Proverb, by definition, is a piece of folk wisdom expressed with terseness and charms: it is characterized with the economic use of words and the sharpness of focus and touch of literary/poetic beauty.
The constructions of proverbs can be traced to the creativity of artistes at particular periods of time in human history. It is then used by folks when it is discovered to contain applicable facts of life and appeal to their imagination by the neatness and beauty in which it is framed.
Basically, proverb can be traced to three sources: folktales, personal/communal historical experiences and observation of various aspects of the natural environment as well as general human affairs.
Proverbs are used to spice conversation. They serve as preludes and interludes to introduce or mark breaks; provide transition from one event to another. Additionally, proverbs are used in (cultural/ritual) performances.
More so, clues about certain people’s cultural outlook and perspectives can be gotten from their proverbs and it is within this scope that this piece attempts to examine Yorùbá people’s perspectives on women using their proverbs as template.
Yorùbá proverbs about women
- ‘‘Orìṣà jẹ́ kí n pé méjì’’ obìnrin ò dénú.
‘‘May the gods grant that I have a partner’’ as a woman’s prayer is not sincere.
This proverb is in reference to polygamy and the position of (Yorùbáw omen on it. The proverb hints that women generally do not like sharing their husbands.
- Bí obìnrin ò bá jowú, ọbẹ̀ rẹ̀ kìí dùn.
If a woman is not jealous, her soup cannot be tasty.
This is another marriage/polygamy themed proverb that notes a potential merit (cooking good food) in polygamy due to its inherent competitive nature.
- Ọbẹ̀ tí baálé kìí jẹ, ìyáálé ilé kìí sèé.
The soup the husband doesn’t eat; the wife doesn’t make.
This proverb is a pointer to the patriarchal nature of the Yorùbá society where men are the sole decision makers.
- Obìnrin sọ̀wà nù, ó lóhun ò lórí ọkọ.
A woman lacks moral; she claims she’s not fated to have husband.
To have a good husband, and consequently a good home, a woman is expected to be well behaved. Thus, women who are ill-mannered may find it difficult to get married.
- Kò sí obìnrin ọ̀fẹ́; bó ṣe akúwárápá, owó ni.
No woman is available free; even if she has epilepsy, she costs money.
This hints at the Yoruba marriage system and how essential money is to get a woman to marry. No woman wants to marry an indolent and poor man.
- Fìlà lobìnrin, wọn kì í bá ọdẹ wọ ìtí.
Women are caps; they never accompany the hunter into the dense forest.
It is believed that women, by their nature, do not like experiencing hardship. Thus, this proverb states that women do not stay around when their men suffer misfortune.
- À ńsọ̀rọ̀ elégédé, obìnrín ḿbèrè ohun tí à ńsọ, a ní ọ̀rọ̀ ọkùnrin ni; bí a bá kó elégédé jọ, ta ni yó sè é?
We are discussing pumpkins; a woman asks what we are discussing, and we respond that it is men’s talk; after we have gathered the pumpkins, who will cook them?
In a model Yorùbá home, cooking is believed to be women’s exclusive duty. This is underscored in the proverb above.
- Bí iṣú bá tán lóko, obìnrin a di àwòdì; a ní rírà lòún tún ńrà jẹ kiri òo.
When there are no more yams on the farm,one’swomanbecomesahawk;shesaysshe is now reduced to going around to buyfood.
Like one of the proverbs earlier mentioned, this proverb also hints that women generally do not like experiencing hardship.
- Etí lobìnrín fi ńgbóhùn Orò.
Only with her ears does a woman hear thevoice of Orò.
Orò is a ritual rite performed by men. The sight of Orò is forbiddento women; they can only hear it. This is another pointer to the patriarchal structure of the Yorùbá.
- Ọkọkíkú lòṣì obìnrin.
The husband’s death is the bane of a woman.
In a typical Yorùbá society, one of the heights of a woman’s achievements is getting married. Hence, this proverb suggests that “nothing is worse for a woman than to be widowed.”
- Ọmọ tí ò lẹ́wà, ọ̀dẹ̀dẹ̀ ìyá ẹ̀ ní ńpẹ́ sí.
A woman without beauty lasts long on her mother’s porch. (Plain women are not soon married.)
Beauty is an essential factor men consider in marrying women.
- Pàṣípààrọ̀ obìnrin ò ṣeé ṣe.
One cannot take a woman back for an exchange. (Wives are not like commodities purchased at the market.)
- Akẹ̀sán lòpin Ọ̀yọ́; ilé ọkọ nibìsinmi obìnrin.
Akẹ̀sán is the frontier of ọ̀yọ́; a spouse’s home is a woman’s place of rest. (Just as Akẹsan is ọ̀yọ́’s city limit, so a spouse’s home is a woman’s final destination.)
Akesan is an extreme end of Ọ̀yọ́ town, an ancient town located in the southwestern Nigeria. This proverb also underscores the prime importance attached to marriage in women’s catalogue of achievements.
- Obìnrín ńdá gbèsè a ní ká ba wí, ẹ ní tọmọ ẹ̀ ni ká wò; èyí tí ńyá ìwọ̀fà fà fún ọkọ ẹ̀ ḿbí ìtì igi bí?
A woman keeps incurring debts, and we propose to caution her; you advise that we consider only the fact that she has borne some children; does the one [wife] who procures pawns for her husband give birth to logs of wood?
- Àlòkùàdá ò jọ obìnrin lójú.
A secondhand machete does not impress a woman.
Women always value newness: new clothes, new jewels, etc.
- Ẹni tó fẹ́ arẹwà-á fẹ́ ìyọnu; gbogbo ayé ní ḿbá wọn tan.
Whoever marries a beautiful woman marries trouble; the whole wide world [of men] claims kinship with him. (Whoever marries a beautiful woman will have the whole world of scheming men to fend off.)
- Funfun ni iyì eyín; ó gún régé ni iyì ọrùn; ọmú ṣìkí-ṣìkí ni iyì obìnrin.
Whiteness is the pride of the teeth; straightness is the pride of the neck; firm, pointed breasts are the pride of a woman.
- Ehín ọ̀kánkán obìnrín kán; olórí ẹwà-á lọ
A woman’s front teeth break; the mainstay of [her] beauty is demolished.
NOTE: Readers should understand that this is not an exhaustive piece and that to use only proverbs to factually conclude on certain people’s cultural beliefs (on women and other things/issues) is to commit what philosophers call fallacy (of hasty generalization; irrelevant conclusion). Also, the proverbs mentioned here are universally applicable in distant but metaphysically related issues beyond their given literal interpretations.
Thus, this is just an insight into how women are perceived in the Yorùbá cosmology.
Owomoyela, Oyekan. Yoruba Proverbs. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2005