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Ségou Villages: The Wisdom of Bambara Proverbs

There is much wisdom in traditional Bambara proverbs, something that the blogger Oumar Dembélé from the Rising Voices grantee project Ségou Villages Connection shares on the Ségou Infos Blog [fr]:

 Si le veau ne reconnait pas le lion comme animal féroce, la vache le sait bien.

If the calf does not recognize the lion as a ferocious animal, the cow knows very well.

The above mentioned proverb that refers to the wisdom of the more experienced animal can be found originally in the Bambara language, which is also a national language of Mali. Bambara is also the most widely understood language in the country, considered as lingua franca. Written Bambara was introduced during the French occupation and literacy is still very limited. The language is heavily influenced by French, and even the slightest knowledge of French will make it easier to remember words. If you don't remember a word you can try to use the French word.

Proverbs help to understand a culture or civilization, and there are some well-known Bambara proverbs available online.

ji ma masa dɔn

Literally: Water doesn't recognize a king – Meaning: The current can take down anyone who doesn't know how to swim, irrespective of his social status.

tulon-ka-yɛlɛ bɛ dugu diya

Meaning: Laughter makes life more pleasant in the village.

N’i ye diɲɛ yaala, n’i ma fɛn sɔrɔ, i na fɛn caman dɔn.

Meaning: If you travel the world, even if you gain nothing, you will still learn many things.

To read other proverbs on Twitter, click here and here. The blog Maneno Matamu also takes a look at the same proverb across different African languages, including Bambara, which:

has a proverb which matches the French saying word for word, at least according to the online dictionnary bambara.org :

Dɔɔnin-dɔɔnin, kɔnɔnin bɛ a ɲaa da
Literally : « Little by little, the bird builds its nest »

While Bambara's presence online is still modest, there is some use of it on social media platforms. For example, Boukary Konaté, who is also the coordinator of the Ségou Villages Connection project, writes his personal blog in both French and his native language. He also tweets in Bambara, as we can see in these exchanges with Phil Paoletta (@philinthe_).

For those wishing to know more about Bambara or to learn a few words or phrases, Wikitravel offers a phrasebook and Wikibooks [fr] offers a phrase book and beginner lessons [fr]. There is also an online Bambara-French-English dictionary available.

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