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5.2f Vocabulary definitions; Proverbs with translations


Yoruba words provided by Ann O’Hear; translations provided by Dr. E.B. Bolaji.

Are or were these words or expressions used in Ilorin? If so, what are their meanings?

iru locust bean

isinru shortened form of “isin-eru,” the act of engaging in slavery

asinru a slave; he who is brought into servitude

ọmọ ọdọ servant

oko ẹru slavery

amu nilẹru he who enslaves another

ẹru kẹru bad slave (in terms of behaviours); usage—whatever slave

ẹlẹru slave owner

iṣakọlẹ land payment to a landowner by user

asingba bondsman or bondswoman

ọlọfa one who receives the services of an iwọfa

olowo a wealthy/rich person

oko gbingbin planted/cultivated farm

oko ti a ṣẹṣẹ newly cultivated farm

igi-ọba King’s tree; tree that must not be felled without official sanction

wogi-wogi a person who inspects trees in official forests, either to ensure

their presence, or to give sanction to cut down

ẹru-ibile an indigenous slave (usage obscure)

*olori oko head of a farm; owner of a piece of land given out for cultivation

gba-m-o-ra-mi “Take, I buy myself out” (of slavery?) Not common usage

ọmọ ale /ọmaale bastard; child born outside matrimony

*Now has a euphemistic usage, meaning head of an establishment; Head of State; head of a government, etc. A man in overriding authority


The questions/requests below and the Yoruba proverbs/sayings were provided by Ann O’Hear (the proverbs were collected from a variety of published sources); the translations were made by Dr. E.B. Bolaji, probably in consultation with his assistants.

Notes: (1) The translator notes on the handwritten copy that the spellings have been made to conform with standard Yoruba; (2) The handwritten copy also includes a note saying that from Number 5 ff, figurative meanings are on an attached sheet; this sheet was not found when computer copies were made in 2020.

Are the proverbs or sayings given below in Yoruba known in Ilorin?

If so, what do they mean?

Please give both the literal and the figurative meaning.

Please correct the pronunciation marks where necessary.


Asotẹlẹ ko jẹ ki a pe iwọfa li ẹru.

Literal—Having the fore knowledge does not allow us to call an iwofa a slave.

Figurative—One does not make the mistake of making adverse comments about something one has previous knowledge of.


Ẹru ku , iya ko gbọ: ọmọ ku ariwo ta.

Literal—Nobody cares when a slave dies, but there is a lot of wailing when a freeborn son/daughter dies.

Figurative—Nobody cares about whatever happens to a nobody, but whatever affects an important person is the concern of all.


Baa ba rọn: ni niṣẹ ti ẹru, a fi ti ọmọ jẹẹ.

Literal—If we are sent on an errand like a slave, we should deliver the message like a free born.

Figurative—In the execution of a difficult and perhaps degrading assignment, we should use intelligence to make the task as easy as possible.


Ibi ko ya tọ si ibi; baa ti bi ẹru la bi ọmọ.

Literal—The birth of a slave is no different from that of a free born.

Figurative—Human beings are basically the same, their stations notwithstanding.


Imado i ba jẹ ẹlẹdẹ, a ba ilu jẹ: ẹru i ba jọba, eniọ ki ba ti ku kan.

Literal—Should a bush pig act like a domestic pig, it will spoil a town; if a slave is made king he will decimate the town.


A ko i pẹru Ọba bẹẹ ri.

Literal—The Oba’s slave is never so addressed.

Figurative? (nothing different from the above)


Oun to ba wuni ni i pọ lọ la ẹni: ologun ẹru ku, aṣọọrẹẹ jẹ ọkọn ṣo-ṣo.

Literal—It is what we cherish that we acquire most; the owner of twenty slaves died and had only one dress.


Baa ba logun ẹru, baa lọgbọn iwọfa, ọmọ ẹni lere ẹni.

Literal—Though we may have twenty slaves or thirty iwofa (human security, pawns), our children are our gain.


Ara ko ni iwọfa bii oniigbọwọ abanikowo ni ara n ni.

