Tag Archives: folk saying

“Malian Folk-Saying”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She heard the folk-saying as she was growing up, and she mentioned her father uses it quite often; it is a common saying both in her family and among Malians collectively. However, she did state that older generations often say it to younger folk as a caution or warning. After speaking more with her father, the informant also learned that African, and especially Malian, proverbs and sayings are typically very visual and as she said, “paint a picture about the person.” Indeed, the detail in imagery is evident in both sayings collected from the informant.


            “A dgelly mandi” is an expression in Bambara that literally translates to “her blood is not good,”  but basically it means “there’s something I don’t like about him/her” or “that person rubs me the wrong way.” You know how some people just have faces that aren’t nice-people faces? Not that they can’t be good looking, just that they look shady, or that something doesn’t seem right about them. Well that’s what that means. My dad says it as a warning sometimes when talking to his business partners about people that he’s met with, and, oh my god, you should hear my grandma in Mali. She is one of the biggest gossipers in our hometown and this is definitely a phrase that gossipers use. Most of the time they’re women, sometimes older women say it to younger girls, but even, like, high school girls might say it to each other when they’re ragging on a boy or don’t think he’s a good guy.


            It is a struggle to find an English equivalent to “a dgelly mandi” because there is no phrase quite as succinct or punchy. The folk-saying is very much spiritual in nature in the sense that there is an intangible quality―and energy, perhaps―that exudes negativity from the individual. Logic and reason don’t find a place in this folk-saying, as it relies more on intuitive feeling. It seems natural, then to think that perhaps Malians place significant importance on first impressions; looking or coming off negatively may be a difficult hurdle to overcome if Malians have even developed a saying for it. It is interesting to consider whether people who are deemed “a dgelly mandi” have a more difficult time creating friendships or relationships, how subjective the use of the phrase is. For instance, are there certain physical characteristics that are more likely to look “a dgelly mandi” (for instance, unusually dark eyes or upturned, sneer-like lips)? Because the informant stated that the phrase is often thrown around gossip circles, it would be curious to examine whether one person’s use of the phrase affects another’s perception of the individual in question, or whether it is brushed off as merely an opinion. In the case that older folk are saying it to younger generations for cautionary purposes, however, it is likely given much more gravity than amongst similarly-aged gossipers.

             The fact that the literal translation is structured in the feminine form could suggest a link between blood and the female through the menstrual cycle. Perhaps the “not good blood” in the translation originally referred to child-birthing difficulties or miscarriages that had negatively branded women in the neighborhood.  

Know How To Make God Laugh?

“You know how to make god laugh? Tell him your plans.”

Clip from Interview

Informant: I know a saying, I think its pretty common though:

“You know how to make god laugh? Tell him your plans.”

Interviewer: “Who did you hear that from, was there any background to the occasion you heard this saying?”

Informant: “I don’t know who told me, I think it was my mom, I want to say. I don’t know, I come from the south so it is like bible belt, so I definitely heard it while I was back home in Nashville. I don’t know it is just a very Christian community, I think I was like telling someone about what I wanted er what I what I wanted to do with my life or something and that is what they came back with. I think it was like you never know sort of what lies ahead of you. God has it all planned out and you have no idea what it is.”

Interviewer: “Why did you like this saying, like why did you remember it until now?”

Informant: “I just think that it’s a good way to look at the world. I believe in God and I believe he does have a plan for all of us. Um, and I also just I never thought I would be a screenwriting major um until junior year and its like you know you just…” “and I also believe that… I’ve just been looking back on my life and I go there is no way this is all just circumstance or this is all just random. It was obviously because A has led to B which has led to C which has eventually led me here. I just think it is a good saying and like you know, just trust in God cause he has answers. You never really know what’s in store”


The informant is a student at the University of Southern California studying screenwriting. She is a Caucasian female and comes from Nashville. She is Christian herself and comes from a religious background. The informant heard this folklore from another person in her community, possibly her mother, when asked about her college plans.

As stated in the interview, the informant was impacted by the saying. She still remembers it and can recall the saying rather quickly. She does believe in Christianity and so she found the statement to ring true with her beliefs that God is an omniscient figure who “has it all planned out.” The informant interpreted this saying as an instruction to have faith in God because he will take care of it. The informant related her understanding of this saying to the movie Marley and Me stating that although the main character “had all these plans, they didn’t work out, but she was happy in the end.”

In comparison to some of the other folk beliefs I was able to gather, this informant had a very close connection to this saying; a connection which was apparent in her mannerisms and speech during the interview.


You’ve Sold the Butter but Lost the Money

It looks like you sold the butter but lost the money. This one is when you’re, like, when you look sad…people can say that cuz they’re like…you’ve done something good and you’ve lost it. You have your butter and you sell it and then you lose the money you make. So you do something well but you don’t keep it.


This is a rather tricky saying to unpack. In essence, I believe it attempts to say that one cannot sustain the success one has achieved—it is an ephemeral success. This saying seems akin to the American saying, “you’ve dropped the ball”. This saying implies that you’ve done something great (or have been given the opportunity to do something great) but failed to sustain that greatness—you messed up.


I believe that my experience in diving perfectly embodies this saying. I am a springboard and platform diver, and in diving consistency is what makes you successful—consistency in practice and consistency in meets. When my coach gives me corrections he always stresses that we take a few moments to reflect on what we’ve just done after we successfully make the correction he asks of us. It doesn’t matter if I am able to make the correction once; what matters is that I am able to sustain the correction, hold on to the change, otherwise I’ve done something great and then lost it—just like this Swedish saying describes.

El Boniatal, or Sweet Potato

“Dicen que el boniato es un jugete. Me dio trenta tauretes. tres mesas y un tinajero. Maquina con costureros que no se pueden nombrar, y me dio para forrar el corral de la arboleda. Valla a casa para que vea donde queda el boniatal.”

They say the sweet potato is a toy. It gave me thirty stools, three tables & a water jar holder. a sewing machine with sewers which cannot be named and it gave me enough to fix the corral for my grove. Go to my house so you can see where my sweet potato plantation is located.

This cuban refran, or saying, is basically saying that the speaker is thankful for their vegetable/ crop because it provides for them all of their neccessities. My informant was a field worker in cuba when she was young and picked it up among elder family members. It makes sense that they would hold the sweet potato in such high regard, as they lived an agricultural life-style and would be almost completely dependant on their crop to make a living.


El Reloj or The Clock

“Tal parece que me vela y me dice el minutero, pongase aprisa el sombrero y salga para la escuela. El tiempo corre veloz, mas un amigo cercano. Por la manana temprano me despierta con su voz. Casi nunca se retrasa y por eso lo bendigo. Sepase usted que es mi amigo, el reloj de mi casa.”


It seems that it watches me and the minute hand tells me, quickly! Put your hat and go to school. The time runs fast, yet it’s a close friend. Early in the morning it wakes me up with its voice. It hardly ever falls back and that’s why I bless it. I will have you know that its my friend, the clock of my house.

This is a cuban refran, or saying, which message is basically thankfulness for the clock in their home. It’s a sort of homage to the clock, which never falls behind and helps them to stay punctual. Time in cuban culture would likely be a precious comodity. My informant, who was a field worker in cuba when she was young, tells me that her family had schedules that they adhered to on most days for work. As part of a group that relied on the changing of the seasons and weather for agricultural, and thus monetary, success, it makes sense that time would be viewed as something worth having a saying about.