PROVERB SPEAKING AS A CREATIVE
PROCESS: THE AKAN OF GHANA
The subject of proverb creativity is
seldom considered by scholars, part of the reason being the
presumed absence of creative potential in proverb use. This
latter view of the proverb stems from the feature of brevity
often associated with the genre, but it is also due to the
relative paucity of ethnographies on proverb
Until recently, scholars showed little
interest in situated uses of the proverb. Proverb studies
were essentially stylistic, structural, functional,
comparative and lexicographic.1 Such decontextualized studies, by their very nature, do not
portray the proverb as a living art form; they depict the
proverb as frozen, fixed, and void of dynamics or
Studies of situated uses of the
proverb include Herzog and Blooah's study of Jabo proverbs
in Liberia,2 John Messenger's study of proverb use in Anang-Ibibio
traditional courts,3 Arewa and Dundes' ethnography of proverb speaking among the
Yoruba,4 Peter Seitel's analysis of Haya proverb use,5 and recently, Joyce Penfield's study of proverb speaking
among the Igbo.6
These studies are important landmarks
in the contextual study of the proverb, yet they do not
focus on creativity in proverb use. Furthermore, proverbs
cited in most of these works, are either based on
hypothetical contexts, or are instances of recall by
scholars or informants, and do not consistently reflect
exactness of wording or phraseology in actual life
situations. It is John Messenger's study of proverb use
in Anang courts that consistently monitors proverb use in
real life situations; that study, though, is
function-oriented, and does not discuss
A study of the dynamics of proverb use
would involve the documentation of situational contexts, the
specific words of discourse interactants, as well as a
citation of the verbal context in which the proverb was
uttered--the speaker's words preceding and following the
proverb. Such a close study of the proverb in interaction
situations would help decipher and assess the proverb's
contextual propriety in the discourse, any modification or
embellishment to which it has been subjected, and the
particular shade of meaning conveyed by the embellishment.
Above all, it would enable us, subject to closer scrutiny,
the view that proverb use is essentially an exercise in
The perception of the proverb as
quotation seems logical, not only because it is often
attributed to sources in performance situations, but also
that this view is often affirmed by informants
themselves.7 Yet statements by informants that they are mere conduits of
lore ought to be more thoroughly examined, and interpreted
in culture-specific terms. One takes a cue here from Albert
Lord who, despite persistent claims by Serbo-Croatian epic
singers that they are preservers of tradition, discovered
variations from one performance to the
other.8 Fact is, Serbo-Croation epic singers, like traditional
practitioners of other genres, equate tradition with truth,
and deny creativity in their performance in order not to
appear as falsifying truth. In the words of Albert Lord,
"The picture that emerges is not really one of conflict
between preserver of tradition and the creative artist; it
is rather one of preservation of tradition by the constant
recreation of it."9
In this exposition, the proverb will
not be considered ostensibly as quotation, which is rather
restrictive, but as performance, in the sense that in
proverb use, the speaker assumes responsibility to an
audience for a display of communicative
competence.10 The assignment of proverb use primarily to the realm of
quotation does not seem to accord with a closer observation
of proverb use. I argue that whereas the proverb text may
exist as a cultural frame of reference in some modes of use,
it is subject to creative deformation11 during performance, even as the proverb retains its
historical identity. The significance of traditionality and
historicity in lending acceptability to the proverb, is not
denied here; for knowledge of history and tradition is, in
several cultures, a privilege that may be used to key and
heighten performance,12 authenticate, validate, as well as confer power and
authority;13 and it is to the performer's advantage to invoke this
knowledge to augment his word. Yet history and tradition may
be reshaped and reinterpreted to incorporate the biases of
the traditor in rhetorical situations.
In some modes of proverb use, the
speaker may overtly attribute his rhetoric to a source (see
below), as a strategy to highlight the cultural validity of
his argument, demonstrate his rhetorical modesty and
objectify the issues contested.14 But whether proverb use is overtly attributive or not,
creativity is not necessarily ruled out. Creativity here may
be interpreted in three senses: 1) the creation of novel
proverbs, 2) the timely invocation of an effective proverb
in a fitting rhetorical context,15 and 3) the adaptation and manipulation of existing proverbs.
This paper essentially deals with the latter.
The full text of this
article is published in De
Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue
electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.
