A Yoruba Iwi poem from Nigeria. In a series of proverb-like metaphors, the poem comments on the advantages of variety in life.

Why do we grumble because a tree is bent
When, in our streets, there are even men who are bent?
Why must we complain that the new moon is slanting?
Can anyone reach the skies to straighten it?
Can’t we see that some cocks have combs on their heads
but no plumes in their tails?
And some have plumes in their tails
but no claws on their toes?
And others have claws on their toes
but no power to crow?
He who has a head has no cap to wear,
and he who has a cap has no head to wear it on.
He who has good shoulders has no gown to wear on them,
and he who has the gown has no good shoulders to wear it on.
The Owa has everything but a horse’s stable. (1)
Some great scholars of Ifa cannot tell the way to Offa: (2)
Others know the way to Offa, but not one line of Ifa. (3)
Great eaters have no food to eat, and great drinkers no wine to drink:
Wealth has a coat of many colours.

from Présence Africaine (1956)
translated by E. Lasebikan,


Footnotes

  1. Owa: Refers to a king or ruler of the eastern Yoruba kingdom of Ijesha.
  2. Ifa: The Yoruba divination system, see also Tiger and The Importance of Ori.
  3. Offa: A town located in central Nigeria.