Conversation and Proverbs

        While the Ibo people respect people with great physical strength, the art of language is also greatly valued in their culture (7).  Utilizing language with skill and expertise is a praiseworthy talent in their society.  In particular, the use of proverbs in language was not only respectable, but neccessary in good conversation.  As Chinua Achebe states in his novel Things Fall Apart, "amoung the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten." (7)  Proverbs in Ibo culture are short sayings that have their roots in the morals of folk tales, or in their observations of everyday life.  Because of this, proverbs are used in conversation to justify one's thoughts and opinions, siting real life or moralistic examples to make their point.
        At social gatherings and meetings, the Ibo have an unique conversation pattern.  First, a visitor arrives and announces his reason for being there.  Then, the host and his visitor say a  prayer and break a kola nut, a typical invocation that starts most every gathering.  The two then proceed to talk about happenings in the villlage and their individual lives, much like a normal chat in today's culture.  It is only at the end of a gathering that the purpose of the meeting is addressed, and the conversation comes around full circle (6-7).  The Ibo people make a distinction between "speaking plainly" and talking in proverbs; typically, casual chats are spoken in plain language, while more serious conversations are spoken with careful word choice and proverbs to enhance their arguement (7).
        Flattering language also has its place in the festivals and events of the Ibo people.  One ceremony that involves this is the visitation of a suitor's family.  When a young man is of age to marry, he and his family travels to other villages to seek out a woman for him to marry.  Because language is so highly regarded in Ibo culture, and because each family wishes to please the other, this visitation is full of flattering language and carefully chosen words from either family (117).  This is a great example of the role that conversation and language plays in Ibo culture, and how revered of a skill it is in their lifestyle.
        Lastly, music plays an important role in communication among people in Ibo culture.  The Ibo people regard music as a vital part of communication, maybe even more so than in our culture.  The sharing of tunes among clan members, as well as members of outside clans, has become so important that music festivals where outsiders come and share their skill, sometimes for many days (4-5).  Music is also used frequently as a means of storytelling; just as we teach our children nursery rhymes at a young age, the Ibo tell stories to their children in the form of song (53, 99).  It is also important to note that the ekwe drum has its own language associated with it, as its drum beats represent words that it uses to make announcements to the people.  One such occasion is at the death of a clansmen; the ekwe will sound in the night to announce who exactly has passed on (120).  Thus, music in Ibo culture has a significant role in communication, which the Ibo regard as vital in society and praiseworthy as a talent.


 Folk Tales
        The Ibo people have a passion for story telling.  Ibo folk tales serve many purposes: they are used to explain why things are the way they are, explain how things used to be in their culture, and carry on the legacy of many famous people who used to live in their society.  The stories are used in social gatherings, and are also used among families to teach the children.  Indeed, most stories are told to children by their mothers and fathers, and get passed down from generation to generation as time goes on.
        The women in Ibo culture tell their children stories of the earth, life, and the nature of things.  These stories act as fables, usually ending with a moral to hold on to or simply an explanation of why things appear in nature as they do.  An example of this is the story of the tortoise's shell, where Tortoise tricks the birds into having him come along to a feast in the sky, where he acts selfishly that the birds decide to trick him back, causing him to fall from the sky feast and onto a pile of hard objects (96-99).  This story has a moralistic aspect of teaching children to not act selfishly; it also serves to explain why the tortioise's shell appears to be broken into pieces.  Such "women's stories" are taught to all children for them to have a sense of the world.  In contrast, the men of the family prefer for their sons to grow strong and fearless.  As the sons grow older, their fathers tell them "men's stories" about war and violence.  They tell their sons of their own personal acheivements in times of war, with the aim of inspiring them to grow hard and eager for action (53-54).  While the women teach of peace and the nature of the world, the men teach of strength and power.  Both values end up having their role in Ibo society, and therefore both need to be taught to the Ibo children in order to preserve their culture.
        The importace of music as a form of communication is evident in Ibo storytelling.  It is very common for folk tales to be sung, which helps the stories to become more memorable and enjoyable (53, 99).  Thus music has an even deeper importance in Ibo culture than it does in our own.
        For the most part, the folk tales that are told are similar all throughout the Ibo clans.  However, it is important to note that each clan puts its own flavor into these stories.  As culture and values evolve differently among the different clans, so do the emphasis and style of their stories (34).  The folk tales told by the Ibo people are a very prevalent part of their culture, and are wonderful artifacts for us to understand their values and beliefs.
        Ekwe Slit Drum Nigeria. Photograph. Baile's African Drum Works. Baile's African Drum Works, 2004. Web. 15 May 2012. <>.
Subpages (1): Proverbs in Ibo Culture