blaykyi kenyah

I am an artist and writer from Accra, Ghana, with a nomadic practice. I am fundamentally curious about the ontology and potential of art—what art is and what art can do—and I try to use my photography, sculpture, and conceptual work to investigate and reflect on this and many other interests. I was most recently a participant in the Irish Musuem of Modern Art’s Art and Politics Summer School. 


Akan Proverbs

Books I’ve Read

CV (August 2020)

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Blaykyi Kenyah © 2020

A repository of Akan proverbs in Asante Twi, updated regularly

Proverb in Asante Twi
English transliteration

Abaa a yɛde bo Takyi no, yɛde bɛbo Baa
The stick used to beat Takyi is the same stick used to beat Baa
What is good in one case is good in another. A proverb against unfair discrimination. Takyi and Baa are two Twi names.

Abɛ bi rebewu a na ɛsɔ
Some palm trees give their sweetest wine on the verge of their death
Some people do not reach their peaks until well into maturity. 

Aboa bi bɛka wo a, na ɔfiri wo ntoma mu
An animal that would bite you would be in your clothes
It is those closest to you that can take advantage of their proximity to hurt you. Most traditional Akan attire have a loose cloth component that is folded/tied and so has a lot of folds. It is therefore not unheard of for insects to lodge in the folds and bite the wearer.

Abɔfra a ɔmma ne maame nna no, bɛntoa mpa ne to da
A child who doesn’t let their mother sleep always receives the enema
If a child remains stubborn, they will always receive punishments. The enema is sometimes used to deliver unpleasant medication anally, and is thus often used to threaten children.

Abɔfra bɔ nnwa na ɔmmɔ akyekyedeɛ
A child cracks snail shells, not tortoise shells
Children are supposed to, in Akan culture, take on tasks and concerns that are considered appropriate to their capacities. However, as another proverb indicates, children who are able to prove themselves are welcome to the ‘table of adults’.

Abɔfra hunu ne nsa hohoro a, ɔne mpanyinfoɔ didi
When a child leanrs to wash their hands, they eat with elders
When a young or inexperienced person exhibits maturity, they are afforded the privileges and responsiblities reserved for older or more experienced people.

Ahunu-bi-pɛn nti na aserewa regyegye ne ba agorɔ a na wayi n’ani ato nkyɛn
Experience (or literally, “Having seen [some] before”) is why when the aserewa bird is entertaining its young, it looks away
Experience is the best teacher, and often the best explainer for situations or reactions that may not make sense to onlookers.

Anoma anntu a, obua da
If a bird doesn’t take flight, it sleeps hungry
If the bird wants to find food, it needs to put in the effort of flying out of its comfort zone. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Ayɔnkogorɔ nti na ɔkɔtɔ nni tiri
Playing with friends is why the crab does not have a head.
Sometimes rendered as “Ayɔnkododoɔ nti na ɔkɔtɔ nni tiri“ (meaning, Having many friends is why the crab does not have a head.), this proverb is drawn ffrom a folktale in which the crab was duped by Ananse the spider into losing his head. It serves as a cautionary provreb against being too trusting of ffriends, or too playful.

Baanu so a, emmia
When two people carry, it doesn’t hurt
This proverb emphasizes the benfit of cooperation.

Dua a enya wo a ɛbewɔ w’ani no, yetu aseɛ; yɛnsensene ano
The stick that will prick your eye if given the chance is uprooted, not sharpened
It is fooly to enable or feed potential danger, instead of doing away with it.

Dua kontonkyikuronkyi na ɛma yehunu odwomfoɔ
It is the gnarly wood that reveals the (true) artisan
It is through adversity that skill is honed and displayed.

Efie biara mmaninsɛm wɔ mu
Every house has trouble(makers)
Self explanatory. It is sometimes quoted as "Efie biara Mɛnsa wɔ mu"

Etua wo yonko ho a etua dua mu
If it concerns (or is in) your friend, it concerns (or is in) a tree
This proverb concerns the limits of empathy, even amongst friends.

Funtumfunafu ne dɛnkyɛmfunafu, wɔn afuru bom nanso woredidi a na wɔreko efiri sɛ aduane dɛ yɛte no wɔ menetwitwie mu
Funtunfunafu and dɛnkyemfunafu have the same stomach (their stomachs are combined), yet when they are eating, they argue/fight because the tastiness of food is perceived as it slides down the throat.
This is a very layered proverb. The two names mentioned are dual figures of a single Akan entity, represented in adinkra as two crocodiles who form a cross. They therefore have two heads and two tails, but a single torso/belly. A major takeaway of this proverb is how it explains sibling/family/clan rivalry: although an achievement would benefit the whole community, the person through whom that achievement is realised enjoys the pleasures that come with that position. 

Hu m’ani so ma me nti na atwe mmienu nam 
“Blow air onto my eyes” why two antelopes walk together
In Ghana, it is very common for people to ask others to blow air onto their eyes when they feel a tiny object irritating the eye. This proverb praises teamwork, collaboration, and companionship, across facets of social relationships.

