African Proverbs in African Literature

A Critical Resourcebase

Introduction, 6

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICAN PROVERBS TO THE CONTINENT’S ORAL LITERATURE

I. Some Common Themes Cherished by the Societies

– patriarchy/male chauvinism

– gender issues (demeaning females): “Mothers-in-law are hard of hearing (Democratic Republic of Congo); “Woman without man is like a field without seed.” (Ethiopia); “A home without a woman is like a barn without cattle,” “A silly daughter teaches her mother how to bear children,” and “Saying that it’s for her child, she gets herself a loaf of bread” (all from Ethiopia); “If you marry a woman at a pub, you will divorce her at a pub” (Ewes of Ghana);

– Reference to the use of Parables by Jesus Christ to teach lessons to his own people – using common and known substances as common points of reference but couching the utterance in coded language that must be broken down before comprehension is assured: To crack the nut before reaching the kernel.

– Reference to Jesus’ sayings: “When the heart overflows, it comes out through the mouth” (Ethiopia) is similar to Jesus’ “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks” (….)

Problem of Translation: Loss of the nuances of these proverbs in the course of being translated from their original African languages into English or any other language which doesn’t have the required linguistic resources to adequately represent the notions inherent in the original constructions. The impact is great because the exact impression is watered down by the translation difficulties.

The constructions presented here must be viewed against this background though they make sense when read. My contention is that these proverbs can be better relished if presented in their original nuances and unadulterated conditions. These limitations are noteworthy as far as cross-cultural issues in linguistic representations are concerned.

What you see here is the result of intercultural convergences at the linguistic level and the impact on concepts. How do we adequately represent original concepts from one language to the other without losing their original nuances?

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