The Igbo of Nigeria believe that an eloquent speaker speaks not many words but garnishes his speech with proverbs and anecdotes. They are also excellent at passing information with short and sometimes witty stories. They fondly express it with the saying: “ilu bu manu eji eri okwu” which could loosely be translated into “Proverbs are ingredients used in cooking speeches”.
For example, this popular story –The Wooden Bowl – could be reduced to a simple phrase in Igbo. It could be expressed in this saying: “Nku Onye Kpara n’okochi ka O na-anyo n’udi Mmiri”. This phrase could mean: whatever you sow, you will reap, or whatever act you pose in your youth will catch up with you in your adulthood. Here is the story of The Wooden Bowl.
A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered.
The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.
The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. ‘We must do something about Father,’ said the son.
‘I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.’ So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.
When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone.
Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence. The father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor one evening before supper. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?” Just as sweetly, the boy responded, ‘Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.
The four-year-old smiled and went back to work…
The words struck the parents so much that they were speechless … Then tears started streaming down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done.
The husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table that evening. He ate every meal with the family for the remainder of his days. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilt, or the tablecloth soiled.