During a church sermon at Agogo, in
the Ashanti region of Ghana, the latter mode of
interpretation was employed by the fifty-year-old preacher
when he used the proverb. The preacher was urging his
congregation to unite to solve each other's problems. The
nation at the time was passing through a period of drought,
starvation and hardship. Note the proverb in the last two
lines, and the general tenor of the speaker's
ese se yen nyinaa de dee
Ene dee yebetumi b mu,
Ama y n nuanom nyinaa anya ahot
Funtumfrafu ne denkyemfrafu wo afuro baako,
Nso yeredidi a na yereko.
We should all pool together our
And our means,
To bring joy to our kith and kin
The twin mythical crocodiles share a common
Yet scramble over food.
The proverb used here is cued by the
message in the preceding discourse that calls for the
pooling of resources in the solution of problems. In this
mode of use, the speaker implies that even if the resources
they strive for will eventually be in the interest of the
common good, this should not deter them from competing with
each other in the acquisition of the resources.
The ambiguity in the core meaning of
the proverb above stems from the variable value imposed on
'competition.' In the positive use of this proverb as in the
passage above, competition between kinsmen is a healthy
sport. In the negative use, competition has the
underpinnings of needless greed, expressed through guttural
lust. This alternative interpretation is partly conditioned
by the selective emphasis on the connective, (nso)
'yet,' between the two clauses which appears to pre-empt a
disapproving evaluation of the activity in the following
The type of ambiguity above, in which
a proverb is given two contradictory evaluative readings by
speakers has been exemplified by many proverb scholars.
Herzog and Blooah refer, for example, to the following Jabo
proverb which may be used to commend and condemn the same
They usually say it is the
villager, they don't say it is the stranger who if he
walks about town, walks leisurely.28
Similar instances of multiple meaning
or proverb ambiguity, are cited by Heda
Jason,29 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett,30 and Peter Seitel,31 studying Jewish, English and Haya proverbs
In the instances of ambiguity above,
there is little or no attempt on the part of the proverb
speaker to manipulate the form or diction of the proverb.
The speaker's creative genius may be measured on the basis
of his discreet choice of a proper mode of proverb
use in a fitting argument or discourse. Creativity here is
defined in terms of propriety of proverb choice, or rather
proverb congruence in an appropriate context. But creativity
in proverb use also consists in the conscious embellishment
and manipulation of proverb form and meaning. It is to such
strategic modes of proverb performance that the rest of this
paper is devoted.
In the performance of the Akan
proverb, the speaker is not bound to indulge in a verbatim
quotation, or lift the proverb en bloc and place it
securely in discourse. In its 'flight,' the proverb may be
modified, embellished, or transformed to suit the speaker's
style, temperament, and the modalities of the discourse in
which he participates. In the process, meaning may be
reinforced, or modified. In other instances the resultant
change in meaning is drastic and completely innovative. But
the strategic manipulation of the proverb is best seen as
not restricted to the proverb substance alone. Proverb
manipulation begins with the strategic use, modification or
omission of the 'pre-proverb formula' and extends to the
stylized elaboration of the proverb image or metaphor to
suit the speaker's strategies. In other instances, the
proverb may be embellished with a narrative.
Formulae introducing the Akan proverb,
during performance, are of two major types: one that
highlights the creative source of the proverb--the source
formula, and one that emphasizes the proverb as
conventional knowledge, or eternal verity--the factivity
The full text of this
article is published in De
Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue
electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.
Despite the existence of these set
phrases, the proverb speaker may use or formulate any
fitting phrase that presupposes the truth in the statement
or proverb that follows. These phrases include, wonim
se ("you know that..."), kae se (remember
that..."). Such predicates fall into the category of what
Paul and Carol Kirpasky in linguistic terms have called, factives--their use presupposes the truth of the
following complement.32 The proverb speaker then, may resort to the use of any
factive phrase as a technique to imply that the statement
that follows is conventional knowledge that should
facilitate appreciation of his argument. The structure of
the factivity formula, in relation to the proverb, is as
Apart from these two types of formula,
proverb speakers sometimes introduce proverbs with the
phrase, sebe ("apologies" or "with your permission"),
with the aim of reducing the proverb's didactic flavor
particularly in interactions with more sophisticated
Beside the possible improvisation of
the introductory formula within the set linguistic frames,
the proverb itself may be subjected to manipulation. The
pre-proverb formula may be dropped altogether since its use
sometimes constrains the speaker to adhere to a standard or
received format. In certain cases, the novelty of the
speaker's mode of performance is not conducive to the
structural constraints imposed by the introductory
In the context of performance, Akan
speakers may transform proverb statement to question, or
change its basic impersonal format to personal. Speakers may
also subject the proverb to elision, or elaboration, and
intersperse the proverb with emphatic markers, or question
tags. To the witty proverb speaker, the format of the
proverb in discourse does not have to be replicated in all
other instances of use.
