One grows up only once (Kalenjin-Kenya). You never know what a young man will be as an old man (Zande-Sudan). Young people tend to be impatient. If the piglet asks its mother why her snout is so long, she will answer: “When you grow up, you will see that your snout will also be long” (Ewé – Togo); An eagle cannot fly high if its wigs are still frail (Oromo-Ethiopia). This must be remembered when speaking of authority: Don ‘t give power to a young man (Zande- Sudan). Life stages must be respected : Those who haven ‘t cut their teeth yet, must be careful when coming to nuts (Lozi-Zambia); A hammer in the hands of a young man becomes a nutcracker (Kongo- DR.Congo); I shall not shout for joy before I have seen how you talk, what you do and how you hit (Somali-Somalia): I shall put you to the test: The tree grows strong by holding out against the wind. Life is what you do when you are young: If you don ‘t sweat when young, you will beg when old (Ewé-Togo); The children you bore in your youth, the journeys you started early morning, will be your companions when night comes (Tigrigna-Eritrea); Go to the fields in the morning (Mondo-DR.Congo). True, when the beard appears, youth disappears (Rundi-Burundi); yet a wise old man is appreciated for his wisdom and not for his beard (Zande-Sudan). When a young man says: Yesterday’s porridge is good for dogs (Popo-Togo), the generation war has started. Then the old woman you knew when young, aught to die when you grow up (Kiga-Uganda), lest she reveals your youthful pranks. Youth must be lived: you cannot pretend the opposite. Who ever saw A monk dance and a young fellow stay at home? (Tigrigna-Eritrea); Where the girls are, the boys will go (Gbande-Liberia). Youth and beauty go together, yet We cannot appreciate beauty if one misbehaves (Yoruba-Nigeria). Youth disappears: A tender leaf will not remain such for long (Ewé-Togo). What you do not do when you can, you will not do when you want; You don’t walk on four legs three times (Zulu-South Africa): we are babies only once. We are all fools at the beginning, and then we grow wise with experience (Maasai-Tanzania). We cannot despise old people: Don’t soil the old spring: one day you will need it (Zande-Sudan); Before starting to sing, the young bird will listen to the song of the old (Bechuana-Benin). To be really safe, Ask the advice of the old, and go to war with the young (Galla-Ethiopia).
The dance of the old man
Believe me, it is sad to become old: An old man has no admirer‘(Gikuvu-Kenya). When the lion grows old, even the flies s attack him (Chagga-Tanzania). Nevertheless, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Lift is a palm’s branch that the winds bend (Fang-Gabon). Getting old is a law of life, if you don’t die before. Nobody crawls on all four three time (Zulu-South Africa): the first time as a baby, the second when you are old – there is no third time.
Polite people respect the aged and call them ‘senior’ or ‘elder’. Grey hair, even pagans respect it (Oromo-Ethiopia). These compliments, however, will not make the breath less gasping. Old age remains an unpleasant affair in every comer of the world, in spite of people’s deference.
The old person must accept, therefore, the reality and avoid undertakings above one’s strength: The dance of an old man doesn’t last long’ (Kongo- DR Congo). If old age stops the hunter from going hunting, he must be content with telling his ancient exploits (Bambara-Mali). He would otherwise become ridiculous, because An old man does not fall out of step – he slides’ (Kongo-DR.Congo). People have no respect for an old person who goes to excesses. An old woman crushed a ripe banana and she was proud of it (Yoruba-Nigeria).
Old age’s limitations are to be expected: An old man does not run, unless a goal eats his cassava (Mongo-DR.Congo). An old man is not put in a boat to row, but to give advice (Luganda-Uganda). With age, the faults of early childhood reappear: An old man is like a child (Rundi-Burundi) and new faults also come out. White hair, hardened heart (Somali- Somalia). Yet, it seems probable that honest people live longer than crooks: A man reaches old age, if has respected the groundnuts of his neighbour (Kongo-DR.Congo).
The old man may lack agility, but he has experience: An old man may miss the target with a stone, but not with his mouth (Tabwa-DR.Congo). An old person may be left behind in running, but not in Wisdom (Tonga- Zambia). Don’ t compete in a race with a thirty-year-old, neither give advice to a sixty-year-old (Tigrigna- Eritrea). You don’t tell an old parrot where to lay its egg (Ngabala-Dr.Congo) You do not teach an old monkey to pull faces (Kongo-DR.Congo).
He is foolish who does not trust an old person and his advice: He who has travelled much (an old person) has seen more things that those who climb the trees (the young) (Ewé-Togo). The old see farther sitting down than the young standing up (Acholi-Uganda). Their judgement is important: A slap by an old man, even if given with his left hand, hurts (Kongo-DR.Congo).
Old age’s wisdom is irreplaceable and can prepare for difficult times: An old woman’s glory lies in her ears (Mossi-Burkina Faso). When there are no elders, the town goes to rack and ruin (Yoruba-Nigeria). The word of the elders be’ comes sweet the day after (Chewa-.Malawi). An elderly person misses a stone, but not a word (Bemba-Zambia); The mouth of an elder may smell, but not his words (Herero-Namibia); An old pot makes the water fresh and quickly boils (Oromo, Ethiopia): To hear the cough of an old woman is better than an empty hut (Mossi-Burkina Faso). Indeed, you have to listen to the elders. The war among generations is senseless. Young people ought to be happy with what they are and accept their role. The beard does not tell old stories to the eyelash (Ewé-Togo): it was born later. But also the old person must be convinced that respect must be deserved: Old man, respect the young, if you want to be respected (Kongo-DR Congo). In life, after all, we all have to learn something: The egg of the hen teaches its mother (Mongo-DR Congo). Even children can teach something to old men and women. But then, why hide it ? In the end, it is the young who will look after the old: The elephant drinks water from the foot-marks of its young (Momba-Togo). (N.C.)