A Drummer's Testament
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Chapter I-15:  Proverbs and Praise-Names  <PDF file>

Why Dagbamba like proverbs; what proverbs add to living; how to understand proverbs; how people use proverbs as names; proverbial names and “praising”; introduction to the family; how drummers beat praise-names on their drums; where and how drumers use praise-names; the role of praising at community gathering; introduction to praise-names and dance beats

Paragraph outline and links
Proverbs and sayings
Dagbani words and other search terms

Supplementary material

Figures and lists

List of dances discussed in chapters I-15 through I-23  <PDF>
Yaa-Naas of Dagbon:  <PDF>
Alhaji Ibrahim's mother's line:  <PDF>
Alhaji Ibrahim's father's line:  <PDF>

praise-singer, Tamale
inviting a dancer with praise-drumming

Contents outline and links by paragraph  <top of page>


1.  drummers use sense to use proverbs for praise names and dances


2.  their characteristics and types
3.  meaning is not clear; doing its work involves interpreting it

Examples of proverbs and their meanings

4.  example:  “if a river is dry”:  interpreting the proverb; thinking and asking
5.  further explanation of the proverb; extended to someone with knowledge
6.  in custom, when give a proverb, do not show its meaning; person has to interpret
7.  why give proverbs; proverbs are two talks, different possible meanings
8.  example:  “people are talking”; two talks or meanings; good and bad
9.  further explanation:  John's reputation in Dagbon

Proverbs as indirect talk

10.  proverbs are not straightforward; need for patience to understand the reference
11.  indirect reference:  "bury a dead goat"
12.  "how is the market is not friendship" refers to greeting
13.  "stealing somebody's back" reference to gossiping
14.  "gather to bury shea nuts"
15.  proverb has many talks inside it; don't want to say something directly
16.  indirect talk for something you are shy to say

Proverbs make talk sweet

17.  proverb adds to talks
18.  proverbs give long thoughts; people like long thoughts
19.  proverbs show people sense
20.  the sense of proverbs can give a warning or advice; help people live correctly
21.  proverbs are for people with sense; have to hold the meaning

Drummers and proverbs

22.  drummers have proverbs; their sense started from worries and sadness as orphans
23.  drummers use proverbs to praise people, as a name to fit the person
24.  the name helps people know more about a person

Examples of praise names

25.  example:  how a proverb might apply to someone
26.  Nama-Naa Issahaku's name
27.  Alhaji Ibrahim's names

How praise names are beaten

28.  name can be spoken, sung, or beaten on drum; the drum can imitate the language
29.  many people can recognize their names when beaten on a drum
30.  drummers learn praising; different ways to beat names; singing while beating is difficult
31.  in addition to language, drumming has meaning in the reason why it is beaten

Learning to hear drum language

32.  people can ask to know the meaning of the drumming
33.  people learn to hear drumming talks to different extents; some chiefs learn it gradually; chiefs like Tolon-Naa Yakubu and Nanton-Naa Alaasani hear well because are close to drummers
34.  chiefs can learn it as princes; befriend and sit with drummers
35.  how a prince befriends a drummer to learn more
36.  the prince meets the drummer quietly in the night; doesn’t talk about what he learns
37.  a prince does not show his knowledge in public
38.  if such a prince becomes a chief, might even correct a drummer
39.  differences among chiefs; many do not know much; elders sit near and help them
40.  Alhaji Ibrahim wants John to learn to beat proverbs and to write down the drumming

Drumming in Hausa and Dagbani

41.  many proverbs are beaten as names; Hausa (Taachi) and Dagbani
42.  examples:  Hausa and Dagbani versions of the same proverbs
43.  Dagbamba proverbs that are beaten on a drum
44.  Hausa proverbs that are beaten on a drum

The benefits of praise names

45.  proverbial names enhance a person and also enhance the culture
46.  a name can hold a person back; drummers will correct it
47.  drummers praise a person with the grandfather’s name; enlightening

Praise names and family

48.  proverbs are old talks; proverbs are with everybody
49.  drummers keep alive the names of dead people within a family
50.  drummers know people’s families; family compared to a tree

