To be impeccable with your word, is the first agreement noted in the international bestseller the four agreements. The power of words and the impact that they can have on our mindset as well as our emotions reiterates the importance of being mindful with the words that we use towards others and ourselves. This trait has long existed in African history, through the use of folklore and proverbs, which were used to symbolise important life lessons to learn and apply during challenging moments in life. One example can be seen in the rich history of the Akan people, a people renowned for the their commitment towards seeking wisdom.
The Akan people can be traced back to early 13th century where they occupied parts of present day Ghana and Ivory Coast. Proverbs were seen to deepen a person’s way of thinking which is why a lot of importance was placed on language and the use of words in Akan society. Indeed, it was the chief who assigned the linguist within a community which further reiterates the high regard of the use of words within Akan culture. Some Akan proverbs include:
Se anoo patre a ekyen namon (A slipped tongue damages more than a slipped foot) – This draws attention to the importance of being careful with the words that we use and the belief that those who cannot control their tongue can inflict a great deal of pain to others, thus it is important to be impeccable with your word.
Edwa beba a efiri anopa (The signs of a good market starts in the morning) – A proverb which emphasises the importance of starting your day with clear intentions; cultivating a good day first starts with cultivating good energy at the beginning of your day.
Obi atifi nso ye obi anaafoo (Your north is another person’s south) – A key reminder that we should respect where people are in life and the fact that your perspective will not always be shared by others that you encounter. Instead of placing our energy in judging people for not sharing the same views as us, we should respect the fact that we are all on different journeys.
Dee ote efom ennsuro ahweasee (He that is down needs fear no fall) – This proverb highlights the importance of maintaining faith, when you put your all into everything that you do, trust that the universe will make it happen.
Abrabo nnye bona a anka akoko emmo toma (If life was easy then the hen would also wear beads around its waist) – This proverb speaks to the fact that life can be challenging in many ways for all us, therefore it is essential that we avoid making assumptions about people based on what we see. A key reminder to be kind to others as we do not know what people are going through.
The use of proverbs in the Akan language showcases the rich wisdom that exists in Akan history. Proverbs were a key part of day to day social encounters and highlight the strong emphasis placed on developing an understanding of self as well as good character through the use of words. Furthermore, the Akan proverbs showcase the art of storytelling as a way of sharing knowledge and strengthening our connections to each other. Words are powerful, may we all be mindful of how we use this power in our journeys.
Akan proverbs and their meaning – Yenkasaa
Art and life in Africa – The University of Iowa
Sankofa: African Visions – African Development Institute
Akan-Ashanti folktales – R.S Ratray (1930)
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