Wax soxu fetal la; su reccee, dabu ko wees. (Wolof)
La parole, c’est une charge de fusil, si elle s’echappe on ne peut pas la rattraper. (French)
Words are like bullets; if they escape, you can’t catch them again. (English)
Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use
Wolof is a language used in Senegal and The Gambia in West Africa by about 10 million people. The story goes that a Wolof man named Oumar was an apprentice to a mechanic. He fell in love with Mariama and asked her to marry him, but her father refused, saying that he didn’t want a “blue-collar” worker (that is, an ordinary worker) as a husband for her. He wanted someone that had gone to school like Mariama had and who at least had a diploma of some sort. Five years passed. Oumar went to France during that time, came back as a fully qualified mechanic and opened a mechanic’s shop. The father of Mariama, seeing that Oumar’s business was prospering, sent a friend to tell Oumar that Mariama still loved him and that he could now marry her. Oumar, quite vexed, responded that he had never gone to school and that he was still a blue-collar worker. He then added this proverb: Words are like bullets; if they escape, you can’t catch them again.
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
The Wolof people in Senegal and The Gambia teach that each person is responsible for his or her words. When one realizes that words can hurt and cannot easily be “taken back,” then more effort will be taken to speak words that are helpful. Being careful with the words that one speaks is the main value of this proverb. A person of good character is described as “dafa yaatu” in Wolof, or “one is wide.” An essential quality of a strong person, i.e., one who is wide, is that he or she makes allowances for others in their faults and weaknesses. A person with a wide soul or character is one who has control over himself and his or her tongue. A person of weak character is described as “dafa xat” or “one is narrow.” The narrow person is impatient, self-centered, inconsiderate of others and does not control his or her tongue.
Emotions are thought to have a fixed charge. Each emotion, positive or negative, consists of a certain quality, quantity and force. If anyone has anger, for example, he has a fixed amount of it. It only comes in one size or quantity. If, therefore, this person appears to be a little angry with one person and very angry with another person, it is assumed that the only difference in the amount of hatred is the amount that is apparent to others.
This concept of emotions has far-reaching implications in interpersonal and cross-cultural relations. For example, a little anger, disdain or disrespect shown by a foreigner in the Senegambia may be judged quite differently from what a foreigner would expect. Conversely, a little respect, goodwill, or expressed pleasure may receive a more positive reaction than one might expect. (Adapted from Peace is Everything by David E. Maranz)
Mrs. Carol Bornman