Conversation and Proverbs

A proverb is a short pithy saying that usually states a general truth or piece of advice. In the Umuofian society, proverbs are used very often in conversation and help people understand things better by presenting the truth and can also give them advice. Here are a few examples of proverbs used in Things Fall Apart, along with what they can be interpreted to mean.

Proverb 1:"Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water."(Chapter 1)
Meaning: Simply put, this proverb was intended to mean that Okonkwo was fast and agile. this particular proverb is a good example as to how some were intended by to give people a better understanding of a person by simply giving a metaphorical saying that a person could easily visualize.

Proverb 2: "Proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten." (Chapter 1)
Meaning: While this proverb is more complex than the first, it still can easily be interpreted. It is essential for the reader to know that palm-oil is a very important item in Umuofian society, and is used to cook and is also used as a fuel source. eating the words simply is a poetic way of saying to take them in, or to gain knowledge. Basically, this one means that proverbs are an essentially words of wisdom.

Proverb 3: "Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them." (Chapter 1)
 Meaning: Unoka decided to use this complex saying to say that he will pay his biggest debtors, or people he owes money to before the debtors that he owes less to, most likely as a way to express his gratitude for the generosity of those who lend him more.

Proverb 4: "If a child washes his hands he could eat with kings." (Chapter 1)
Meaning: In the Umuofian society, if you are able to remove the footprint of your ancestors, you would be able to aspire to anyone you wished in the society. Okonkwo could not be respected due to his father until he became the notorious warrior that he was. 

Proverb 5: "When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for walk."(Chapter 2)
Meaning: For the people of Umuofia, the mooon was very important. The influence and effect of the moon on the people in the tribe was so strong that if the moon shines on them, even a cripple could walk. This was an extreme way of saying that the moon gave the tribe the power to do anything. 

Proverb 6:"Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to other, let his wing break." (Chapter 3)
 Meaning: This proverb is rather complex, but it basically means that Okonkwo was ashamed of his father and was afraid of having the same misfortune of his father and the same end.

Proverb 7: "A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness." (Chapter 3)
Meaning: According to this proverb, if you respect greatness, you will become great yourself. In addition, this proverb means that in Umuofia that successful men respect greatness.

Proverb 8: "A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing" (Chapter 3)
Meaning: This proverb could mean a multitude of things, however it is quite apparent that the mean meaning is that something strange will not happen for no reason at all. Obviously, a toad does not usually run in the daytime, unless something happened, and the reader can infer that the proverb means that everything happens for a reason.

Proverb 9: "An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb." (Chapter 3)
Meaning: This proverb means that someone is uneasy if something is said that effects them personally, whether it was a joke or not, they cannot laugh about it. 

Proverb 10: "The lizard that jumped from high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did." (Chapter 3)
Meaning: This is a simple proverb. Even if nobody appreciates what you have done, you will remain proud of yourself since you know your accomplishment was successful.

Proverb 11:"Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching." (Chapter 3)
 Meaning:  Essentially, if Nwakibie gave yams to every man who asked, many of the yams would be wasted by their lack of effort. The yams did not mean as much to someone who had not rightfully earned them. Basically, someone must know how hard someone worked for something in order to respect the property themselves.

 Proverb 12: "You can tell a ripe corn by its look"  (Chapter 3)
 Meaning: Branching off the previous proverb, Nwakibie could tell that Okonkwo is ready to receive his gift and not take it for granted. This means that none of the yams will be destroyed 

 Proverb 13: "Looking at the king's mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother breasts" ( Chapter 4)
 Meaning: Although Okonkwo once was a little baby, it feels as he never could be so vulnerable, because now is so big and robust.  It scares him to think that he could have ever been as vulnerable as he was when he was younger.

 Proverb 14: "Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble."  ( Chapter 4)
 Meaning: This proverb is also rather simple. Basically, people who are blessed with luck by the gods, should be humble, and not criticize other people. They should not think they are better solely because they are more lucky. 

 Proverb 15: "When a man says yes his chi says yes also."  ( Chapter 4)
 Meaning: A man's spirit, or chi, will guide him and help him tackle any task that is at hand once he puts his mind to it. 

 Proverb 16: "They called him the little bird nza who so far forgot himself after a heavy meal that he challenged his chi."  ( Chapter 4)
 Meaning: This proverb could indicate that Okonkwo was ignorant and not humble. Okonkwo was said to be so prideful he would challenge his own chi. Even though being prideful would be a good thing, it would be bad to think a man could challenge his chi.

  Proverb 17: "A child's fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm." (  Chapter 8 )
Meaning: Once again, we are shown that proverbs are complex and poetic ways of saying simple things. This one simply means that those who obey their parents will not be punished by their parents.

 Proverb 18: "When mother-cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth." (  Chapter 8 )
 Meaning: Basically, this proverb means that children copy their parents and learn everything they do from them. It is important for parents to set a good example, or else their children will not live up to their expectations.

 Proverb 19: "If one finger brought oil is soiled the others." (  Chapter 13 )
 Meaning: Basically, if you do not treat yourself for sickness, whether it be mental or physical, you will pass it on to others.
 Proverb 20: "Mother is supreme" (  Chapter 14 )
 Meaning: Your mother is extremely important as she is the one who gives you life.

  Proverb 21: "Never kill a man who says nothing." (  Chapter 15 )
 Meaning: If somebody never says anything to you that offends you, then you never should do wrong to them. Only if they do something wrong that offends you should you take action against them. 

 Proverb 22: "There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts." 
 Meaning: Men who shout should not be feared, as that is the most they will do. They will never be the type of person to take physical action, therefore, you should not fear them.

 Proverb 23: "Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." (  Chapter 16 )
 Meaning: If someone thinks to highly of themselve and their influence is too much, then the person alongside them will never be able to come as successful.

  Proverb 24: "A child can not pay for his mothers milk." (  Chapter 19 )
 Meaning: Basically, parents who think that their children should pay them back for taking care of them is ridiculous. This is because the parents are the ones that brought them to life and therefore they are responsible for them and should take care of them by nature.

 Proverb 25: "Men have learned to shoot without missing their mark and I have learned to fly without perching on a twig." (  Chapter 24)
 Meaning: Basically, external influences have a great enough effect on people to change their fate. 

Added by Kyle Krol