The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I asked her what proverbs she knew, and she shared with me this proverb her grandmother taught her.
- ORIGINAL: የጠላቴ ጠላት ወዳጄ ነው
- ROMANIZED: yet’elate t’elati, wodaje newi
- Translation: the enemy of my enemy is my friend
“Yet’elate t’elati, wodaje newi. it means that the enemy of my enemy is actually that we have. That’s a proverb that we have. It means…so, you are my daughter, I love you. But just because you hate someone, I don’t hate that person. In fact, they can be my friend. That kind of shows you how open-minded the society is … just because you hate someone, I don’t hate them until I experience them myself.”
This proverb was fascinating to me, because the exact same expression exists in English, but has a completely different meaning. In English, this proverb is used to express that hating a common enemy can make two people friends, and that their friendship exists so they can both conspire against their common enemy. However, the Ethiopian interpretation of the proverb is much kinder; it reflects a community that is much more intolerant of hatred. This is possibly because while the English-speaking countries from which this proverb arose are much more cosmopolitan, Ethiopia is very community-minded, as its citizens live in more rural areas where they and their neighbors must help each other, share resources, and get along for the well-being of their towns.