Yet even where a proverb has been
transformed or manipulated, its basic identity is retained;
for each proverb has a reference or datum point, such
as a key image, lexis, or phraselogy, that remains
relatively stable in the face or structural
A very common proverb transformation
in Akan is that of question. In this case, the speaker poses
the proverb as a rhetorical query whose answer is
conventional knowledge. Such uses of the proverb have an
implicit allusion to the factivity formula. An example
This was during a conversation among
three men of approximately 3034.
The discourse participants were discussing the lack of
respect prevailing among teenagers in the country, deploring
the current subversion of traditional values by the young
ones. The speaker, who is a male high school teacher, cited
an instance of a student's show of disrespect as he was
teaching in class. He followed his deprecation of the
student's attitude with two proverbs, the first of which was
De ma woka no, Se nantu
koso kyen sere a na
yarba wo mu, na ehu enyido atsew a
efuw kyen abodwese pen?
As they say, if the leg grows
bigger than the thigh, there is disease in it; and have
you seen the eyebrow outgrow the beard?
According to the first proverb, the
growth of the leg should be proportionate to the thigh,
which is bigger; if the leg outgrows the thigh in size, it
reflects a physical defect. By inference, it is a sign of
moral chaos if children show disrespect for adults. While
the speaker expresses this proverb in a statement form, he
augments it immediately with a logically parallel proverb
which is posed as a question. This corroborative proverb
points up the proportionate growth of the eyebrow to the
beard, a reversal of which depicts physical anomaly, or
social order by implication. Significantly, the second
proverb is an interrogative rendition. The basic form of the
latter proverb. "The eyebrow does not outgrow the beard," is
not used here. Instead, the speaker considers the mood of
the discourse and refrains from a direct
In this performance, the original
negation which conveys a sense of remonstrance, or
interdiction (...does not) is transformed into a question--a
rhetorical, sarcastic question whose answer is automatically
negative. In preposing the proverb with the phrase, ehu ("have you seen") the speaker seeks to involve
his audience in the performance, and compel them to agree
with his viewpoint.
Such sarcastic renderings of proverbs
are similar to sarcastic interrogatives in American
proverbs, as exemplifed by Charles Doyle (Is the Pope
Catholic?).35 In both cases, the answer to the question is conventional
knowledge. The difference between the Akan and American
counterparts, however, is that the sarcastic American
interrogatives don't have non-interrogative counterparts in
active use by speakers--the interrogative forms are not
proverb derivations. In the Akan case, the interrogatives
are derived from indicative forms that exist in the proverb
Also common in Akan proverb
performance is the interspersing of proverbs with emphatic
markers which in various degrees topicalize or bring into
sharp focus, aspects of the proverb that the speaker wishes
to foreground at that point in time.36 The following proverb, which basically does not contain an
emphatic marker, was used with markers in one mode of
Onyame nim odwan a obeye
Na oyee no dwantoro
God knows the lamb that will grow
into a bully
And gives it a defective
The discourse interaction involved a
40 year-old colleague of this writer, who was chatting with
a female relative of over 65.37 The woman had narrated an incident in which one of her
nephews, a boy of 25, had insulted her and threatened to
eject her from the house belonging to the lineage. The boy
was the most ferocious among all her nephews, yet was a
cripple. Aware of the culprit's deformity, the young man
listening to the account remarked with the proverb, Onyame noara na onim odwan a obeye asisie na oyee no
dwantoro ("It's God Himself that knows the lamb that
will grow into a bully, and gives it a defective eye.") The
proverb was eventually co-cited by the proverb speaker and
the woman. In this mode of use, the speaker introduced the
emphatic markers, to lend prominence to various aspects of
the proverb he considered significant in the context. Using
this proverb, the speaker implied that, but for his
handicap, the miscreant would have been more reckless; God
knew this, and afflicted him with a leg deformity. In citing
this proverb, the speaker inserted the focus markers na and noara, to emphasize the omniscience of
God. Significantly, when I asked him after the discourse to
repeat the proverb he had used, the proverb speaker omitted
the emphatic markers, implying that these do not belong to
the core proverb, but are his own embellishment.
