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Site Last Update: 12 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
May, 2001

Ehemwen wÿÿ iren te gua so ihuan, ren te vbe gua ku, sokpan ukpÿ iye-ÿkhÿkhÿ ÿre ÿ ma gie iren ku iku iren vbe avan. (Edo)
A cockroach knows how to sing and dance, but it is the hen who prevents it from performing its art during the day. (English)
Une blatte sait chanter et danser, mais c'est la poule qui l'empeche de le faire pendant la journee. (French)

Edo (Nigeria) Proverb

Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use

The story of a singing and dancing cockroach belongs to the imaginary world of folktale where ants walk erect and spiders hold court. No one has seen a singing and dancing cockroach, but the sight of a hen chasing a cockroach is a common spectacle in many African villages. For the hungry hen, mindless of the plight of the cockroach, it makes a delightful meal. The cockroach is not oblivious to its precarious existence -- that it has an enemy who is mostly alert at daytime. This is inhibiting because it cannot then show what it is capable of doing at a time when all can see. It is forced to perform in the dark for its own safety. It is such a situation that this Nigerian proverb describes.

Biblical Parallels

Beauty and talent are not the exclusive preserve of any one person or group. They belong to the realm of grace freely bestowed. Each person is called to develop these gifts in service of humanity. "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world..." says Jesus of Nazareth. "Your light must shine before others, that they may see your goods deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (Matthew 5:13-16). In the gospels many things can prevent a person from showing his or her talents: hostility, lack of faith, doubt, etc. See Luke 4:14-30, Mark 6:1-6, Matthew 14:22-32 and Mark 9:14-29. As Jesus asks: "To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn'" (Matthew 11:16-17). What prevents us from singing and dancing?

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

There abound in our societies here in Africa men and women who can sing and dance to the tune of the finest manifestations of the human spirit. They are those simple men and women struggling to make a life out of difficult conditions in towns and cities, refugee camps, AIDS orphanages, etc. In their own way they constantly struggle to facilitate the advent of the Reign of God here on earth. These people are our contemporary 'cockroaches'. Like the cockroach in this Edo proverb, they are forced to live in the dark, never venturing to bring to light their contributions to the advancement of our humanity. They cannot always sing and dance in the open to the tune of their dream of a renewed humanity. This is because there are also the ravenous hens around in our societies. They are the dictators, oppressors, war-mongers, corrupt leaders, etc. who create unfavorable conditions and who prevent others from realizing their full potential as human beings gifted with beauty, grace and dignity.

Rev. A. E. Orobator, S.J.
London, England

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