Social
Location,” 229–239 and Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and
Commentary. The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 9. This work deals with several
sayings in the Hebrew Bible, with a focus on their earlier folk origins but which were later
attributed to scribal activity. Contra also H.D. Preuss, Einführung in die alttestamentliche
Weisheit (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1987). Preuss holds to the “school” idea like von Rad and
Hermisson do.
8 Westermann, Roots, 141. See also Ruth Finnegan, “Proverbs” in Oral Literature in Africa
(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), 389–425.
9 Westermann, Roots, 1–3. See also Laurent Naré, Proverbes salomoniens et Proverbes mossi:
Étude Comparative à partir d’une nouvelle analyse de Pr. 25–29. Publications Universitaires
Européennes Série 23, Theologié v. 283 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1986); Harold C. Washington,
Wealth and Poverty in the Instructions of Aménémopé and the Hebrew Proverbs sbl Dissertation
Series 142 (Atlanta, ga: Scholars Press, 1994).
136
Chapter 4
claims to have pre-literate origins. Put another way: “What is Westermann’s
methodology for extracting the original folk sayings from the scribal version
recorded in Proverbs which is the only version we have?”
Friedemann Golka, a student of Westermann, also suggests folk settings as
the basis for the Book of Proverbs and does not accept school settings. Like
Michael Fox (see under “School” below), Golka argues that there is little evidence for a developed court scribal school in ancient Israel like those in Egypt
and Mesopotamia.10 However, like Fox, Whybray and Timothy Sandoval (the latter also treated under “school”), Golka sees “education in ancient Israel as probably happening in the contexts of the household, or family, or guild, and not in a
court school.” Unlike Whybray, Fox and Sandoval, however, Golka assumes that
because there were no large scribal schools in Israel at the time, the material in
Proverbs is close to pure folk material.11 This assumption might not be accurate
since the people who were trained in the educational settings under household
tutors could have become elite scribes associated with the royal court and/or an
10
11
Friedemann, W. Golka, “The Israelite Wisdom School or ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’” in
The Leopards Spots: Biblical and African Wisdom in Proverbs (Edinburgh: T&T Clark,
1993), 4–16, 9. See Fox, “The Social Location of Proverbs,” 228–229. Here Fox argues that
“the court was the decisive locus of creativity” for the ancient Israelite and Judean scribes
who produced Proverbs (p. 236). See also Timothy J. Sandoval, The Discourse of Wealth
and Poverty in the Book of Proverbs (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 29, 30. Here Sandoval, while
focusing on the discourse on wealth and poverty in Proverbs, asserts that “Though few
today would suggest the collections in Proverbs, stem from an historical Solomon, assertions that Israelite wisdom (including Proverbs) finds its provenance among the political
and economic elite remain common” (p. 30). See also Brain W. Kovacs, “Is There a ClassEthic in Proverbs?” in Essays in Old Testament Ethics. Ed. James L. Crenshaw and John T.
Willis (New York: ktav, 1974). Here Kovacs argues that Proverbs is the work of an “intelligentsia.” Contra Washington, Wealth and Poverty, 177, where Washington argues that
“the social function of proverbs in traditional societies can be highly specialized and to an
extent formalized. …in support of a judgment.”
Fox, “The Social Location,” 227–236. See Sandoval, The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty,
30. See also Washington, Wealth and Poverty, 174. All three scholars think Wisdom emanated from some kind of elite scribal educational setting in royal households or circles
but not in a Court or Wisdom school per se. They also give allowance for some proverbs
emanating from rural folk settings. Contra Golka, The Leopard’s Spots. Golka gives no
allowance for a scribal context for the material in Proverbs but allows a family setting as
does Whybray, The Intellectual Tradition in the Old Testament (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter
Inc., 1974). Cf., Whybray, who also sees the education in ancient Israel as hereditary and
occurring in “famulus” settings. See Carole R. Fontaine, Traditional Sayings in the Old
Testament. Fontaine also holds the view that an oral setting in the family is prominent in
Proverbs but she too accepts the view that consequently, the wisdom in these proverbs
was formulated in schools. See also Fontaine’s ethnographic work, “Proverb Performance
in the Hebrew Bible,” jsot 32 (1985), 87–103.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
137
elite scribal context. Contrary to Golka’s view that Proverbs is of mainly folk
origin, Fox, Sandoval, Whybray and Harold Washington recognize in different
ways that the material in the Book of Proverbs has both folk and scribal influence. As with Westermann, the question then arises: How can Golka explain the
collections we now have in scribal form with which, ironically, he is doing his
comparison? Was the material put together by the rural folk? If so, why does the
material not favor only rural folk origins but it often favors the elite/scribal origins? Carole Fontaine, whilst accepting Westermann’s thesis, proposes that wisdom originated as oral folk sayings in the family, where instructions from parents
also involved the transmission of wisdom. This makes the stance of Fontaine
similar to Golka’s in emphasizing the “famulus” setting. Unlike Golka, but like
the others, Fontaine makes allowances for the later formulation of the wisdom
material in schools.12 We can see then that scholars who argue for a “farm” or
rural folk contexts for the material in Proverbs do, to some extent, believe that
scribal activity cannot be excluded. This latter point can be understood because
the material we have in the Book of Proverbs is the final editorial work of scribes
or people who were literate. The conclusions drawn by the scholars are based on
their analyses of the final product of scribal activity.
4.2.b “School”
In contrast to the scholars who argue for a “farm” or rural folk context for the
material in the Book of Proverbs, Gerhard von Rad held the view that the
cream of ancient Israelite wisdom was a product of the early Monarchic period,
which he called the “Solomonic Enlightenment.”13 For von Rad, the Monarchic
12
13
Fontaine, “The Sage in Family and Tribe” in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East. Ed.
John Gammie and Leo G. Perdue (Winona Lake, in: Eisenbrauns Pub., 1990), 155–164. See
also Fontaine, Traditional Sayings in the Old Testament: A Contextual Study. Bible and Litera­
ture 5 (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1982). For ideas corresponding to Fontaine’s ideas, which
focus on the oral nature of a number of sayings in the Old Testament, see the early work of
Otto Eissfeldt, Der Maschal im Alten Testament bzaw 24 (Giessen: Töpelmann, 1913).
Gerhard von Rad, “The Beginnings of Historical Writing in Ancient Israel” in The Problem
of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), 166–204. Von Rad
argued that the Solomonic “Enlightenment” was a result of Egyptian influence but this
argument no longer holds. Contra Stuart Weeks, Early Israelite Wisdom (Oxford: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1994). In this work, Weeks offers a strong critique against the view that the
sophisticated literary work for training children of courtiers was the work of a class of
professional scribes of the royal court. His view tallies with an earlier work by Brain.
Kovacs, “Is There a Class-Ethic in Proverbs?” in Essays in Old Testament Ethics: J. Philip
Hyatt in Memoriam, 171–189. Eds. James L. Crenshaw, Philip J. Hyatt and John T. Willis
(New York: ktav Pub. House, 1974). In this article, Kovacs rejects the attribution of the
sayings in Proverbs to royal scribes, who were closely related to the ruling class. Kovacs
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Chapter 4
period was characterized by intellectual, scribal activity, which was fuelled by
the resources of the glorious reign of King Solomon. He suggests that this
period and its activities were influenced by and modeled on the great scribal
cultures of the ancient Near East, especially Egypt. Though von Rad acknowledges the probability of the existence of early clan wisdom in Israel, he notes
that it is very difficult to gain access to such wisdom and, therefore, disputes
the prevalent view that the short sentence sayings in the Book of Proverbs
must be “traced back to popular proverbs.”14
Hans-Jürgen Hermisson,15 like his teacher, von Rad, argues for a
“Weisheitschule”16 (“Wisdom School”), which was connected with the royal
14
15
16
then argues that responsibility for the Proverbs must be assigned to those who constituted a kind of middle class.
Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (London, scm, 1972), 26. Von Rad is of the opinion that though
most of Israel’s wisdom sentence sayings may have stemmed from ancient folk wisdom,
other proverbs may have come from books, from foreign literatures and may have first
become popular only through the medium of schools.
Hans-Jürgen Hermisson, Studien zur israelitischen Spruchweisheit. wmant 28.
(Neukirchen: Neukirchener Vlg., 1968), 97–136. Here Hermisson offers an extensive argument for “schools of Wisdom Literature” in Israel. See also André Lemaire, Les Écoles et la
formation de la Bible dans l’ancien Israel (Freiburg: Editions Universtaires 1981) and
Lemaire, “Sagasse et écoles,” in vt 34 (1984), 270–281. Lemaire’s work focuses on archaeological studies, inscriptions and fragments from places like Gezer, Lachish, Khirbet elQom, Arad, Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and others by which means he attempts to find evidence
concerning the presence of schools in ancient Israel. He concludes that evidence for
schools is too scant in the Bible and from archaeology to warrant their existence in ancient
Israel. See also Washington, Wealth and Poverty, 36. Contra Golka, “Die israelitische
Weisheitsschule Oder ‘der Kaisers neue Kleider” vt 33 (1983), 257–270. Fox, in “The Social
Location,” agrees that royal court scribes were responsible for Wisdom in the Proverbs but
rejects Hermisson’s idea of “schools of Wisdom literature” in the formal sense of the word.
Contra also Menahem Haran, “On the Diffusion of Literacy and Schools in Ancient Israel,”
Congress Volume. Ed. John A. Emerton (Jerusalem, 1986 [vt Sup. 40] (1988), 81–95. As the
title of the article implies, Menahem diffuses the notion of schools and argues completely
against it. See Whybray, The Intellectual Tradition in the Old Testament bzaw 135 (Berlin,
1974). In this work, Whybray sides with Fox, “The Social Location of Proverbs” on the
grounds that the Bible does not point to any class of professionally wise called ḥăkāmim.
Whybray, however, disagrees completely with Hermisson’s idea of “Wisdom School” for
instructing courtiers in political ideology. See also Nili Shupak, “The Book of Proverbs and
Wisdom Literature,” rb 94 (1987), 99–119, 104. Shupak adopts a middle ground based on
the similarities of semantic terminologies in both Egyptian and biblical literatures to conclude that the Book of Proverbs too was connected to education.
Hermisson, Studien zur israelitischen Spruchweisheit, 36. Hermisson argues that proverbs
that are didactic by nature must derive from a cultivated didactic setting. See also Fox,
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
139
court and was also responsible for training the children of courtiers in administrative affairs. Although Hermisson also suggests the Book of Proverbs probably incorporates some oral sayings from folk contexts,17 both von Rad and
Hermisson suggest that the scribes in the royal court schools created some of
the sayings in Proverbs and essentially edited all of them.18
Von Rad and Hermisson base their suggestions on comparative school systems in the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Fox and Sandoval,
like von Rad and Hermisson, prefer to locate the sayings in Proverbs in the
royal court or literary scribal contexts. However, unlike von Rad and Hermisson,
Fox acknowledges a scribal educational context, but does not consider it as a
“wisdom school” but rather an educational system where the types of texts
relevant to the future occupations of the pupils were extensively taught.
Furthermore, for Fox, since such an educational system trained pupils not
only for the court or temple but also for other administrative positions,19 the
scribal school might as well be called the “Magic School.”20 Sandoval and Fox
hold similar views on the location of proverbs in scribal contexts. Sandoval
acknowledges that it is the final product of the Book of Proverbs that should be
attributed to elite scribes. To support his thesis, Sandoval argues that the form
of education of the scribes should be attributed to traditional household guilds
17
18
19
20
“The Social Location,” 228. Contra Washington, Wealth and Poverty, 173. Washington
argues on the contrary by pointing out that the folklore of other cultures show that the
absence of didactic intent is not a fitting criterion for identifying folk sayings. Furthermore,
the knowledge of the context helps to determine the didactic nature of the proverb. See
also Carole Fontaine, Traditional Sayings in the Old Testament, 10–13.
Contra Washington, Wealth and Poverty, 175.
Hermisson, Studien zur Israelitischen Spruchweisheit. Wissenchaftliche Monographien zum
alten und neuen Testament 28 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1968). Contra Fox,
“The Social Location,” where Fox schematizes the debate into whether the book of Proverbs
originated from elite scribal (“school”) circles or from popular folk (“farm”).
Fox, “The Social Location,” 229–232, 230. Fox argues here that the royal court schools
were not meant for specialized training of the children of the courtiers. See also Sandoval,
The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty, 39ff, fn. 29. Sandoval here argues for the possibility
that scribes in ancient Israel (probably wisdom sages hired for instructing in some kind
of school setting) might have been responsible for educating members of the royal
household and political elite though Proverbs nowhere unequivocally alludes to such a
function as it pertains in Egyptian instruction. Sandoval concludes that “the book was
written and compiled by the literati.” See also von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 83–84 and Leo
G. Perdue, Proverbs, Interpretation Bible Commentary (Louisville, ky: John Knox Press,
2000), 69.
Fox, “The Social Location,” 230.
140
Chapter 4
and not to royal court schools.21 For Sandoval and Fox, many scribes in the royal
court or temple p
­ robably invented some folk sayings, reworked others and
recorded the collection, which they preserved as a hybrid collection in the Book
of Proverbs; thus suggesting the final product is the dominant voice of scribes.22
Sandoval believes that some sayings may have originated in folk contexts
and were re-worked by scribes; other sayings can be categorized as purely the
creation of scribes.23
The main confusion in this debate is the relationship between schools or
scribal education and the possible folk origin of the short sentence sayings
in Proverbs 10:1–22:16 and 25:1–29:27. Do they originate in rural agricultural or royal court scribal contexts? Some kind of educational institution or
“site” must have existed in ancient Israel (before Ben Sira makes reference to
the “house of study”),24 but was it a “royal scribal school” like in Egypt and
Mesopotamia25 or was it a family-based, guild education? The evidence
appears to favor the latter view that Proverbs originated from family or
guild-based scribal educational settings which made use of folk proverbs.
Whichever is the case, an African centered ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ is less
concerned with such historical arguments or their conclusions. It recognizes the oral wisdom of the rural folk within a collection that in its final
21
22
23
24
25
Sandoval, The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty, 30.
Fox, “The Social Location,” 227–239. See Sandoval, The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty,
30–32.
Similar to Fox and Sandoval, Whybray and Golka also argue for a form of household guild
education in ancient Israel. See also Whybray, Wealth and Poverty in the Book of Proverbs
JSOTSup 99 (Sheffield: jsot Press, 1990), 45 fn 1. Here Whybray points out the “virtual
consensus” that Proverbs is the work of an upper class. Contra Golka, The Leopard’s Spots,
36, 68. See also Fox, “The Social Location,” 227–239, 236. See also Sandoval, The Discourse
of Wealth and Poverty, 30–32, 137. See von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 125–126. See also
Hermisson, Studien zur israelitischen Spruchweisheit.
Ben Sira 51:23 refers to beyt midrash but Fox sees this as not a reference to the existence
of a school but rather as a “metaphor” used by Ben Sira in reference to his book. See Fox,
Proverbs 1–9, 7. Here Fox suggests that since the reference is at the conclusion of the book,
it is a recommendation of the book to the reader to gain wisdom “without money” (v. 25).
See also André Lemaire, Les Écoles et la formation de la Bible, 84. Lemaire refers to findings
from archaeological sites with representations of pupils and writing exercises but concludes that they are “très pauvre et très fragmentaire” (that is, too few and too fragmented)
since they are not found only in Jerusalem, but also scattered around several sites.
Fox, “The Social Location,” 229–232, 230. See Fox’s argument above from “The Social
Location,” 229–232, 230. See also Sandoval’s argument above, The Discourse of Wealth
and Poverty (p. 39ff, n. 29). See von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, 83–84 and Leo G. Perdue,
Proverbs, Interpretation Bible Commentary (Louisville, ky: John Knox Press, 2000), 69.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
141
analysis is the product of elite scribes. This interpretation recognizes that
whatever precise ‘history’ the sayings had in the Book of Proverbs, their similarity with African proverbial discourses means that ‘shoots’ from this biblical wisdom tree of life (Book of Proverbs) can be ‘grafted’ on to the African
Eʋe folk tree of life.
4.3
Juxtaposing Proverbs 25–29 and Eʋe Folk Proverbs
This section juxtaposes some sayings chosen from Proverbs 25–29 and some
selected African Ghanaian Eʋe folk proverbs. Using the agricultural image of
‘grafting’, appropriate ‘shoots’ from Israel’s biblical proverbial tree of life are
‘grafted’ on to the African Ghanaian Eʋe folk proverbial tree of life, which
receives ‘shoots’ from the biblical proverbial tree of life. Here, the African Eʋe
tree of life is represented by the four most cherished virtues of Diligence,
Humility, Prudence and Sociability which I suggest is the appropriate tree on
to which proverbs from the Book of Proverbs can be ‘grafted’. As an African
Ghanaian Eʋe woman, a biblical scholar trained in exegesis, hermeneutics and
culture and an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament I bring my ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ to this study. I intended to provide a means whereby the
similarities and contrasts between Proverbs 25–29 and Eʋe folk proverbs, can
help with the study of the Book of Proverbs among African peoples in general
and Eʋe peoples in particular. By using images from proverbs with which the
Eʋe peoples are familiar, they can easily understand the biblical message of
Proverbs and are better placed to absorb the message and use them in their
cultural contexts.
In attempting this juxtaposition, Brent Strawn’s description of comparative
approaches is relevant here: In his overview of comparative approaches in
Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East (ane) studies, Strawn asserts:
Comparative methodology sets at least two (sometimes more) subjects
alongside each other so as to look at them together in order to (1) identify
both similarities and differences and (2) reveal aspects of the subjects that
may not have been as readily seen if each was looked at in isolation.26
26
Brent A. Strawn, “Comparative Approaches: History, Theory, and the Image of God” in eds.