Similarly, a proverb's impersonal form
may be relinquished and the proverb personalized in response
to the relevant social context. In the following example a
middle-aged man personalizes a proverb in talking to a man
of 60. In reference to the
Yentutu anomaa ho nkyere
One does not remove the bird's
And then show it to the elder to name it
the speaker partially personalizes the
proverb as follows:
Mon ara na mokaae, yentutu
anomaa ho mmekyere mo
It's you the elders that said it,
we don't remove the bird's plumes and then show it to you
to name it.
The young man used the proverb after
getting out of a car in which he sat with an
elder.38 After a short dialogue with the elder, the two agreed to
meet another day. When the old man asked which day would be
most suitable for the meeting, the young man said, Mmre
biara... ("Any time"), and added the statement above.
The speaker by this proverb implies that the second meeting
is timely and crucial toward the solution of his problems
since the elder would lend his wise counsel to offset a
possible exacerbation of the problem. The elder best solves
a problem if it is presented at the appropriate time, just
as he is able to name a bird only when its feathers have not
been removed by the fretful child. In this mode of use, the
word panin, 'elder,' in the proverb concept is
replaced with the pronoun, mo (you), as a way of
accommodating the social context within the strategies of
performance. The speaker personalizes the proverb to reduce
its didactic flavor, express his humility and respect, and
acknowledge the sophistication of his listener.
Using Peter Seitel's system of proverb
correlation,39 it may be said that the proverb above was used in the first
person singular/second person singular correlations since
entities in the proverb used refer to the speaker and
listener respectively. Unlike Seitel's exemplification,
however, our first and second person correlations are not
analytical concepts; they have been objectified by the
Perhaps the most common form of
proverb transformation is truncation or abbreviation,
whereby a proverb is not fully cited but only alluded to. In
this case, the proverb's already condensed form is subjected
to further abbreviation on the assumption that both speaker
and listener share the same socio-cultural history and do
not require the use of elaborated codes for mutual
understanding.40 Among the Akan, proverbs that are often truncated include, Esie ne kagya nni aseda ("The anthill and the kagya plant need not thank each other"). This is
commonly rendered by highlighting only the two images, Esie ne kagya ("The anthill and the kagya plant"). In an interaction situation below, however, this
proverb is fully cited and even elaborated with an
etiological tale as rhetorical ploy.
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This situation involves 5 young men
and a woman of 60.48 During a brief break in a conversation over an expensive
royal funeral, one young man seeing a bundle of cash in the
hand of his colleague, asks him for money so he could buy
food to eat. This request annoys his colleague, who
immediately replies with a proverb followed by a literal
Wo dee wotee puupuu ara
Na worewo bi adi?
Wogye di se sika kuta me nti,
Na mede rekoto ama woadi?
When you heard the sound of pounding,
You began pounding to eat?
Because I have money in hand,
You thought I would buy to feed you?
In other modes of usage I had heard
this proverb, it appeared as, Wote puupuu a wo bi di ("When you hear the sound of pounding, pound yours and
eat"). This is the form often cited by informants out of
context and in other modes of performance. It is a statement
consoling the poor man to be satisfied with his plight since
apparently wealthy people are not as happy as they seem. The
image in the proverb is that of the fufu meal, often
prepared by pounding boiled yam (or cassava) and plantain in
a mortar, and eating the resultant paste with soup. The
basic message in the proverb concept here is as follows:
"When in your poverty, you hear your neighbor preparing fufu, don't be fooled into thinking the ingredients
he uses are expensive; don't despair; prepare yours within
your means, for you neighbor's dish may be less glamorous
than you thought." This more common mode of usage is
exemplified in the following excerpt from a popular Akan
Wote puupuu a, me nua
Wo bi di,
Na obiara nni ho a owo ahoto.
