“There’s Enough Room in the Sky,” Nigerian Proverb

Stanley Kalu studies screenwriting at the University of Southern California. He is originally from Nigeria, but has moved several times throughout his life. He spent a significant portion of his life in Nairobi, Kenya and now lives in Los Angeles, California. He recalls hearing a number of stories as he grew up; many of these stories conveyed moral lessons and were told to younger audiences. In the excerpt below, Stanley recounts a Nigerian proverb that discouraged competitiveness:

Stanley: “Growing up in Nigeria, I used to hear this one proverb all the time. It went like, ‘there is enough space in the sky for all of the birds to fly.’”

Isabella: “And what does that mean to you?”

Stanley: “It just means, it doesn’t have to be a competition… There’s enough space for everybody… to succeed.”

This proverb contains a powerful message about cooperation and kindness.  It provides insight to the type of values that are promoted throughout Nigerian communities; rather than encouraging young people and children (the proverb’s main audience) to adopt a competitive approach to life, proverbs such as these encourage cooperation and tolerance. It makes use of animal symbolism for narrative purposes; by using symbolic language, young people and children are better able to digest the message embedded in the proverb.

This proverb mandates collective success, not just individual success, thus marking a critical distinction between Western culture and Nigerian culture.  Stanley (my source) exhibits cooperative qualities in his own life, and I assume that Nigeria’s folkloric traditions helped shape that part of his personality.