Joel M. LeMon and Kent Harold Richards, Method Matters: Essays on the Interpretation of
the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David L. Peterson (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature,
2009), 117–142, 117.
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Chapter 4
Strawn suggests that “it is possible to juxtapose historically unrelated and/or
noncontiguous cultural and/or linguistic traditions.”27 This suggestion that historically unrelated or non-contiguous cultural and linguistic traditions can be
possibly juxtaposed is a hermeneutic undertaking, which has a direct connection to the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ discussed in this study. Though not all
readers may immediately recognize the similarities and/or differences between
biblical proverbs and African Eʋe folk sayings, or see the new understandings
that emerge from the grafting of the one on to the other, they are the fruit of an
Eʋe woman, trained in critical Biblical Studies, who is concerned especially
with the reception of the Bible in African Eʋe contexts.
The consideration of the biblical and African Eʋe proverbs as ‘shoots’ and
trees in this study does not rely entirely on Strawn’s definition of “comparative
methodology” above.28 It attempts to use a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’, which
involves not only deciphering the similarities and differences in the two completely different sets of proverbs and alluding to some aspects of both that are
not immediately obvious if they were studied separately (according to Strawn),
but the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ also discerns how ‘shoots’ from the biblical
proverbial tree of life can be ‘grafted’ on to the African Eʋe tree of life. This ‘grafting’ is applied in a way that the encounter between the Bible and contemporary
African Eʋe readers and listeners remains more distinctly African and promotes
genuine, new forms of understanding, whilst noting that the two are “historically unrelated and/or noncontiguous cultural and/or linguistic traditions.”29
We present below an attempt to ‘graft’ some proverbial ‘shoots’ from
Proverbs 25–29 on to the African Eʋe proverbial tree of life. The choice of
‘shoots’ from this section of Proverbs depends, not only on it being a discreet
or systematic collection of proverbs, but it is also based on the similarity of
these proverbs to the folk proverbs in the Eʋe cultural context. The proverbs in
Proverbs 25–29 are short sayings uttered by the sages of Israel, who make concrete observations about life, similar to Eʋe folk proverbs. Although biblical
proverbs, in general sometimes also show marked contrasts or differences,
these differences are fewer in Proverbs 25–29. There are many virtues, diverse
27
28
29
Strawn, “Comparative Approaches,” 117.
Strawn, “Comparative Approaches,” 117. Strawn asserts further that “comparison seems
to be the default disposition, perhaps, the most foundational of all methods” and that it is
“evidently not a choice but a requirement (p. 118).
Strawn, “Comparative Approaches,” 117. See also the work of Constatin Neagreanu,
“Some aspects of Comparative Paremiological Research in Proverbium: Yearbook of
International Proverb Scholarship, vol. 5; eds. Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit Hasan-Rokem and
Janet Sobieski (Burlington, Vermont: Univ. of Vermont Department of German and
Russian, 1988), 159–166.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
143
themes, images or figures, in some of these biblical wisdom ‘shoots’ that are
very similar to or different from those in the Eʋe proverbial tree of life. Thus the
sayings or ‘shoots’ from Proverbs appear ripe for ‘grafting’ on to the Eʋe folk
proverbial tree.
The exercise of ‘grafting’ some of the “sentence” proverbs in Proverbs 25–29
on to selected Eʋe folk proverbs is organized around the four main virtues of
Diligence, Humility, Prudence and Sociability, which as we have seen in
Chapters 2 and 3, are central to Eʋe morality and culture. In addition to using
a variety of images and figures and/or forms similar to Eʋe sayings, the biblical
Proverbs share similar concerns with the Eʋe by dealing with fundamental values. This, concern, more than any other feature of the two sets of proverbs
(form, imagery, etc.) is the most significant trigger which suggests that a ‘grafting’ of the biblical ‘shoots’ on to the African tree of life might not only be possible but it is also very valuable. Since the aim is to ‘graft’ the biblical material
on to the Eʋe tree of life, this chapter does not analyze every single proverb in
Proverbs 25–29, but we will only analyze those ‘shoots’ that are ripe for ‘grafting’. The Eʋe proverbs have already been explained in Chapters 2 and 3, so no
further detailed explanations are offered for them in this chapter except where
it is needed for clarity.
4.4
The Virtue of Diligence—kutrikuku
As we have shown in Chapter 2, the virtue of diligence is expressed in a ­number
of Eʋe folk proverbs. Some of these proverbs use images, which warn about the
vices of laziness and procrastination, while others teach the virtue of diligence,
determination and perseverance. The proverbs which teach diligence also
implicitly address other virtues, e.g., persistence, zealousness, decisiveness,
work ethic, steadfastness, fortitude and integrity, to name a few. For the Eʋe
peoples, the virtue of Diligence is concerned with pains-taking toil through
strenuous processes which can be compared with ‘dying’ (metaphorically) in
order to achieve a worthwhile aim in life. Thus, the Eʋe folk proverbs that teach
diligence encourage their listeners to be determined and focused in the performance of tasks and not to be negligent in their duties.
Similarly, several sayings from Proverbs 25–29 teach diligence by using proverbs that use the imagery of laziness and procrastination to deplore the lack of
diligence. The biblical sayings use rhetoric that exhibits act-­consequence logic
to teach people that laziness and a lack of diligence bring poverty and negative
results whereas industry, determination, a work ethic and focus result in success and a good life. The sayings about laziness and poverty (see Section 2.5.c
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above), acts and their resulting consequences (Section 2.5.d), perseverance
and determination that spell success (Section 2.5.e) and diligence portrayed by
the order of relationships (Section 2.5.f), all common in Eʋe proverbial lore,
can also be found in sayings in Proverbs 25–29.
Before analyzing the biblical ‘shoots’ for ‘grafting’ on to the Eʋe folk proverbial tree, a few observations about the characteristics of these two sets
of proverbs need to be made here. The Eʋe folk proverbs can be mostly
attributed to rural folk contexts, the sayings from Proverbs 25–29, in their
final form fit scribal contexts. Nevertheless, the Eʋe folk proverbs can also
be applied in sophisticated contexts as has been shown in Chapters 2 and 3,
as the sayings in Proverbs can also be applied to rural folk types of contexts
as will be shown in this chapter. Secondly, a peculiar characteristic of Eʋe
folk proverbs, which Proverbs 25–29 does not have, is that the former uses
negative “o” to end sayings for rhetorically emphasizing the moral lesson or
virtue taught in the Eʋe sayings, which is not found in the Book of Proverbs.
4.4.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Diligence
Proverbs 26:13–16, for instance, is a cluster of proverbs that chastise the lazy
and promote diligence. Although the clustering of these lines suggest some
intentional scribal editorial arrangement—perhaps triggered by the term
‫(עצל‬lazy), which is common to all of them—the vivid images used to illustrate
the character of the lazy person are common to folk sayings. Many sayings in
Proverbs are neatly paralleled two lines—usually considered to be the literary
style of learned scribes—the sayings which follow do not have this form and
they are more like one line folk sayings. This characteristic of folk sayings used
in Proverbs makes it easy to apply in similar folk performance contexts. Yet
whatever the context these proverbs provide a picture of gross neglect and lack
of diligence thus teaching people to avoid laziness and be diligent and discreet
in their actions.
‫אמר עצל שחל בדרך ארי בין הרחבות‬
The lazy person says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!”
(Proverb 26:13).
‫הדלת תסוב על־צירה ועצל על־מטתו‬
As a door turns on its hinges, so does a lazy person in bed (Proverb 26:14).
‫טמן עצל ידו בצלחת נלאה להשיבה אלפיו‬
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
145
The lazy person buries a hand in the dish, and is too tired to bring it back to the
mouth (Proverb 26:15)
‫חכם עצל בעיניו משבעה משיבי טעם‬
The lazy person is wiser in self-esteem than seven who can answer discreetly30
(Proverb 26:16)
Proverbs 26:13–16 refer to what the lazy person does, and thinks. Verse 13
has the form of a report about the lazy person, whose fear or hallucination
about a non-existent lion “on the road and in the streets,” prevents him or her
from risking ‘getting out there’, and doing something beneficial. Verse 14 likens
the lazy person to a door turning on its hinges. This image gives the idea of a
situation which does not improve but remains static or the same,31 just as a
lazy person, who farms at the side of the foot path displays his or her weakness,
as shown in the Eʋe proverb analyzed in Section 2.5.c; similarly, the lazy
person who leaves his farm untended makes snakes take over and make it their
breeding place in the Eʋe saying, which was also analyzed in Section 2.5.c.
Verse 15 projects the lazy person as too lazy to carry out a simple activity like
eating, which is helpful to him or herself. The lack of diligence in this proverb
is similar to the implicit idea in the Eʋe proverb about the dog whose master is
timid and so cannot hunt (analyzed in Section 2.5.d). The dog owner is too
timid and lacks boldness to be a role model for his dog. The dog also fails in
its duty to be a good hunter. Fox is probably right in describing the image of
the person who is too lazy to take his or her hand out of a bowl of food, “as
a hyperbole showing the epitome of laziness,” which poses the risk of starvation to the person.32
In Proverbs 26:16, the lazy person considers him or herself wiser than seven
people who speak discreetly. This shows both a lack of diligence and of humility by lazy people who see themselves as wiser than everybody else in spite of
a hopeless condition. The idea in this proverb can be compared to an Eʋe
30
31
32
This Proverb is comparable to Prov. 26:12, which states that “If you see a man who thinks
himself wise, there is more hope for a fool than for him.” By implication the lazy person
who thinks he is wiser than seven who can answer discretely is equivalent to a fool “who
thinks himself wise” and there is no hope for either of them.
See Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 798. Here Fox comments that “the door turns but the lazy man
[person] stays put rather than going out to work” or the lazy “does not move.” See also Robert
Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 177. Alter likens the lazy person to a couple of things: as a door turning on its hinges, “the sluggard turns over in his bed
without going anywhere,” and “he [the sluggard] is just a senseless slab of inert matter.”
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 798.
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­ roverb from personal observation which speaks about the squirrel. This Eʋe
p
proverb says, “Adɔ nyanu kaka gake gamɔvuvue ɖe nɛ” and means, “Though the
squirrel is very wise, it is normally caught in a torn trap.” This Eʋe proverb can
also be applied as a warning against pride and a lack of humility on the part of
the lazy person and the seemingly “wise” squirrel.
There are a number of other proverbs that also deal with the theme of laziness and diligence but which use act and consequence logic. Proverb 28:19b,
for instance, also deals with laziness and can teach the virtue of diligence.
However, it is different from the previous set of sayings in that it does not use
the term “lazy” but rather applies clear act-consequence logic like the others.
‫עבד אדמתו ישבעלחם ומרדף רקים ישבעריש‬
The one who works his land will be sated with bread, but the one who pursues
vanities will be sated with poverty (Proverb 28:19).
Here the “one who tills or works his land” is placed in antithesis to the “one
who pursues vanities.” While the former “will be satisfied with bread” as a
result of diligent work, the latter “will be sated with poverty,” which is the result
of laziness. Sandoval appropriately observes that this proverb (28:19), which
belongs to the “the lazy/diligent sayings” in the Book of Proverbs, “might be
said to be based on the sages’ observation of the social world.”33 With the
observation of the social world from personal experience of the Ghanaian Eʋe
cultural context, this proverb is comparable to the Eʋe proverb, which translates as “It is the jaw that eats that is seen moving,” which was analyzed in
Section 3.3.d. Explicit in the biblical proverb and implied in the Eʋe sayings is
the suggestion that the virtue of diligence, sociability and responsible work
ethic provide fulfillment and good life with a subtle condemnation of the pursuit of vanities which brings poverty and does not promote the good life. Fox
asserts correctly that this proverb “praises industry in work.”34
In contrast to the proverbs that deal with the negative figure of the lazy person and the lack of diligence are proverbs that deal positively with industry
and diligence. A good example is Proverb 27:18, a saying that also employs
act-consequence logic.
‫נצר תאנה יאכל פריה ושמר אדניו יכבד‬
33
34
Sandoval, The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty, 136. See also von Rad, Wisdom in Israel,
125; Westermann, Roots, 19. Cf., Proverbs 28:20 and 22, where ill-gotten wealth dwindles
but the diligent person gathers “little by little.”
See Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 828. See also Proverbs 12:11.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
147
He who tends a fig tree will enjoy its fruit and he who cares for his master will
be honored (Proverb 27:18).
This proverb is similar to Proverb 28:19, which stresses the virtue of diligence exhibited through hard work. The proverb uses act-consequence logic
and employs synonymous parallelism to show that “tending a fig tree” aligns
with “taking care of one’s master,” the result of which is “eating the fruit of the
fig tree,” which aligns with “being honored,” respectively. According to Fox, the
images in Proverb 27:18 represent “the epitome of painstaking labor.”35 Fox’s
idea tallies with the Eʋe translation of diligence, as “kutrikuku,” which literally,
means, “dying a massy or thick death” or straining one’s self to the point of
“dying,” though this “dying” is not literal but metaphorical. In this context, diligence can be expressed by the English phrase “Do and die” or “Do or die,” to
refer to working relentlessly against all odds in order to succeed.
The use of agricultural images in the first part of each of these proverbs,
28:19 and 27:18, on the one hand, makes them sound like folk proverbs and
provides a hint about their probable origin or context. Though this may not
necessarily be so, this characteristic makes the proverbs candidate ‘shoots’ for
‘grafting’ on to the Eʋe tree of life. On the other hand, the use of specific activities, “like pursuing vanity” and “caring for masters,” which point to economic or
power concerns, in the second part of each of these proverbs, points to
probable scribal contexts. As such, whether the images used in the proverbs
have rural or scribal origins, which can be an assumption that may not necessarily be accurate, they teach the virtue of diligence in every undertaking. In
either case, an African centered ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ ‘hears’ the folk wisdom and can ‘graft’ the biblical ‘shoot’ on to the full grown African tree of life.
Proverbs 28:19 and 27:18 can be compared with the Eʋe folk proverbs in
Chapter 2, Section 2.5.e under “Diligence: Determination and Perseverance
Spell Success,” which teach people to be determined and to persevere in performing tasks successfully. Proverbs 28:19 and 27:18 can also be compared to
the Eʋe proverb “Hotakpotɔ meɖua nu tea hokatɔ o,”36 meaning, “The person
35
36
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 812. According to Fox, the requirement of notching every fig to
enable it ripen, is a demanding business. This “demanding business” is a matter of extreme
diligence.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 52. See also the treatment of the Eʋe proverbs in Chapter Two
Section 2.5.f., which speak about acts and their resulting consequences. The proverb can
be explained by another Eʋe folk proverb from my personal experience, which says,
“Miasie klɔa ɖusi eye ɖusi hã klɔa miasi,” which means, “The left hand washes the right
hand and the right hand also washes the left. Both proverbs fit in with the virtue of
“­diligence” showing that acts and their consequences go together such that diligence pays
off while lack of diligence profits nothing.
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who is semi-affluent does not refuse to give to the one who is affluent indeed,”
which was analyzed in Section 3.3.b above. As in the biblical proverbs, a servant who does not care for his master is not honored so in the Eʋe proverb the
diligent semi-affluent should be in the position to assist a truly affluent person,
who is in need, so that when circumstances turn around the semi-affluent can
also be helped by the truly affluent. Apart from teaching the virtue of diligence,
this Eʋe folk proverb (as well as the biblical saying) can also be used to teach
sociability, whereby people are expected to help each other in the society. This
analysis presents Proverbs 28:19 and 27:18 as concerned with the lazy and the
diligent antithetically. Similarly, the semi-affluent person in the Eʋe saying can
be likened to the diligent person, who tends a fig tree and takes care of his
master, because he or she is not lazy and so is able to eat the fruits of the fig tree
and to be honored by his master, respectively just as the semi-affluent,
who helps the truly affluent, who is in need can also be helped by the truly
affluent when the need arises. Both sayings from Proverbs and the Eʋe proverbs follow the act-consequence logic and show that diligence is rewarded by
fulfillment while lack of diligence is rewarded with nothing but has negative
consequences.
Proverbs 25:4–5 are two other verses from the Hezekiah collection of
Proverbs that employ act-consequence logic to teach diligence. Again, the juxtaposition of these two sayings suggests scribal activity. But the images of at
least v. 4 would also be widely known and understood in a non-elite context.
Although the royal imagery in v. 5, might suggest the court as the origin of this
saying, this is not assured. Peasants of course know about the power and possible corruption of kings.37 Indeed, the sort of diligence employed in both
proverbs is appropriate to an ancient agriculturally based as well as scribal
community.
‫הגו סיגים מכסף ויצא לצרף כלי‬
Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel
(Proverb 25:4).
‫הגו רשע לפנימלך ויכון בצדק כסאו‬
37
What’s more the nature of kingship in say, 8th century Israel and Judah, likely was not
what many European and North American readers might initially think. These small citystate kingdoms would have been perhaps, closer to chiefdoms rather than to the monarchies of early modern Europe.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
149
Take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be
established in righteousness (Proverb 24:5).
