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Review of The Seven Signposts of Existence / African Proverbs


By Martin Banham

Wole Soyinka, The Seven Signposts of Existence, Bookcraft, Ibadan, 1999, ISBN 978203018X, pp. x + 36.

Ed. Kofo Ademola, African Proverbs, Bookcraft, Ibadan 2000, ISBN 9782030201, pp. 58, More African Proverbs, Bookcraft, Ibadan, 2000, ISBN  9782030252, pp. 73.

All volumes priced at £3.95/$6.95

These little books are presented in a series called ‘Pocket Gifts’ and might easily escape attention, but the presence in the series of work by Wole Soyinka certainly lends it gravitas. Soyinka’s work is a typically trenchant riposte to those at the University of Ife who suggested, during Soyinka’s time teaching there,  that the ancient Yoruba system of belief “did not qualify for consideration as religion because it had no written scriptures. Imagine that!”, Soyinka continues; “[t]he scholars of a society which never ceases to extol its oral culture actually attempt to deny its most fundamental intuitions because they are not printed, annotated and marketed.” Soyinka offers seven precepts from the teachings of the Orisa – precepts he proposes “that cannot be refuted by anything that has come down to us from these primordial forces that the concerted might of Islam and Christianity have failed to crush.” From ‘Obatala fulfills’ to ‘Orisa reveals destiny as Self-destination’ these shards of the ancient wisdom of Yoruba belief are poetically and persuasively presented.

Kofo Ademola’s two collections of Africa proverbs are truly pan-African in origin, and ordered under a series of headings – ‘Character’, ‘Truth and Honesty’, ‘Unity’ etc. These are a delight to dip in to, the African world of proverbs being both witty and wise. ‘The bee that has honey in its mouth also has a sting in its tail’; ‘the egg has no business dancing on stilts’; ‘he who shoots an arrow upwards to the sky should have his head protected’. The gathering of these proverbs was initiated by the BBC  Overseas Service and Kofo Ademola’s nicely presented selections genuinely do make an excellent ‘pocket gift’.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 63 (2000), p. 82]

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