Bangles… when there are two
By C. N. S.
Different cultures express the same concept, and each language states its proverbial wisdom in terms of the culture and ethos of that language. "People of different languages see the cosmos differently and evaluate it differently," wrote linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf.

However, many proverbs - those short, pithy sayings that emanate from the people- provide an example of the universality of language. "Bangles sound, when there are two" is a delightful rendering into English by J. T. Milimo, author of Bantu Wisdom (Neczam), of a Bantu proverb "Ntsamsu kulira - nkhukala ziwiri". How do Sinhala proverbs and Bantu proverbs sound when they are juxtaposed? They sound like bangles when there are two, resonant and pleasing to the ear.

Among the time-honoured proverbs that express the wisdom and conscience of an authentic folk culture, there are many which deal with the theme of family life. There are Bantu proverbs that express that children are never too heavy a burden for the mother.

There are three proverbs in three different Bantu dialects-
"Mnyanga sulamere nwini",
"Ndzou inalamerun na nyanga inche", and
"Ndzou hairamerwe ne nyango dfzayo" -
All of which translate into English as,
"Are its tusks too heavy for the elephant to bear?"
Isn't this remarkably similar in meaning, though different and sharper in the metaphor, to our own.

"Vaeley gediya vaelata bara naetha"
(Its own fruit is not a burden to the creeper).
A sense of despondency and suffering, grief and despair, and ultimate resignation is strikingly echoed in the proverbs of many languages, for such a sense is part of the human condition everywhere.

From such fatalism, both the Bantu proverb and the Sinhala proverb can change to stoicism, exhorting us to make the best of the human condition in a spirit of self-reliance. The Sinhala,
"Atha hayyanam batha varadinne naetha" (You'll never starve if your hands are strong)
Is matched by the Bantu axiom,
"Ufumu nkhuwoko"
(Your worth is in the labour of your hands).

The African speaker of English is very fond of the proverbs of his language; he uses them freely in his conversation, be it light-hearted banter or serious discussion of men and matters. "Proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten," writes Chinua Achebe in his Things Fall Apart.

We found proverbs featuring freely in the speech of the African colleagues with whom we taught school in the continent. In the staff room, where the teachers assembled during tea-break, we heard proverbs uttered by all as they greeted each other and jostled against each other.

As we sat in our corner with our cup of tea, a couple of African colleagues would draw their chairs towards ours with the words "Abili babili ne mano yabili" (Two heads are better than one). They had the morning newspaper opened at the Quick Crossword.
With the help of the several heads that were better than one, the quick crossword was quickly done, and as the brief tea-break ended I walked back with a young teacher.

It was an African friend Wilson Tembo, freshly returned with an M.A. in English Language Teaching from Manchester. He was our boss - the Head of the English dept, thanks to a policy that replaced expatriates with local policy that terminated the work contracts of many expatriates, including mine!

As Wilson and I walked the corridors, zig-zagging our way past myriad boys and girls returning to their classes, our workaholic HOD would walk into his class announcing his proverb, "Ufumo nkhuwoko". And I remembered "Atha hayyanam batha varadinne netha".

The more we compared his proverbs and ours, the more their fascination grew - like bangles that sound when there are two.

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