These two sayings from Proverb 25:4 and 5 speak about getting rid of certain negative elements in order to have good results. For example, in Proverb
25:4, the “dross,” must be removed to leave “silver” for the smith to produce a
vessel (v. 4). Similarly, in v. 5, “wicked” people must be removed from the king’s
presence, for the king’s “throne” to be “established.” These sayings can be compared with a couple of Eʋe proverbs, treated in Chapter 2, Section 2.5.d. The
first from personal experience refers to “a rotten yam that removes itself from
the rope” used to tie it together with other yams. The second saying, speaks
about “the mute chief,” whose town, or “chiefdom falls,” which was also analyzed
in Section 2.5.d above. The dross that must be removed from the silver (Proverb
25:4) compares with the “rotten yam” that “removes itself from the rope” in the
Eʋe proverb and the silver that appears for the smith to work with compares
with what is implicit in the Eʋe proverb, the “good yam” that remains in the
rope with the other good yams. Similarly, Proverb 25:5 can be compared and
also contrasted with the “mute chief” in the second Eʋe proverb. Whereas it is
the wicked that must be removed from the king’s presence for his throne to be
established in Proverb 25:5, in contrast, the “mute chief,” whose “town/chiefdom” is destroyed, is the cause of the fall of his own chiefdom in the Eʋe proverb. By implication, the “muteness” of the chief must be removed (i.e., he must
be “unmuted”) so that his chiefdom will stand and not fall. This comparison
finds expression in Fox’s conclusion that it is the king who is being told “to
compare himself to the smith and give thought to his duty to forge a just society.”38 Fox’s idea is apt here, since in both Proverbs 25:4 and 25:5 and the Eʋe
folk proverb, the Eʋe chief and the king in Proverbs have very important roles
38
Fox, Proverbs 10–31 A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 18B (New
Haven, London: The Anchor Yale Bible, Yale Univ. Press, 2009), 779. See also Raymond C.
Van Leeuwen, Context and Meaning in Proverbs 25–27 sblds 96 (Atlanta: Scholars Press,
1988). In this work, Leeuwen does a comprehensive study of the context and probable
meanings of Proverbs 25–27. See also Leeuwen’s article “A Technical Metallurgical Use of
yṣ” in zaw 98 (1986c), 112–113. In this article, Leeuwen proposes that the expression
“comes forth,” which is used in reference to the vessel that emanates from the refined ore,
is a “metallurgical” term, which describes the smelting process and argues that the transition from molten metal to the refined vessel leaves a gap in the process between refinement and the final production of the vessel (p. 113). See also William McKane, Proverbs:
A New Approach. Old Testament Library (Philadelphia, pa: Westminster Press, 1970),
628–629. McKane considers the ruler in Proverbs 28:15, to be like the roaring lion at
whose mercy are the poor; McKane also sees the image in vv. 3 and 16 as a “consequence
of the careful observation of misrule and its effects.”
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to ensure the wellbeing in their rule. One must rid himself of “muteness” over
issues that destroy his town or chiefdom in the Eʋe proverb, the other must rid
his kingdom of bad nuts (wicked people) to establish his throne.
4.4.b Grafting Conclusions
The proverbs analyzed above use act-consequence logic to condemn laziness
and lack of diligence and teach diligence and a proper work ethic. Though they
can be understood literally, they mostly warn people against negative character traits, e.g., laziness and mediocrity which are a result of lack of diligence.
They encourage people to make the most of whatever they have to be successful. These proverbs can be applied to parents, people in leadership or authority,
children, professionals and anyone who discharges or fails to discharge their
duties properly. Parents who do not restrain the bad habits of their children,
leaders who are not worried by bad applications of the law and children who
fail to make the most out of their time before they grow up, can all be subjects
of these proverbs. Since the proverbs paint pictures of gross neglect and lack of
diligence, they teach people to avoid laziness and be diligent and discreet in
their actions. A student who fails to work yet complains about teachers can be
the subject of these proverbs. Such a student can be likened to the lazy farmer
whose farm is a “breeding place for snakes.” Similarly, someone who complains
about how bad others are can never form a relationship of any kind, friendship
or marriage. Someone who hallucinates and is afraid of non-existent terror at
school or work and refuses to apply themselves to diligent work can be the
subject of this proverb group. Equally, anyone who does not have the talents of
which they boast is comparable to a fool who lacks diligence. Every aspect of
life left unattended which deteriorates into something undesirable can be
attributed to a lack of diligence whilst every aspect of life that promotes a good
life can be attributed to diligence. Thus we have seen that the ‘shoots’, cuttings
from Proverbs (the biblical tree of life) are appropriate to be ‘grafted’ on to the
African Ghanaian Eʋe tree of life.
4.5
The Virtue of Humility—ðokuibɔbɔ
As we saw in Chapter 2, Section 2, the virtue of Humility, involves “bending
down,” “lowering,” “abasing,” or “exhibiting meekness.” It also involves selflessness, respectfulness, self-examination, courage, making sacrifices in the face
of difficult tasks, giving credit where credit is due, faithfulness and a lack of
false pride. Humility involves awareness or consciousness of the defects or
shortcomings which prevent a person from being proud or self-assertive; it
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
151
encourages modesty, lowly mindedness, reduces arrogance and selfdependence by promoting meekness and submission which is often used
reflexively in reference to the divine.39 This virtue, highly cherished among the
Eʋe peoples who use a number of folk proverbs to teach humility, is also the
theme of many sayings from Proverbs 25–29.
4.5.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Humility
Both Eʋe proverbs and a number of sayings from Proverbs 25–29 teach the
virtue of humility using similar (but sometimes different) images. The Eʋe
proverbs mainly use images of young children, young animals and other small
things as well as agricultural imagery, body parts etc., to teach adults and children to be conscious of their abilities and capabilities. A major difference
between the Eʋe proverbs and the sayings from the Hezekiah collection is that
while the former uses animal images to teach virtues affecting human beings;
the latter do not use this aspect; in Proverbs other themes and images, e.g.,
from nature or political life are used to teach the virtue of humility.
Consider first, Proverb 25:14.
‫נשיאים ורוח וגשם אין איש מתהלל במתתשקר‬
Like clouds and wind without rain is one, who boasts of a gift (that is) never
given (Proverb 25:14).
This proverb is a simple metaphor which compares the “one who boasts of
a gift never given” to “much cloud with wind but no rain.” According to Fox, this
proverb refers to what precedes autumn rains in Israel where clouds and
humidity in the summer bring no rain.40 The person who makes promises but
does not keep them is likened to these natural phenomena. A further point of
consideration of Proverb 25:14 is Fox’s insight of this verse. He explains the
word neśi’im, as a homonym meaning “princes,” and suggests that the word
“creates a pungent pun” since the line can also read as “Princes with winds but
no rain.” Fox is so confident about this because for him there are princes full of
39
40
See R.E.C. Browne, “Humility” in A Dictionary of Christian Ethics, ed. John Macquarrie
(London, scm Press Ltd., 1967), 159–160.
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 784. Fox describes “the posturer” as “full of wind” and refers to
Bildad’s description of the words of Job’s mouth as “a mighty [great] wind” (Job 8:2). See
also McKane’s scathing condemnation of the person of this character as “a man of straw
rather than steel” and the “eternal poseur, whose projected beneficence is as insubstantial
as a bubble (šeqer), and whose affection of generosity is a form of playing to the gallery
and of egotistical inflation” and that in the end “after all his fair promises, nothing happens” (Proverbs: A New Approach, 586).
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hot air who never give what they promise.41 If Fox’s point above can be taken
factually a potential performance context for this proverb, not necessarily folk
in context in the Eʋe community can be with reference to politicians who
come from a rural community but live in big cities. They come making campaign promises to the people of their community hoping to get their votes.
However, when voted into power by the people they fail to honor their campaign promises and hardly visit the community to show appreciation to the
people for their election support.
In a more folk-like real performance context, this proverb can be used for a
person who claims to possess extra-ordinary magical powers or cures for incurable diseases, telling patients to expect medication from a distant country
which never arrive. Anyone who attempts to do things beyond their abilities
can be taught humility by these proverbs. An apprentice who boasts about
abilities which are better than his mentor but who fails to accomplish the task;
the proverb teaches humility; he must not claim what he cannot do in reality.
“Much wind with cloud” represents the promise made; failure to honor the
promise represents the “gift that is never given,” which constitutes “no rain.”
The proverb is comparable to the Eʋe folk proverbs under Section 2.6.a in
Chapter 2, where children are taught to be humble and not to take on that
which they are not capable of doing. An example is the proverb “Ɖevi ka akplẽ
gã mekaa nya gã o,” meaning, “A child can swallow a big morsel of cornmeal
food but cannot swallow big matters” (analyzed in Section 2.6.a). A child can
perform simple tasks like swallowing some extraordinarily large amount of
food but there are certain things that a child is prohibited from doing or saying.
Metaphorically, a child can do certain things but must not divulge secrets or
dare to challenge those who have more experience than they have in certain
areas of life due to the inability of children or those who lack such experience
to defend themselves when their actions get them into big trouble. Proverb
25:14 can, probably, be used in a similar context as this and the other Eʋe proverbs in Section 2.6.a. As such, Proverb 25:14 is a good ‘shoot’ that can be
‘grafted’ on to the African tree of life.
Another biblical saying used to teach the virtue of humility is Proverb 25:15.
:‫בארך אפים יפתה קצין ולשון רכה תשברגרם‬
41
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, p. 784. The meaning provided by Fox here can be applied to the Eʋe
context too, where some authority figures use their power to elicit things from their subjects without honoring the promises they make to their subjects. Or where people make
empty bluffs but are not able to deliver the goods.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
153
With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue can break bones
(Proverb 25:15).
This proverb provides a couple of provocative images: “persuading a king
with patience” and “breaking bones with a soft tongue.” The first image in this
verse is the same as the image in an Eʋe folk proverb from personal experience,
which reads, “Dzigbɔɖi wotsɔ xɔanu le fia si.” This proverb means, “To receive
something from the king, you must exercise patience.” However, the second
image of “breaking bones with a soft tongue,”42 concerns the importance of
humble behavior in dealing not only with royalty but also with anyone in
authority. Proverb 25:15 (cf., 15:1) and the above Eʋe proverb teach the virtue
of humility and decorum in speech, through the choice of appropriate words
and self-composure particularly when dealing with royalty or authority figures.
Fox in his analysis of this proverb, suggests that a “stubborn official is not
merely persuaded by gentle words, but is broken, defeated”43 by them. These
proverbs can be used for situations in the royal court and many scholars have
suggested that the sayings find their origins in that context but this may not
necessarily be the case. When the anger of a king is incurred, it takes patience,
tact and persuasion on the part of the “offending” courtier to appease it. Golka
uses a couple of similar African folk proverbs to suggest that a rural agricultural setting is more likely for the sayings in the Book of Proverbs that use royal
imagery and not a school or royal court setting: (1) “The sovereign is like fire: if
you go far off, you get cold, and if you come near, you get burned” and (2) “Do
not open the mouth of the roaring bull.” Golka explains the second proverb as
the command, “Do not speak with an angry chief.” According to Golka, these
proverbs are “a trivial warning for civil servants, but a matter of death for ordinary people.”44 Furthermore, Golka uses these proverbs to “describe the little
man’s or person’s fear of the chief (Mal, 1399).45 Despite Golka’s explanation,
these proverbs can be applicable also to the fear not only of the sovereign but
also of anyone in authority, by all and sundry.
42
43
44
45
See Proverbs 15:1, which says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” This proverb is outside of
the chosen chapters 25–29, but it can be used to explain the image of a “soft tongue
breaking bones.” See also Qoheleth 10:4, “If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not
abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses” (nas). Proverbs 12:18;
15:4, 18; 16:24 also speak about patience [humility] in speech.
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 784.
Friedemann W. Golka, The Leopard’s Spots: (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 19. Golka takes
these proverbs from among the Ton (pp. 130, 255).
Golka, The Leopard’s Spots, p. 255.
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Other biblical proverbs that teach humility include Proverb 27:1–2. Again
the juxtaposition of these two verses suggests scribal work, but they can also
easily be considered as folk sayings, especially when they are read in light of
Eʋe proverbs.
‫אלתהלל ביום מחר כי לאתדע מהילד יום‬
Do not boast of tomorrow, for you do not know what the day will bring (Proverb
27:1–2).
‫יהללך זר ולאפיך נכרי ואלשפתיך‬
Let the mouth of another praise you, not yours, the lips of a stranger, not your
own.
Proverb 27:1 and 2 compare with the Eʋe folk proverbs in Section 2.6.g in
Chapter 2 and also teach the virtue of humility. Proverb 27:1 warns people
against boasting about the future which is unknown or unpredictable. Anyone
who speaks too confidently about the future can be seen as boasting about
tomorrow without knowing what it will bring. Proverb 27:2 employs almost the
same images as the Eʋe proverb, “Dze mekafua eɖokui o,” meaning, “Salt (or the
flute) does not praise itself.” This proverb teaches humility so that people should
not ‘blow their own horns’ or boast about their accomplishments but allow
­others to do so.46 The Eʋe proverb suggests that though salt savors and preserves
and a flute plays good music, neither of them boasts about their abilities to do
what they are capable of doing. Metaphorically, this proverb teaches people to be
humble and not to be proud about the abilities they possess. Fox, in discussing
this proverb, states that one should not “trust in one’s own powers rather than in
God’s” and that Proverb 27:1 implies that “you should not delay in doing what
needs to be done today, for you do not know what may happen to prevent it.”47 In
his discussion of verse 2, Fox uses the word “stranger,” which sounds a little awkward since a stranger may not know a person well enough to sing the person’s
praise. Fox’s comment that “praise by one’s acquaintances are the most valued
kind” seems more appropriate here than a “stranger’s praise,” which is used in the
46
47
An Egyptian proverb, which says, “Cover your candle, it will light more,” can also be
deployed in similar contexts as Proverb 27:2 and can be explained by the English saying,
“Actions speak louder than words.”
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 802–803. In a further explanation, which serves my purpose here,
Fox asserts that “such maxims teach humility but also preparedness for different eventualities.” See also the teaching of Qoh. 11:1–6.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
155
proverb above (Proverb 27:2). Fox also identifies a sub-virtue of humility—modesty—which he considers as “a tactful as well as moral virtue, because others are
more likely to speak of a person’s virtue and accomplishments if he or she is
silent on them.”48 Those who observe a person’s good works tend to praise the
person if the person is humble and does not boast about them. Conversely, those
who boast about their achievements will probably not be liked by others who
might see them as people who are proud and lack humility.
Proverb 25:6–7, another set of proverbs often thought best applicable to
courtiers or scribes in the royal apparatus, also teaches humility in ways that
rural people would recognize and understand.
‫אלתתהדר לפנימלך ובמקום גדלים אלתעמד‬
Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the
great (Proverb 25:6).
‫כי טוב אמרלך עלה הנה מהשפילך לפני נדיב אשר ראו עיניך‬
For it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence
of a noble (Proverb 25:7).
Proverb 25:6 and 7 can be used in teaching the virtue of humility. In these
proverbs, people are warned to refrain from raising themselves high in the presence of the king but rather to adopt a lowly profile so they would be raised
higher. These proverbs compare with the Eʋe folk proverbs in Chapter 2,
Section 2.6.a–c. The proverbs in this section refer to children, young animals
and other immature beings, who attempt to perform adult tasks or difficult tasks
prematurely. The person who puts him or herself forward before the king or
stands in the place of the great lacks humility; they are told these proverbs to
teach them the value of humility. These proverbs teach people to avoid dangerous situations and can be used to settle delicate issues, which require humility,
patience and tact. They can be employed in a legal context, a family setting (parents and children, older and younger siblings), heads of institutions and employees and whenever issues of class or status are concerned. The proverbs teach
those of lower status or class to be humble and tactful in dealing with their
superiors.
These proverbs can also be understood metaphorically where people are
required to be quiet or humble about their accomplishments and good deeds
48
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 803. See also Proverb 29:23, “He [she] whose spirit is humble will
hold honor.”
156
Chapter 4
so that observers who notice the deeds will praise them. The proverbs teach
people who are always seeking positions of honor, to be humble to avoid being
disgraced or dishonored. Conversely, a person who is humble and is admired in
society can be compared to the one who does not put himself or herself forward before the king and is asked to come up higher. An unmarried young
person who boasts about how well-behaved his or her children will be or how
beautiful his or her marriage will be can be taught by Proverb 25:6 to learn to
be humble and wait till these things happen before talking about them.
Inexperienced people who dare to challenge more experienced people or
those in authority can be told not to put themselves forward in the presence of
the king. When they are rebuked for their lack of humility, they can be described
as people who have been “put lower in the king’s presence.” An English equivalent for Proverb 27:1 will be, “Do not count your chicks before they are hatched.”
The above proverbs teach the value of humility and prudence which require
some amount of practical wisdom and caution.
4.5.b Grafting Conclusions
The above proverbs demonstrate how the biblical proverbs teach the virtue of
humility in comparison with Eʋe folk proverbs which teach the similar virtue.
The similarity between the two sets of proverbs paves the way for a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ in which images from the African Eʋe cultural context are
applied to understand the biblical text in such a way that ‘shoots’ from the
biblical text can be ‘grafted’ on to the African Eʋe tree of life.
4.6
The Virtue of Prudence—ŋuđɔđɔđo
As has been shown in Chapter 3 (3.2), Aristotle defines phronesis, “prudence,”
as “a truth-attaining rational quality, concerned with action in relation to things
that are good and bad for human beings.”49 Lawrence Becker and Charlotte
Becker also describe “prudence” as “moral Wisdom resulting in morally correct
choices and actions.”50 They also regard “prudence” (primarily phronesis),
as “practical moral intelligence” “related to other moral values and ingrained
49
50
Aristotle XIX The Nicomachean Ethics: With an English Translation by Harris Rackham
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press and London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1968),
337, 339. This source compares “Prudence” with “Practical Wisdom” and details that
while we can speak of “excellence in Art,” we cannot speak of “excellence in Prudence”
because it is clear that “Prudence is an excellence of virtue and not an Art.”
Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker, eds., “Prudence” in Encyclopedia of Ethics
Vol. 3 P–W Indexes (New York: Routledge, 2001), 1214–1215, 1214.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
157
dispositions to act rightly” in accordance with “developed practice.”51 These
definitions of prudence are similar to how prudence is seen among the Eʋe
peoples, as the careful use both of the brain or natural intelligence and physical
talents or craftsmanship in all undertakings. Thus we can see that the various
meanings carried by prudence, depend on the context in which the Eʋe proverb is applied. Prudence as a practical virtue involves actions that are properly
weighed to bring about desirable outcomes in appropriate situations.
4.6.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Prudence
The Eʋe folk proverbs we saw in Section 3.2.a showed that prudence is being
considerate, judicious and acting cautiously at one’s own discretion. The use of
“better-than” sayings pointed at the transience of the human condition, acts
and their consequences, the assessment of abilities, the appropriate reaction
to situations, adjustment to change and dealing with rifts in the community,
the Eʋe proverbs used in Section 3 focused on teaching the virtue of prudence.
The biblical proverbs discussed in this section also inherently teach the virtue
of prudence and are comparable to the Eʋe folk proverbs. This characteristic
makes the biblical “sentence” proverbs ripe ‘shoots’ for ‘grafting’ on to the
African Eʋe tree of life.
Many Eʋe folk proverbs express prudence through a “better-than” (Hebrew,
tôb-mīn) proverbial structure. Even though the performance context in which
the sages uttered or composed the final sayings in the Book of Proverbs is not
known, some of the proverbs chosen from Proverbs 25–29 employ similar
rhetoric in speaking about prudence. Proverbs 25:7; 25:24; 27:5; 27:10 and
28:6, for instance, are all proverbs, which employ the “better than” (or tôb-mīn)
structure in Proverbs 25–29.
‫טוברש הולך בתמו מעקש דרכים והוא עשיר‬
Better is a poor man who lives blamelessly than a rich man whose ways52 are
crooked (Proverb 28:6).
‫טובה תוכחת מגלה מאהבה מסתרת‬
51
52
Becker and Becker, eds., “Prudence,” 1214. See also William E. Davie “Being Prudent and
Acting Prudently” in American Philosophical Quarterly 10 (1973), 57–60.
This use of the dual form for “ways” has been presented as the idea of “Two Ways’” (the
good and bad/crooked) doctrine of wisdom. See Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 822. See also Ben
Sira 2:12, who woes the “faint hearts” and “weak hands” and the “sinner who goes in
two paths.” A Massai proverb (70) quoted by Golka in The Leopard’s Spots, renders this
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Chapter 4
Open reproof is better than concealed love (Proverb 27:5).
‫כי טוב אמרלך עלה הנה מהשפילך לפני נדיב אשר ראו עיניך‬
For it is better to be told, “Step up here,” than to be degraded in the presence of
the great53 (Proverb 25:7a).
‫טוב שבת עלפנתגג מאשת מדונים ובית חבר‬
Dwelling in the corner of a roof is better than a contentious woman in a spacious house54 (Proverb 25:24).
‫טוב שכן קרוב מאח רחוק‬
A close neighbor is better than a distant brother (Proverb 27:10c).
These five proverbs, like the Eʋe proverbs referred to in Chapter 3,
Section 3.2.a above, speak about acting prudently in a variety of contexts and
situations. The “better than” formula or phraseology compares two conditions
in which like the Eʋe proverbs one is more desirable or more prudent than
the other.
By comparing the actions of a poor person to that of a rich person, Proverb
28:6 can be treated as an observation about poverty and wealth concerns in
the society, with which the sages or ḥăkāmim were familiar. Sandoval discusses
this proverb in connection with wealth and poverty in the Book of Proverbs
(alongside Proverbs 15:16; 16:18 and 19:1, which do not fall within the purview of Proverbs 25–29). Sandoval asserts that “The logical structure of the
verse(s) insists that an economic negative (little) plus a moral positive (living
blamelessly /righteously) is of more value than an economic positive (abundant treasure/produce) and a moral negative (perversity/confusion/injustice).55 By implication, therefore, moral uprightness with little material wealth
53
54
55
proverb as “Better is to be poor and live long than rich and die young,” p. 64, can be
deployed in similar contexts. Here the proverb implies that a poor person, whose ways are
not perverse, lives long, while a rich and perverse person dies young.
Apart from speaking about the importance of acting prudently, this proverb also teaches
humility. See Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 778. Here Fox considers this proverb as part of a cluster
originating in the court and speaking of kings and their wisdom as well as how to act in
humility before the king.
Compared to the Eʋe folk proverbs that speak about women, this proverb also paints a
very negative picture of a woman or wife.
Sandoval, Wealth and Poverty, 130.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
159
is to be desired over and above much material wealth without moral uprightness. This assertion is correct; however an African-centered ‘hermeneutic of
grafting’ will hear more of the folk wisdom that may be a part of the proverb
that can be applied to anyone who lacks prudence. In fact, the poor person in
this proverb, who lives blamelessly and acts prudently, deserves more honor
and respect than the rich person whose ways are perverse.56 That is, the poor
or less powerful, like rural people who may have originally uttered a saying like
Proverb 28:6 can be said to be prudent.
The Leningrad Hebrew Old Testament (wtt) translation of Proverb 25:24
has both the kethib ‫ ְמדֹונִ ים‬and the qere ‫ ִ֜מ ְדיָ ִ֗נים‬for the common masculine plural noun “contention.” Both of these words used in Proverb 25:24 differ from
the word used in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (bhs). The bhs uses a ḥireq
with the initial mem instead of the shewa, which is used in the wtt kethib.
Additionally, the bhs also uses a waw with a qameṣ for the middle syllable in
‫ מדונים‬instead of the full ḥolem (i.e., with the waw) as it is used in the kethib of
the wtt. Thus although the wtt kethib transliterates as mǝḏwonîm instead of
the bhs transliteration of mîḏwānîm, I choose to read the text with the wtt
kethib, which is closer to the bhs than the wtt qere. Furthermore, my choice
of the wtt kethib here is based on the similar uses of the same noun in other
passages like Proverbs 21:19; 23:29; 26:21 and 27:15 in which the vowels are
similar to those used in the kethib of the wtt and the bhs, respectively.
Proverb 25:24 suggests that it is “better to live in the corner of a house than
in a spacious house with a contentious woman” and is comparable to the Eʋe
folk proverb under Section 3.2.a which says, “It is better to be married to a
woman, who cannot make a good wife than to remain single.” Both Proverb
27:15, which describes a contentious woman as the constantly dripping rain
and the Eʋe proverb which speaks about a woman who cannot make a good
wife, paint negative pictures of the women. In Proverb 25:24, the husband or
the housemate of the contentious woman is indirectly being advised not to live
together with the contentious woman in a community house—‫ובית חבר‬57 but
to live in the corner of the roof of the house. Fox, in his analysis of this verse
notes that the idea of an alehouse comes from an Akkadian cognate phrase.
Taken as such, the house in question is a “drinking-house” and it is no wonder
that there will be contention in the house. This explanation is gleaned from
Proverb 23:30, which is an answer to the question posed in Proverb 23:29. The
answer in Proverb 23:30, refers to the one, who has “woe” (contention) as the
56
57
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 822. Fox agrees with Sandoval’s idea and states that “Although
wealth is good, its value is nullified if its owner is dishonest.”
Fox, ibid.
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Chapter 4
one who lingers long over wine and who tastes mixed wine. Fox’s discussion of
this proverb paints very negative pictures of both the woman and man.
According to Fox, Proverb 25:24, which is a duplicate of Proverb 21:9 (with the
variant, “in a desert land”), pictures a “harried husband hounded from his house
and taking refuge on the roof, exposed to the elements,” who doesn’t even get
the whole roof but just a corner, which is “better than being cooped up with a
shrew.”58 It seems the husband in Proverb 25:24 would rather perhaps, remain
single than marry a contentious woman, whilst in contrast, the Eʋe proverb
enjoins the man to marry the woman “who cannot make a good wife” (who is
probably, a contentious one too). Thus, though both Proverb 25:24 and the Eʋe
folk proverb paint negative pictures of the women involved, they are different
in content. In both cases, prudence or special wisdom is needed to accomplish
the tasks in the interest of the personal fulfillment on of both husbands.
The final proverb in this section speaks about how a neighbor, who lives close
by, is better than a far-away brother or family member. This proverb seems very
apt for folk contexts though this may not necessarily be the case. Among the
Eʋe peoples, people always try to be on good terms with others and to live amicably together with their neighbors especially, when they live outside their own
communities. This is because there are many uncertainties related to living outside of one’s own community (for example, sudden illness, deaths, fire, etc.).
When the misfortunes occur, the victims need the assistance of other people;
neighbors who live close-by are usually of immediate help to them. Neighbors
who live nearby are able to offer immediate assistance before family members
who live far away arrive to help. Thus it is prudent to have good relationships
with those nearby rather than depend on family members who live far away.
Proverb 26:4–5 is a pair of much discussed biblical verses that also ultimately teach the virtue of prudence.
‫אלתען כסיל כאולתו פןתשוהלו גםאתה‬
Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself
(Proverb 26:4).
‫ענה כסיל כאולתו פן־יהיה חכם בעיניו‬
Answer fools according to their folly or they will be wise in their own eyes59
(Proverb 26:5).
58
59
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 682–683.
See Proverb 29:9 also for a similar warning against arguing with a fool.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
161
Many scholars on Proverbs have argued that these two verses (Proverb
26:4–5) are contradictory to each other, and that juxtaposing them appears to
be a deliberate scribal ploy.60 Fox suggests that “the contradiction is usually
resolved by assuming that the proverbs apply to different situations.” Van
Leeuwen similarly, offers an exegetical argument that Proverb 26:1–12 is constructed “to force the reader to confront perennial problems, which are properly labeled hermeneutic. That is, how are the proverbs to be used and applied
in various, even contradictory life settings?”61 Roland Murphy’s view may be
closer to my personal view when he suggests that the contradictions are meant
“to educate the reader to the ambiguities of life, and to be careful in speech.”62
Although these scholars have various views, these biblical verses, in my
opinion, are not contradictory but they rather make their points succinctly
especially when viewed with the lens of the Eʋe cultural context. Not to
answer a fool according to his folly (Proverb 26:4), can be taken to mean, not
to act as foolishly as a fool does, which is explained by the second part of the
proverb, “or you will be a fool yourself.” On the other hand, the second proverb, which admonishes people to answer fools according to the folly of the
fools (Proverb 26:5), suggests that fools must be put in their rightfully deserved
places (i.e., the place of fools) and this explanation is offered by the second
part of this proverb, “or they will be wise in their own eyes.” Each of the proverbs teaches people to be prudent and together they teach a forceful lesson.
Proverb 26:8, which uses an image easily recognizable and understandable
to rural folk, also promotes prudence, albeit indirectly.
‫כצרור אבן במרגמה כןנותן לכסיל כבוד‬
Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool (Proverb 26:8).
The proverb produces the mental picture of someone attempting to tie a
stone in a sling, which is very thin and cannot hold the stone by itself; the metaphor compares the act of tying a stone in a sling to giving honor to a fool. The
fool can be considered as a person who lacks prudence and which results in
nothing better than foolishness. Attributing prudence to a fool by honoring him
or her amounts to nothing since the lack of prudence easily shows through their
foolish nature. To assign prudence to a fool is like considering “a dead lion” to be
better than “a live dog.” This idea is shown in one of the “nyo wu” (better than)
60
61
62
See Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 793.
Van Leeuwen, Context and Meaning in Proverbs 25–27, 99.
Roland E. Murphy “Recent Research on Proverbs and Qohelet” In Currents in Research
Biblical Studies 1 (1993), 119–140, p. 203.
162
Chapter 4
Eʋe proverbs analyzed above.63 The dead lion does not have much usefulness
but a live dog can be very useful. Furthermore, the action of a fool shows through
a child, who lacks prudence and foolishly contends that he can “tie water with a
rope.”64 If it were possible for a child to tie water with a rope, this would be
a prudent act. However, since this action is impossible, to assign prudence to a
child for contending to do the impossible would be like giving honor to a fool
(Proverb 26:8), which can be likened to tying a stone with a sling. These acts are
both actions that lack prudence and any attempt to argue or even contend with
anyone who attempts to do these things will amount to behaving like the fool.
McKane rightly sees a “strong incongruity, even absurdity, in bestowing status
and reputation on a fool.”65 For McKane, since a stone is put in a sling in order
that it may be ejected, it is a contradiction to accord ‫ כבוד‬kabod honor to a fool.
Proverb 26:8, for instance, can be used to teach prudence to complacent people
who think they know best. A poor person who does not accept the assistance of
other people to escape poverty or an apprentice who believes he is more knowledgeable than the trainer can be the subject of these proverbs.
The sages clustered together three further sayings in Proverb 25:8–10, dealing with relationships and to be used to teach prudence. Two of these proverbs
(Proverb 25:8 and 9) explicitly mention the “neighbor” or friend.
‫אלתצא לרב מהר פן מהתעשה באחריתה בהכלים אתך רעך‬
What your eyes have seen, do not hastily bring into court; for what will you do
if your neighbor puts you to shame? (Proverb 25:8).
‫ריבך ריב אתרעך וסוד אחר אל־תגל‬
Argue your case with your neighbor directly, and do not disclose another’s
secret (Proverb 25:9).
‫פןיחסדך שמע ודבתך לא תשוב‬
63
64
65
Dzobo, African Proverbs, proverb #186, 80–81. This proverb speaks against foolishness
and calls for prudence, which involves the development of a sound or proper value of
judgment about things, situations and people’s abilities.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, # 64, 41. A prudent child would not attempt to do a foolish thing
like tying water with a rope, which is an impossible task.
McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach, 598. See also Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 795. For Fox, the
honor received by a fool “becomes a nasty missile, making him even more arrogant and
obnoxious.” Furthermore, for Fox, “The stone and honor are instruments of harm when
given to a sling or a fool.”
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
163
Lest/or else someone who hears you will bring shame upon you, and your illrepute will have no end (Proverb 25:10).
The above three proverbs (Proverb 25:8–10) mirror life in a typical Eʋe
community and in other communities, where people may lack patience to
understand the intricacies of situations before jumping to conclusions. In the
Eʋe community, it is not uncommon for people to take matters into their own
hands and fight before they have fully understood the situation. Parents who
believe everything their children say may start a fight with other parents based
on what their children tell them without checking the truthfulness of what the
children said. These parents may be the subjects of Proverb 25:8–10. Engaging
in a fight without knowing the details can be likened to taking what the parents have “seen to court hastily” and due to lack of prudence. Their hasty action
brings shame on them. Similar issues apply when people try to defend their
siblings before they have understood the cause of the fight; or people who
jump into marital disputes without knowing the details of the dispute. In such
situations, if the person being defended is the guilty party, the defense of the
other parties is turned on its head and shame and disgrace come on the defenders. Proverb 25:7c-10 describes what the defenders’ “eyes have not seen”: they
“brought hastily into court” before knowing the details or to have divulged
another’s secret so they are disgraced. A teacher or leader who is hasty to punish a student or follower based on what he or she hears from other students or
other followers may be advised by this proverb. When the victims of the hasty
action of the teacher or leader are proved to be innocent, the teacher or leader
is shamed for acting without prudence. Those who tell tales, accusing others
(children, spouses, friends, etc.) of acts they have not personally witnessed can
cause a lot of harm by initiating quarrels which have no actual cause. The outcome of the tale-bearing and the other negative acts mentioned above can be
costly to the victims and when the truth emerges the injurious gossip[er]s or
those who act irrationally bring shame due to lack wisdom.
Apart from teaching prudence to those who act in a rush without thinking
about consequences, these proverbs also warn against divulging other people’s
secrets when a fight ensues between two people. The irrational act of a person,
who lacks prudence in such situations, can tarnish their image for a long period
of time. Proverb 25:8 is similar to the Eʋe proverb, “Avɔvuvutɔ mewɔa dzre o,”
which means: “A person in tattered clothes does not enter into a fight” analyzed in Section 3.2.d. For such a person, their remaining clothes would be torn
completely and the person will be naked, a source of disgrace and embarrassment. Bringing a case “hastily to judgment” and “divulging other people’s
secrets” can be compared to “a person in tattered clothes entering into a fight,”
and the disgrace and disrepute which follow when their remaining tattered
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clothes are torn to shreds can be compared to the condemnation that comes
from people who listen to the outcome of a matter taken to court hastily or to
divulging another’s secret. McKane’s analyses of Proverb 25:7c and 8 together
with the suggestion that these proverbs are “perhaps, directed against indiscreet and injurious gossip” and “reckless gossip and broken confidences,”66
resonates with my own understanding of these proverbs. The biblical sayings
can be applied to several situations, which Fox’s explanation of Proverb 25:8
provides. As Fox rightly puts it, “The maxim applies to any argument that can
lead to bitter words” and “the revelation of personal secrets.”67
Other sayings in the Hezekiah collection of Proverbs promote prudence in
other ways. Consider, for example, Proverb 25:11–12.
‫תפוחי זהב במשכיות כסף דבר דבר עלאפניו‬
Like golden apples in settings of silver are words spoken in the right way
(Proverb 25:11).
‫נזם זהב וחליכתם מוכיח חכם על־אזן שמעת‬
Like a ring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a
listening ear (Proverb 25:12).
The comparison of appropriately spoken words to the image of golden
apples in silver settings, paints a picture of the value of properly chosen words.
