Tag Archives: lesson

“Nwata adi ebu orika”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community. 

  • “Nwata adi ebu orika”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Nwata: child
      • Adi: does not or should not
      • Ebu: carry
      • Orika: heavy
    • Full Translation: A child should not carry the responsibility of the entire house or the responsibility of taking care of themself, meaning that parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children do not carry a burden that they cannot yet carry.
      • Explanation: My dad grew up in Nigeria and learned this proverb from his father[my grandfather]as a child. He remembers it well because it’s an important aspect of the community when he was growing up. He talked about the fact that “It takes a village”, meaning that it was important for adults in the community to support and help a child develop and grow. This is why it was stressed heavily that children must not be burdened by responsibilities that cannot carry.

Thoughts: I found this proverb to be quite compelling and that it really speaks truth to how I was raised. I am Nigerian American so I grew up hearing proverbs like this from my parents. This proverb is one that I have heard often, and I understood its meaning to be that as a child I should not try to overload myself or overextend myself. After talking with my dad about this, the meaning became more clear. While I should not overburden myself as a child, it also puts the responsibility on my parents to make sure that they handle their responsibilities and give me what I can manage. Indirectly this proverb has influenced a lot of my decisions because I always consult with my parents when I plan on taking on a new responsibility. Every decision becomes a dialogue and I always make sure that I understand now, that some things I cannot do by myself and I am grateful that my parents are around to alleviate and take on some of my burdens. 

“Iru di nma adiro nma itu mbo”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community.

  • “Iru di nma adiro nma itu mbo”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Iru: face
      • Di nma: is nice, beautiful
      • Adiro: is not
      • Nma: nice
      • Itu: to throw
      • Mbo: nail
    • Full Translation: A beautiful face is not good to be scratched, meaning do not ruin a good relationship or look for trouble where there is none.
      • Explanation: This proverb is especially important to my dad because it represents a warning against telling lies or spreading unsupported allegations about someone. My dad learned this from his own father. This expression presents a metaphorical scenario where an individual scratches[falsely accuses] a beautiful[innocent]person. It means that a person in power should not accuse someone without any valid evidence and that in doing so you are not only telling a lie about that person, but you are also ruining a possible relationship and starting unnecessary trouble.  

Thoughts: I have to agree with the premise of this proverb because I grew up in a household that always emphasized the importance of never telling lies and not starting trouble. The saying is indicative of many of the life experiences that my parents have amassed living here in the United States. My dad, in particular, suffered a lot of hardships from individuals that would take his kindness and trust for granted and would try to discredit his character. However, this proverb speaks to a profound belief that my dad possesses. He believes in the law of karma, or the idea that if you lead a good life and stand by truth as opposed to lies that your good nature will be rewarded. I grew up with the heavy rhetoric of telling the truth and I honestly believe that it is one of the reasons why I am not a good liar. This proverb really speaks a lot of truth into who I am as a person, and who my dad still is. While I still tell the occasional white lie here and there, I do my best, to tell the truth, and I hope to pass that on to everyone I interact with.

“Onitsha ji azu awu”-Onitsha Proverb

Context: This is a proverb that is native to my dad’s village and he learned it as a child growing up in Onitsha. Proverbs like this were a prominent means of giving advice and life lessons especially to the children of the tight-knit community.

  • “Onitsha ji azu awu”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Onitsha: Onitsha
      • Ji: uses
      • Azu: the back
      • Awu: urine
    • Full Translation: Instead of confronting troublesome people, you avoid conflict by making an excuse to leave[i.e. use the restroom] and leave that environment through the back door.
      • Explanation: According to my dad, this is a pinnacle saying among men in the village of Onitsha, where he grew up. This saying serves to represent the ability of an Onitsha man to assess a situation and leave when it is appropriate for him to do so, avoiding conflict and maintaining his dignity and pride as a man. My dad learned the village elders of Onitsha and it stands as a saying to exercise heightened awareness in regards to the safety of your environment and or surroundings.

