Proverbs and African Modernity: Defining an Ethics of Becoming


African proverbs have, for good reason, attracted considerable attention from scholars, both African and non-African. One notable testimony to such attention is the international conference in South Africa from which came a monumental collection of scholarly articles now available on CD and in print. Another evidence of the interest the subject has enjoyed among African scholars is the wealth of publications they have produced in recent years, for example, Adeleke Adeeko’s monograph Proverbs, Textuality, and Nativism in African Literature; Ambrose Adikamkwu Monye’s Proverbs in African Orature: The Aniocha-Igbo Experience; Kwesi Yankah’s The Proverb in the Context of Akan Rhetoric: A Theory of Proverb Praxis; and my Yoruba Proverbs. In addition, there have been influential articles by Ayo Bamgbose, Lawrence. A. Boadi, Romanus N. Egudu, Kwame Gyekye, Yisa Yusuf, and a host of others whose omission from this rather abbreviated list is not meant as a slight. In a recent conversation, the preeminent paremiologist, Wolfgang Mieder, called my attention to the lineup of articles in the most recent issue of Proverbium [23: 2006], in which four of the five lead articles are by Nigerian scholars (Abimbola Adesoji, Bode Agbaje, George Olusola Ajibade, and Akinola Akintunde Asinyanbola) and on African proverbs, an indication, he said of the present effervescence of, and future potential for, proverb studies and publications on them on African soil. Because of these efforts we now know a good deal about proverbs as a cultural resource, their functionality and the protocols for their usage, but also their artistry-structure, wordplay, imagery, and so forth, especially after calls such as Isidore Okpewho’s (1992) that scholars pay due attention to the aesthetic dimensions of traditional oral forms.
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