The use of both images of gold and silver for correct words (Proverb 25:11)
portray the value of these gems and appropriate words. Proverb 25:11 and the
following verse, Proverb 25:12 compare a wise person’s rebuke to a listening
ear, a ring of gold and an ornament of fine gold; these proverbs show how precious the words of rebuke of the wise or prudent are when compared to “fine
gold” and “golden ornaments.” Though rebuke is not pleasant when delivered
literally, it can be acceptable to a listening ear; the words must be pleasant to
the ears of people who are prudent. Appropriate words and rebuke come from
the prudent person who knows how to use words for the right purpose.68 In my
66
67
68
McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach, 580–581. I agree with McKane about the way he
analyzes vv. 7c-8. See Dzobo, African Proverbs, 85. This proverb is also analyzed along with
other similar proverbs in Chapter 3 Section 3.2. d. The proverbs in this section have actconsequence logic and teach people to be prudent in assessing their abilities or capabilities to avoid negative consequences.
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 781.
See also Prov. 25:13, “Like the coldness of snow at harvest time is a trusted servant to
those who send him; he lifts his master’s spirits.” The messenger here can be seen as very
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165
opinion, the words are pleasant to the “listening” ear that “prudently” heeds
the words. An application in context of these proverbs is when parents, adults
or experienced people advice children or the inexperienced. Anyone who is
wayward can be given “pep” talk to reform his or her ways. Though this kind of
talk is often not desirable, when the person heeds the advice, he or she is often
saved from destruction and gets to have a happy life later.
Proverb 25:11 compares also to 25:25, which speaks about “good news from
a distant land being like cold water to a patched throat.” Taken literally, both
proverbs are self-explanatory and give the mental picture of appropriately spoken words that are metaphorically, compared to apples of gold in a silver setting (v. 11), and good news from afar, compared to cold water to the thirsty
soul. Both sets of images are beautiful and desirable: they teach people the
value of words prudently uttered in fitting situations so they would be soothing—that is, they are eventually recognized as beneficial—to those who hear
them. Proverb 25:25 is very similar to the Eʋe proverb, “Nya tso duta nana
ƒutome mi daa ami” meaning “Good news from afar makes the marrow rich or
fattens the inside of the bone-oil.”69 The Eʋe proverb is used for a person who
returns home from another town or country with some good news. The soul
becomes weary after awaiting news, whether it is good or bad news about
something. The soul is relieved after the long period of waiting when the newcomer brings good news. In the comparable Eʋe proverb news from afar
enriches the marrow. Proverbs 25:11 and 25:25 can be used for any help which
saves a precarious situation. A rescuer who saves someone from danger; a
child, student, parent, leader or anyone whose training is applied when needed
most; a doctor who appears when a patient is struggling for life; a driver who
responds to an emergency when there are no other vehicles available; anyone
whose ideas bring innovation to a situation or task can also be described by
these proverbs. These proverbs teach people to be prudent by taking appropriate actions to salvage situations in which their services are most needed.
69
reliable and is described as “refreshing as snow” during the hot harvest, in representing
his or her master. See Fox, 783. Contra, Prov. 25:18, which says, “Like a club, a sword, a
sharpened arrow, is a man who testifies falsely against his fellow.” Whereas the words of
Prov. 25:11–13 can be said to embody the virtue of prudence, those of 25:18 are implements of destruction and implicitly lack prudence.
This Eʋe proverb is also used when someone brings a fresh idea, a new insight or a good
solution to a challenging situation or problem. The person, who provides an “Aha!
Moment,” to bring closure to a challenging situation probably, comes from another town
or community or is one of the people deliberating on the matter.
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4.6.b Grafting Conclusions
The ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ proposed in this study shows the similarity and/
or differences between the sayings in Proverbs which teach the virtue of prudence and the comparable Eʋe folk proverbs that teach the similar virtue. In
these proverbs, words and actions work together to teach the virtue of prudence. Acts lacking prudence are highlighted to teach people to avoid them by
rather using the actions that promote prudence. A ‘hermeneutic of grafting’
produces the “Aha! Moment”: when people can distinguish between virtuous
actions and words. This distinction becomes instrumental in teaching, understanding and appropriating the message of the biblical Book of Proverbs in the
African Eʋe cultural context.
4.7
The Virtue of Sociability—amedomesɔsɔ
As we saw in Chapters 2 and 3, sociability along with diligence, humility and
prudence are core virtues among the Eʋe peoples. The major ingredient underpins the wellbeing of the community. However, it is embedded in sociability,
whereby justice and equity are promoted. Among the Eʋe peoples, sociability,
which is “fitting in with people,” is a virtue with a very important place. It can
be considered in relation to cooperation with one another, with the conscious
intent of reforming or solving social problems. As a social unit, members of the
Eʋe community try to foster sociability by cooperating with, offering material
aid, vocational advice and other forms of help to each other. The virtue of
sociability fosters social harmony in which members are sensitive to the needs
of other members in the Eʋe society or community.
John Mbiti, an African religious philosopher, who is not a Ghanaian or Eʋe,
concludes that African religions and philosophy succinctly summarize the virtue of sociability. According to Mbiti, “I am because we are, and because we
are, therefore, I am.”70 This statement reflects the interdependence and sociability expressed in the African religious and philosophical worldview. Though
this statement is specific to African religions and philosophy, it carries over to
all aspects of African life where the sacred and the secular are not dichotomized but rather constitute a complete whole. Mbiti’s idea and my own personal experience of the Eʋe cultural context are shown in several Eʋe folk
proverbs some of which have been analyzed in Section 3.3.a–3.3.h above.
These proverbs teach the virtue of sociability, taking pride in what is one’s own,
70
John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (Nairobi, Kenya. London: Heinemann,
1979), 108–109.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
167
sharing resources, fostering personal relationships, being mindful of one’s own
personal business, being selfless and community-minded, valuing every member of the community, respecting the tenets of Eʋe tradition and promoting
what is essential for the vitality of the community.
4.7.a Proverbs’ ‘Shoots’ Promoting Sociability
Like a number of Eʋe folk proverbs which teach the virtue of sociability, many
sayings from Proverbs 25–29 teach the virtue of sociability. The biblical proverbs use similar images, forms, logic and rhetoric as the Eʋe proverbs. The following are examples from the Book of Proverbs that teach sociability. These
‘shoots’ from ancient Israel’s tree of life are easily ‘grafted’ on to the African Eʋe
tree of life.
‫ידע צדיק דין דלים רשע לאיבין דעת‬
A righteous person is concerned with the cause of the wretched [poor].
A wicked person cannot understand such concerns71 (Proverb 29:7).
‫משגה ישרים בדרך רע בשחותו הוא־יפול ותמימים ינחלו־טוב‬
He who misleads the upright into an evil course will fall into his own pit but
the blameless will prosper72 (Proverb 28:10).
‫מסיר אזנו משמע תורה גםתפלתו תועב‬
He who turns a deaf ear to instruction, his prayer is an abomination to the Lord
(Proverb 28:9).
The foregoing wisdom sayings draw clear contrasts between the upright and
unjust as well as the acts of the righteous and the wicked, and the consequences of such actions. The parallelism and clear moral categories highlighted in Proverb 28:9–10 suggest that such sayings find their origin in a
scribal context. Yet as we have noted above, this may not necessarily be the
case. Even if these biblical proverbs emerged from scribes, the folk wisdom
that lies behind them can be heard through an African-centered hermeneutic
and they can be ‘grafted’ on to the African Ghanaian Eʋe tree of life.
71
72
This proverb is similar also to Proverb 28:5, “Evil men cannot discern judgment, but those
who seek the Lord discern all things.”
See also Proverb 26:27. “He who digs a pit will fall inside and whoever rolls a stone, it will
roll back on him.” (Cf., Ecclesiastes 10:8; Ps. 7:15).
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The sayings label the wicked and the unjust as anti-sociable and praise the
upright and righteous. The contrasting images in these proverbs are presented
in legal rhetoric, upholding justice for the righteous and upright and punishing
those who harm the wellbeing of other members of society (Proverbs 29:7 and
28:10). People who uphold justice, equity and righteousness embody the virtue of sociability; they preserve the norms of society and are liked; the wicked
do not show kindness towards the less fortunate in society, and are reviled by
the community. Proverb 28:9 is one of the few proverbs that mention the word
“Lord.” It condemns the wicked, who refuse to heed instruction and do not listen to the value system in society. Their prayers are thus an abomination to the
Lord. Apart from being applicable to a legal context, these proverbs can apply
to any situation in which people of higher status are set against those of lower
status: rich against poor, leaders against followers, tutors against apprentices,
etc. An impartial teacher, who arbitrates between poor and wealthy students
and gives each a fair hearing, can be praised by these proverbs. Conversely,
someone who fails to give a fair hearing can be compared to the unjust or
wicked, who do not care about the poor, and mislead the upright to an “evil
course.” Parents who encourage their children to be truthful or not to be truthful can also be the subjects of these proverbs. Those who administer equity and
justice are praised and rewarded for their virtuousness; those who practice
vice are also punished accordingly.
McKane, in his analysis of Proverb 29:7, which speaks about the poor, thinks
this proverb is an example of “a wisdom sentence, which is an instrument of
prophetic teaching.”73 In my opinion, this idea of “a wisdom saying being prophetic teaching” is not limited only to this verse or other verses in the Book
of Proverbs. It applies also to wisdom sayings in the African Ghanaian Eʋe
­cultural context and also to the wisdom sayings of other cultural contexts.
These proverbs teach virtuous living by showing concern for other people generally and for the poor in particular. Sandoval discusses Proverb 22:22 (and v.
23) and Proverb 29:7 with regards to equity for the poor. In his analyses
(Proverb 29:7) he stresses the indispensability of the virtue of sociability (the
Eʋe “amedomesɔsɔ”) as “fitting well among the members of the society.” He
asserts, “There is no split here between virtue and law (or legal “righteousness”)
but “rather, for Proverbs, legal institutions should provide a context for living a
virtuous life (particularly, vis-á-vis the poor).”74 Even though Sandoval’s idea
73
74
William McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), 641.
Sandoval, Discourse of Wealth and Poverty, 147. See also Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 836. Fox is
of the opinion that “Doing the right thing requires knowing the right thing” and this
“requires the right moral disposition to start with.”
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
169
concerns the equitable treatment of the poor, I consider this proverb includes
all members of the community, who must be treated fairly to maintain the
wellbeing of the entire social framework. An Eʋe folk proverb from my own
personal experience which compares with Proverb 29:7 is “Baname wobanɛ
na.” It says: “A cheat is the one who gets cheated.” This folk saying can be used
to teach retributive justice whereby acts and their consequences go together.
Metaphorically, however, this Eʋe proverb can be used positively to teach
sociability. The English expression “One good turn deserves another” can be
used to explain this Eʋe folk proverb; which can be understood as “Every good
deed attracts another good deed” or result. Even though Eʋe peoples do not
expect recompense for each good deed, sociability is required by community:
doing what is good and giving to others as well as receiving help and good from
other members.
Proverbs 29:12; 29:14 and 29:16 are three other biblical sayings, ‘shoots’,
which teach the virtue of sociability and can, therefore, be ‘grafted’ on to the
African Eʋe proverbial tree of life.
‫משל מקשיב עלדברשקר כלמשרתיו רשעים‬
If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked (Proverb 29:12).
‫מלך שופט באמת דלים כסאו לעד יכון‬
If a king judges the poor with truth, His throne will be established forever
(Proverb 29:14).
‫ברבות רשעים ירבהפשע וצדיקים במפלתם יראו‬
When the wicked are in authority, transgression increases but the righteous
will look upon their downfall (Proverb 29:16).
These three proverbs, which make use of act-consequence logic, emphasize
the importance of the role of royalty in relating to their subjects. As with other
sayings we have analyzed which speak about kings and rulers, in Proverb 29:12, if
the king is gullible and accepts lies, he will be surrounded by liars. If the king rules
with falsehood he can only expect wicked officials who will provide the falsehood
he wants to hear. If rulers or those in power listen to falsehood, there will be wickedness and people filled with falsehood will not care about the wellbeing of those
who are righteous and truthful. The attitude of those in power fosters lawlessness
because people can take the law into their own hands. However, in spite of wickedness, Proverb 29:16 promises the righteous that they will hold up and ‘see’
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when evil befalls the wicked. The attitude of the wicked disrupts the equilibrium
of society but righteous people uphold social equilibrium. The second part of
Proverb 29:16 speaks about how the righteous will ‘see’ when evil befalls the
wicked, whilst the first part condemns the wicked who cause transgressions to
increase. These proverbs emphasize the results of negligence of duty and lack of
concern for society’s wellbeing. Together these three proverbs (29:12; 29:14 and
29:16) can be used to teach the virtue of sociability, which ensures that everyone
in a community fits in well with all other members in the community.
Proverbs 25:17 and 26:17 can be compared to the Eʋe folk proverbs analyzed in Chapter 3, Section 3.3.d. The proverbs in this section are concerned
with how people should be “Mindful of their own Business.”
‫הקר רגלך מבית רעך פןישבעך ושנאך‬
Keep your foot from your neighbor’s house lest he have his fill of you and hate
you (Proverb 25:17).
‫מחזיק באזני־כלב עבר מתעבר על־ריב לא־לו‬
Like one who seizes a dog by the ears, is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel
that is not his own (Proverb 26:17).
One of the virtues in this group of proverbs is prudence in which people are
taught to be wary of meddling in the affairs of other people. However, the main
virtue I see in these proverbs is that of sociability: people are warned to mind
only their own businesses because anyone who meddles in another person’s
affairs is seeking trouble.
In the Eʋe cultural context, Proverb 25:17 can be used to teach a person who
over-frequents other people’s houses (and perhaps, does undesirable things
while there) to desist from the practice so as not ruin relationships. This proverb (25:17) can be taken as an expression of how social relationships sometimes work; it offers advice to people not to frequent their neighbor’s houses
too often lest enmity should develop between them. As the English saying
presents it “Too much of everything is bad.” Too much frequenting of a neighbor’s house can generate ill-feelings in the neighbor toward the visitor.
According to Fox, “you shouldn’t overstay your welcome” since “however pleasant you may be your neighbor will get fed up and vomit you out.”75 This ­proverb
75
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 785. Fox analyzes verses 16 and 17 in the same light, where
o­ ver-eating honey can cause a person to throw up and offers a practical instance of what
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
171
can be compared with a couple of Eʋe proverbs. “Ha ɖeka dzidzi ɖe wòvea
tome,”76 which means, “Repetitive singing of one song makes it sour to the ear”
and “Ha dzimatsoe akayɛ wògbãna,” which means, “If one song is sang continuously it breaks a rattle.”77
If a passer-by takes a dog by the ear as in Proverb 26:17, the dog might
viciously attack the person. This proverb can be taken as a typical example of
meddling in other people’s affairs which opposes concepts of sociability. Just
as a passing-by dog taken by the ear would attack its victim, or when anyone
who is a passer-by takes a dog by the ear would be attacked by the dog; a sociable person does not interfere in affairs that concern other people. The former
may not know the details or understand the issues involved in other peoples’
affairs. Fox is correct by maintaining that Proverb 26:17 refers to a “danger of
interfering in strangers’ quarrels.”78 For the ‘hermeneutic of grafting’, Proverb
26:17 can be used for people who try to settle or get involved in misunderstandings between couples, siblings, friends or other families without knowing
the root causes. The proverb teaches observers to keep their distance from
matters they know little or nothing about directly.79 Meddling in other peoples’ affairs may be compared to “leaning against a distant wall” or “drawing
water from a distant well,” or “taking twines from a distant forest” as we saw in
Chapter 3, Section 3.3.d in the analysis of the Eʋe proverbs. The proverb
teaches people to be sociable to promote amicable co-existence. Proverb 25:17
can teach a person who talks too much about the affairs of others or who gives
excessive advice: to avoid over-stepping boundaries which can risk their good
deeds turning sour and cause people to avoid them. Proverb 25:17 can also be
explained by the English expressions, “Too much of everything is bad” as
shown above or “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
The proverbs can be used to warn professionals who try to show others they
have more ability than they actually possess to be wary of their behavior:
for example, a doctor who takes the role of an engineer, a teacher who acts as
a lawyer without the relevant technical or professional knowledge. Other
76
77
78
79
over-eating honey can result in. Just as people should not “over-indulge on sweets” they
should not over-indulge (italics mine) their visits to others.
See Dzobo African Proverbs, # 160, 72.
Dzobo, 72–73. According to Dzobo, there is a limit to desirability and an end to every
good thing and people must know to what extent their services are desired by others and
not prolong going beyond their usefulness. The rattle is a kind of musical instrument
played for entertainment.
Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 799.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 50–51. Dzobo advices people not to interfere in matters that
don’t concern them.
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examples include advice given by unmarried people to those who are married,
childless people to families, or those in different socio-economic groups.
People in society have the right to privacy and others must learn not to
encroach on this to maintain the bond of sociability.
Importantly, however, the African Eʋe proverbial tree of life balances a concern of ‘meddling’ in other people’s business with equally important concerns;
it highlights the value of sociability more than the biblical sayings. In contrast
to the above sayings in Proverbs 25:17 and 26:17, the Eʋe proverb “Afɔ megblẽa
ame dome o” meaning, “The foot does not disrupt personal relationships”80
which was analyzed in Chapter 3, encourages people to visit their neighbors
frequently to maintain cordial social relationships.81 This is because the Eʋe
peoples, like other African peoples, cherish being sociable; through regular visits sociability is developed. Conversely, a person who does not visit others is
considered anti-social in the Eʋe community and may even be suspected of
bad conduct, e.g., a witch, wizard or an executioner who would not want people to know about their clandestine deeds.