Hwimhwim adeɛ kɔ srosro
Swift things go easily
Things easily gained are easily lost.

Nea ɔwɔ aka no pɛn no suro sonsono
They who have been bittten by a snake before fear worms.
It explains the anxiety that comes with a bad experience. It is analogous to the English aphorism, “once bitten, twice shy.”

Nsuo a ɛdɔ wo na ɛkɔ w’ahina mu
It is water that loves you that enters your pot
Ahina refers to the fired clay pots used, among many other purposes, to fetch and water. The proverb suggests that it is a person who loves you that approaches or proposes to you, and alternatively that it is people who love you that engage with your affairs.

Nyansapɔ wɔsane no badwemma
Knots of wisdom are loosened by the wise.
This proverb is slightly ambiguous in translation. “Nyansapɔ” could refer to “wise knots”, “knots of wisdom”, or “knots tied by the wise”. Most interpreations suggest that the same meaning though: delivate problems require delicate solutions, and wise people are the ones who can deliver them.

Obaa tɔ tuo a ɛtwere barima dan mu
When a woman buys a gun, it leans in a man’s room
This clearly misogynistic proverb is from an archaic time when it was thought inappropriate for women to use guns. Thus, if a woman bought a gun, it was clearly not for her use, but for a male relative/familiar (Never mind that Yaa Asantewaa exists). This logic can be harmfully extended to suggest that whatever properties a woman amasses, she does so for her male relatives, including and especially her husband. This proverb has also  lately attempted an unsuccessful rejuvination under a different interpretation: that if one acquires something without knowing how to use it, the one familiar with its usage has more say over how it is used. 

Obi abawuo tuatua obi aso
Someone's child's death annoys someone else (disturbs their ears)
Someone's wailing at the death of their child may come across to someone else who doesn't have context as an unnecessary disturbance. This is used in situations where a person may not be able to perceive the full depth of a situation, whether emotional, physical, financial, etc. and so may dismiss the concerns of the affected party

Owuo atwedeɛ, baakofoɔ mforo
Deaths ladder is not climbed by only a single person
This proverb simply means everyone will die, with all the implications that follow from it.

Ɔbanyansofoɔ yebu no bɛ, yɛnnka no asɛm 
A wise child is spoken to in proverbs, not plain language
In English, a word to the wise is enough

Ɔkɔtɔ nwo anoma
A crab does not give birth to a bird
One’s progeny rarely does not resemble them

Sɛ obi fom kum a, yɛnfom nnwa
If someone kills by mistake, we do not dissect by mistake.
If someone kills an animal that is taboo to a community’s culture, it is often a sin, since the animal may have been consecrated. Even if it is not a sin to kill it, it is often a sin to consume its flesh. It is unwise to compaound the error of killing by dissecting the carcass. To wit, “two wrongs do not a right make”.

Sɛ wohu sɛ wo yɔnko abodwesɛ rehye a na wasa nsuo asi wo deɛ ho
If you see your neighbour’s beard burning, you fetch and put water next to yours
Learn from others’ experiences.

Ti koro nkɔ agyina
A single head does not hold council
Two heads are better than one

Tootoote tootoote, yɛrenom nsa na yɛrefa adwen
Little by little, as we drink, we think and make decisions
Do not discount seemingly trivial moments; great plan can be made over relaxing or mundane events (such as drinking together!)

Woforo dua pa a na yepia wo
It is when you climb a good tree that you  are pushed up
It is when one pursues a commednable path that one is supported and encouraged.

Wo nsa akyi bɛyɛ wo dɛ a, ente sɛ wo nsa yam
No matter how tasty the back of your hand is (to lick), it will not be as tasty as your palm
This proverb requires some cultural context. Much food in Ghana is eaten with the fingers, and especially with soup, it inadvertently drips down the hand. While both the palm and back may have soup on them, the palm receives the most. Thus, if the back of the hand is tasty after being licked, it follws that the palm most likely will be even more so. This proverb is often used to refer to how irreplaceable the comforts of home are, no matter how pleasant an outside location might be.

Wotena dufokyeɛ so di bɔɔfre a wo to fɔ, w’ano nso fɔ
If you sit on rotting wood and eat pawpaw, your butt gets wet, and your mouth also gets wet
This proverb paints a realist world in which all things come at a cost. Both activities described are supposed to be comfortable and delicious respectively, but they come at the cost of a wet/soggy bottom and mouth.

Yɛtu wo fo na wanntie a, wokɔ Anteade
If you are advised and you do not listen, you go to Anteade.
A proverb about listening to advice. Anteade seems to be a non-existence (in the sense that it refers to place geographically or mythologically), whose name derives from “ante ade”, meaning “did not listen to something”

Yɛwo wo to esie so a, wonnkyɛ tenten yɛ
When you are born on a mound, it doesn’t take long for you to get tall
People with starting advantages tend to end up better off relatively quickly, or with much less effort.