Thoughts: While this appears to be a proverb directed towards men within my dad’s village, I believe that this proverb can be taken as a message for both men and women.  Growing up my parents would always tell me and my brother to always be aware of our surroundings and be observant so as to prevent walking into danger. When I left for college, the premise of the saying became very real for me because I heard a lot of tragic events and or stories in regard to people finding themselves in situations that they did not understand how to escape. Now as a young adult, I exercise the message of this proverb almost every time I leave the safety of my apartment or dorm room. There have been situations where I have had disagreements or conflict with people that I know and a lot of times I always ended up leaving the situation and returning later when things have cooled down. While I agree that some situations can prompt one to leave and never return, I do believe that this caution can still be exercised by staying in a risky but manageable situation. There is always a level of conflict associated with working with others, so I think it’s important to exercise caution but also do it in a way that is solution-oriented and non-escalating. In this context I wouldn’t just leave an instance of conflict unresolved, instead, I would try to deescalate the situation and find a solution but if the situation gets out of hand then I will figure out a way to leave.

Turkish Proverb – “Havlayan Köpek Isirmaz”.

Main Piece

The following is transcribed from a proverb given from the informant, AT. 

AT: A Turkish proverb that I know of is “Havlayan Köpek Isirmaz”. This translates to “the dog that barks does not bite”. This proverb describes the type of person who does a lot of talking but never backs it up. And it also serves as a lesson to never say you’re going to do something and not end up doing it. 

Background: The informant knows this proverb through his time spent living in Turkey. He says it is pretty commonly taught, and is usually done so at a younger age. It was taught to him by his father, and is something he says he tries to live by. 

Context: The informant and I discussed this proverb of Face Time. 

My Thoughts: I am a fan of this proverb because it perfectly connects the lesson to the inaction of the barking dog. It is very important to do what you say you will, because if you don’t you will lose credibility. People will believe you less if you are all bark and no bite. Another takeaway I have from this proverb is that the American version seems to be more dictated towards fights. A person who is labeled as “all bark and no bite” is usually someone who talks as if he wants to fight someone but when presented the opportunity declines to do so. It is interesting to see how proverbs are interpreted in different cultures. 

4 Questions, 4 Tests

This conversation is between the collector (C) and the informant (I).

I: I’m going to ask you four questions, and this isn’t just for fun. It’s going to test you on your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Are you ready?

C: I’m ready.

I: The first question is, “How do you put a giraffe in a refrigerator?”

C: (After a long pause) I don’t know.

I: You open the refrigerator, put the giraffe inside, and close it. That was to test if you overthink simple questions. The second question is, “How do you put an elephant in a refrigerator?”

C: You open the refrigerator, but the elephant inside, and close it.

I: Wrong. First, you have to take out the giraffe. That was to test whether you understand the consequences of your actions. The third question is, “The whole jungle has an animal meeting, and all but one animal show up.Who isn’t there?”

C: (After a long pause) I give up.

I: The elephant! He’s still in the refrigerator. That was to test your memory. You have one last question, and it’s the most important one: “You need to cross a river. It is filled with crocodiles, and you have no boat. How do you get across?”

C: You distract the crocodiles?

I: You don’t need to. They’re still at the animal meeting. That was to test whether you learn from your mistakes.

Context: The informant is significantly older than the collector, which might add to the educational aspect of the joke.

Interpretation: Obviously, this is first and foremost for entertainment. But it does teach the audience to think through their answers carefully, understand that actions have consequences, and learn from past experiences. It is a silly series of questions with a surprising amount of moral value. It is distinctly structured for educational purposes, and therefore places the joke-teller in a position of authority and wisdom over the audience.

 

A Vietnamese Proverb: Dark and Light

This is a Vietnamese proverb that was told to me by my mother when I was very young:

“Gần mực thì đen gần đèn thì sáng.”

 

Literal translation:

“Close to ink then you are dark, close to light then you are bright”

 

This is a proverb often told to children, meaning that you should be careful with who you surround yourself with. People are shaped by others around them, and if one surrounds themselves with bad people (the dark) they will become bad, while if one surround themselves with good people (the light), then they will be a good person. This is a lesson about peer pressure, as well as a warning to young children about how friends, family, and peers can influence them.