4.7.b Grafting Conclusions
The performance context of the biblical proverbs is unknown so it must be
assumed that the sayings in Proverbs 25–29 were performed in similar contexts as the African Eʋe folk proverbs. This is because some of the images used
in Proverbs are very similar to those used in Eʋe folk proverbs. In attempting to
draw some ‘grafting’ conclusions to the Socialibility sayings, Gerhard von Rad’s
suggests that in the Book of Proverbs the wise need to encourage the practice
of good and prevent the bad by “address(ing, italics the author’s addition)
themselves to man’s [people’s italics author’s] ability to think and better understand,” which he thinks, comes by way of “reflection.”82 Von Rad’s idea can be
taken as an overarching conclusion to the performance context of the proverbs
analyzed in this study.
Fox’s analysis of Proverb 28:4–5, which emphasizes the “bond between
knowledge and ethics,” can be seen as a core value of the Book of Proverbs, in
which the fear of the Lord marks the beginning of wisdom.83 In line with these
ideas, we can conclude that the Eʋe folk proverbs which teach diligence,
humility, prudence and sociability also foster a strong bond between what
80
81
82
83
Dzobo, African Proverbs, # 135, 63–64.
Dzobo, African Proverbs, 63–64. According to Dzobo, “cordial relationship is created and
maintained by paying frequent visits to one’s neighbors.”
Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (London: scm, 1972).
See Proverb 1:7.
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
173
people learn from the virtues taught and how they can be used ethically for
people’s own welfare and the welfare of the entire Eʋe community.
4.8
Relevance of the ‘Hermeneutic of Grafting’ for Teaching the Bible
in Contemporary African Christian Contexts
The idea of a ‘Hermeneutic of grafting’ can only make its full impact unless
the proverbs analyzed in this current study can be made relevant for teaching the Bible in contemporary African Christian contexts. A close study of
Eʋe folk proverbs, which serve as the African tree of life on to which the
‘shoots’ from Israel’s tree of life from the Book of Proverbs can be ‘grafted’
will help to facilitate the understanding of the Bible in general and Proverbs,
in particular. We will take a brief look at some of the ways in which a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ can be applied in teaching the Bible in African cultural
contexts.
The African Eʋe folk proverbs and the Biblical proverbs we have analyzed
are not relevant either without some knowledge of religiosity and Christianity
of Africa in general and Ghana, in particular. This knowledge of religiosity and
Christianity may be similar in other African countries but Ghana is used here
as pars pro toto (proto type) for the others. There are three main religions,
Christianity, Islam, and African Traditional Religion/s in Ghana which tend to
co-exist amicably. Nevertheless, they tend to compete among themselves.
Faced with these three religions, the Bible can survive if it is interpreted with
the imagery with which people are familiar. The three main religions exist
throughout Ghana with various Christian denominations often characterized
by cultural and linguistic affinities. It is common to encounter for instance,
two different Presbyterian Churches: the Evangelical Presbyterian Church,
found mainly in the Southeastern part of Ghana, the Volta Region with mainly
Eʋe-speaking members; and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, found mainly
in the capital city, Accra, among the Ga-speaking and Akwapim-speaking peoples. The Ashanti and Central Region Christians are mainly Roman Catholics
and the Fante-speaking peoples are mainly Methodists.
Although Christianity is widespread in Ghana, it is found mainly in the
Southern part of Ghana. The people in the North are mainly Muslim because
the Islamic religion entered Ghana through the North in the 15th century long
before the arrival of Christianity in the South. Islam has a very great appeal to
the Northerners; it does not propagate the ideals of Christianity but fosters
continuity with and encourages practices like polygamy, ancestor veneration,
and other beliefs common to African traditional religion/s.
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With the need to interpret the Bible with familiar imagery, some form
of transformation has occurred in the expression of Christianity in cultural
imagery in mainstream churches. This change came about as a result of
Pentecostalism introduced into Christianity in the early 20th century by
William Wadé Harris (1860–1929), John Swatson (1855–1925), and Kwame
Sarpong Oppong (1884–1965). Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement
play a very important role in Ghanaian Christianity, giving rise to the African
Independent, Instituted or Initiated Churches (aics), which broke away from
the mission churches. These aics and New Religious Movements (nrms),
which constitute the most fertile grounds for promoting a relevant
‘Hermeneutic of grafting’, developed: they remain in the mission or mainstream churches but they bring about revivalism in the mission churches by
incorporating “Spirit-filled” charismatic tendencies into the worship of mainstream churches. Furthermore, the aics also focused on the vibrant work of
the Holy Spirit such as, speaking in tongues, loud praying, healing and deliverance (i.e., ostracisms), animated Bible studies and the use of incense and candles. With their emphasis on revivalism, these Churches and Charismatic
Movements believe that the African worldview, which seeks to address the
authentic needs of African peoples, must be promoted in order to instill deep
spirituality and religiosity in the African peoples. Additionally, these aics and
nrms recognized the importance of women by creating roles for them to participate actively in leadership positions in the church. The importance
accorded to women’s leadership was first demonstrated in the first and largest
aic in Ghana (The Twelve Apostles’ Church), which was a 1914 offshoot of
Harris’ work. The Twelve Apostles’ Church was founded and co-led by John
Nackabah and the Prophetess Grace Tani.
The ‘Hermeneutic of grafting’ seeks to teach the Bible more meaningfully
through the use of folk proverbs which are familiar to Eʋe peoples and to identify similarities and contrasts in sayings from Proverbs 25–29. Some background of the distinctive features of Christianity in Ghana, which make the
‘Hermeneutic of grafting’ relevant for teaching the Bible, is offered here. Several
important distinctive features characterize religious diversity in Ghana. In the
mission churches like the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican
and Baptist, to name a few, traditional worship is serene and calm, whereas in
the aics, nrm and/or Charismatic churches, the atmosphere is robust, lively,
and body-and-soul-moving. The mission churches tend to follow missionary
literary liturgical practices, whereas the aics, nrms and Charismatic churches
tend to blend ‘received’ traditions with practical African socio-cultural and
contextual elements which cater for the daily needs of their members. This
practice of the aics and nrms fits in with a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ which
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
175
uses neither purely mission church traditions nor the traditions in the
Charismatic religious movement; rather it is a unique blend of the flavors of
both. The mission churches see salvation as repentance from personal and
“original” sin, the aics, nrms and other “Spirit-filled” or Charismatic churches
see salvation as directed toward wellbeing and success in this earthly life and
therefore preach a Prosperity Gospel: this stresses act-consequence logic
whereby good is rewarded with wealth, but evil is repaid by punishment. This
idea of retributive justice and actions and their consequential logic is very
prominent in the proverbs and wise sayings of African Eʋe peoples. Although
the idea of God among the aics and nrms seems similar to that of the missionary-founded and mainstream churches, the aics and Charismatic movements conceive of God, “the Supreme Being,” not only as transcendent, but
also in control of the universe and daily life. This concept of the Supreme Being
is manifested in the names and attributes given to the Supreme Being, the
names given to individuals at birth, and also the folk sayings that teach people
to be diligent, humble, prudent and sociable.
People who live by these virtues and other similar virtues have material and
spiritual blessings and success in life. Living by these virtues or values also
avoids any attachment to 17th and 18th century Enlightenment Cartesian philosophy and theologies of rationalism and empiricism (the concept of “Cogito
ego sum”; “I think, therefore I am,”84 which is skeptical of the supernatural and
how it affects the material realm and vice versa). Those who practice the four
main virtues taught by the Eʋe folk proverbs and the corresponding virtues in
Proverbs 25–29 which we have analyzed, uphold the idea that “I am, therefore,
we are, and because we are, therefore I am.”85 This is a concept suggested by
John Mbiti which is also found in the South African philosophy of Ubuntu.
This worldview is practiced in contemporary Ghanaian Christianity. The aics
and Charismatic Movements see life as populated by both benevolent and
malevolent spirits, which influence the course of human life for good or for
evil. In light of this belief, the aics strive to maintain the social equilibrium by
living virtuous lives, making “propitiation, expiation and reconciliation”86 with
the Supreme Being, God and their neighbors. Members of both the church and
84
85
86
Descartes René, Meditations on First Philosophy, translated by John Cottingham,
Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Principles of Philosophy, translated by V.R.
Miller and R.P. Miller (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983). The Geometry of René Descartes, translated by David Eugene Smith and Marcia L. Lantham (New York: Dover Publications,
1954). The Passions of the Soul, translated by Stephen H. Voss (Indianapolis, in: Hackett
Publishing Company, 1989). See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogito_ergo_sum.
John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (1979), 108–109.
Kwame Bediako, Theology and Identity (1992/1999).
176
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community try to practice diligence, humility, prudence and sociability in
their relationships with others in the community: although there are some
who practice bad deeds as in the other societies.
In this light, the Book of Proverbs can be taught, learned, understood, and its
message better appropriated by the Eʋe peoples as they see the virtues they
cherish embedded in Proverbs. These are shown through the folk proverbs
playing a major role in the message of the Book of Proverbs. As we showed in
Chapters 2–4, the ‘shoots’ from Israel’s biblical proverbial tree can be ‘grafted’
on to the African Eʋe tree of life, which can be identified in the lives of individuals, families, social structures, apprenticeship, education, marriage, trade
and commerce, farming as well as in legal, business and other enterprises. In
these occupations and contexts in life and many others, as the virtues of
Diligence, Humility, Prudence and Sociability are practiced in order to promote
good, rewarding and successful lives. In addition to the secular application of
these virtues in African Ghanaian Eʋe cultural contexts, they can also be
applied in the church and in religious contexts. These virtues can be applied in
the church when members are trustworthy and perform their duties faithfully
toward God and humanity by their good behavior. These virtues are also fostered when members give respect to each other and to authority (youth and
children to elders, followers respect their leaders and vice versa). Members of
[the church] must work with integrity, not live off the means of others, not take
advantage of but recognize the value and contribution (gifts and talents) of
each member. Learning to act appropriately according to the virtues of
Diligence, Humility, Prudence and Sociability become integral to daily life: the
fruits of this peaceful living are rewarded by success and a good life.
4.9
Conclusions on the ‘Hermeneutic of Grafting’
Teaching, learning and understanding are more effective when they start from
the known or the familiar system of knowledge to the unknown. Thus it is
important to make use of what is already a normal part of the ‘receiving’ culture in any attempt to present the Bible to that second culture. By so doing, we
can facilitate the understanding and application of the Bible’s message in the
recipient culture. In a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’, the known or familiar African
tree of life constitutes the important traditional imagery, themes and moral
system exhibited by the virtues of diligence, humility, prudence, sociability
and other similar virtues in the Eʋe cultural context. Here we are dealing with
the African Ghanaian Eʋe culture as seen in the people’s folk proverbs: the
‘shoots’, which are ‘grafted’ on to this tree are from the unknown, unfamiliar
‘Grafting’ Israel’s ‘Shoots’-Sayings from Proverbs 25–29
177
sayings from the biblical proverbial tree of life, i.e., the ‘received’ images,
themes and moral system of Proverbs 25–29. A ‘hermeneutic of grafting’
requires not only taking pre-existing imagery in the cultural context of the
African Ghanaian Eʋe peoples seriously, but also for taking account of the fundamental moral and theological worldview of African cultures. Many of the
four main virtues, Diligence, Humility, Prudence and Sociability constitute
overarching virtues are cherished among the Eʋe peoples and are expressed in
their folk proverbs. These values also find expression in sayings in the biblical
Book of Proverbs (25–29).
A ‘hermeneutic of grafting’ focuses not only on the similarities between the
two sets of proverbial material but it also takes into account the differences
between the two sets of proverbs: the metaphor of ‘grafting’ suggests only
those distinct biblical ‘shoots’ that are sufficiently related to the African tree of
life and can be successfully ‘grafted’. Some substantial differences were noted
between the sayings in Proverbs and the African Ghanaian Eʋe folk proverbs;
these include the frequent use of parallelism in the Book of Proverbs, which we
do not find in the Eʋe folk proverbs. “Sentence” proverbs in the Book of
Proverbs are mainly two-lined sayings, but the Eʋe folk proverbs are mainly
one-lined sayings. The “sentence” proverbs in the Book of Proverbs are also in
part organized by superscriptions which provide some hint about the origin of
the texts and address questions of authorship and/or dating. Eʋe folk proverbs
are not utterer/author or time-specific but arise out of performance contexts.
This means that African Ghanaian Eʋe folk proverbs can use one proverb in
multiple situations and can also use several proverbs in a single situation. In
the light of all these differences, the ‘shoots’ selected from the biblical tree of
life, Proverbs 25–29 to be introduced to the African tree of life were chosen on
the basis of basic similarities of image, rhetoric and themes which made them
‘ripe’ for ‘grafting’.
Using imagery which is well-known, as shown in the virtues or values of
Diligence, Humility, Prudence and Sociability, a ‘hermeneutic of grafting’
becomes helpful for the African Eʋe peoples. They are enabled to form mental
pictures of the Bible’s message in ways they can understand and internalize
and thus use the message. They can identify with it more meaningfully at a
more personal level.
The result of ‘grafting’ the ‘shoots’ from the biblical tree of life (Proverbs) on
to the African Eʋe tree of life (Eʋe folk proverbs) thus blends the ideas, motifs
and images of the biblical and the existing African Ghanaian Eʋe cultural contextual tree of life in such a way that the African Ghanaian Eʋe peoples are not
only more open to receiving the biblical message, but also to making the message more distinctly African. The risk of introducing non-African modes of
178
Chapter 4
thought in the reception of the Bible in Africa is minimized. This use of distinctly African modes of thought affords a genuinely African way of interpreting the biblical Proverbs.
The ‘Hermeneutic of Grafting’ presented in this study is not limited to the
Book of Proverbs. Several other ‘shoots’ of other discourses can be identified in
the Bible which can be freshly ‘grafted’ on to other aspects of the African tree
of life. This further ‘grafting’ remains for another future analysis.
Selected Bibliography*
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Univ. Press of America, Inc., 2006.
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pa: Judson Press, 2004.
Agbemenu, Cephas. Endangered African Proverbs Collections in Collection of 100 Ewe
Proverbs: A Collection and Interpretation of Ewe Proverbs in Ewe and English with
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——. “Hearing Scripture in African Contexts: A Hermeneutic of Grafting” in Journal of
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——. “Biblical Interpretation and Postcolonialism: A Hermeneutical Theo-Quake of
Grafting” in Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies Special Issue: Religion
and Postcolonialism, vol. 15. Number 1. Spring 2008.
——. “Christianity in Ghana” in Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity, Daniel Patte,
Cambridge, University Press, 2010a, 457–458.
——. “A Note on Qohelet 10:10b: Mitteilungen” Co-written with Timothy J. Sandoval
in Zeitschrift Für Die Altestamentliche Wissenschaft. Walter de Gruyter (2010s, band
122), 90–95.
——. “The Book of Proverbs and Its Relationship to African-Ewe Proverbial
Communication” in the Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center.
Sankofa: Inaugurating the Eight President of the itc, vol. 37. Issues 1 and 2 (2011),
43–68.
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Alster, Bendt. Die Urspprünge des israelistischen Rechts. bsaw 86/1 Leipzig, 1934.
* Apart from the Hebrew passages chosen from the Hebrew wtt text all other Bible passages
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180
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1986.
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Israel and Judaism. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983a.
——. A History of Prophecy in Israel. Philadelphia: pa, Fortress, 1983b.
Boström, Lennart. The God of the Sages: The Portrayal of God in the Book of Proverbs.
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1990.
Brent A. Strawn, “Comparative Approaches: History, Theory and the Image of God” in
eds. Joel M. LeMon and Kent Harold Richards. Method Matters: Essays on
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——. “The Apodictic Prohibition: Some Observations” in Journal of Biblical Literature
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of Israel. Lewisburg: Bucknell Univ. Press; London, Associated Univ. Presses,
1979.
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Cordry, Harold V. in eds. Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski.
Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, vol. 17, pp. 441–444.
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——. The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs: Over 20,000 Adages from More Than 120
Languages, Nationalities and Ethnic Groups. Jefferson, nc: Mcfarland & Co Inc. Pub.,
1997.
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The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols, pp. 513–520. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
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Quarterly, 10 (1973), 57–60.
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Study of the Old Testament 148. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992.
——. Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of Hebrew Scriptures. Louisville, ky:
Westminster/John Knox, 1998.
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London: Lutherworth Press, 1965.
Delitzch, Frantz. Salomonisches Spruchbuch. Leipzig: Döffling and Franke, 1873.
Reprinted Giessen and Basel: Brunnen Verlag, 1985.
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Univ. Press, 2006.
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vol. 30, pp. 31–57, 1969.
——. “Deconstruction and the Other” in ed. Richard Kearney. Dialogues with
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——. “Des Tour De Babel” in eds. David Jobling and Stephen D. Moore. PostStructuralism as Exegesis, pp. 3–34, Semeia 54. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press,
1992.
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——. Principles of Philosophy, translated by V.R. Miller and R.P. Miller. Dordrecht:
D. Reidel, 1983.
——. The Geometry of René Descartes. Translated by David Eugene Smith and Marcia
L. Lantham. New York: Dover Publications, 1954.
——. The Passions of the Soul. Translated by Stephen H. Voss. Indianapolis, in: Hackett
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Dube, Musa W. and Musimbi Kanyoro, eds. “Fifty Years of Bleeding: A Story-Telling
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Selected Bibliography
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African Women and the Bible, pp. 50–60. Society of Biblical Literature. Atlanta/
Geneva, wcc Pubs., 2001.
——. Grant Me Justice! hiv/aids & Gender Readings of the Bible. Maryknoll, New York:
Cluster Pubs. & Orbis Books, 2004.
