Tag Archives: morals

“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.

“Isi buka ora ka Okpu”-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. 

  • “Isi buka ora ka Okpu”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Isi: head
      • Buka: big
      • Ora ka: struggle
      • Okpu: cap
    • Full Translation: No matter how big a man’s head is, we can find an alternative cap, meaning that we can always find a solution or alternative to any issue or problem.
      • Explanation: This proverb comes from my dad and he learned about this when he was a child growing up in Nigeria. This was supposed to be a saying that illustrated that no matter how big a problem was that a solution could always be found. When my dad told me about this proverb, he emphasized it as a teaching rather than a saying. He experienced a lot of hardships and adversities growing up, but he always remembered the words of his father in that there was no problem that he could not solve and to keep pushing forward.

Thoughts: Growing up this was not a saying that I would hear often here from my parents, but I recognize a lot of variations in English that they would tell us. It is interesting to think about how this one proverb could summarize the experiences of my dad as a child and his journey from Nigeria to the U.S. to start a better life for himself. Life in itself is riddled with challenges, but this proverb provides a simple and almost cheesy solution. If we think of problems as being impossible and that they can never be solved, then they will continue to plague and affect us throughout our life. However, if we address a problem with possible solutions from the beginning and speak into existence that a solution is near then no problem will be too great and we’ll always find a solution. The proverb is speaking clearly on the value of being solution-orientated and I agree with this message entirely. Given my dad as an example of what happens when you choose a path of solutions rather than problems, I hope to carry on the message of this proverb and apply it to the challenges I know I will face.

“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. 

Kwanzaa Traditions

Context: The informant, a 19 year old college student, was engaged in a conversation about Kwanzaa and how her family celebrates this holiday.

Piece:

Informant: Um, ok. So, Kwanzaa. Um, I have celebrated it before. Um, it’s a family thing, my family celebrates Kwanzaa. Uh, I’m black, um ‘cause you can’t see me on the audio so just to make that… clear to all the listeners. Um, so basically it takes place the day after Christmas and it ends on January 1st. And it’s my favorite way to close out the year and basically it’s kinda a reflection on the whole year and each day it’s a different principle where you remind yourself of like um basically like whether or not you really perform those principles or not. One of them is Kujichagulia which is self-determination, they are all in Swahili um so yeah that’s a word we explore for a day— like how well do you fulfill your own personal goals. There’s also Umoja which is unity, um there’s seven of them yeah. So the traditions that happen are that every single night the whole family gets together and you eat a meal and you set the meal on an mkeka which is like a straw mat. And you eat specific foods— some foods we eat are corn, red beans and rice, soul food— things like that. And then we talk about the principle and then we light a candle on the thing— there is also a Swahili name for it.

Collector: So why is this tradition important to you?

Informant: Kwanzaa is important to me because um well for one it’s a way for me to connect to my African ancestry, which is something I don’t do in my daily life because slavery took that away from me. And on another hand, because um it’s one of the very few traditions my family has, we don’t do a lot of things every year, but like Kwanzaa and celebrating with the people at my church is something we have done consistently and so I value that we have kept that up

And uh yeah Kwanzaa was created in the 60s by a guy who is now shamed in the black community because he was put on trial for very brutally abusing women and he was a professor at some school in California, some university, I kinda wanna say it was CalState Longbeach or something like that. Um, but he no longer is a professor there and now is under harsh scrutiny from the black community and he is bad but Kwanzaa is good. A lot of people celebrate Kwanzaa but a lot of people shit on that man. And it was really big in the 60s because of the civil rights movement, and afterwards people stopped celebrating as much but I still do because of my family and my church.

Background: This informant is a black female college student at USC who celebrates Kwanzaa with her family regularly. She loves celebrating Kwanzaa because it connects her back to her African roots. She has often said that she feels the pressure from society and people around her to be “less black” and this holiday helps her celebrate just that.

Analysis:Kwanzaa is celebrated throughout the United States but because I am not part of the celebrating community, I was never taught about the traditions. This holiday in particular lends itself to folklore as the entire holiday revolves around the preservation of African culture and tradition. The fact that Kwanzaa champions principles is interesting as it passes along ideals through the traditions, emphasizing what people should focus on and influencing Kwanzaa celebrators’ everyday lives.

For other traditions practiced during Kwanzaa, see: Pleck, Elizabeth. “Kwanzaa: The Making of a Black Nationalist Tradition, 1966-1990.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 20, no. 4, 2001, pp. 3–28. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27502744.