Literal—The iwofa (servant in usage) feels much less uncomfortable than an intermediary through whom money is borrowed.


Ojo owu rọ tibi olowo ninu: olowo gẹlẹtẹ, iwọfa gẹlẹtẹ.

Literal—It’s the morning rain that makes the rich man angry; the rich man is idle, his servants are also idle.


Ojo joo n ṣe iwọfa, wọn ni o ko iṣeerẹ de: bo ba ṣọmọ wọn, wọn a maa nawo, wọn a maa nọnra.

Literal—when an iwofa is sick, he/she is accused of shirking duties, but if it were a son/daughter, no amount would be spared to restore him/her to good health.


Niitori ka maa ba ijiya la ṣe n ya Maa jija lọ fa.

Literal—it is so that we may not suffer, that we make provisions against suffering.

13. Ẹni ṣo pe ki araale oun maa la, ara ode ni i yaa lọfa.

Literal—those who say that their relations should not prosper end up being servants to outsiders.

Proverbs continued.

Request with list of subjects came from Ann O’Hear; the proverbs in Yoruba and in translation were provided by Dr. E.B. Bolaji.

Please provide any Ilorin proverbs referring to the following:

1 slaves

2 iwọfa

3 concubines (ale?)

4 farmers

5. rural dwellers

As numbered above:

1a  Imado iba se bi ẹlẹdẹ, a ba’lu jẹ; ẹru iba jọba enia iba ti ku ’kan.

1b  Ẹru ni i-pe ara rẹ lẹru; iwọfa ni i pe ara rẹ ni iwọfa, ọmọ onilẹ ni i pe ara rẹ l’ọba.

2 Olowo ki I jẹ orogan ki iwọfa pe ara rẹ ni agunmọtẹ.

3a A ki i mọ ọkọ ọmọ ki a tun mọ ale ọmọ.

3b Bi a o dọkọ, ẹni laa ka; bi a o sowo ogun aja ni a a ra.

4a Agbe ko ni ohun ti yio ta ni ko m‘ [?] owolọwọ; Orilowo ta oka o si fi ra ẹṣin.

4b Agbe ti njẹ buredi jẹ egun mọ iyan, sẹbi iṣu ni baba wọn njẹ loko.

4c Aṣẹṣẹ kọ ọja na, Agbẹ ru odo iyan wo’lu lọsan gangan[?].

5. (rural dweller: ara oko)

Atoko wa balẹ jẹ, sebi o wale wajẹ ’ifun ẹran ni.


1a If a hippopotamus behaves like a pig, it will lay waste a town; if a slave becomes king, not a single soul will remain.

1b It is a slave who calls himself a slave, wh ile an iwọfa calls himself an iwọfa; it is the son of the owner of the land who calls himself king. (It is a person’s behaviour that shows who he is.)

2 A rich man is never addressed as a common person while an iwọfa calls himself a man of substance.

(“agunmọtẹ” means tall, unbent, and stately looking. It is a nickname for wealthy men who also have a tall, commanding appearance.)

3a It is improper to know the husband of one’s offspring, and know her [his?] concubine as well.

3b A person who wants to be promiscuous must have a mat (for sleeping on), just as a devotee of Ogun (god of thunder) must trade in dogs (dogs are used as sacrifice to Ogun).

4a It is only a farmer who has no produce to sell who is impecunious; Orilowo sold guinea corn and bought a house.

4b A farmer who eats bread is cursed (“eats a curse with pounded yam”), after all it’s yams their fathers eat on the farm. (Proverb relates to people who live above their station in life, who become pretentious so that people may think they are getting on in life.)

4c It’s only when one is coming to the market for the first time that one carries a pounded-yam-filled mortar into the market in the broad daylight. (A novice behaves in very absurd ways.)

5. When a person comes from the rural area to misbehave in the town/city, he/she only comes to eat intestines of animals. (During festivities, when animals are slaughtered, intestines could be cooked and served to people. When a person becomes noticeable due to embarrassing behaviour, it is felt that such a person only appears for the entertainment—and rural dwellers are known for lack of protocol.)

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