——. “Readings of Semoya: Batswana Women’s Interpretation of Matthew 15:1–28” in
eds. Musa W. Dube & Gerald O. West (with Phyllis A. Bird). An Experimental Journal
of Biblical Criticism: ‘Reading with’ African Overtures. Semeia, vol. 73, pp. 111–129.
Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1996.
Dzobo, Noah K. and Simon Amegashie-Viglo. The Triple Heritage of Contemporary
Africa. Accra: Studio 7 kat, 2005.
——. “The Beginning of Life on God’s Farm” a paper presented at the Pittsburgh
Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh: Pennsylvania, May 1995.
——. African Proverbs: A Guide to Conduct: The Moral Value of Ewe Proverbs, vol. 1.
Cape Coast, Ghana: Cape Coast University Department of Education, 1973.
Eissfeldt, Otto. Die Maschal in Alten Testament. Ein wortsgeschichteliche Untersuchung
nebsteiner Literargeschichtlichen Untersuchung der mšl Genannten Gattungen
“Volkssprichwort” und “Spottlied” in Alten Testament Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für
die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 24. Giessen: A. Töpelmann/Berlin: de Gruyter,
1913.
Engnell, Ivan. “Planted by the Streams of Water. Some Remarks on the Interpretation
of the Psalms as a Detail in Psalm 1” in Studia Orientalis Ioami Pedersen Dicata.
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——. Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East. Uppsala, 1951.
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Fichtner, J. Die altorientalische Weisheit in ihrer israelitisch-jüdischen Ausprägung: eine
Studie zur Nationalisierung der Weisheit in Israel. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die
altestamentliche Wissenschaft 62, 1933.
Finnegan, Ruth. “Proverbs in Africa” in eds. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes.
The Wisdom of Many. New York: Garland, 1981.
——. “Proverbs” in Oral Literature in Africa. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970.
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G. Perdue. The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East. Winona Lake, in.: Winona
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Selected Bibliography
——. “Proverbs” in Harper Collins Bible Commentary eds. James L. Mays et al. Harper,
SanFrancisco: Harper Collins, 1988.
——. “Proverb Performance in the Hebrew Bible.” Journal for the Study of the Old
Testament 32 (1985), pp. 87–103.
——. Traditional Sayings in the Old Testament: A Contextual Study. Bible and Literature
5. Sheffield: Almond Press, 1982.
Fox, Michael V. Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.
The Anchor Yale Bible, vol. 18B. New Haven, ct: Yale University Press, 2009.
——. Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor
Bible. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
——. “The Social Location of the Book of Proverbs” in ed. Michael V. Fox et al. Texts Temples,
and Traditions: A Tribute to Menahem Haran. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1996.
——. “Two Decades of Research in Egyptian Wisdom Literature.” Zeitschrift für
Ägyptische Sprache 107b (1980).
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1992.
Frei, Hans W. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth
Century Hermeneutics. New Haven/London: Yale University, 1974.
Gadamer, Hans Georg, in translated by Weinsheimer, Joel and ed. Donald G. Marshall.
Truth and Method. 2nd rev. Edition. New York: Continuum, 1993.
——. Philosophical Hermeneutics. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976.
——. Philosophical Hermeneutics. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976.
Gerstenberger, Erhart. Wesen und Herkunft des “apodiktischen Rechts.” NeukirchenVluyn, Germany: Neukirchener, 1965a.
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Kleider” Vetus Testamentum 33 (1983), 257–270.
——. The Leopard’s Spots: Biblical and African Wisdom in Proverbs. Edinburgh: T&T
Clark, 1993a.
——. “The Israelite Wisdom School or ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’” in The Leopard’s
Spots: Biblical and African Wisdom in Proverbs. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993b.
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Malibu, ca: Undena Publications, 1986.
——. “Filling the Gaps: Laws Found in Babylonia and in the Mishna but Absent in the
Hebrew Bible” in Journal for the Study of Nouthwest Semitic Languages and
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——.“Law” in ed. Freedman, David N. et al. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York:
Doubleday, 1992.
Selected Bibliography
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——. “Some Issues Relating to the Comparability of Laws and the Coherence of
the Legal Tradition” in ed. Bernard M. Levinson. Theory and Method in Biblical
and Cuneiform Law: Revision, Interpolation and Development, Journal of the Study
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1994.
Gressmann, Hugo. “Die neugefundene Lehre des Amen-em-ope und die vorexilische
Spruchdichtung Israels.” Zeitschrift für die altestamentliche Wissenschaft und die
Kunde des nachbiblischen Judentums 42 (1924a).
——. “Ägypten im Alten Testament Vorssiche Zeitung,” 22 (June 1924b).
Hall, Elvajean. The Proverbs: A Selection. Illustrated by Charles Mozley. New York, n.y.:
Franklin Watts, Inc., 1970.
Haran, Menahem. “On the Diffusion of Literacy and Schools in Ancient Israel” in ed.
John A. Emerton. Congress Vol. Jerusalem, 1986 [vt Sup. 40] (1988).
Hassel, Gerhard. Basic Issues in the Current Debate. Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B.
Eerdmans Pubs. Co., 1982.
Hayes, John H. and Carl R. Holladay. Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook. Atlanta,
Georgia: John Knox Press, 1987.
Healey, Joseph and Donald Sybertz. in ed. Robert J. Schreiter. Toward an African
Narrative Theology: Faith and Cultures. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books & Pauline
Pubs., Africa, 1996.
Hermisson, Hans-Jürgen. Studien zur israelitischen Spruchweisheit. Wissenchaftliche
Monographien zum alten Und Neuen Testament 28. Neukirchen: Neukirchener
Verlag, 1968.
——. “Sagasse et écoles” in Vetus Testamentum, vol. 34, 1984.
Hinga, Teresa M. “Jesus Christ and the Liberation of Women in Africa” in ed. Mercy
A. Oduyoye and Musimbi R.A. Kanyoro. The Will to Arise: Women, Tradition, and
Church in Africa. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992.
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Louisville, ky: Westminster John Knox, 2007.
Huffmon, Herbert B. “Prophecy in the Mari Letters.” Biblical Archaeologist Reader
3 (1970).
——. “Prophecy (ane)” in eds. David N. Freedman et al. Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5.
New York: Doubleday, 1992.
——. “Babel und Bibel” in eds. M.P. O’Connor and D.N. Freedman. The Bible and Its
Traditions. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1983.
——. “The Company of Prophets: Mari, Assyria, Israel” in ed. Martti Nissinen. Prophecy
in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context: Mesopotamian, Biblical, and Arabian Perspectives.
Symposium 13. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000.
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Kayatz-Bauer, Christa. Studien zu Proverbien 1–9: Eine Form- und motivgeschichtliche
Untersuchung unter Einbeziehung ägyptischen Vergleichsmaterials. NeukirchenVluyn, Germany: Neukirchener, 1966.
Keel, Othmar. “Iconography and the Bible” in eds. David N. Freedman et al. Anchor
Bible Dictionary, vol. 3, pp. 358–374. 1992.
——. The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the
Book of Psalms. Ann Arbor, mi: Eisenbrauns Pub. Co., 1997.
Keenan, James F. “The Virtue of Prudence IIa IIae, qq. 47–56” in Stephen J. Pope ed. The
Ethics of Aquinas. Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ. Press, 2002. 259–271.
King, L.W. The Code of Hammurabi. Whitefish, mt: Kessinger, 2007.
Kirszenberg, John. “Meditation and Spiritual Growth: The Tree of Knowledge” in http://
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Knappert, Jan. “Swahili Proverbs in Songs” in eds. Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit Hasan-Rokem
and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship,
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Kovacs, Brian W. “Is There a Class-Ethic in Proverbs?” in eds. James L. Crenshaw, Philip
J. Hyatt and John T. Willis. Essays in Old Testament Ethics: J. Philip Hyatt in Memoriam,
pp. 171–189. New York: ktav Pub. House, 1974.
Krispenz, Jutta. Spruchkomposition im Buch Proverbia, Europäche Hochschulschriften,
vol. 349. Frankfurt: Peterlang, 1989.
Lambert, Wilfred G. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960.
Larom, Margaret S. ed. Claiming the Promise: African Churches Speak. New York:
Friendship Press, 1994.
Lemaire, André Les Écoles et la formation de la Bible dans l’ancien Israel. Orbis Biblicus
et Orientalis 39, Fribourg, Switzerland: Editions Universtaires. Göttingen:
Vandenhoerck & Ruprecht, 1981.
——. “Sagasse et écoles”, Vetus Testamentum 34 (1984), 270–281.
Levenson, Jon D. The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews
and Christians in Biblical Studies. Loiusville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox,
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Levison, Jon R. and Priscilla Pope-Levison, “Global Perspectives on New Testament
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Mafico, Temba J. Yahweh’s Emergence as Judge among the Gods: A Study of the Hebrew
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——. Rethinking Mission: Evangelization in Africa in a New Era. Eldoret, Kenya: amecea Gaba Pubs., 2006.
——. African Religion in the Dialogue Debate: From Intolerance to Coexistence. Berlin,
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——. What Is Not Sacred: African Spirituality? Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books,
2013.
Magesa, Laurenti and Zablon John Nthamburi. Democracy and Reconciliation:
A Challenge for African Christianity. Acton, ma: Acton Pubs., 1999.
Martey, Emmanuel. African Theology: Inculturation and Liberation. Maryknoll, New
York: Orbis Books, 1996.
Mayes, Andrew D.H. Text in Context: Essays by Members of the Society for Old Testament
Study. Oxford, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000.
Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy. Nairobi, Kenya, London: Heinemann
Educ. Pubs., 1979.
——. “God, Sin and Salvation in African Religion: A Lecture Delivered by The Rev. Prof.
John Mbiti, At the Pan-African Christian Church Conference in Atlanta, Georgia,
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——. African Religions and Philosophy. 2nd Edition. Nairobi, Kenya, London:
Heinemann Educ. Pubs., 1989.
McCarthy, Dennis Joseph. Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental
Documents and in the Old Testament. Analecta Biblical 21A. Rome: Pontifical
Biblical Institute, 1978.
McGlinchey, James M. The Teaching of Amen-em-ope and the Book of Proverbs:
A Dissertation. Washington, d.c.: The Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1939.
McInerny, Ralph. “Prudence and Conscience” in The Thomist 38. 1974, 291–305.
McKane, William. Proverbs: A New Approach. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia, pa:
Westminster Press and London: scm Press, 1970.
Mettinger, Tryggve N.D. The Eden Narrative: A Literary and Religio-Historical Study of
Genesis 2–3. Winona Lake, in: Eisenbrauns Pub. Co., 2007.
Meyers, Carol L. “Tree of life” in ed. Paul J. Achtemeier. The HarperCollins Bible
Dictionary. HarperSanFrancisco: Harper Collins Pub., 1985/1996.
Mieder, Wolfgang, eds. Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship.
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Oxford University Press, 1993.
——. “International Bibliography of New and Reprinted Proverb Collections” in eds.
Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium: Yearbook of
International Proverb Scholarship, vol. 17. Burlington, Vermont: Univ. of Vermont
Department of German and Russian, 2000, 493–500.
Mieder, Wolfgang, and Alan Dundes eds. The Wisdom of Many: Essays on the Proverb.
New York: Garland, 1981.
Monye, Ambrose A. “Proverb Usage: Kinds of Relationships” in eds. Mieder, Wolfgang,
Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium: Yearbook of International
Proverb Scholarship, vol. 3. Burlington, Vermont: Univ. of Vermont Department of
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——. “The Paucity of God-Based Proverbs in Aniocha” in eds. Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit
Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb
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and Russian, 1989, 55–66.
——. “On the Structure of Aniocha Igbo Proverbs” in eds. Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit
Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb
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and Russian, 1993, 119–214.
Morenz, Siegried. Egyptian Religion. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1973, 1992.
Mugambi, J.N. Kanyua (Jesse Ndwiga Kanyua) and Anne Nasimiyu-Wasike. Moral and
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Murphy, Roland E. The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature. Anchor
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1990/1996/2002.
——. “Ancient Near Eastern Patterns in Prophetic Literature,” vt 27 (1977).
——. “Religious Dimensions of Israelite Wisdom” in air, 1987.
——. “Wisdom in the ot” in eds. David Noel Freedman et al. abd, vol. 6, 1992.
——. “Recent Research on Proverbs and Qohelet” in Currents in Research Biblical
Studies 1, 1993.
——. Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary 22. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Press, 1998.
Naré, Larent. Proverbes, salomoniens et Proverbs mossi: Étude comparative à partir
d’une nouvelle analyse de Pr 25–29. Publications Universitaires Européennes. Série
23, vol. 283. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1986.
——. “Scenarios of Pluralism – A Sociological Analysis” VI Plenary Assembly of the
Catholic Biblical Federation. Lebanon (5 September 2002).
Nasimiyu-Wasike, Anne. “Religious Ferment in East Africa” in A Cry for Life Spirituality
of the Third World: Voices from the Third World, vol. XIV, No. 2 (December 1991).
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of International Proverb Scholarship, vol. 5. Burlington, Vermont: Univ. of Vermont
Department of German and Russian, 1988, 159–166.
Nelson, Daniel M. “Prudence” in Ethics. John K. Roth, ed. Pasadena, California: Salem
Press, Inc., 1994, 2005, 1397–1401.
Newsom, Carol A. The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at
Qumran. stdj 52; Leiden: Brill, 2004.
Niditch, Susan. Folklore and the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.
——. Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature. Louisville, ky:
Westminster John Knox, 1996.
Nielsen, Kirsten, There Is Hope for a Tree: The Tree as Metaphor in Isaiah. Journal for the
Study of the Old Testament Supplement 65. Sheffield: Sheffield Academy jsot Press,
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Norrick, Neal R. How Proverbs Mean: Semantic Studies in English Proverbs. Berlin, New
York, Amsterdam: Moulton Pubs., 1985.
——. in eds. Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium:
Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, vol. 3, pp. 373–380. Burlington,
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——. “Speech Is Silver”: On the Proverbial View of Language” in eds. Wolfgang Mieder,
Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium: Yearbook of International
Proverb Scholarship, vol. 14, pp. 277–288. Burlington, Vermont: Univ. of Vermont
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Nissinen, Martti, ed. Prophecy in Its Near Eastern Context: Mesopotamian, Biblical and
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Nussbaum, Stan. The Wisdom and Philosophy of the Gikuyu Proverbs: The Kihooto
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Nwachukwu-Agbada, J.O.J. “Achebe’s Literary Proverbs as Reflections of Igbo Cultural
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Oduyoye, Mercy Amba. Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in
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Oesterly, W.O.E. The Wisdom of Egypt and the Old Testament in the Light of the Newly
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——. The Book of Proverbs with Introduction and Notes.London: Menthuen & Co., 1929.
Perdue, Leo G. “Proverbs” in Interpretation Bible Commentary. Louisville, ky: John
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Pobee, John. West Africa: Christ Would Be an African Too. Gospel and Culture. Pamphlet
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Pope, Stephen J. ed. “The Ethics of Aquinas.” Washington, dc: Georgetown Univ. Press,,
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Preuss, D. Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament, ed. James
B. Pritchard. 2nd Edition. Princeton and London, 1955.
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Schmitt, John J. “Pre-exilic Hebrew Prophecy,” in eds. David N. Freedman et al.
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Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies.
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Shupak, Nili. “The Book of Proverbs and Wisdom Literature,” Revue Biblique 94 (1987),
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——. Where Can Wisdom Be Found? The Sage’s Language in the Bible and in the Ancient
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Sonsino, Rifat. “Forms of Biblical Law” in ed. David N. Freedmann et al. Anchor Bible
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Tiffany, Frederick C. and Sharon H. Ringe. Biblical Interpretation: A Roadmap. Nashville:
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Tillich, Paulus Johannes. The Courage to Be: With an Introduction by Peter J. Gomes.
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Van Leeuwen, Raymond C. “The Book of Proverbs: Introduction, Commentary, and
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Von Rad, Gerhard. “Wisdom in Israel. London: Studies in the Christian Movement,
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——. “The Beginnings of Historical Writing in Ancient Israel” in The Problem of the
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the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids, mi: Baker House,
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Widengren, Geo. The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Eastern Religion. Uppsala,
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Mieder, Wolfgang, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Janet Sobieski. Proverbium: Yearbook of
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Yoder, Christine Roy. Wisdom as a Woman of Substance: A Socioe Reading of Proverbs
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.htm.
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178595.htm.
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177244.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_ovambo_proverb/
73109.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_swahili_proverb/
62747.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/k/african_kenyan_proverb/
87577.htm.
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_kikuyu_proverb/
177248.htm.
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/w/african_west_african_proverb/
91274.htm.
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_wolof_proverb/
73112.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
http://www.special-dictionary.com/proverbs/source/a/african_zulu_proverb/62750
.htm. Accessed October, 2013.
http://www.worldofafrica.com/proverbs/african. Accessed October, 2013.
http://www.worldofquotes.com/proverbs/african. Accessed October, 2013.