Madame Beetle searches for a husband

My informant was told this story as a child by his Iranian grandmother. He explained to me that she would often tell him stories when he was growing up, but he remembers this one the most vividly. He characterizes it:

  “So this is a story that my grandmother (my mom’s mom) used to tell me when I was younger, and it’s a story that’s pretty rooted in Iranian culture because other Persian friends I have also know it. So it kind of shows that a lot of families tell this story. It’s a story of… love I guess, but I guess I’ll just tell the story:”

  “So, as translated, Madame Beetle which is considered to have human-like qualities, goes out on a search for love, as demanded by her mother upon her mother’s death bed, and she goes… Madame Beetle goes out on a search for love and encounters many different animals that are personified um, so this, for example like a rabbit who’s a carpenter, uh she would encounter, and this question she asks every guy she meets is: how would you beat me if I was your husband?… If you were my husband. And she receives responses from these different personified animals. So the carpenter says for example “I would beat you with this two by four” and the butcher says “I would beat you with my cleaver” and so the search goes on and she eventually comes in contact with this mouse and she asks me how would you beat me if you were my husband and he says “I would pet you gently with my tail” and of course she chooses the mouse to be her husband, and, you know they’re happy together, they’re living together; one day the mouse gets sick and Madame Beetle cooks a bowl of soup for the mouse and while drinking the soup the mouse falls into the soup and drowns… and that’s the end of the story.”

I asked my informant why he thought he remembered this specific story, and if it had any other significance to him personally. He responded:

There are some interesting things about this story. One, you can tell that it has a sad ending which is very… it’s a kind of thematic thing in a lot of children’s stories in Persian partly because, uh, of the dominant religion in Iran is Muslim and Islam has a lot of appeals to sadness for some reason, and a lot of these stories end in sadness-a lot of children’s stories, not a lot of happy endings. Another element of the story which is kind of lost in translation is the element of rhyme. Every time Madame Beetle meets a prospective spouse there’s this interplay of rhyming and repetition which goes on back and forth and that’s what makes it a very goods children’s story: because every time it’s repeated the child can, you know- as I would –  say oit or jump ahead of my grandmother and say what is to come because it’s repetitive. Um, and, yep that’s the story of madame beetle.

The fact that this story is popular among many Persian families indicates that it represents broader themes in Persian culture. The treatment and subservience of women, preached by many Muslim texts, would seem to be supported by this story, which establishes the male as dominant even at a young age. However, the fact that this story was told my informant by his Grandmother, suggests its misogynistic values may have been acceptable within its cultural context. Insofar as it is a piece of children’s literature, it follows the general plot of many children s stories today: that of the seeker (who is often an animal.) However, its unhappy ending is unique among most similar children’s stories, and perhaps reflects a part of the cultural gap between the east and the west.

Space Traveling Boy

I asked my informant if he could provide me with a piece of Folklore, and he suggested this story. According to the informant, his parents would tell it to him as a child, and he believes it is of Swiss origin, although he is not sure.

“It’s about this little boy, who lives in space, and he kinda has a really unique perspective on the world based on his naivete,  and, in space all the planets are governed by adults and on each planet this adult has like a certain characteristic or trait the boy goes about kind of negating or belying. Like, certain events that happen, like there’s this one where he shows the adult a picture of, like a hat but he asks him “what do you see in this picture?” and the adult says “oh it’s a hat it’s simple” and he goes no its not a hat it’s a elephant and a snake underneath a blanket, just because of the shape of the hat.”

Although this story seems to be missing parts, from what is available, we see that it is about a boy who gets in arguments with adults, and wins them since he does not posses the same hardened stereotypes. Seeing the boy use his imagination and think outside the box, this story may also serve as a reminder to adults not to become trapped in social dogma, and to preserve some of the innocence of childhood.

Banoonooed

The informant provided the following as a tale his father would tell him before bed,for the purpose of making sure he didn’t eat too much before going to sleep.

Alright, so, when I was a kid my Dad, (first of all my dad’s family is Philippeano. my dad is full Philippeano.) So he would tell me that, uh, if I ate right before bed I’d, what would happen was, it was called “banoonooed.” [ban-noon-noon-ed] and what that means is that if you eat before bed when you go to sleep you’ll have a bad dream and your entire hair will go, just like… white. So yeah, anyway, if you eat before dinner and if you eat too much, er, sorry, if you eat too much before you go to sleep it will give you nightmares, and those nightmares will be so scary that your hair will just go completely white and I think that’s, like my dad didn’t make it up, but I think it’s to stop people eating before going to bed and… yeah. 