Osikani ntumi naa anadwo;
Okura reba a ose okoromfoo.49
When you hear the sound of
Pound yours and eat, my brother,
For no man is entirely happy.
The rich man cannot sleep at night;
The prowl of the mouse is to him a thief's
In the innovative usage, however, the
proverb's recommendation is portrayed as imprudent. This
subversion of the proverb's more common use is executed
through a formal manipulation of the proverb's main clause,
which is transformed from statement into question. This way,
the speaker questions, in overtly syntactic terms, the
positive value often imposed on taking a precipitate
consolatory step. In relation to the specific situation to
which the speaker reacts, he implies as follows: "Your
instant reaction on seeing my cash (like the poor man who
began pounding to eat on hearing the sound of pounding), is
foolish." Note how this situational meaning agrees with the
literal comment that follows the speaker's proverb, "Because
I have money in hand, you thought I would buy to feed you"?
It is significant that both the speaker's proverb and his
contextualization comment are cast in the interrogative
mood. Together, they emphatically ridicule the beggar's
Another example of proverb
manipulation with a concurrent meaning change involves the
proverb, Sapofo, yefa no hiada ("The wretched sponge
is picked up in times of need"). In other modes of use, this
proverb has the ring of "A beggar has no choice," such as in
the following example where a young man was debating whether
he should avail himself of a provision of unattractive wares
that a man was offering free of charge. When his colleague,
in need of the wares at the time, dismissed the deal as
cheap, the speaker suggested to his colleague to make the
best of the situation since, "The wretched sponge is picked
up in times of need."
In this mode of use, the speaker is
recommending, or justifying a relatively worthless choice in
the absence of better alternatives. In the innovative usage
that follows, however, the speaker elaborates the proverb
and in a sarcastic tone, deplores her partner's contemptuous
attitude to her.
In this situation, two former lovers
argue.50 The male seeks reconciliation after several years of break
in relationship. The woman disagrees and resists, arguing
that the man seeks a reunion only because he has been
disappointed by other lovers. She speaks disapprovingly of
the man making her last resort; for that implies he holds
her in contempt.
Wode me asi "no paaken"
Na woakofa obi.
Afei dee woaba.
Kyenkyen ara a,
Sapofunu yi a egu mantwea yi,
Kyere menkotam nhohoro ho bi saa e.
You disappointed me in the past,
And picked another.
Now you come back persisting:
This wretched sponge abandoned at
Let me pick it up and wash it clean.
Man: You are not a wretched
The woman, in this example, makes
allusion to the proverb, "The wretched sponge is picked up
in times of need;" but she uses it not from her own
viewpoint but as an imaginary projection into the thoughts
of her former lover. She disapproves of the admonition in
the proverb (in relation to the situation at hand) and her
lover's attitude--for both depict her as worthless. But the
speaker also implies that what appears as worthless may
later become handy. The basis of the semantic divergence
between the proverb here and its citation in the earlier
example is that here the phrase "wretched sponge" has a
first person correlation with the speaker herself. In the
previous use, the correlation is third person--referring to
an entity not on the scene of the interaction.
In comparing this proverb to the
thoughts and attitude of her former lover, the speaker
significantly elaborates the proverb, giving the "sponge" an
imaginary location--nook--that reinforces the triviality
associated with the object. The innovative speaker takes the
filthy sponge through a process of purification, unknown in
the more common modes of the proverb's
In exhibiting such skills in proverb
recreation, Akan speakers do not necessarily quote the
proverb. They delete, paraphrase, elaborate, and transpose
elements in the proverb; speakers indeed reconstruct the
proverb. The relationship between the proverb concept and
its situational manifestations is loosely comparable to any
linguistic abstraction (la langue,51 phoneme, etc.) that has a potential range of physical
realizations. In this case, the factors dictating the use or
formulation of a formal or stylistic proverb variant include
the mood and tenor of the discourse, social context, as well
as the performer's style and rhetorical strategies.
