Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Proverbs of the Senegambia" Review

I got a copy of "Proverbs of the Sene-Gambia", by Bamba and Mariama Khan, this morning. It's a beautiful little orange book, very well laid out, with a nice illustration of a xalam player on the cover. Inside is a brief introduction by the authors, then the proverbs start, numbered from 1 through 275, with about five on every page. The small size of the book is a great thing, making it easy to carry around and the whimsical font-face adds to the laid-back tone, letting you flip through at random, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The main problem I had with the book was the lack of attribution. In the preface the authors allude to certain resource persons they used for the different languages, which gives you the impression that they did their research well, and built up a database of proverbs before they started. My impression is that they collected these proverbs in their local language forms, then translated them into English for the book, which is certainly a laudable enterprise. However I felt it would have worked out better if they had also included the original proverbs in the local languages. They did this for one proverb only - the one on the front cover of the book - for the rest they went only with the English translations. This leaves me, as a speaker of Wolof, mentally trying to translate each proverb I read back to its original Wolof. Most proverbs have quite a bit of local color in them, and translating into English left this color behind in the local language, only carrying across a sense of the meaning (or what the authors thought were the meaning). Also, as the proverbs came from a variety of local languages, it would have been nice to know which tribe originated which proverb, allowing people to place them in context. I think this is something the authors should definitely look into, in a second edition.

Apart from that, it's a fantastic book. There are some beautiful sayings in here, which work in any language, such as:

"Walking barefeet for ages will in the end be like walking in shoes"

"The stranger does not know it when you cook for him the reserved coos that was stacked on top of the thatch"

"The person who is yet to cross the river must not laugh at the one who is about to drown"

You can pick up a copy of this book at Timbooktoo.

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