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«Journal of Educational and Social Research ISSN 2239-978X Vol. 4 No.6 ISSN 2240-0524 September 2014 MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy Igala Proverbs as ...»

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Journal of Educational and Social Research

ISSN 2239-978X Vol. 4 No.6

ISSN 2240-0524 September 2014

MCSER Publishing, Rome-Italy

Igala Proverbs as Bastions of Societal Harmony

Egbunu, Fidelis Eleojo (PhD)

Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Kogi

State University, Anyigba, Kogi State, Nigeria Email: frfidele@yahoo.com Doi:10.5901/jesr.2014.v4n6p259 Abstract This paper “Igala Proverbs as Bastions of Societal Harmony” is fundamentally a brisk quest into this all-interesting and allimportant genre of communication among the Igala people of eastern Kogi State of Nigeria. This language group, like many of its counterparts in Africa has many of their moral, social, spiritual and sundry values embedded within these proverbs. Our principal task in this paper is to attempt searching into the deeper signification of such proverbs by means of dialectical and phenomenological methods of investigation. This would enable us educate our audience on the riches of the Igala culture, with the overarching aim of not only keeping records on such value-laden aspects of our culture for the sake of posterity but also focusing on the different dimensions of the usage of proverbs for societal harmony.

Keywords: Igala, Proverbs, Bastions, Societal Harmony

1. Introduction The impact of proverbs on the life of people generally within the African setting cannot be overemphasized. This form of communication in the traditional society carries with it some enormous advantage. In what follows, we have a modest attempt to journey through a few proverbs within the Igala environment. This language group is found on the eastern flank of Kogi State of Nigeria. And they are highly esteemed among fellow Nigerians as a culturally oriented set of people. Proverbs form a most central genre of communication in this particular cultural milieu. They are means of forging harmony in various aspects of life. This is especially true as it relates to the sacredness of life and its preservation, respect for the elderly, communal cooperation, solidarity, etc. In what follows, therefore, we desire to give, first and foremost, a working definition of our subject matter, then we shall locate the place of proverbs in the peoples lives before we go through the various contours of sampled proverbs, especially as they relate to the art of human harmonious living.

2. Proverbs Defined Proverbs (ita) are basically, short, popular expressions that give practical admonitions on life. They may come in the form of adages, idiomatic expressions, aphorisms and are generally shortened forms of known myths ( hiala), legends, folktales, etc. in any particular cultural group. Ehusani describes proverbs as “store house and medium of transmission of accumulated wisdom from one generation to the next” (153). In other words, they are short articulations of folk-wisdom, a compact presentation on God, the universe, humans, relationships, destiny and life in general, aimed at instructing, motivating or inspiring people from one generation to the other. They are some sort of condensed philosophical truths which have gone through the test of time. Oduyoye defines proverbs as “short, popular often used sentences that use plain language to express some practical truth that results from experience or observation” (55).

3. Roles/Usage of Proverbs

Several proverbs started as ordinary stories in which the proverbs themselves were often the essence or the moral (Kremeneiel 149). Some of them are prescriptive while others are evaluative in outlook. And “through their normative force, serve as a rule of life in the society, giving directives to both young and old” (Madu 196). And for Pogweni, they “are learned, pithy expressions of the wisdom and knowledge of elders” (3). They mirror societal values and articulate cherished virtues. They possess the advantage of being “dynamic and malleable” (Oduyoye 20). We may refer to them as the memory bank or fountain of wisdom and to a certain degree, a measure or yardstick of the people’s wisdom.