Notwithstanding the possible reformulation of a proverb in
the context of discourse, a proverb may also be presented in
its kernel format where the prevailing rhetorical context
does not justify a transformation. In this case, the
performance may be marked by a particular tone, pause
duration or emphasis to achieve a particular
Generally, the creative proverb
speaker kills two birds with one stone: he demonstrates his
creative skills while preserving the traditional identity of
the proverb he echoes. As he relies on the traditionality of
the proverb to persuade, the witty speaker also relies on
his own compository skills to reinforce, modify and
transform proverb meaning; for as the informant rightly
stated, "the proverb does not stay at one place, it
NOTES AND REFERENCES:
Previously published in
Proverbium 3 (1986), pp. 195-230.
Permission to publish this article granted by Proverbium
(Editor: Prof. Wolfgang Mieder, University of Vermont,
*This paper is, in part, a
revision of chapter six in my doctoral dissertation, "The
Proverb in the Context of Akan Rhetoric" (Indiana
1 Examples of stylistic analysis of the proverb can
be found in, L.A. Boadi, "The Language of the Akan
Proverb," in African Folklore, ed. Richard Dorson
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972), pp.
183-191; and Archer Taylor, The Proverb (Hatboro:
Pennsylvania, 1962), pp. 135-183. Structural studies of
the proverb include Alan Dundes, "On the Structure of the
Proverb," Proverbium, 25 (1975), 961-973. On a
functionalist approach to the proverb, see John
Messenger, "The Role of the Proverb in a Nigerian
Judicial System," Southwestern Journal of
Anthropology, 15 (1959), 64-73. An example of a
comparative approach to the proverb is, Wolfgang Mieder,
"'Wine, Women and Song'. From Martin Luther to American
T-Shirts," Kentucky Folklore Record, 29 (1983),
89-101; and lexicographies on the proverb include, F.P.
Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970).
2 George Herzog and C. Blooah, Jabo Proverbs from
Liberia (London: Oxford University Press,
Messenger, op. cit.
Arewa and Alan Dundes, "Proverbs and the Ethnography of
Speaking Folklore," American Anthropologist, 66, 6
pt. 2 (1964), 70-85.
5 Peter Seitel, "Saying Haya Sayings: Two Categories
of Proverb Use," in The Social Use of Metaphor,
ed. David Sapir and J. C. Crocker (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977), pp. 75-99. See
also his doctoral dissertation, "Proverbs and the
Structure of Metaphor among the Haya of Tanzania"
(University of Pennsylvania, 1972).
6 Joyce Penfield, Communicating with Quotes: The
Igbo Case (Westport: Greenwood Press,
for example, Penfield, ibid.
Albert Lord's discussion of this in his, The Singer of
Tales (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960),
10 See Richard Bauman, Verbal Art as
Performance (Rowley, Massachussets: Newbury House
Publishers, 1977), p. 11. This concept of performance
originates from Dell Hymes; see his, "Breakthrough into
Performance," in Folklore: Performance and
Communication, ed. Dan Ben-Amos and Kenneth Goldstein
(The Hague: Mouton, 1975), p. 18.
11 'Creative Deformation' is a term used by Michael Herzfeld
to explain a similar process in Glendiot poetic
creativity. See his, The Poetics of Manhood: Contest
and Creativity in a Cretan Mountain Village (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).
12 Herzfeld, Poetics; see also Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance, p. 21, where he alludes
to the use of tradition to key performance.
13 See Gilian Feeley-Harnik, "Divine Kinship and the
Meaning of History among the Sakalava of Madagascar," in Man, 13 (1978), 403-417. History among the
Sakalava is a rare rhetorical resource which may be used
to enrich ritual performances, and the knowledge of which
enhances social position. See also Michael Herzfeld, "The
Etymology of Excuses: Aspects of Rhetorical Performance
in Greece," American Ethnology, 9 (1982), 644-663.
Herzfeld here discusses the Greek use of history and
etymology as a form of rhetoric.
14 See Roger Abrahams, "A Rhetoric of Everyday Life:
Traditional Conversational Genres," Southern Folklore
Quarterly, 32 (1968), p. 56.
15 This aaspect of proverb creativity is fully
discussed in Chapter Seven of my doctoral dissertation.
See Kwesi Yankah, "The Proverb in the Context of Akan
Rhetoric" (Indiana University, 1985). See also Kwesi
Yankah, "Toward a Performance-Centered Theory of the
Proverb," Critical Arts (A Journal of Media
Studies), 3:1 (1983), 29-43.
16 See Roger Keesing and Felix Keesing, New
Perspectives in Cultural Anthropology (New York:
Holt, Rinehart & Winston Inc.), p. 351.
