Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Efik story: creation and freedom to choose

Creation: Spring & Easter
If you rely on someone else's soup pot, you go to bed hungry. (Ghana)

According to the Efik people of Nigeria, their creator-god Abassi, made the first man and woman. At first, all lived in heaven.

“They must remain here with me,” Abassi said to his wife Atai. “Forever.”

“But you have made earth so grand," Atai said, “that one man and one woman will have more than enough room there. Heaven is for gods.”

“But when they think I can't see them,” Abassi said, “ They will do exactly what they like. They will forget about all I have done for them.”

“You were the one who insisted on giving them freedom to choose,” Atai said, “Now you must be satisfied with what they decide to do.”

Abassi and Atai argued some more, and finally Abassi gave in.

“Let me remind you, dear Atai, that this is your idea. So any problems will be yours to solve. By yourself.”

Still, Abassi tried to stay in control. He gave the man and the woman strict rules. They could not grow food or hunt animals. They had to eat all their meals with him so he could always keep track of what they were doing. Most of all, they could not have sex and so could not increase their numbers.

The earth was fertile, and seeds grew where they fell. The woman started to grow food so she and the man could eat what they wanted, when they wanted, and where they wanted. The man and the woman were so happy not to have to depend on Abassi that they stopped showing up in heaven for meals.

The man started to help the woman in the fields, and one thing led to another. Before long, the man and the woman had a family, and all their attention was on their life on earth.

“I told you this would happen,” Abassi said to Atai. “They are so happy now that they have forgotten that I gave them life. Next thing they will think they are as wise and strong as me.”

“Hmmm.... They are certainly acting as if they know it all," Atai said.

“I shouldn’t have listened to you.”

“And when did you ever do anything that you didn’t want to do in the first place?" Atai asked. “You could have dried up the earth and forced them to come back to heaven to eat.”

“No matter what you say, this is your fault,” Abassi said. “Man and woman now have children and grandchildren. They are so happy with each other that they don’t even listen to me no matter how loudly I speak.”

"Could you be jealous?" Atai asked.

"Of course not," Abassi said. "But if they find so much joy on earth, none of them will need to come to heaven."

Atai thought about that for a while. She and Abassi had positions to maintain and space in heaven to fill.

“Not to worry,” Atai said. “I will fix it so men and women will beg to return to heaven.”

So Atai sent death to earth so people would have to lose their lives in order to re-enter heaven. She also sent discord to keep men and women fussing and quarreling and pleading every day with Abassi to help them find peace.

Abassi missed the days when the man and woman lived happily with him in heaven, but Atai's solution once again put him in control of earth as well as heaven.

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at