Iwa Lewa

My informant is a senior at USC and of Nigerian ethnicity. Her parents were immigrants to America from Nigeria and with them brought customs, traditions, and phrases with them to their new home, including proverbs that they would use to raise their daughter.

“Iwa lewa translates I think, literally to “character beauty”. Iwa Lewa…so your behavior or the way you act is what makes you beautiful.”


Analysis: Originally written in Yoruba, this proverb expresses Nigerian values in the content of a person’s character. A person’s character is what composes their beauty, not just their outward appearance. The proverb is used mostly in reference to women, however the message could be applicable to both sexes. This proverb sheds light on the cultural values of Nigerian people. It allows the listener to understand that within Nigerian culture, external beauty is not valued or appreciated as much as being a good or morally upstanding person.

This proverb particularly reminds me of the English proverb “Don’t judge a book by its cover” which my parents used to tell me all the time as a means of getting me to understand that people are not just what they look like on the surface, you also have to look within that person to see who they really are and what they’re really about.