 

Collectors Comments:

This is a proverb that has stuck with me for a long time since my mom first told me way back when. It reminds me of sayings such as “hanging with the wrong crowd” or other proverbs that deal with friend groups and peer pressure. This saying was my mom’s way of trying to teach me that I should be selective with my friends, and only hang around people that would make me better. The proverb makes use of the contrasts between black and white and dark and light that are common in so many cultures. While, I have heard similar proverbs in other languages, this is the first one I’ve heard that relates to ink as black and light to white.

 

Proverbs

D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.

D: Funny thing, it’s hard to remember proverbs out of the blue. They’re so associated with experiences that I usually only think of them in context. On the other hand, I use them all the time to explain things to patients because they get complex ideas across in a familiar and easy way.

Me: What proverbs do you use often?

D: Well, I just used “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” today when talking with a colleague of mine about treating his wife’s normal blood pressure. She gets distressed in some doctor’s offices & her blood pressure rises. In the end we both agreed that “things are normal & should not be messed with.”

Me: Any other proverbs you use?

D: Another classic I use all the time with patients is “if you don’t use it, you lose it” as a universally-recognized motivation to “get off your butt.”  I’ve tried it with my dad too, but with no success.  My mom and I even mapped out their condo on a piece of paper with distances marked and put it on the fridge in hopes of encouraging him to get out and walk.

D: There’s also: “the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” This is a recent one which is a favorite of mine, by a pastor in New York named Ralph Sockman, who preached in the 1930s-1960s.  My corollary has been “the more the islands of knowledge, the greater the archipelago of understanding.”

Me: What do you mean by that?

D: What I am trying to say is the more stuff you know, the more stuff you understand. I say this to my son a lot. It’s using the things you learn in life like putting the pieces of a puzzle together in order to understand other stuff.

D, while having a bit of trouble at the beginning trying to remember a proverb, ended up talking about three proverbs that he really likes and uses a lot. He uses proverbs in his everyday life, especially with his patients at work, to get across a point that might otherwise be confusing, or maybe even boring. By using proverbs and saying things in a different way, it is more likely to reach someone than by saying the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different reaction every time. So while proverbs didn’t seem to be a prominent part of D’s everyday speech, they are something he uses very frequently.

The Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Song

My (hold note) mommy said if I’d be good she’d send me to the store,

she said she’d bake a chocolate cake if I would sweep the floor,

she said if I would make the bed and help her mind the phone,

she would send me out to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

And so I did

the things she said,

I even helped her make the bed.

Then I went out,

just me alone,

to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

Now (hold note) on my way a-comin’ home I stumbled on a stone,

and need I tell you that I dropped

my chocolate ice cream cone.

A little doggie came along and took a great big lick (slurping sound),

and then I hit that mean ole doggie with a little stick.

And he bit me

where I sat down

and he chased me all over town.

And now I’m lost,

can’t find my home,

it’s all because of a chocolate, chocolate, chocolate ice cream cone.

 

The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. The song is one that his mother used to sing to him and his siblings when they were little. The song was primarily sung right before bed, as well as occasionally on long road trips. The informant says his mother would sing it to the children almost every night, sometimes “perfunctorily,” sometimes smiling and adding “extra ‘chocolate, chocolate, chocolate’s’ on the end.” The informant sees it as a mix of a “bizarre lost kid fairy tale” and a “moral lesson for young kids growing up,” the lesson being, “don’t go out on your own or, you know, you might get lost and never find your way home again.”

 

This song was collected while I was home for Spring Break and performed in my living room. It was interesting to me because my father also used to sing it to me and my sister when we were children because, “when you’re a parent, you’re looking for, you know, the things to pass down and it was one of my favorite songs as a child.” The tune of the song makes it seem fun and harmless, but there is a dark undertone about the lyrics that I recognized, even when I was growing up. Looking at it now, I think it is less of a moral lesson, and more of a lesson to children about the random, horrible things that can happen to you when you are not expecting them. None of the events that take place are really the narrator’s fault (other than being chased by a dog after he hits it with a stick), and yet the narrator still ends up lost and alone. It is a dark reflection on everyday life hiding within a song for children, as is often the case with old songs and stories created for children.