Philosophy in African Proverbs

Topics: Philosophy, Book of Proverbs, African culture Pages: 8 (2693 words) Published: July 5, 2013
1.1Proverbs as Universal
Proverbs expresses the thought wisdom, moral codes and cultural heritage of a people or culture. It is distinct from other oral traditions such as fables, folklores; folk tales and riddles. Although proverbs are in- some cases derived from some of these oral traditions there is a cut clear distinction between them. Generally proverbs are inherent in majorly all cultures of the world and are generally seen as succinct and pithy sayings in general use, expressing commonly held ideas and beliefs. Etymologically, the word proverb is called from the Latin Proverbium meaning a saying supporting a point. Pro, meaning on behalf of; and verbum literally translated as word. They are short traditional sayings of a didactic or advisory nature in which a generalization is given specific metaphorical expression1. In recent years proverbs have become object of study to many disciplines such as cultural Anthropology; literature and linguistics etc. These disciplines have taken kin interest in the relevance of proverbs. But the Philosophers' interest in proverbs, more specific, the African Philosophers - differs from that of other scholars. C. S. Momoh notes that we have it on Aristotle authority that “A proverb is a remnant from old philosophy, preserved amid countless destruction by reason of its brevity and fitness for use”2. The Universality of Proverbs is made clear on the comparison of the proverbs of the world. It is observable that the same underlying wisdom is inherent under different cultural condition and languages. For example, the biblical proverb, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and that of the Nandi's of east Africa, a goats hide buys a goat hide, a gourd a gourd3 shares the same meaning. In some others instances same proverbs may be found in many variants. For example in Africa where there are proverbs in different culture and language that shares the same thought. Or more significantly, European proverbs were this is as a result of “the international currency (use) of Latin proverbs in the middle ages”4. Proverbs from across the world have been observed to share some stylistic similarities. Most proverbs, for example, make use of hyperboles and colorful pictorial forms of expression. Other includes rhyme, alliteration and metaphors. Finnegan argues that if one of the marks of a true proverb is its general acceptance as the popular expression of some truths, there is however no statistics data of proving or disproving this claim. And at the same time we have no way of telling whether some of the proverbs included are not just the sententious utterances of a single individual on a single occasion. Godfrey Onah, from a seemingly diagonal point of view explains that proverbs are not community productions. Proverbs, he claims are not formulated collectively at village meetings. They are always the outcome of the individual reflection. “Yet it belongs to the community and individuals do not claim personal responsibility for the thoughts they contains. Our major concern is this: whatever we take proverbs to be, the fact remains that proverbs are oral tradition and like all other traditional philosophies in Africa and elsewhere, it is being handed down in various forms mostly unwritten and pre-scientific. ….What is handed down is usually in the form of proverbs, Maxims and usages that are not accompanied by the rational Process through which they were arrived at.6 1.2Functions of Proverbs

As a result of the use, source and association, proverbs generally comment on matters of everyday interest. There are proverbs for every area of human living. For example on weather, medicine, religion, law, family, etc. Take for instance the following Yoruba proverbs: Ile ti a fi to mo, iri ni o wo (Honesty in Business).

[A house built with saliva will be demolished by nothing stronger than mildew]. A'gbejo enikan da, agba Osika (Justice)
(One who listens to only a...

References: 1. McArthur, T. (ed.) The Oxford Companion To The English Language [abridge edition], (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) p.736.
2. Momoh, C. S., “Philosophy in African Proverbs” in The Substance of African Philosophy, C.S. Momoh (ed.) (Auchi: African philosophy project publications, 1989) p.232.
3. Safra, Jacob (ed.) The New Encyclopedia Britannica vo1.19 Micropaedia 15th edition, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica lnc, 1998) p.749.
5. See for instance Onah G.L, "The Universal and Particular in Wiredu 's philosophy of human nature" in Olusegun Oladipo The Third Way in African Philosophy: Essays is honour 00£ Kwasi Wiredu (lbadan: Hope publications, 2002) p.69
6. Ibid, p.69
17. Okolo C.B., What is African philosophy? (Enugu: Freeman 's press 1987) p.47
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