Book: Bu Me Be: Proverbs of the Akan
Authors: Peggy Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Ivor Agyeman-Duah
Publishers: Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited
Reviewed by Caroline Boateng
Bu Me Be: Proverbs of the Akan is an encyclopaedia of Akan proverbs that captures the essence of life, thoughts and human endeavours.
The first impression gained from reading the first few proverbs is the eternity of the language and a sense of already experienced situations that the proverbs vividly speak of, that is, a sense of déjà vu.
For instance, reading the third proverb “oreba, oreba na oye hu, na onya ba a, onye hu biom” (it is coming, it is coming” is frightening; but when it actually comes it is not frightening any longer), brings to mind clearly the brouhaha over the turn of the millennium and how it passed uneventfully.
The book has an easy reference system by which similar and contrasting proverbs are brought to the attention of readers.
Proverbs compiled explain and initiate readers into the intricacies of the Akan language, culture and traditional norms — simple, interesting and with rich linguistic facts.
“Yεba mmεbuo a, anka yεso nkuma” (If we had come to “fell” proverbs, then we would carry axes), is an example of how the authors go to great lengths to explain the pun on words and meanings.
Sometimes shockingly vulgar and piercingly true, as in Proverb 48: “obaa de ka a, ode ne twe na eko” (if a woman is in debt, she uses her vagina to redeem it), the proverbs bring home truths that most people unconsciously admit to.
But in all their shocking vulgarity, they are precious nuggets of words that, according to Peggy Appiah, the chief author, “must be preserved and cherished in all their richness profound or punning, profane or philosophical, obvious (occasionally) and, (more often) illuminatingly obscure”.
From human attitude and behaviour, endeavour and industry, love, relationships, and sex, Bu Me Be: Proverbs of the Akan is replete with any conceivable saying that drives home basic truths in a perceptive manner.
Several familiar proverbs that have become passé are enlivened in the Akan version in the book.
Examples of these are “Love is Blind,” and “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, which in the book, become “obaa pe wo, na abaa da wokon ho a, ose ‘Dobroba’,” (If a woman loves you and you have even a stick on your shoulder, she says (it is a) double-barrelled gun)” and “Obaa pe wo, na ohunu wo kokobo a, ose: kyemetam” (A woman who loves you would refer to your rectum as silk loin cloth”.
Feminists may find Bu Me Be: Proverbs of the Akan sometimes infuriating with proverbs like “Obaa [sene boama]/[ye kyem] a, otwere obarima dan mu” (whatever a woman may do she needs a man), or “Obaa ho ye fe a, na ofiri obarima” (A woman owes her beauty to a man).
This irritation at the insensitivity of some proverbs in portraying women as objects of men’s whims is shared by the lead author, Peggy Appiah, who writes beneath the first proverb, “male chauvinism!
Some great characteristics of the dictionary of Akan proverbs is that unlike all others that just give meanings to words and phrases, it provides a rich historical base of facts and events; and also gives all the confidence to use Akan proverbs both in words and writing.
For instance Proverb 292 and 416, give historical facts on events “in former times” that is interesting for the uninitiated in Akan tradition and re-enforcing for the initiated.
Readers will be enlightened at the right rendition of some proverbs that are used often but not correctly rendered.
“Mmerε dane” (times change), is often what one hears, however, the right rendition is “Mmerε di adanneε”, while “Life is hard”, is properly rendered “Obra ye bo-na”.
Bu Me Be: Proverbs of the Akan, has several interesting proverbs.
Proverb 615, Obi nnim Twumwaa ne Sampa hyeεso contrasted with Proverbs 48 and others similar to it, and shows that whereas in the former Twumwaa and Sampa are nicknames for the vagina and the anus, the human genitalia are not so appropriately couched in the latter proverbs.
These proverbs highlight the words of Peggy Appiah that proverbs have different context within which they may be used.
She adds, “It is impossible to explain all the uses, even if one is aware of them; it is the occasion that brings a proverb to mind and a skilled user will exploit the subtleties of a proverb to the maximum.”
Other interesting proverbs are Proverb 6871, indicating that what is familiar gives no fear, Proverb 6821, that says that if you are unkind to your anus, you let air into your stomach, and Proverb 6744 that admonishes against greed.
Bu Me Be: Proverbs of the Akan, captures for readers wise sayings that apply in all human endeavours regardless of the fact that a reader might not be an Akan.
That is done by English translations of the Twi syntax in ways that are universal and fresh, but at the same time maintaining the original sense and use of the particular proverb.
Buttressing that is a chapter on Akan Cultures: A Brief Introduction, which gives readers some insights into the culture in which the wise sayings come from.
The arrangement of proverbs in the book is made easy to follow, understand and appreciate, even for non-Akan speakers, by an appendix on “A Note on the Ordering”, which guides readers into the various classifications into which proverbs have been grouped.
The English rendition, a gloss on the proverb and other relevant information follow most proverbs.
Bu Me Be: Proverbs of the Akan is a useful teaching material, language manual, and an invaluable book that must be on shelves of all schools, institutions, and individuals.
It is a great asset for all adults and a fitting legacy to be bequeathed to the younger generation.
The book can be compared favourably with other well-known books of literature, in its order, arrangement, historical background, currency and relevance.
DAILY GRAPHIC, MONDAY FEBRUARY 18, 2008