Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gourd - source of Taino life

Creation: Spring & Easter
However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source. (Yoruba)

According to a Taino creation story, Yaya, the Great Creator, kills his son Yayael whom he loves but whom he fears may replace him. Yaya puts the bones in a gourd that he hangs on the roof of his house. But he misses his son, and asks his wife to take down the gourd so he can see Yayael again. They find that the bones have become large and small fish, and they decide to eat the fish to sustain themselves.

Deminan and his three brothers visit Yaya. The four are quadruplets, two sets of twins born to virgin goddess Itiba Cahubaba. She died before they were born, and they were cut from her womb.

The brothers walk on the clouds and over the blue skies of the Caribbean. They visit Yaya's house in his absence, and discover the gourd hanging from the roof. They begin to eat the fish from the gourd, and try to hang up the gourd when they hear Yaya returning home. They fumble and the gourd falls to the earth. It breaks and lets out enough water and fish to create seas and oceans.

The brothers use the two halves of the gourd as canoes, and they travel across the waters. They use turtle shells to create islands, clay and stars to create men, and river manatee to create women. Some also say Deminan had children with a sea turtle, and these became the first human beings.

Other Taino people say human beings came from two caves that were always dark. One day the guardian forgot to close the caves, and the humans escaped into light from the sun. The sun captured some of these people and turned them into plants, and birds.

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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