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African Proverbs as a Form of Epistemology

The Yoruba of Nigeria attest to the value of proverbs with a saying: “A proverb is the horse that can carry one swiftly to the discovery of ideas.” Epistemology is about ideas and, specifically, how we come to know. Proverbs are part of the everyday communication ritual in communities. One cannot listen to a conversation between an African elder and a youth go on for long without the utterance of a proverb. Proverbs constitute not only the mainstay of local “philosophic sagacity” but also the linguistic and cultural vocabulary used by communities, again particularly African elders, to affirm their knowledge and wisdom of societal affairs. The respect, power, and authority of elders in communities are tied to their knowledge of local proverbs. Being knowledgeable ...

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