Malagasy Proverbs

Dear Hope Nation,

Before the pandemic, I really liked to travel. While I’ve written extensively about a couple trips to England, my favorite geography to visit is desert. I’m not a big God guy, but I will say I feel closest to my best self when I’m wandering the desert, whether Californian, Arizonan, Nevadan or, I suspect, any other flat, dry, sandy place. Although Coronavirus makes travel impossible, I’d love to visit Algeria or Morocco and head out into the Sahara for a week or two. Even more, though, I’ve always wanted to visit Madagascar’s southwestern desert region. If people think of Madagascar at all, they likely remember it as a huge island to the east of Mozambique. If people think of Madagascar at all, they likely remember a DreamWorks move from 15 years ago, a film which featured, as I recall, a racoon, a rat, a horse, two skunks and a camel falling overboard off a ship and landing on Madagascar. Hilarity ensued; I imagine.

Another reason I want to visit Madagascar is my fascination with Malagasy, the language spoken on the island. Malagasy, unlike the languages of mainland Africa, is descended from Indonesian. Imagine that, at some point in the distant past, folks from Indonesia may have set off on a journey of more than 4,500 miles across the Indian Ocean. (I know, I know, Smartypants, those original inhabitants could have hopscotched around the edges of the ocean, landing in India, the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. Since we don’t know for sure, let me dream of Indonesian explorers in outrigger canoes traversing a transoceanic route.) However Malagasy got to Madagascar, the language contains some of the most beautiful, insightful and downright strange proverbs. For example:

“If it is not a boy it will be a girl,” says the fortune-teller.

A canoe does not know who is king. When it turns over, everyone gets wet.

Disgraced like a man whose own pet bites him.

A chicken that hatches a crocodile’s eggs is looking for trouble.

Don’t be so much in love that you can’t tell when it’s raining.

Don’t take a second mouthful before you have swallowed the first.

Don’t think there are no sharks because the water is calm.

From all the fish in the pot you can only make one soup.

Govern a country as you would roast a crocodile on a spit.

A starving crocodile is never pleasant.

Advice is a stranger; if he’s welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day.

An egg does not fight a rock.

As long as the mouse keeps still you can be sure that the cat stays on guard.

Be like the mouth and the hand: when the hand is hurt the mouth blows on it, when the mouth is hurt the hand rubs it.

By getting angry, you show you are wrong.

Cross in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.

Distracted by what is far away, he does not see his nose.

Divorce a young woman and you make another man happy.

Do not be like a miser who saves for those who will bury him.

Do not kick away the canoe which helped you to cross the river.

Done in by his own trade like a water merchant in the rain.

Flatters, like rats, tickle and then bite.

Friendship reminds us of fathers, love of mothers.

He is truly hungry who accepts defeat in a fight over meat.

If the hill is on fire the grasshoppers are roasted.

There is wisdom in those words, along with a bit of hilarity. What more can any of us ask for?

You Matter. I matter. We matter.


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