Nigerian Proverb

“Na condition make crayfish bend.”

“It’s condition makes the shrimp bent.”

“It is because of condition that a shrimp is bent.”

My informant and I were discussing the social structure in Nigeria when he told me this proverb. According to my informant, two classifications order the social hierarchies in Nigeria: age and wealth. My informant says that elders are treated with the utmost respect; he would never dream of talking back to his parents, or even using physical gestures, such a shrug, that would imply disrespect while speaking with them. He learnt quickly as a young child that if he acted disrespectfully he would be punished harshly, often with beatings. This applied to anyone older than him, unless they were in a lower economic class. My informant and his siblings could speak disrespectfully and be “bratty” to any of the maids or nannies that worked for their family without fear of consequence. The maids would often respond to my informant’s disrespectful behavior by saying, “Na condition make crayfish bend.”

The metaphor in the proverb comes from the belief that a shrimp’s body should be straight, not curved. The shrimp’s curved body is believed to be a lesser version of the shrimp’s “original” straight body. My informant did not know why people believe this about shrimp, but he assured me that the idea is commonly accepted. The proverb implies that the shrimp’s body is bent because it was born with that way, not because the shrimp did anything to deserve the deformity. Similarly, my informant and his siblings were rude to the woman working at their home because of the woman’s economic position in life, not because of anything the women had done to deserve the rude behavior.

My informant believes this proverb means that some misfortunes are out of our control, and depend on our situation in life. Based on the context in which he learnt the proverb and Nigerian beliefs about shrimp, this seems like an accurate interpretation. Furthermore, the proverb allows members of less respected social situations, such as my informant’s nannies, to respond to their disrespectful treatment. These people may not be able to change their situation in life, but this proverb acknowledges that that isn’t their fault, and with it they can point out that fact to their superiors, perhaps in hopes of receiving recognition.