African Culture Through Proverbs by Emma Umana Clasberry

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"Proverbs are abbreviated but complete statements which convey our thought with dignity and precision. They are principles of life and provide guidance to our daily walk in areas of relationships with other human beings, physical nature such as animals and plants, spiritual phenomena and other non-spiritual elements in the universe. Proverbs give us some encouragement and hope when we are weak and in despair and feel hopeless. They give us words of admonition, warning and redirection when we fall or derail as we journey through life. In the face of threatening life encounter, we can invoke appropriate proverb to recharge our courage, energy and strength so as to squarely confront a given situation. We can also apply a proverb and act it out to get the best out of a pleasant or ugly situation. Even when we are ambivalent about a certain experience, there is always a word of wisdom to invoke and act accordingly to achieve the expected outcome. We can confidently use these wise sayings only if we know and understand their meanings. It is even better if we know their origins. Otherwise, the proverb can confuse us the more and understanding the message they intended to convey can also elude us.
These African-Ibibio proverbs depict how observant our ancestors were about nature, and their knowledge of and closeness to it. Our great grandparents used the proverbs effectively and appropriately because they knew their meanings. Using them did not only save their energy but provided vividness, brevity and force to the idea or thought they attempted to articulate. They were able to transmit this wisdom from generation to generation through oral history, that is, by words of mouth, until recently. The oral method sustained us for so long partly because in the past, children and grandchildren stuck around their parents and grandparents long enough to learn from them. Another reason is that the younger generations were also interested in learning them. At the time, using a lot of proverbs in one’s speeches in social meetings and in private conversations was an index of high intelligence and wisdom, and the speaker was held in high esteem in the community. It was a source of pride and honor for and conferred dignity on the speaker as well.

This work comes out of my concern that this oral method may at some point in history cease to be as effective as before in passing these words of wisdom on to future generations of Ibibio sons and daughters. If these wise sayings continue to remain unwritten, the possibility of losing this aspect of our knowledge history is imminent. Here are some of my reasons for thinking this way: (1) Present day youth leave their parent’s home to pursue their education and then to employment in cities. By so doing, the amount of time for the youth to maintain regular contact with their parents and extended family elders from whom they could have learned these wise sayings is reduced. (2) Some of them leave their country of origin at tender ages to countries with different culture, while others are born in foreign countries. In some cases, both parents and children are born outside their cultural environments. (3) If parents themselves do not know much of these wise sayings, let alone use them, they can not offer nor transmit to their children what they do not have or know, even if the children are around them up to adulthood. (4) Many, especially among the learned, tend to lack interest in preserving even the positive aspects of their ethnic cultures, partly because they do not know or suffer from what A.J. A. Esen describes in his Ibibio Profile as “Ours-Is-Bad” and the “Foreign Is Good” syndrome. This is a psychological feeling which demeans anything pertaining to one’s ethnic culture and hails what is foreign, no matter how filthy and obnoxious the latter is.

Unlike many Ibibio persons of my age or older, I was blessed with parents who had a mastery of these proverbs and

About Emma Umana Clasberry

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Emma Umana Clasberry is the founder/CEO of African Peoples Institute, a Chicago-based non-profit agency purposed to promote cultural pride among youth through the arts. She received an award for outstanding performance as a dance instructor in Joyce Foundation Project, Bridging the Gap" from Chapin School. Following a workshop presentation on "Dance: an effective tool for educating African children in traditional Africa" to graduate students majoring in Theater Arts and Education, she was featured in Roosevelt University's newsletter. Emma earned a B.A in Political Science and an M.A. in Urban Planning & Policy from University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Doctor of Education degree from California Coast University. Her interests include writing and publishing.
Published September 24, 2010 by Xlibris. 230 pages
Genres: Religion & Spirituality, Self Help, Parenting & Relationships, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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