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Site Last Update: 16 Nov, 2019
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African Proverb of the Month
July, 2003

Oli fo'nu oko kpa ma gbaluka ebe. (Igala)
When a tree falls on a yam farm and kills the farm's owner, you don't waste time counting the numbers of yam hips ruined. (English)

Igala ( Nigeria ) Proverb


Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use


The Ibaji people are from the eastern part of Kogi State which is in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The people are predominantly Christian and traditional worshipers. The percentage of Muslims is about 5%. The language they speak is known as Igala. They are basically an agrarian community. The men plant yams, the king of all crops, and cassava. The women plant corn, rice, beans, potatoes, and cassava. The staple food of the people depends largely on the season, but yams can never be compromised on special occasions. No matter what, when it is time to harvest yams, it serves as the staple.

The yam is the most respected crop in the community. At any given time of the year when there is an important occasion like burial, especially for an important personality, there is no compromising the use of yams. In fact, if an important person dies and there is no yams for his or her burial, the burial is postponed until such a time when yams are available and in abundance. The story is told of the oldest woman in the village of Iyano, from the Obiyo clan, (Obiyo happen to be my clan) who died in the late 1960s and was going to be buried with potatoes. The elders gathered and food (potatoes) was prepared. When it was time to begin the ritual (so it is said up until today), the woman rose after being dead for 24 hours and told every one that she could not be buried with potatoes. It is said that she permanently died as soon as it was time to harvest yams.

It is a sign of adulthood to be able to provide yam for food every five days to feed the whole family all through the year. The market day is EDE and takes place every five days which happens to be one week (five days make a week). On this day people come from all the neighboring villages to the market. It is customary for these business people to visit their friends, relatives etc. It is a disgrace for the head of the family not to be able to serve pounded yam on these market days.

The EKA Festival is the most important festival for the Ibaji people and happens
in April. This is the time when people give thanks to God and their ancestors. The EKA Festival usually lasts for five days. The only food permitted throughout the period are yams. It is the greatest form of disgrace for a person not to be able to provide enough pounded yam to feed as many people as would be visiting throughout the festival period. In Africa there is no telling how many people would be visiting since they don’t tell you before coming. What this means is that more often than not a lot of food is wasted, but it would be unheard of that your friend came to your house and you served something else than yams.

Women sometimes are allowed to plant corn in between the yam mounds. A lot of times floods take over the land and destroy the farm. Sometimes there is a great wind that blows across the savanna and in the process it destroys both the corn and the yams. The women always ask about the corn, and the response of the men is: "We are saying that the yams have been destroyed and you are talking about your corn!” In times of war when the king has been captured you do not ask how many people were killed in the war. Many lives must have been taken to get to the king. So the meaning of this Igala proverb is: When there are important issues to discuss, you don't waste time on trivialities.

Biblical Parallels


Jesus teaches about priorities in our lives. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

Contemporary Use and Religious Application

We are constantly challenged to focus on the most important things in life, on our priorities. We should not be overly influenced by popular culture and spend too much time on less important, even trivial things.

Different peoples and cultures have their own biases and favoritism. Take 9/11 in America as a case study. After Osama’s dastardly act, America buried their loved ones and no one cared about the illegal immigrants. In fact we are not sure of the numbers of the illegal immigrants killed. Yet we should be concerned about the welfare of all people.

Inaju Reuben
Sierra Leone
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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