Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Golden Rule in African Proverbs

PROVERBS ARE AN IMPORTANT PART OF YORUBA CULTURE. The Yoruba tribe live in Western Nigeria, although they may also be found in the eastern Republic of Benin, Ghana, and in Togo. There may be perhaps as many as 30 million Yoruba in West Africa, representing about 21 percent of that area's population. Many of the slaves that were brought to the Americas came from the Yoruba. The Yoruba are thus a significant people in both Africa and the African diaspora.

According to E. Bolaji Idowu, the Golden Rule is important to the Yoruba, and the Yoruba elders teach their young the importance of that rule. (cited in H.T.D. Rost, The Golden Rule, 21-22.) The importance of the Golden Rule in Yoruba culture may be somewhat unique in African culture, if Rost is to be believed, and an intensely tribal culture would suggest that the Golden Rule acts only intra-tribally, and may be tempered or altogether abandoned inter-tribally.

Yoruba Bronze Sculpture

As might be expected in a culture that was largely oral, the Golden Rule is stated by the Yoruba in proverbs, some of which are provided below. The source of these proverbs is Dr. Oyekan Owomoyela, Ryan Professor of African Literature at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, who maintains a web page at the University of Nebraska, "The Good Person: Excerpts from the Yoruba Proverb Treasury." A link to that web site is provided at the end of this posting.

Those Yoruba proverbs that approximate the Golden Rule are:
Bí a bá gé igi nígbó, ká fi ọ̀ràn ro ara ẹni wò.

When one fells a tree in the forest, one should apply the matter to oneself.

(Whenever one does something to another, one should put oneself in that person's shoes.)

Bí a bá rí òkú ìkà nílẹ̀, tí a fi ẹsẹ̀ tá; ìkà-á di méji.

If one sees the corpse of a wicked person on the ground and one kicks it, there are then two wicked people.

(If one returns evil for evil, one joins the ranks of the evil.)

Bí ó ti ńdun ọmọ ẹyẹ, bẹ́ẹ̀ ló ńdun ọmọ èèyàn

As the young of birds hurt, so the young of humans hurt.

(Others feel hurt, just as one does.)
Rost provides another proverb which I was unable to find in Professor Owomoyela's work, and so I cannot provide it in its original Yoruba form:
As sensitive to pain as are rats' little ones
So sensitive to pain are birds' little ones.
Similarly, Jeffrey Wattles provides one that bears some similarity to those quoted:
One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.
The Yoruba proverbs appear to portray some of the animism of that culture. Animals and things appear almost to have a moral or spiritual life so as to inform that of man. So do trees, baby rats, and fledglings inform our behavior. Yet the proverbs suggest, in a vivid manner, that others feel pain and that others suffer, and that we ought to be sensitive to that pain and to that suffering in assessing our behavior toward them, from the branch in the forest, to the rat and bird, and a fortiori to our fellow man.

A rather poignant exception to Rost's statement that the Golden Rule is not common among the traditional religions or cultures of Africa is the prayer of the dying man in the Dinka tribe of Southern Sudan. The prayer is included in Desmond Tutu's An African Prayer Book.
And though I behold a man hate me,
I will love him.
O God, Father, help me, Father!
O God, Creator, help me, Father!
And even though I behold a man hate me,
I will love him.
In his book on the Golden Rule, Wattles quotes some other examples of African proverbs that incorporate Golden Rule thinking, including this one supposedly prevalent among the Bush Tribes in Tropical Africa:
If you neighbor's jackal escapes into your garden, you should return the animal to its owner; this is how you would want your neighbor to treat you.
Wattles, 9 (quoting C. C. Claridge, Wild Bush Tribes of Tropical Africa, 248, 259).

Less reliant upon proverbs is the formulation of the Golden Rule by the Bakongo, which I have not been able to locate in its original Kikongo form:
O man, what you do not like, do not to your fellows.
Wattles, 193, n. 11. This is manifestly a legal or moral maxim.

The Akan people of West Africa, the majority of whom live in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, also seem to have accepted a Golden Rule principle in their culture. According to the African philosopher Kwasi Wiredu ("The Moral Foundations of and African Culture"), the Akan have a Golden Rule principle which governs their "ethical talk."
Nea wo yonko de ye wo a erenye wo de no mfa nye no.

What you do not find acceptable if it were done to you by another, do not do to him or her.
The Akan also have other moral maxims or apothegms that relate to the Golden Rule, and we may also quote those:
Woamma wo yonko antwa nkrong a worentwa edu.
If you do not allow your neighbor to reach nine you will never reach ten.

Obi de aba; obi de nam kwan so.
Somebody's troubles have arrived; those of another are on the way.

Kwasea na ose, "Ye de meyonko, yenne me.

It is a fool that says, "My neighbor is the butt of the attack not me."

Abaa a yede boo Takyi no aa na ye de bebo Nyankomago.

The stick that was used to beat Takyi is the same that will be used to beat Nyankomago.*

Obi Kwan nkye na asi obi de mu.
One person's path will intersect with another's before too long.
*Takyi and Nyankomago are traditional Akan names.

Click here to see The Good Person: Excerpts from the Yoruba Proverb Treasury

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