Proverb of the Week

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The old woman looks after the child to grow its teeth and the young one in turn looks after the old woman when she loses her teeth. (English)

Aberewa hwe abofra ma ofifir se nna abofra so hwe aberewa ma nese tutu. (Akan)

 Bibi ukuza mtoto akiona meno, yanakua, mtoto pia ushudia bibiye meno yakingooka. (Swahili)

La vieille dame veille a l’enfant grandit ses dents, et l’enfant a son tour veille a cette derniere perd les siennes. (French)

The above proverb is typical of the Akan tribe of Ghana, who makes up about 40% of the country’s population. The proverb is more or less similar to the Akan saying: “The mother feeds the baby daughter before she has teeth so that the daughter will feed the mother when she loses her teeth.” It is a proverb that re-emphasizes the importance of communal solidarity, mutuality, help, and togetherness. Traditionally-speaking, the aberewa, which means the older woman, is highly respected and looked up to in the Akan society because she is the symbol of wisdom. She is being consulted when a bit of advice and help are needed.

 In the family setting in the Akan culture, the grandmother takes care of as well as giving pieces of advice to the young ones; it is expected that the advice plays an important role in the future development of the younger ones. The grandmother takes care of and remains responsible for the children until they grow teeth, which symbolizes growth in the Akan culture. But the duties and responsibility of the grandmother do not end with the growth of the child’s teeth. Aberewa still advises the older children, especially, the ladies even when they grow older.

Little wonder why it is a curse ( mmusu, in the Akan language), not to obey or respect the grandmother because it is believed that such a negative behaviour towards the wise woman will have catastrophic consequences in the lives and future continuity of the whole society. To maintain continuity and solidarity, it is expected that the youth must reciprocally take care of the grandmother when she has lost her teeth (becomes old and dependent).

So you can say that the berewa is a symbol of responsibility, dedication, and solidarity for the whole society.

Clearly, the proverb demonstrates that no condition is permanent. Back into our everyday lives – especially in various African societies – the proverb “The mother feeds the baby daughter before she has teeth so that the daughter will feed the mother when she loses her teeth” still makes a lot of sense. We elect or choose our leaders so that they can take care of us and our problems after they gained power. The question we all need to ask ourselves is: How are our leaders (aberewa ) taking care of the lives of those entrenched in their hands? Have they carried out the expected tasks expected of them? Or have the leaders let down those who put them in the leadership positions? If the leaders (aberewa )  have let us down, by not carrying out their expected task, why do you and I still entrust our future and destiny in their hands by still accepting their leadership through the election or otherwise? How have we prepared ourselves and those under our care for the future? By still accepting the shortcomings and failures of our leaders? At the end of the day, our destiny is in our hands; if we entrust our destiny in the hands of our aberewa, who fails to take good care of it, that puts our future in jeopardy.

 In such a case, why would you and I look after the old woman when she loses her teeth? After all, it is said that when one hand washes another hand, the washed hand reciprocates.

More proverbs of the week: