Proverb – Jamaican

“Cow no know de use a im tail till fly tek ee”

“Cow no know the use of his tail until fly take it”

“The cow does not know the use of his tail until the fly takes it”

Dorothy said she heard this proverb from her father when she was a little girl. It is very much connected to her agricultural upbringing. The proverb refers to a cow taking for granted the utility of its tail. Over time, she says, the tail can become infested with flies and eventually damaged to the point of uselessness. It is at this point that the cow will know the usefulness of having a tail. Without a tail the cow cannot repel insects, something the cow took for granted before.

She says they proverb speaks about people in general not taking for granted having all of their body parts fully functional. A person may have bad hygiene practices and not think anything about it. Over time they may develop and illness or infection and end up losing the use of a body part as a result of bad hygiene or just lack of appreciating having a functional body. At this point the person will regret not appreciating having a functional body. She says that people should be grateful for having all of their limbs and being in decent health.

This proverb is similar to “You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.” The difference is that it is more focused on the body, while the latter is applicable to broader situations. The cow really has no idea how useful having a tail is. I think that if I lost a limb or digit I would be in for a serious surprise, much like the cow. I think the proverb helps teach people to appreciate the little things more than they do. Things that we assume are automatic and will always be there can suddenly disappear. When I hear the proverb I cannot help but notice that the cow is completely helpless in defending himself from the fly infestation. Metaphorically that is similar to saying we are helpless in preventing a proportional fate from befalling us. When I look at it like that I feel compelled to appreciate everything out of fear of being unable to defend myself as opposed to actual appreciation of my body. It seems somewhat depressing and I do not think that is the actual intention of the proverb.

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