Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paper chaste

Creation: Spring & Easter
A wise man without a book is like a workman without tools. (Morocco)

Early man and woman were paperless. Cave walls were great for recording their thoughts, but definitely not mobile. Later, the Sumerians (ancestors of today’s Iraqis) stored their ideas on clay tablets that were heavy but movable with effort. Another disadvantage was that the tablets would break up and lose information.

The Egyptians created sheets from papyrus from which we get the word “paper”. The material came from a plant that grows on the banks of the Nile, and making the paper was difficult work. Jotting down ideas on the spur of the moment was not an option.

About two thousand years ago, the Chinese made paper from hemp. They soaked it, beat it to a pulp, and dried the mixture in a mold. Then they had sheets on which people could write. Paper took another thousand years to reach Europe, and became very popular when Gutenberg invented the printing press in the fifteenth century.

Until late in the nineteenth century, almost all documents (including the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence) were printed on hemp paper.

Cannabis, from which hemp is made, became illegal in 1937. The newspaper industry at that time decided that paper made from wood pulp was more economical. William Randolph Hearst of the Hearst Corporation had his own forests that he could cut down to make paper for his business, so his newspapers pushed a media campaign to criminalize cannabis.

Since hemp was outlawed, the US has effectively lost 70 per cent of its forests. So, like our ancestors, we seem on the way to being paperless again. Unless hemp inches its way back to being legal once more.

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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