Yoruba Proverbs, Names and National Consciousness

Article excerpt

Introduction

Among Africans, names reflect the worldview of a people, hence some names are used to accentuate and situate the significance of an experience, an event or a phenomenon. In this respect, especially in Yoruba language, some proverbs underscore the importance of names and others specific names that correlate with proverbs.

This paper is an attempt to situate Yoruba proverbs, names, role-expectations, aspirations and consciousness towards building and contributing to the development of a national consciousness. The paper proceeds with a critical exposition of the general nature of Yoruba proverbs, an exploration of the dialectical relationship between Yoruba proverbs and names, and argues that this relationship instantiates a descriptivist theory of reference of names in the philosophy of language, with concluding particulars that critically espouses the values and virtues embedded in selected Yoruba proverbs and names.

The General Nature of Proverbs

Proverbs is one of the phenomena that human beings are mostly familiar with yet lacks a universally accepted definition (i). As Wolfgang Mieder (ii) has shown in his discussion of various attempts at defining proverbs, it is difficult to arrive at universally acceptable and unambiguous proverb markers that would enable us to identify positively a sentence as proverbial. As a result, in talking about proverbs, the puzzlement one often finds oneself in is that it is easy to detect a flaw in the definitions others have proffered, but it is difficult to propose one own's which is infallible. In fact, R.C. Trench noted that most attempts at defining proverbs merely identify what are considered as the ornaments of good proverbs, but (not) the essential marks of all (proverbs) (iii). Defining a phenomenon

However, it must be noted that though it may be difficult to arrive at a universally accepted definition of proverbs, we know what it is, because proverbs are a universal phenomenon. (iv) What differs from one culture to the other is the meaning that is attached to proverbs. Hence, 'proverb must be analysed in each of its unique social contexts' (v). In other words, "the proverbs of a community or nation is in a real sense an ethnography of the people which if systematized can give a penetrating picture of the people's way of life, their philosophy, their criticism of life, moral truths and social values" (vi). And in Africa, proverbs 'have a different function and level of theoretical meaning that make them key components, as well as expressions of a culture's viewpoints on a variety of important topics and problems.' (vii)

The Yoruba, the subject of this paper, constitute the majority of people in South Western part of Nigeria, and are also found scattered in diverse countries all over the world. One distinct feature of the Yorubas is their language, and how proverbs give it an aesthetic quality. Hence, the proverb, for the Yoruba, 'constitutes a powerful rhetorical device for the shaping of moral consciousness, opinions, and beliefs" (viii). Among the Yoruba, proverbs has become so interwoven with living speech that can be heard at anytime and occasion. Proverbs, among the Yoruba also serve as means of achieving clarity and conciseness in discourse. For example, when a Yoruba proverb says that 'Owe l'esin oro, bi oro ba sonu, owe ni a fi nwa a', ('A proverb is the horse which carries a subject under discussion along; if a subject under discussion goes astray, we use a proverb to track it') (ix), this shows that in every statement made to reflect decisions taken by Yoruba people, proverbs are vehicles used in driving home their points.

It must be noted that though as Hallen hints, "proverbs do not introduce themselves to us as universal truths, as generalizations that always apply. Their pith, their point, their punch is situational or context-dependent to an essential degree" (x). Hence, proverbs are products of peculiar and particular experiences of a people. …