The Graceful Walk

Authored by: Chris Abani

The Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415736411
eBook ISBN: 9781315778372
Adobe ISBN: 9781317696285


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Culture of the mind must be subservient to the heart.

Mahatma Gandhi

If the sand on the road to Ijesha can be used to teach a child to walk, it can be used to teach us all to walk gracefully.

Yoruba proverb
I grew up in a culture rife with proverbs. Proverbs, as the famed Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said, are the palm oil with which words are eaten – referring, no doubt, to the ways in which proverbs, and their reliance on pun, wit, and referential thinking, create play with and within language. Proverbs, while seen as part of play within language in West African culture, are simultaneously the mark of a full-grown adult from a child. To speak well, as the Igbo say, is to have a good character, because it means you are always thinking. In West Africa, good character and all its attendant values are seen as a product of proper and purposeful living, which is considered to have its root in thinking. In fact, the Yoruba word for human is Eniyan, the thinking ones. The idea that a proper command of speech, and therefore of language, is essential to one’s character is an interesting idea.

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