Proverbs: The Jabo of Liberia


Author of the classic novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes said that “proverbs are short sentences drawn from long and wise experiences”. Like the quote itself, proverbs are short yet memorable. A proverb is a distillation of the essential wisdom of culture and is a common trend throughout the world. Though many cultures, religions and sometimes even generations of people have different proverbs; they sometimes share a striking resemblance to one another. Sometimes the subject matter, tone, theme, structure, and even the imagery are extremely similar but seem to be a perfect fit for them. Like Benjamin Franklin did in his Poor Richard’s Almanack, proverbs which were primarily part of the oral tradition are at some point written down into a group of anthologies or incorporated into larger works.


Though Africa has had its share of trials and tribulations; it is a huge continent full of vibrant people with beautiful stories and traditions. The vast history of African literature is made up of traditional oral and written works in Afro-Asiatic and African languages teamed together with post-slavery works by Africans in European languages. The smaller geographic and more diverse stories were found in oral traditions. The history of this way of storytelling and the way of sharing information is a beautiful representation of giving context to the explosive emotional images that the storyteller has and would use. One beautiful way that a storyteller could share insight was through the metaphorical, imagery-filled proverb. At the heart of every great epic story was the unfolding of a myth’s structure that fundamentally holds a metaphor which is riddled with a proverb.

One African proverb was told by the self-designated ethnic group located in the southeastern part of the Republic of Liberia in West Africa. The Jabo think of themselves as a ‘confederation of tribes’ and even sometimes refer to themselves as a ‘nation’; though  Liberia does not like that term. Despite rumors of ritual murder, cannibalism, and the taboo practice of virilocal exogamy; the Jabo people have introduced many beautiful stories and many beautiful proverbs. One of their proverbs is among my favorite written aphorisms. The Jabo proverb says, “The butterfly that flies among the thorns will tear its wings.” This like many proverbs offers advice to us all to watch the places that we tread; because it can tear our ability to leave from that place. The metaphorical applications of this aphorism are endless and I think that it is beautiful.



Don Quixote #1 by Angelo Agostini – Imagem extraída do site, Public Domain,

Butterfly 58 by LaggedOnUser – Butterfly 58Uploaded by Magnus Manske, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Rubber Tree Plantation in Liberia by Erik Cleves Kristensen –, CC BY 2.0,

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