Index of Ancient Sources
Old Testament (ot)
Genesis
2:9
3
3:22, 24
12:6
13:18
Exodus
Deuteronomy
Judges
6:11
1 Samuel
25:8
30:12
2 Samuel
5:11
1 Kings
2 Kings
1 Chronicles
2 Chronicles
8–9
Ezra
Nehemiah
4
4
4
2
2
Esther
Job
8:2
Psalms
7:15
Proverbs
32
32
2
2
2
4
4
4
4
4
32
32
32
151
167
1:7
172
1–9, 7, 25
140
2–3
77
3:18
4
10–31145, 146, 147, 149, 151, 152, 153,
154, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 164,
170, 174
10:1–22:16
140
11:1–6
154
11:30
4
12:11
146
12:18
153
13:12
4
15: 1
153
15:4
4
15:16
158
15:18
153
16:18
158
16:24
153
19:1
158
21:9
160
21:19
159
22:22, 23
168
23:29
159
23:30
159
24:4, 5
149
25–296, 13, 29, 34, 88, 132, 133,
141–144, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155,
157, 158, 167, 171, 172, 174, 175, 177
25:1
133
25:1–29:27
5, 32, 33, 38, 140
25:4, 4–5
148, 149, 158
197
Index Of Ancient Sources
25:6
25:6–7
25:7
25:7a
25:8–9
25:7c, 8–10
25:10
25:11
25:11–12
25:11–13
25:13
25:14
25:17
25:18
25:24
25:25
25–27
26:1–12
26:4, 5, 8
26:13–16
26:17
26:21
26:27
27:1
27:1–2
27:5
27:15
27:10
27:18
28:4–5
28:5
28:6
28:9, 9–10
28:10
28:19, 19b
29:7
29:9
29:12, 14, 16
29:23
156
155
15
158
162
163, 164
163
165
164
165
164
151, 152
170, 171, 172
165
157, 159, 160
165
149, 161
161
160, 161, 162
144, 145
170, 171, 172
159
167
156
154, 155
157, 158
159
157, 158
146, 147, 148
172
167
157, 158
167, 168
167, 168
146, 147, 148
167, 168
160
169, 170
155
Ecclesiastes/Qohelet
10:4
10:8
Isaiah
41:19
44:14
28:4
Daniel
Hosea
4:12
153
167
4
4
2
32
2
apocrypha Books
Ben-Sira
2:12
51:23
2 Esdras
2:12
8:52
157
140
4, 5
4, 5
4 Maccabees
18:16
4
New Testament (nt)
1 Corinthians
12:12–26
12:12ff
Revelations
2:7
22:2, 14, 19
77
123
4
4
Index of Modern Authors
Adadevoh, Delanyo
6, 7, 18, 19, 20, 179
Adamo, David T.
6, 25, 179, 192
Adelekan, Tokumboh
179
Agbemenu, Cephas
179
Akoto, Dorothy bea (Abutiate)
1, 3, 17, 18,
24, 179
Akrofi, G.A.
39, 43, 63, 109, 179
Albright, William Foxwell
179
Alster, Bendt
179
Alt, Albrecht Georg
180
Alter, Robert
145
Amali, Idris O.O.
43, 180
Amegashie-Viglo, Simon
32, 33, 182
Amenumey, D.E.K.
31, 180
Anderson, Bernhard
11, 180
Aquinas, Thomas
90, 180
Ariarajah, Wesley S.
27, 28, 180
Aristotle
63, 89, 90, 109, 156
Asare, E.B.
31, 180
Baeta, C.G.
14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 180
Baker, David L.
180, 181, 191
Barré, M.
180
Barton, George
180
Barton, John A.
180
Baumen, Richard
37
Becker, Charlotte B.
89, 90, 156, 157, 180
Becker, Lawrence C.
89, 90, 156, 157, 180
Bedford-Pierce, Sophia
180
Bediako, Kwame
25, 26, 175
Ben-Amos, Dan
37
Blenkinsopp, Joseph
180, 192
Botchey, G.L.
39, 43, 63, 109, 179
Boström, Lennart
181
Bright, John
181
Browne, R.E.C.
64, 151
Bryce, Glendon E.
181
Byrd, Phyllis A.
21, 182, 191
Budge, E.Wallis
181
Butterick, George A.
10, 190
Camp, Claudia
Carasik, Mark
Carr, David M.
Charness, Neil
133
181
181
183
Chavalas, M.W.
181
Christensen, Thomas G.
4, 27, 28,
128, 181
Collins, John J.
181
Cone, James H.
14, 181
Cordry, Harold V.
181
Cottingham, John
175
Crenshaw, James L.
136, 137, 181, 185
Crisp, Roger
63
Danquah, J.B.
15
Davie, William E.
90, 157
Davies, Philip R.
181, 182
Debrunner, H.W.
182
Delitzch, Frantz.
182
Dell, Katharine J.
179,182
Derrida, Jacques.
12, 13, 182
Descartes, René
175
Dickson, Kwesi A.
7, 14, 15, 17, 18,
20, 182
Dube, Musa W.
21, 26, 182, 191
Dundes, Alan
38, 183, 187, 190
Dzobo, Noah K.
3, 8, 19, 20, 32–36, 38,
40–41, 44–47, 49–52, 54, 57, 59, 60, 62, 63,
64, 65, 67, 69–72, 74–81, 83, 84, 86, 87,
91–108, 111–114, 117–119, 121–126, 128, 130, 131,
147, 162, 164, 171–172, 182
Eissfeldt, Otto
137, 182
Emerton, John A.
138, 184
Engnell, Ivan
3, 5, 182
Ericsson, Karl Anders
44, 183
Erman, Adolf
183
Feltovich, Paul J.
183
Fichtner, J.
183
Finnegan, Ruth
38, 135, 183
Flanders, Henry Jackson
183
Fontaine, Carole R.
136, 137, 139, 181, 183
Fox, Michael V.
134–140, 145, 146, 147,
149–155, 157–162, 164, 165, 168, 170, 171, 172,
183, 192
Freedman, David N.
180, 181, 183, 184, 185,
187, 190
Frei, Hans W.
183
199
Index Of Modern Authors
Gadamer, Hans Georg
13, 183
Gammie, John
137, 183
Gerstenberger, Erhart
184
Golka, Friedemann W.
5, 72, 106,
130, 134, 136, 137, 138, 140, 153,
157, 184
Grabbe, Lester L.
184
Greengus, Samuel
184
Gressmann, Hugo
184
Hall, Elvajean
184
Haran, Menahem
134, 138, 183, 184
Harris, William W.
174
Hasan-Rokem, Galit
42, 43, 142, 180, 181,
185, 187–193
Hassel, Gerhard
11, 184
Hayes, John
11
Healey, Joseph
184
Hermisson, Hans Jürgen
135, 138, 139,
140, 184
Hinga, Teresa M.
17, 185
Holladay, 11
Horsley, Richard A.
185
Hoffman, Robert R.
183
Huffmon, Herbert B.
185
Hyatt, Philip J.
137, 185
Jamieson-Drake, David W.
Jobling, David
12, 182
134, 185
Kanyoro, Musimbi R.A.
17, 37, 38,
182, 185
Kayatz-Bauer, Christa
185
Kearney, Richard
13, 182
Keel, Othmar
185
Keenan, James F.
90
King, L.W.
185
Kirszenberg, John
3, 84, 185
Knappert, Jan
185
Kovacs, Brian W.
136, 137, 185
Krispenz, Jutta
185
Lambert, Wilfred G.
185
Lantham, Marcia L.
175
Larom, Margaret S.
37
Lemaire, André
134, 138, 140, 185
LeMon, Joel M.
141, 181, 190
Levenson, Jon D.
186
Levison, Jon R.
186
Macquarrie, John
64, 151, 181
Mafico, Temba J.
6, 186
Magesa, Laurenti
186
Marshall, Donald G.
13, 183
Martey, Emmanuel
20, 21, 22, 186
Mayes, Andrew D.H.
12, 186
Mbiti, John S.
2, 6, 9, 10, 23, 109, 166,
175, 186
McCarthy, Dennis J.
186
McGlinchey, James M.
186
McInerny, Ralph
90
McKane, William
149, 151, 162, 164,
168, 186
Mettinger, Tryggve N.D.
186
Meyers, Carol L.
187
Mieder, Wolfgang
37, 38, 42, 142, 180, 181,
183, 185, 187–193
Miller, V.R.
175
Miller, R.P.
175
Monye, Ambrose A.
42, 187
Morenz, Siegfried
187
Moore, Stephen D.
12
Mugambi, J.N. Kanyua (Jesse Ndwiga
Kanyua)
187
Murphy, Roland E.
3, 161, 187
Nackabah, Jonh
174
Naré, Larent
5, 135, 188
Nasimiyu-Wasike, Anne
187, 188
Neagreanu, Constantin
142, 188
Nelson, Daniel M.
90
Newsom, Carol A.
188
Niditch, Susan
37
Nielsen, Kirsten
4
Norrick, Neal R.
188
Nissinen, Martti
185, 188
Nohrnberg, James
188
Nussbaum, Martha C.
109, 188
Nussbaum, Stan
188
Nwachukwu-Agbada. J.O.J.
189
Oduyoye, Mercy Amba
17, 22, 23
Oesterly, W.O.E.
189
Oppong, Kwame S.
174
Paredes, Americo
37
Paul
77, 123
Perdue, Leo G.
137, 138, 140
Petersen, David L.
141
200
Pobee, John
16
Pope, Stephen J.
90
Posener, Georges
189
Preuss, D.
135
Pritchard, James B.
189
Rackham, Harris
89, 156
Richards, Kent Harold
141
Richert, Scott P.
90
Ringe, Sharon H.
12
Robertson, Smith W.
191
Römheld, Diethard
189
Rorty, Richard
13
Sandoval, Timothy J.
38, 136, 137, 139, 140,
146, 158, 159, 168
Sarpong, Peter A.
174, 189
Schaffer, Todd H.
190
Schmid, Hans H.
189
Schmitt, Armin
189
Schmitt, John J.
190
Schreiter, Robert J.
14, 184, 190
Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth
11, 190
Sen, Amartya
109, 188
Shupak, Nili
138
Simpson, William K.
190
Smith, David E.
175
Sobieski, Janet
142
Sonsino, Rifat
190
Stendahl, Krister
10, 11
Stewart, Dianne
190
Stewart, Julia
190
Strawn, Brent A.
141, 142, 181, 190
Swatson, John
174
Sybertz, Donald
184
Index of Modern Authors
Takyi, B.K.
39, 43, 63, 109, 179
Tani, Grace
174
Taylor, Archer
37, 38
Tiffany, Frederick C.
12
Tillich, Paulus Johannes
190
Toelken, Barre 37
Ukpong, Justin S.
21, 22
Van Leeuwen, Raymond C.
149, 161, 191
Von Rad, Gerhard
135, 137, 138, 140, 146, 172
Voss, Stephen H.
175
Walton, John
191
Wanjohi, Gerald J.
191
Washington, Harold C.
5, 135, 137,
138, 139
Weeks, Stuart
137
Weinfeld, Moshé
191
Weinsheimer, Joel
13, 183
Wellhausen, Julius
191
West, Gerald O.
21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 182, 191
Westberg, Daniel
90
Westermann, Claus
5, 135, 136, 137,
146, 192
Whitelam, Keith
192
Whybray, Roger N.
134, 135, 137,
138, 140
Widengren, Geo
3
Williams, R.J.
192
Willis, John T.
136, 137
Wilson, Robert R.
192
Yankah, Kwesi
5
Yoder, Christine Roy
193
Index of Subjects
Acculturation
2, 22, 23
Act-Consequence
51, 59, 96, 99, 120, 122,
146, 147, 148, 150, 164n66, 169, 175
A/ETR/s
6–10, 19, 20
African cultural context
2, 9, 15, 16, 18,
21–26, 29, 38, 173
African Independent Churches
(aics)
174, 175
Amenemopé
5n15, 135n9, 189
ane
3n9, 11, 141, 185
Anoma-senegalensis
4n10, 28
Baobab
2, 3, 83, 84, 84n91, 123
Ben-Sira
140, 140n24, 157n52
Bola
24, 24n58, 26, 28
Cardinal
33, 89, 90, 90n5
Charismatic Movement
174, 175
Chief
50, 51, 61, 67, 68, 70, 75, 76, 97, 101,
117, 120, 122, 149, 150, 153
Christianization
6n16, 18, 18n41, 19,
19n42–44, 20, 20n45, 179
Communality
109, 110, 113, 120
Contemporary
5, 10n21, 11, 11n23, 12, 13, 17,
24n57, 32n4, 142, 173, 175, 179, 182, 190
Dichotomy
7
Education
3n7, 23, 32n4, 42, 73, 81, 83, 92,
92n9, 104, 112, 116, 129, 134, 134n4, 136,
136n11, 138n15, 139, 140, 140n23, 176, 182
Egyptian
31n3, 69n65, 128n66, 137, 138n15,
139n19, 154n46, 181, 183, 187, 190
Enlightenment
137, 137n13, 175
Epidemic
7
Esdras
4, 5
“Farm”
134, 135, 139n18
Folly
160, 161
Foolishness
161, 162
Gong-gong
1, 2, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20–23, 26,
28, 29, 30, 34, 36, 38, 133, 140, 142, 147, 159,
166, 171, 173, 174, 176, 177, 178
Good life
48, 59, 88, 143, 148, 150, 176
Hearing
1n2, 17n37, 18n40, 22, 22n51–52,
23n53–56, 168, 179, 186, 189
Hermeneutic of grafting
1, 2, 13–16, 18,
20–23, 26, 28–30, 34, 36, 38, 133, 140, 142,
147, 159, 166, 171, 173, 174, 176–179
Hermeneutic orientations
1, 6, 9, 18, 21,
28, 29, 179
Dignity
8, 19, 48–50
Identity
7, 25, 25n61, 26, 28, 29, 175n86,
180, 188
Inculturation
2, 20, 20n46, 21, 21n49, 22,
23, 28, 29, 186, 191
Indigenization
2, 24, 25
Interaction
12, 18, 19, 20, 24
Islam
173
King/s
3, 31, 31n3, 32, 65n62, 71n68, 92,
138, 148, 148n37, 149, 153, 153n42, 155, 156,
158n53, 169, 170, 185, 192
Knowing
22, 22n51, 23, 53–56, 45, 90, 104,
154, 163, 168n74, 171, 189
Laziness
44, 47, 48, 49n35, 50, 50n37, 55,
59, 143–146, 150
Lazy
41, 47–49, 53, 59, 61, 105, 130, 144, 145,
145n30–31, 146, 148, 150
Leopard
5, 69, 70, 72, 106n34, 130, 130n70,
136n10–11, 140n23, 153, 153n45, 157n52, 184
Liberation
17n39, 20, 20n46, 21, 23,
185, 186
Living dead
27
Mesopotamia
134, 136, 139, 140, 180, 181,
185, 188
Missionary Religion
15
Moral value
3, 5, 8, 10, 23, 24, 32, 32n4, 33,
35, 89, 92n9, 156, 182
Moral virtues
5, 40, 63, 77, 89
Netherworld
2
New Religious Movements/nrms
Pagan
15, 23
Palm wine, Tapper
60, 61, 62
174, 175
202
Index of Subjects
Pentecostalism
174
Persian Period
133
Personal experience
38, 62, 101n26, 123,
146, 147n36, 149, 153, 169
Proverbs’ ‘shoots’
19, 35, 144, 151, 157, 167
Tree/s of life
1–3, 3n9, 4, 4n10–11, 5, 10, 13,
18, 19 21, 23, 26, 28, 28n65, 29, 31–35, 88,
89, 110, 128n65, 132, 133, 141–143, 147, 150,
152, 156, 157, 167, 169, 172, 173, 176–178, 181,
187, 192
Traditional religion
Ubuntu
6, 19, 173
Reincarnation
7, 8
Retributive justice
169, 175
Rhetoric
5, 11n22, 15, 34, 36, 59, 143, 157,
167, 168, 177, 190, 193
Righteous/ness
4, 149, 168
Royal
128, 134, 136, 136n11, 137n13, 138,
138n15, 139, 139n19, 140, 148, 153, 155
Sages
139n19, 142, 146, 157, 158, 162, 181,
184, 192
Salvation
9, 9n20, 20, 22, 28, 175, 186
“School”
135, 135n7, 136, 137, 139n18
Secular
7, 10, 166, 176
“Sentence sayings”
6, 29, 133, 138,
138n14, 140
Shame/d/ful
61, 96, 97, 162, 163
Solomon/ic
4, 31, 133, 136n10, 137n13, 138
Soré/tree
4n10, 28, 28n65
Smoke without fire
7, 96
Succeed
7, 34, 42, 46, 50, 52–59, 62, 73, 79,
83, 88, 96, 115, 116, 131, 132, 147
Tabula rasa
16
Theosophical Worldview
8
Tongue
4, 54, 56, 129, 131, 153, 153n42, 174
Transaction
24–26, 26n62, 27
Transformation
10, 20, 23, 174
Transplantation
27–29
175
Veneration
6, 173
Vice
7, 9, 10, 21, 25, 26, 34, 47, 51n39, 53,
63, 64, 84, 88, 95, 96, 108, 110, 126, 143, 168,
175, 176
Virtue of Diligence
34, 43, 47–50, 53,
59n48, 63, 88, 143, 146–148
Virtue of Humility
34, 42, 61–64, 67n64,
68, 71n68, 72, 74, 77, 77n78, 78, 79, 80, 82,
97, 127, 150–156
Virtue of Prudence
34, 89, 90, 90n4,
91–95, 97, 98, 102, 132, 156, 157, 160,
165n68
Virtue of Sociability
77n78, 80n87, 81,
109, 112–114, 116, 118–120, 123, 124, 129–132,
166–170
Vitality
130–132, 167
Welfare
123, 124, 173
Wicked
31, 149, 150, 167–170
Wisdom, Wisdom Literature
3, 5, 138n15,
180, 183, 185, 187, 190, 191
Woman
4, 8, 33, 41, 56, 70, 82, 87, 91 92,
92n9, 93, 95, 96, 101, 101n26, 104, 108, 120,
141, 142, 158, 158n54, 159, 160, 193
Women
17, 17n39, 21, 37n13, 40, 42, 43,
43n26, 54, 68, 74, 75, 85, 92, 92n9, 93,
101n26, 129, 129n67, 158n54, 159, 160, 174,
180, 182, 185
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