Africa has a rich oral culture which is still prominent today, used to share history between generations. Proverbs are a big part of this oral culture, which are described by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe as “the palm oil with which words are eaten”. As short statements of general truths or pieces of wisdom, proverbs teach us valuable life lessons, and help us to communicate with one another across different cultures. In particular, Sub-Saharan Africa has been described as the “cradle of humankind”, because we all have ancestors from that continent. It fits then that African oral culture can be used universally, to guide us to lead better, happier lives.
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMPANIONSHIP
The proverb “happiness is not perfected until it is shared” places community at the heart of happiness. In African culture individual purpose is defined by the health of the community. A person’s community is their family, which they not only depend on, but also provide for. Shared experience provides a sense of permanence, encourages self-worth, and teaches us our duty to others. Communal need comes before individual need; happiness is only real when everyone around us is happy too. If everyone is kind and supportive to their fellow people, then everyone can be happy.
THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS THAN STATUS
The proverb “being happy is better than being king” tells us that having power, status and wealth is not equal to being happy. Having self-respect is much more valuable than being respected by people due to royal birth right, or out of fear. Kings who have power, but no intelligence; status, but no honour; and wealth, but no love, are poorer than a happy man who has no status. With power comes a lot of responsibility, and being a leader gives you a lot of difficult decisions to make. This proverb shows us then, that being rich and powerful is not the same as being happy.
A SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE IS NEEDED FOR A HAPPY LIFE
The proverb “patience attracts happiness; it brings near that which is far” warns against impatience, greed, and ingratitude. This proverb teaches that you will only be happy when you accept that you may not always get what you want. Things take time, and the road to achieving your dreams is often long, confusing, and unpredictable. Adapting to life’s unexpected obstacles allows us to make the most of our time on earth. We should not waste time by being impatient. Happiness is earned when we enjoy the journey, and stop looking forward to the destination.
These proverbs all show one thing in common: our ability to control our own happiness. Everybody wants to be happy, but too many of us aren’t, because we believe ourselves to be unlucky, undeserving, or unimportant. Happiness comes in many different forms, but it is rarely easy. If we can learn to not take the people around us for granted, stop comparing ourselves to others, and be prepared for harder times, then we can all experience happiness.