Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Preventing injury from sharpened knives

Being involved in conspiracy can backfire; too much sharpening of the knife can result in cutting oneself. (Ethiopia)

Dear Zayda,

Families can choose to be happy. On the other hand, they risk unhappiness when they allow anything to turn them against each other. Some of the worst wars occur when family members sharpen knives for each other.

Sometimes children get caught up when those they love begin cutting each other. As a child, you will find it difficult to tell the grownups to behave themselves and not bring you into their quarrels. It will probably be easier to go along with those who are closest to you, those whom you think you need most to protect you. But warring adults seem to forget that sharp knives will cut even a small child who has nothing to do with the war.

You can expect people you love to have differences. Sometimes they differences can be so deep, that these people may stop talking to each other. They may want to have you on their side. When you are little, you may have no choice but to believe what adults say about each other. However, as you grow older, you will need to learn to trust yourself and make your own judgments. One important way to judge is not to judge at all until you can hear all sides of the story.

People sharpen knives for each other for many reasons. They may be afraid of those who look or act different; they may be jealous of someone who is popular; they may be afraid of someone who seems to have power. Many times, in families, the knives come out over land and money.

When I was a child, my dad didn’t have much money. He didn’t seem to be able to hold on to jobs and keep his pride as a Black man. And he didn’t seem to have much luck doing business (shop keeping, farming) on his own. He always loved the land, and he began to make money when he went into real estate. Life was hard when he was struggling to pay the bills, but in those years he and his siblings were close. For example, my father, his four sisters and their families would meet at least three times over the Christmas Season. We would come together at one home for Christmas dinner and at another home on Boxing Day. On the first Sunday of each year, we would all meet in Bellas Gate where my father and his sisters were born. The ritual fell apart when the family as a whole seemed better off.

There may have been many reasons for the splitting up of the family, but money features as a reason that knives started to be sharpened. I need you to note that money can also bring a family together, and we could do more of that in Black families. Instead, too often we cut ourselves by not working together for the good of all of us.

I often got caught in the middle of the conspiracies. If I refused to join in sharpening knives, one side or the other would decide I could not be trusted. Some knives would then be sharpened against me. You can see what a mess this can make. It is interesting that sometimes when family members wanted to put down a knife, they would come to me to ask me to help to make peace.

No matter what, the sharpened knives would cause hurt. I wanted my mother’s parents to be at my wedding, but that meant one side had to put down their knives for that day. By the time I persuaded the fighters to have a truce, the wedding date had almost arrived. My grandparents thanked me for the invitation when they finally got it, but decided not to attend my wedding. I knew they loved me, but they didn’t want to feel they were walking into a war to get to the wedding. So the sharpened knives can cut even those who are trying to end the quarrel.

So, grandniece, try as best you can to stay away from those who sharpen knives for others. Keeping your heart loving and peaceful might not always be easy, but it will be your best protection.


Your shangazi

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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.

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