Mmanu e ji eri okwu, right? “The palm oil with which conversations are eaten”, according to Chinua Achebe, no be so? Hmmm…
I felt I had the status of a church rat when I got hold of three books of proverbs, but on having them, I felt richer than the person who made his home in pure gold. (The first book I had to make a Photostat copy of and return the original to the owner, a very dear close relation of mine who recently died of a stray bullet to the head; the second book I purchased from an ill-kempt bookshop near-bereft of books, yet I still patronise faithfully every Sunday right after church service to buy one or two, sometimes three, national dailies; the third book I gently prodded my sweet mother into buying from our Catholic church one Sunday after the ‘author’ himself delighted the church-goers with the brief playing of the oja during announcements)
The first book of proverbs is called AZINGE’S IBO PROVERBS (compiled with literary English translations), a book of 47 pages. While reading the introduction, the ‘author’ first cited this intriguing proverb: Akwukwo eji ficha ike adi ano odu n’aka – “The paper with which one cleans his anus, after a major convenience, does not stay in the hand”. Lt. Col. (Dr.) J. B. Azinge adroitly analysed this proverb in the practice of obstetrics. Azinge ended his intro by quoting Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the lines of the exiled duke, to further buttress his point. His late father ‘jolted’ him back when he wavered just a bit in his marital engagement in 1957 with this proverb: Edi g’eli abuzu’ Osi n’ ogba’a nkunu n’ onu – “When the hog wants to devour the cricket it complains that the cricket kicked its mouth”. Azinge just gada-pack proverbs put for dis book as from page 11 to de end, o! All de proverbs dey for Union Ibo dialect, Asaba Ibo dialect, then finally, Turenchi. Kai, I for fotocopy de place wey publisher address dey, o! Dr. J. B. Azinge was a lieutenant colonel from May 1969 to September 1970.
Dis second book beta small. It is entitled 1001 POPULAR ENUANI MAXIMS & PROVERBS compiled by Chudi Okwechime, a native of Onicha-Ugbo. It is a book of 214 pages with index, a deep purple colour paperback, published by Max-Henrie & Associates Ltd, Marina, Lagos in 1995, with a foreword written by Dr. Ifechukwude Banye Mmobuosi. In the preface, the ‘author’s’ indebtedness to his family, both immediate and extended, is not in doubt. In introducing this book, Chudi says: “…what becomes evident from this volume is that the people have had one maxim/proverb or the other to praise the worthy, scold the miscreant, caution the deviant, comfort or uplift the despondent, calm the angry, encourage the defeated, goad the quitter, cheer the unhappy or teach the ignorant in the society as they strove to live in accordance with natural laws in consonance with their levels of spiritual and material development”. Chudi divides his book into seven distinct sections, each section beginning with a folktale or short story of moral and cultural relevance. Here, each proverb is explained other than on the surface, unlike the first book in which all the proverbs were just translated. It is thicker in size as well.
But the third book in my ‘candid’ opinion has the thickest of all sizes. Entitled MMANU E JI ERI OKWU (IGBO PROVERBS) Vol. 1, it is compiled by Rev. Fr. F. O. F. Onwudufor, a lecturer at the Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe. The largest percentage of his glossy, black-coloured paperback is written strictly (defiantly) in Igbo. D only oyibo wey persin go see hear eh na just to show u wetin d proverb dey say. The foreword, preface, introduction, acknowledgement, blurb and table of contents are worded entirely in Igbo. I found that highly intriguing! Published by Snaap Press Ltd, Enugu, it is a book of 260 pages and 62 chapters, Isi nke mbu … Isi nke iri isii na abuo, laced with cartoons as further guides to illustrate some of the proverbs. My family and I had fun looking through those cartoons and struggling to read the “captions” underneath each one. Reading Igbo was a battle we all faced together, but once Unoma Azuah’s mother sat me down and read to me, her fluency was magnifying! I knew I wasn’t that blessed, and I thank God for other gifts. Each chapter had a title: Ugwu na nsopuru, Nchekwube na olileanya, Mmadu itukwasi onwe ya obi, Eziokwu na okwuasi, etc. How ironic that the ‘author’ plays the wooden flute in front of the altar, saying that we should defy the Western culture, whereas it is the white man’s technology he used to make this rich book of his cross over to the next level! This Igbo book, according to him, was a research that started from 1978 up until 2007.
So, there. I have presented to you all my “three musketeers”. But of course, they are completely lifeless and meaningless when it is not known on how useful they should be. In this regard, I must commend Rems N. Umeasiegbu’s essay Effective Use of Proverbs, the chapter seven in the book LITERATURE, LANGUAGE AND THE SOCIETY. (On a personal note, thanks largely to him and his thoughtfulness, I am a ‘proud’ third-class English graduate of UNIZIK. Sorry, em, I couldn’t resist spitting that out, so please take no notice, thank you) I marvelled at the way he introduced his own stages of the effective use of proverbs. He called them reflections. His chapter begins from page 117 to 126, an interesting read for those who would want to know when to interject proverbs in their speeches and writings.
His indebtedness to Chinua Achebe is also not in doubt, likewise Azinge’s and Chudi’s. I discovered that Arrow of God is richer in maxims and proverbs than Things Fall Apart. The character Obika fascinated me when it was indirectly evident that Ulu was going to punish Ezeulu through him. I “stole” the stringing-together technique of proverb utterances, infusing it in two of my very unpublished plays, and I justify my ‘thievery’ by quoting Thomas Stearns Eliot: “A bad poet imitates, but a good poet steals.” I commend that person who adapted that rich book Arrow of God into a play to commemorate Achebe’s fiftieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart. It wasn’t easy work.
Chudi was nice enough to mention what the Yoruba call a proverb: “The horse which keeps a subject under discussion”.
I wait patiently for a book of proverbs to emerge from the Hausa nation and my father tongue Oron.
I salute, a Din Din Wo amongst ‘elders’.
*NOTE: “Din Din Wo” means “Little Child” in Congolese language