As the informer notes, this tale is not specific to his family, but it does seem to be a Philippeano tale in general as opposed to one which has spread across cultures. As the informer noted to me, large meals are a significant part of Philippeano culture, and a tale warning against their consumption before bed is likely more relevant to their culture than others. Furthermore, the scare-tactics and over the top consequences for eating too much before bed, make it a good children’s story, and that gives its moral a context.

Lad Stories

The informant remembers stories that her grandfather used to tell about a dog named Lad.  One of the stories she remembers vaguely is:

“There were these robbers trying to rob a house. Lad… the mister and mistress were sleeping in bed, and the kids were tucked away safetly in bed.  Lad was out on his nightly rounds, protecting the house. He heard something weird and saw a strange man approaching house.  He was not any normal man.  [Lad] basically starts to bite the man, and they have a struggle.  He wards off the man, but Lad is beat up at the end.  He is okay though, and he survives.”

The informant believes that this story in particular shows the values of upholding family and sacrificing for honor of the pack.  She also added that it was “more dramatic when grandpa told it.”

The informant remembers hearing the tales.  “He would always tell it when the grandkids were over. Everybody was lying on the floor.”  She said that the grandsons specifically would call for the “Lad stories.”  Her grandfather would talk to the younger kids, and it was very special for them, the way he told the story.  “We were present and cared about Lad.  He was always on the side of justice.  My grandpa cares about that a lot.  [Lad] had a kindness and fun for kids.”  The informant believes that the character of Lad represented her grandfather, always sticking up for the kids and being a teacher.

She would like to tell the stories one day to her kids. She thinks that the stories are good because they are a common ground for the children.  It is a common way to share values.  The informant seemed happy to recall these stories and the other things that her grandfather used to share with the family such as army songs.  Lad stories were a way for him to teach them and instill his beliefs in a fun way, and they seem to have worked because the stories still stick with her today.

청개구리 (The Green Frog) — Korean Folk Tale

My informant told me about a story he had heard in Korea, told to him by a teacher when he was in elementary school:

“Once, there was a frog. A green frog, I guess, or–never mind, it doesn’t really matter. Just a frog. Uh, this frog was really disobedient and never listened to his mom. So if she told him to go one path, he’d go on the other one, and if she told him to shower he wouldn’t, and stuff like that. He just, like, does the opposite of whatever she says. A really mean frog kid. Anyway, so the mom is on her deathbed or something, and she thinks like, because he’s always done the opposite of whatever she says, she tells him to bury her in the ground so that he’ll take the opposite and bury her in the ocean, you know? She actually really wants to be thrown in the ocean, but she tells him the opposite. And so she dies, but uh, the frog kid feels guilty for all the crap’s he done in the past and chooses that moment of her death to decide to do exactly as she says. Which uh, sucks, obviously. So he buries her in the ground thinking he’s finally done the right thing when he’s making this huge mistake that’ll make her spirit or soul or whatever suffer forever. [Silence] And that’s supposed to be why when it rains, the frogs cry. Like, the rain reminds them of the ocean which reminds them of the mother that never got buried where she wanted to be. And they get sad, and they cry.”

My informant said that it was most likely a story disseminated to Korean children in order to instill obedience, to parents and elders at a young age. The tying of the story to the frogs’ crying is mainly a way to connect it to reality and make it seem more believable. That the wayward actions of one frog had caused such collective sadness in the entire frog community also seems to imply that a child’s disobedience to his or her parents is a massive enough act of disrespect that it can tear a hole in the fabric of society. Korean children, my informant said, are thus educated from a young age to respect not just their parents, but all of their elders, through this and other stories.

I found it interesting that this particular story, the one that this informant remembered, was one that had used sentiment and empathy to convey its message to its audience. My informant said that he had heard many stories too, of children being kidnapped by monsters in the night if they disobeyed their parents, but that “The Green Frog” was always the one that stuck with him. Instead of using intimidation and fright tactics, this folk tale trusts in a children’s love for their parents, and evokes its moral only indirectly, implying, you wouldn’t want to make your parents sad, would you? This was probably the reason why, my informant said, that this folk tale has always been one of the ones he has remembered over the years.