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African Proverb of the Month
Oct, 2007


Nyansapö, kwasea ntumi nsane gye sé nyansafoö. (Akan).

The knot of wisdom a fool cannot untie; it takes a wise person. (Literal English Translation)

Only a wise person can solve a difficult problem. (Figurative English Translation).

Akan (Ghana) Proverb

 

 

 

Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

This photograph of an Akan gold weight represents one of the Akan knots of wisdom called Suman. These are the most popular charms used in the various religious cults of the Ashanti People and are worn for good luck. This gold weight is in the shape of the ancient scepter of the Akan queen-mother. The knot here is called Nyansa pö ("the knot of wisdom"). This shows coils of rope tied in complex knots. See further information in Ashanti Gold Weights by E. de Kolb, published by Gallery d'Hautbarr. The saying that this gold weight represents is a well known Twi (Akan) proverb: The knot of wisdom a fool cannot untie; it takes a wise person. This could be a parallel to the legend of Alexander the Great who solved the problem of the Gordian knot in 333 B.C.

The Akan People comprise several culturally and linguistically similar peoples in central and southern Ghana and Ivory Coast including the Ashanti (Asante) people who speak Twi and the Fante people who speak Fante. For simplicity we refer to their different proverbs collectively as Akan proverbs.

NOTE: "Knot of Wisdom": This Akan gold weight is probably Ghana, late 19th century. Brass. Gift of Dr. Nachum and Pia Gidal in the Israel Museum collection in Jerusalem, Israel. The photograph of the gold weight is by Mrs. Ofrit Resenberg Ben Menachem of the Israel Museum.

 

Biblical Parallels

1 Kings 3:16-28: This is the most famous of the stories of Solomon's wisdom about the two mothers who both claimed the same child. It ends with: "The king said, 'Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.' But the woman whose son was alive said to the king--because compassion for her son burned within her—'Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!' The other said, 'It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.' Then the king responded: 'Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.' All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice."

 


Contemporary Use and Religious Application

We need wise people today to cut the complex knots of war, injustice, corruption, tribalism, racism and other burning problems of our contemporary world. The wisdom of such proverbs can solve many of the problems in Africa.

 

Avraham Hayam

Research Assistant

Akan Gold Weight Collection Project

Israel Museum

Jerusalem, Israel

P.O. Box 118, Zur Hadassa

99875

Israel

 

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