African Proverbs in African Literature

A Critical Resourcebase

Interpretation, 2

INTERPRETATION OF SOME PROVERBS

The proverbs that are interpreted here come from East Africa. We begin with those from Tanzania.

A. Proverbs from Tanzania

1. “Even the night has ears”:
This proverb is a caution to people to be wary of what they do or say wherever they may be because “even, walls have ears.” If you don’t guard your utterances, you may end up saying what you shouldn’t and get into trouble. You may not know who is “in the dark” listening to you.

B. Proverbs from Sudan

1. “The hen with baby chicks doesn’t swallow the worm”:
If you know that you have other commitments, you don’t waste your resources on one thing alone. In other words, this proverb is an admonition against greed.

Knowing very well that you have people who look up to you for sustenance, you don’t have to eat everything that comes your way. Reserve some for your dependents. The African cultures cherish communalistic living and it is important that the people learn to share what they have and this proverb speaks to that attribute.

C. Proverbs from Kenya

1. “He who is unable to dance says that the yard is stony”:
It means that those who boast about their abilities but cannot do anything to prove their worth will always shift blame to others.

2. “It is the toothless animal that arrives first at the base of the fruit tree to eat his fill before others arrive”:
If you know that you don’t have what it will take to achieve what others do, try to use the little you have to bring in sustenance. Don’t fritter away your chance because it will cost you dearly in the end.

D. Proverbs from Ethiopia

1. “What is inflated too much will burst into fragments”:
If you overdo things, you will create problems. Moderation is the best policy.

2. “He who digs too deep for a fish may come out with a snake”:
If you pry too much into people’s affairs, you will end up getting into trouble. Do what will not be problematic.

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