17 Michael Lieber, "Analogic Ambiguity: A Paradox of
Proverb Usage," Journal of American Folklore, 97
18 For an important discussion on fluidity in proverb
meaning, see Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "Toward a
Theory of Proverb Meaning," in The Wisdom of Many:
Essays on the Proverb, ed. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan
Dundes (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1981), pp.
19 This is exemplified in Lieber, "Analogic
Ambiguity," op. cit.
20 This broad concept of the proverb has parallels
among the Jabo, Zande, Fulani, and several ethnic groups
in Africa. See Ruth Finnegan Oral Literature in
Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), pp. 419-423.
Similar examples may be found in Greek, Aramic, Syriac
and old English; see Archer Taylor, The Proverb,
theoretical view of folklore as a dynamic process is well
argued in Dan Ben-Amos, "Toward a Definition of Folklore
in Context," in Toward New Perspectives in
Folklore, ed. Americo Paredes and Richard Bauman,
(Austin: Texas University Press, 1971), pp.
22 Informant A, Yaw Nsoah, 48 of Offinso.
23 Informant B, J.K. Amoako, 40.
24 Informant C, Adubofuor, 40 of Offinso.
25 Michael Lieber, "analogic," op. cit.
26 R.S. Rattray, Ashanti (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1923), p. 313.
27 Informant, Nana Akyeampong, Chief of Ohum in the
28 Herzog and Blooah, Jabo Proverbs, op. cit.
29 Heda Jason, "Proverbs in Society: The Problem of
Meaning and Function," Proverbium, 17(1971),
30 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "Toward a Theory of
Proverb Meaning," in The Wisdom of Many, ed.
Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes (New York: Garland
Publishing Inc., 1981), pp. 112/113.
31 Seitel, Haya Sayings, pp. 79-82.
Kiparsky and C. Kiparsky, "Fact," in Syntactic
Argumentation, ed. Donna Jo Napoli and Emily Norwood
Rando (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press,
1979), pp. 328-368.
33 The phrase sebe or its reduplicated form, is
also used as an apologetic preface to the use of obscene
or vulgar language.
recorded this in Cape Coast, Ghana.
35 Charles C. Doyle, "Sarcastic Interrogative
Affirmatives and Negatives," Midwestern Journal of
Language and Folklore, 1:1 (1975), 33-34.
36 For a discussion of topicalization in Akan, see
L.A. Boadi, "Focus Marking in Akan," Linguistics: An
International Review, 140 (1974), 5-57.
37 This was recorded in Soame, a suburb of
38 Recorded in Kumasi.
39 Peter Seitel, Haya Sayings, pp.
40 The term "elaborated code" is used in B. Bernstein,
"Social Class, Language, and Socialization," in Language and Social Context, ed. Pier Paolo
Giglioli, (Penguin, 1972), pp. 157-158.
41 C.M. Doke, "Review of Proverbes Mongo," African
Studies, 18 (1959), 150.
42 The Yoruba proverb was cited for me in 1982 by
Efurosibina Adegbija, a student of Indiana University. It
is also cited in a recent article by Oyekan Owomoyela.
See his "Proverbs: An Exploration of an African
Philosophy of Social Communication," Ba Shiru,
12:1 (1985), 11.
43 John McDowell, "The Poetic Rites of Conversation," Journal of Folklore Research, 22:2/3
critical view of this is discussed in Chapter Eight of my
doctoral dissertation, op. cit.
45 Informant, K. Nsiah, Seventh Day Adventist Church,
Ashanti New Town, Kumasi.
46 Daniel Biebuyck and C. Mateene, The Mwindo
Epic (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press, 1969), p. 7. Peter Seitel, "Proverbs
and the Structure of Metaphor among the Haya of
Tanzania," op. cit., p. 227.
47 Recorded in Asuom, Eastern Region of
48 Recorded in Asuom.
49 This song was performed and recorded by the
Youngsters Band of Ghana.
50 Recorded in Agogo.
51 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General
Linguistics (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company,
1966), pp. 9-10.
52 See Herzog and Blooah, Jabo Proverbs, op.
cit., p. 8, where they report that Jabo proverbs are
uttered in a much more rhythmic way than ordinary
University of Ghana