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.
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.
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,
(Your worth is in the labour of your hands).
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
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.