–  –  –

Chidili was right when he stated that it has to do with the people’s collective memory, “the authoritative source for decision-making, mirror of life from which societal ethics is gauged or couched” (169). The Igbo ethnic group, for instance, term proverbs “the oil with which words are eaten” (Mbaegbu 24, Osuji 137, Ehusani 154, Okoro 340). Some see proverbs as salt which enhances the flavor of food (Orji iv). Yet others call them the kernel which contains the wisdom of the traditional society. The Yoruba, on the other hand, see it as the horse of the word. In this sense, when truth gets lost, people ride towards it through the vehicle of proverbs. It is also considered by some other Africans as the walking-stick for the aged. For the Igala people, proverbs are considered the soup for swallowing yam-fufu and the water that naturally goes with medicine (for the Igala, ita ch’omi kima biogwu). And any adage that does not apply to human life is not true to its name. As they would put it ita n ma f n (proverbs are not associated with royalty). Again, eju ki li ta akpita i (it is from constant observation and experiences proverbs emanate). This, to a certain extent, explains why elders are considered as repositories or custodians of wisdom. Elders are seen as mobile encyclopedias. Apart from the moonlight fora, occasions for learning proverbs include different ceremonies such as naming ceremonies, puberty rites, marriage ceremonies, funerals, festivals, settlement of cases, etc. Proverbs are particularly “pivotal in the formation of human person” (Chidili 173). They could be sourced from daily events of life which are often spiced with wise-sayings in a typical traditional environment. Often enough, proverbs are usually suffused with exhortatory, motivational, educative, philosophical, imprecatory and downright spiritually loaded points. As Owan opined, “In one fell swoop, the African proverb can educate, entertain and inform. It can warn, advise, encourage, direct and facilitate one’s social and spiritual journey through the twists and turns of life” (xii). Okere’s view on this issue is very illuminating, “they are very relevant to any effort to build up a philosophy… and rank already as sayings of wisdom. They are aphorisms evincing a sure knowledge of men and the world” (467). This literary genre is highly loaded with wisdom borne mainly either out of the common experience of the people or the experience of the individuals concerned. Consequent upon their different contexts, they are “capable of multiple base meanings” (Madu 194) perhaps, due to the use of metaphor. Therefore its symbolism or signification cannot be solid or fixed. Rather, “they are semantically indefinite” (Madu 198). That is, they are loose and indeterminate.





For our purposes in this enquiry, a deliberate, if arbitrary choice is made of proverbs which have bearing on human life. In the spirit of hermeneutics of tradition, their interpretations need not necessarily be so literal. Their interpretation could depend on their context or symbolic meanings. In another sense, the hermeneutic paradigm may take any of the methods prescribed by Madu (198), thus: While some are purely semantical and context-free, others could be pragmosemantical or context-based. However, others are syntacto-semantical and therefore in need of expert interpretations (Madu 198). Suffice it to have a cursory look at some examples as the Igala proverb has it, on ma gbeju k r b’ ran ya gbeju k r b’ita (if a child never grew up to meet the father, he/she would meet proverbs) in which case, proverbs exist in order to make those who care to be edified by their fount of wisdom.

4. Igala Proverbs and Their Connotations or Denotations

The human person in Igala thought has no equal among the animate and inanimate objects in creation. Therefore, both in status and value Ma d’on nw’unefu omin – One does not use the human being to measure the depth of a river; in which case, the use of human persons for ritual purposes or even the scientific usage of human beings for scientific experiments is seen as not only condemnable but highly abominable, since human life is seen as sacred. It is also said, Abudu kon nya ya li ojale – No matter how short a person is, he/she too can see the sky. In other words, nobody is to be despised, even a pauper today may turn out to be the future messiah of the society. In other words, neke kaluka y kidefu hia, ama neke kaluka hia monu kidefu y wn – You can count the seed in an apple but you can’t count the apple in a seed. Again, Abudu kon k’oge ki j wn kpai uk d irida ton gbege n – Teach a monkey how to eat with a fork and spoon, it will never turn into a human person. There is something innate in man which can never be found in all lower animals and even other higher vertebrates, no matter how relatively sensible or sensitive they may seem. Ma dala w’anyan – There exist no just parameters for comparing the sheep to a horse (especially in running). Or rather, as it is also wittily put, a lizard cannot be a snake. The human person remains the center of focus in the universe, no matter how elegant other creatures might turn out to be.

