USC Digital Folklore Archives / Proverbs
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Proverbs

Proverb #4 – Haiti

My informant was born and raised in Haiti. She shared with me a few proverbs that she learned from her time growing up there.

When people think of Haiti, they rightly so think of severe poverty, denuded mountains, music, art, and its oral history — including proverbs of its peasants.  These peasants have suffered so much over the centuries.  Because of all that they have suffered, they have gained a treasure full of wisdom. Haitians seem to hold the mentality that a lot of things are up to them and that they can only depend on themselves. This belief that they hold is understandable; how can they trust a world that has been so cruel and unfair to them? A lot of their proverbs reflect skepticism, relentless hardship of life, universal truths about people, and at times a hopelessness or defeated attitude. Below I have laid out the proverb in Creole, the English translation, and then an explanation behind the proverb as provided by my informant:

 

Haitian Proverb (Creole)

Nan benyen pa gen kache lonbrit

Translation

A beautiful burial does not guarantee heaven

Explanation

“People put in so much into the external in their lives. So it’s like ok you do all this for yourself—you pamper yourself. But in the end it’s not a passport to heaven. Because who knows what’s on the other side? It’s not ultimately money that matters when you die. It’s not going to take you to heaven. You can lavish on yourself, but in the end it won’t matter.”

general
Proverbs

Proverb #1- Haiti

My informant was born and raised in Haiti. She shared with me a few proverbs that she learned from her time growing up there.

When people think of Haiti, they rightly so think of severe poverty, denuded mountains, music, art, and its oral history — including proverbs of its peasants.  These peasants have suffered so much over the centuries.  Because of all that they have suffered, they have gained a treasure full of wisdom. Haitians seem to hold the mentality that a lot of things are up to them and that they can only depend on themselves. This belief that they hold is understandable; how can they trust a world that has been so cruel and unfair to them? A lot of their proverbs reflect skepticism, relentless hardship of life, universal truths about people, and at times a hopelessness or defeated attitude. Below I have laid out the proverb in Creole, the English translation, and then an explanation behind the proverb as provided by my informant:

 

Haitian Proverb (Creole)

Dye Mon, Gen Mon

 

Translation

Behind mountains are more mountains

 

Explanation

“The reason this proverb has a lot of meaning is because Haiti is a very mountainous country. Unlike the Dominican Republic whom it shares the island, Haiti is pretty much all mountains. And the Dominican Republic when you fly over the island is all green. And Haiti unfortunately over the years has diluted because they cut down the trees to make charcoal and things like that—it’s made poverty even worse. Because of the topography, it (the proverb) has kind of a double meaning in that one because it is a very mountain country and then second is that in life…it is a roller coaster. It doesn’t mean that you go through life smoothly. There is always a bump. There is always a hurdle. There is always something. And just when you think you’re done, then something else comes up. So, for them it’s even more accentuated if you will because the poverty is so extreme and they’ve had earthquake where thousands and thousands of people have died. And then after that came a whole string of health problems because of that. And I think perhaps a lot of poor people feel that way and you’re leaving a daily subsistence and it’s just everyday there’s something else for you to have to deal with. There’s no coasting.”

Humor
Proverbs

Jokes spotlighting concerns about masculinity

Informant is a 77 year old male, American, grew up working in his father’s bakery in Boyle Heights.

His father, who came of age just before WW2, shared a wealth of proverbs and dites with Informant, mostly disparaging toward women or somehow engaged with how to be a manly, which might have been of great concern during a time when women were flooding workplaces while men were fighting overseas.

Informant: If I missed an opportunity or something, he’d say to me, “Alan, if you fell into a barrel of titties, you’d come out sucking your thumb.”  I know he got that from his boxing buddies but it’s a little late to ask for details.

His favorite joke was, “You know why cavemen dragged their women around by the hair, right?  It’s because if you drag em by the feet, they fill up with dirt.

There’s more, but I can’t tell you, it’s too–it’s too much.

Proverbs

Italian Proverb

Original Script: Nel vino c’è la verità

Translation: In the wine there is truth

Background information: I was in the study abroad program in Italy last year. When I stayed in Italy, I realized how wine has always been an important element of the Italian culture, deeply rooted in the history and the land.

Thoughts about the piece: This proverb indicates how wine helps us reveal our inner thoughts and feelings that we would otherwise keep to ourselves if we were sober.

Proverbs

Portuguese Proverb

Original Script: Quem não tem cão, caça com gato.

Translation: those who don’t have a dog, hunt with a cat.

Background information: the original proverb is “caça como gato”, which means “hunts like a cat.” Dogs help people during hunting,  but cats are always alone. The original meaning of the proverb is that when you want to do something but cannot find a companion, you should go doing it alone. Now the meaning of the proverb changed slightly and it used to indicate that when you cannot find the necessary means to do what you need, you should try to find other means.

Thoughts about the piece: cats always give people the impression of lonely and independent.

 

Proverbs

Italian Proverb

Original Script: La Befana vien di notte, con le scarpe tutte rotte

Translation: La Befana comes in the night, with her broken shoes.

Background information: Le Befana is an old, white-haired, wrinkly woman. She would come to only good kids on January 6th, leaving them candies and chocolates. And she would leave bad kids with charcoal in empty socks.

Thoughts about the piece: the story of La Befana is similar to Santa Claus.

 

general
Proverbs

Italian Proverb

Original Script: Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono

Translation: In the small barrel, there is the good wine.

Background information: This Italian proverb refers to the fact that the finest wine is usually produced in limited quantities. It’s in contrast to the thought that “big” necessarily means “better,” suggesting that the concept of quality often doesn’t coincide with that of quantity.

Thoughts about the piece: Like lots of provers in Italy are related to wine, this one uses wine as a metaphor to talk about people and things in general.

Folk speech
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Proverbs

Families in China

“男的要让女的,姐要让弟“

Context: Whenever my sister and I used to fight, my dad would always tell us that “the boy must let the girl, but the older one must let the younger one.” So in the end, we shouldn’t actually be fighting at all.”

After thoughts: Similar to China’s traditions and beliefs about familial roles, the man is viewed as the head of the household and should be respected. However, the elders of the families are also well respected.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Rose

“Every rose has it’s thorn”

Interviewee: My grandmother used to say this to me. Not everything beautiful is perfect and everything that is beautiful has its flaws. Sometimes the most beautiful.”

The informant is Persian. A similar proverb, believed to be from Persia, says “he who wants a rose must respect the thorn.” Here the idea of imperfection is expressed and teaches people to love and respect one another despite individual differences and flaws.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Promises

Interviewee: My dad always said: always under promise and over deliver and never over promise and under deliver.

Interviewer: What does that mean to you?

Interviewee: That’s who you should be as a person. Show them you can do better and impress them. Say what they are content with and then do more.

After thoughts: This is similar to many Chinese motifs on trust and friendships, especially “guanxi” the basic dynamic in relationships with others. Reciprocal favors are the key to “guanxi” and failure to reciprocate is considered unforgivable. This is central in Chinese society and describes the importance of  personal connection between two people.

 

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