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Site Last Update: 11 Dec, 2019
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Profundity with Panache: The Unappreciated Proverbial Wisdom of Sub-Saharan Africa
By Dr. Stan Nussbaum

Published in Warren S. Brown, Understanding Wisdom: Sources, Science and Society (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000), pp. 35-55.

This article develops the thesis that the West has failed to grasp the wisdom of African proverbs for the same reason it originally failed to appreciate the polyrhythmic structure of African music-it did not fit Western categories and was judged to lack rhythm at all. The problem is traced through a table of contrasting Western and African values with respect to "wisdom":

WESTERN VALUE

AFRICAN VALUE

1. Metaphysics and epistemology

1. Ethics

2. Deduction

2. Intuition

3. Abstract thought

3. Illustration and communication

4. Written treatise

4. Oral maxim

5. Individual wisdom

5. Group wisdom

6. Elite wisdom

6. Common wisdom

7. New wisdom

7. Old wisdom

The contrasts are illustrated in a case study based on 30 African proverbs about foreigners and guests from the following countries: Angola, Benin, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. The author calls on the West to relativize its own view of wisdom rather than continue to use Western categories to dismiss "wisdom" in its African forms, one of which is proverbs. The article includes 22 helpful footnotes.

Dr. Stan Nussbaum
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

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