In relation to the criteria for degree of personhood in Igala thought, it is stated Ichalu kon gb gba chum lan/ugbejun – Height does not necessarily symbolize growth in a person. Thus, in identifying a person, you do not rate an individual by his or her physical appearance. In other words, do not judge a book by its cover. That explains why it is often said fon li ibema – Not all that glitters is gold. n kpa kaa chojoji w’ n gamaa – The bigness of a person does not imply his genuineness.

–  –  –

No amount of material riches or wealth is of greater value than the possession of human persons. Anon tan k le – wealthiness in human resources is greater than material wealthiness. It is also in this light it is said many t k le The child is greater than money. machoko – The child is greater than all treasures. Agwal ki ma gw ma – No smith can fashion a child; On ny t k le – the human person is greater than money; wealth is therefore considered ephemeral in relation to the facticity of human existence. And so the rhetorical question, d monu on aj il kiag tajiya ebije? – How long will one last in this world that he would order for an iron hat? becomes very crucial. Put differently, On ch’ j kiama il n – Nobody is like food that lasts through all ages.

In stressing the need for a focused and result-oriented life, it is said Alu kon d wn nwu ad - The way you make your bed is how you lie on it. Or rather, Alu kon d’oji wn t mala wn – It is the way you place your head that it would be barbed. There is therefore every need for self-restraint; Abia gbei la imud la d - If the dog does not control its appetite for meat, it would become a fulltime hunter.

In the up-bringing of children, it is often believed that kp many n manwu any n – Like father like son. In another sense, it is mostly by their roots they are known, not necessarily by their fruits. It is often stressed therefore that it is better to train children by showing them good example. As it were, example is better than precepts. The general rule in this case seems to say Ichon katete an man – It is not only an individual who rears a child; Iko k ma defu ichei iye, iye fubi imudeyi ja – A child in the womb belongs to the mother, after birth, it belongs to the entire society. However, no matter what the influence of the society is, r agba tonu oko len – The Okro shrub does not grow taller than the person who planted it. It is in this vein therefore that it is believed, Ma k ja gb n – A fish is better straightened when it is tender and flexible. A stitch in time saves nine. Alternatively, spare the rod and spoil the child. This is of great significance because invariably, mebune kia nya daik Im t ma m kwo –Morning shows the day.

Children are often cautioned to be obedient to their parents because there are enormous evil repercussions on the stubborn person. ma ki ma gb lan efura ya nya filagba - A child who does not listen grows beards only in the grave. In other words, ma ki ni iyenwu alolu odun onugonwu al n – The child who says its mother would never sleep throughout the night, must also stay awake. On the other hand, great rewards await those who are humble and obedient.

Im t kif w wn gw ny ny aj wn kpai ibogujo – A child who washes his hands clean could eat with elders.

People are admonished to be patient and enduring. As such, they are told, wn kidabai kima gbegbe edabai – Even the biggest fowl that crows the loudest was once a common egg; every fat chicken has its beginning in an egg. In other words, p p onwu omi ale yak cha – little drops of water make the ocean; Rome was not built in a day; the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Agbailo akwan r r achule ulen – You must first learn to walk before you run. And in relation to children and wards, people are cautioned not to throw the baby with the bath-water, thus, w w bi n du w n mu n fanan – A child is an axe, it may hurt you but you still carry it on your shoulder;

the horns can never be too heavy for the cow that must bear them; you don’t disown your mouth because it smells. And on another note, Ichalu kuma ch ka nyagba chelin – it is not how much but how well. gbei alu kejo jiji k kuna nyu fugwujo – If the fire for roasting a snake is prepared according to its length, the house may catch fire; you do not scratch your eyes blind because they itch; a tree does not kill itself because one of its branches is cut-off.

On the need to educate the younger generation adequately or for passing on good skills to youngsters, it is stated, m kp kikoji iye kp - Success without a successor is failure; Uchu ki nugb ulu nwu atakpan - A yam with seedlings never goes into extinction; Agaji leku in n ahit n – When a barren woman dies, she lacks the person to see her off.

Therefore, it is submitted that it is better to yield good fruits in season and out of season.

To a typical Igala, character defines a person. Ali maka ma kuny n - It is character that matters, not beauty.



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