African Proverbs in African Literature

A Critical Resourcebase

Introduction, 5


H. More Thoughts on the Significance of the African Proverbs

The collection that I have in this project is only representative of what Africa has. Regardless of the scope of coverage, these proverbs remain relevant to the diverse ethnic groups and constitute the core of their oral literature. They are significant for several reasons:

(i) Each community cherishes its body of wise sayings which serve as pointers to how rich its language is;

(ii) Users of proverbs areacclaimed as knowledgeable (wise) in the traditional sense since those who can combine proverbs with ordinary utterances are among those who command respect in the traditional societies of old;

(iii) Proverbs as the language of the Chief’s Court. To be there, you must learn how to use them and speak as is done in that discourse community;

(iv) Appellations enunciated through traditional “talking drums” and interpreted by only a few who understand the language of the drums (source of honor and prestige/pride to the individual interpreter of drum language) also derive from proverbs;

(v) The use of proverbs is anindication that one has a good and reliable memory and can relate to one’s roots;

(vi) The proverbs bring up generational differences – only those who spend time with the “old” ones in the community could get the chance to know the proverbs. It is an indication that the user of the proverb is not “tainted” by modern linguistic influences from other cultures, especially non-African ones.

My discussion has revealed that the various African communities cherish their proverbs because of their relevance to discourse at various levels. In a fast-changing socio-cultural situation where cultures intersect at various levels, it is important that those who have proverbs do whatever they can to retain them in their linguistic repertoire.

In Africa, where orality is placed above written communication, it is obvious that the prevalence of these proverbs will continue to sustain the oral literature of the continent.

The significance of the art of public speaking (oratory) and influence on the society. The traditional linguists at the courts of the traditional rulers are known for their rhetorical powers.

Folk tales and the power of narration—morals and informal education of the society, especially children. The art of story telling is learned—occasion for communal activity as a form of entertainment and enactment of historical events, drama, poetry (funeral dirges, honorific appellations, etc.).

Traditional religious ceremonies—rituals and pouring of libation, incantations, ancestral worship rites, etc.

Ceremonies such as marriage rites, riddles, songs, etc.

Proverbs feature in almost every aspect of traditional African life.

African authors (Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Ayi Kwei Armah, Kofi Anyidoho, Ama Ata Aidoo, Afua Sutherland, Camara Laryea, Mariama Ba, etc.) use African proverbs to enrich their works.

Children’s literature (fables, folktales, etc.) cannot do without proverbs, which are regarded as the core of knowledge.

Metaphoric representations conveyed through proverbs become useful sources of knowledge.

Main figures in the proverbs—human beings, animals, Nature, the spirit world.

Proverbs relate to abstract issues (death, laziness, envy, love, power, wealth, poverty, strength, weakness, mood, etc.).

Lessons intended—either to praise, condemn, exhort, persuade or dissuade action. Warning, advice, admonition, curse, or blessing are also implied whenever proverbs are used.




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