An Evening with JANUKA part 3 – From Emancipation to independence 4 of 5

BACKGROUND INFORMATION (contd) The Significance of Proverbs

When growing up in Jamaica, our parents, grandparents and other elders in the community expounded proverbs during or after conversations about a particular subject or event. This was common place, spoken in patwah, and meant to make us think about the consequences of certain actions.

Some proverbs were multifaceted and difficult to understand. The true meaning was not always obvious to us, and at times meant different things to different people. After several guesses at the true meaning of some proverbs, sometimes never getting it right, or told by an elder to think again, we would give up in frustration and subsequently disregard them.

Interestingly, some proverbs were also included in the songs we sang without us really understanding their meanings.

We wanted to distribute some proverbs with our programme, to increase awareness of their cultural importance as a learning tool. We hoped they would stimulate discussion with adults and children as to their true meaning.

The significance of proverbs was further explored in the literature. The books reviewed provided useful information, especially on interpretations.


    Proverbs are:

  • of West African, European and Jamaican origins.
  • key components in the philosophy and oral culture of Jamaica, giving essence to everyday conversations, reflecting the humour, colour and vitality of Jamaican culture.
  • unassuming statements or statements of fact that are used to influence the behaviour of others, suggest a course of action, or passing judgement through criticism, ridicule, warning, derision or defiance.
  • wise words of wisdom reflecting the customs and philosophies of our ancestors. They helped our ancestors cope in difficulties times and can provide inspiration to guide us safely through the rough and tough corners of our daily lives.
  • wide ranging and generic and can serve as an educational and social tool, assisting children to learn the norms of society
  • uniquely creative and contribute to the worldwide popularity of Jamaican cultural lifestyle, language and music. The lyrics of many Jamaican songs are infused with Proverbs, e.g. “Chicken merry, hawk deh near”; Sarry fe mawga dawg, mawga dawg tun roun’ bite yuh;
    Rain a fall, but dutty tuff; and Time langa dan rope.
  • Many Jamaican proverbs have double or hidden meanings and often the most obvious meaning is not the main one. The meaning will depend on the context in which the proverb is used. You sometimes need to mediate on some proverbs before you can fully understand them.

Hutchinson J A. (2004) Hamper of Jamaican Proverbs; proverbs to colour yuh language and yuh life. Kingston. Jamaica
Mc Kenzie E (ed) (2002) Jamaica Proverbs and Culture explained. Blue Mountain Media.

From: Beverley Bogle

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