Praise names and chieftaincy

51.  every Dagbana has a relationship to a line of chieftaincy
52.  a commoner comes from a chieftaincy line that has separated
53.  all Dagbamba have some relation to Yaa-Naa; even typical Dagbamba from Naa Niŋmitooni
54.  the “children” of Naa Nyaɣsi were not all his actual children
55.  if a prince marries a commoner, the child can become a chief
56.  chieftaincy lines mix and separate; many ways; can go to far ancestor, like drummers to Naa Nyaɣsi
57.  Alhaji’s mother’s side is Naa Siɣli; no longer a door to Yendi
58.  everyone is a chief’s grandchild; examples:  Naa Zoli, Savelugu-Naa Mahami

How drummers praise within a family

59.  when drummers praise people, they start with grandfather’s name; show person’s family line
60.  praise a commoner with praise-name of a chief; all the chiefs have lines; people know to varying extents
61.  drummers’ work:  praising and showing the family; makes people happy; get money as gift
62.  family can be traced to different origins; example:  Alhaji Ibrahim from Savelugu and Voggo

Praise names and knowledge of a family

64.  drummers know a person’s family to varying extents; compared to levels of schooling
65.  people learn about their family lines from praising
66.  praising and drumming always related to chieftaincy; chiefs and drummers are one
67.  the old talks (history) are behind both the chieftaincy and the drumming; not written

Praising at gatherings

68.  example:  praising at a funeral house
69.  how drummers praise people with proverbial names; excites people
70.  example:  man who killed his horse when praised
71.  at gatherings, drummers use praise to invite people to dance; dancers receive money from friends and relatives; drummers collect it
72.  gatherings are ways to help one another; go to funerals to support people; money makes support visible
73.  the giving of money, from talking truths about gathers and grandfathers
74.  people are happy at gatherings; hearing the good names of their forefathers
75.  when drummers don’t recognize someone; example:  Nyohinilana Pakpɔŋ pointed out to drummers, who then praised her
76.  people show themselves to the drummers
77.  other people will tell the drummers about a person; this showing oneself is not like bluffing
78.  gathering place:  people get to know one another and their families
79.  drummers also show the lower status of some people
80.  drummers can show the high standing of a quiet or shy person
81.  drummers show family relationships by using the same praises for different people
82.  sometimes relatives didn’t know their relationship unless drummers show them

Praising and sense

83.  drummers find appropriate names for people
84.  drummers use their knowledge to turn praise-drumming to dance beats
85.  Naa Mahamadu’s names
86.  using a name for dancing; can dance to a forefather’s name
87.  drummers have a lot of sense

Proverbs and Sayings  <top of page>

It is proverbs a person takes to do work.

If the river is dry, it is a shame to God.

“It doesn't matter”:  it matters.

People are asking about you.

A proverb is not a straightforward talk.

If your house goat dies, it is not you who is going to skin it.

It is because of a live goat that they bury a dead goat.
It is because of a live hunchback that they bury a dead hunchback. 

“How is your market” is not friendship.
“Welcome from the market” does not mean friendship.

When you are stealing somebody's back, you should look at your back.

If many of you gather to bury shea nuts, if you go to remove them, it is good that many of you go.
If you gather and bury shea nuts, it is good you gather again to remove them.

A proverb is one talk, but it has many talks.

A fool is not a blind person.

Don't bury me and leave the legs.

Proverbs make talk sweet.

Proverbs add sense to our talks.

Proverbs add to our way of living, and they add sense, and the give us long thoughts.

A person should think long thoughts and put them down for those behind. 

Everybody wants long thoughts, and that is the way of proverbs.

Proverbs are for everybody, and proverbs are for the person who has sense. 

A white horse is not an old horse.

If you see a person having a lot of sense, you should know that it is worry he has taken to get the sense. 

What God has put down. 
God has commanded and put something down, and what will you say?  You will say, “It will do.”

If your neighbor buys something and it pains you, you should also go and buy yours; it's in the store. 
If your friend buys something and it pains you, you should also buy it:  it is in the store. 

A fool doesn't know that things change. 
A foolish person doesn't know that things change, but a sensible person knows that things change. 

What a human being refuses, God will take it and make it well.

A fool has no one; beat him and you will see.

A rich man befriends a poor man; God gives a gift to one who does not have.

If they say you cannot do anything, something has not come to you. 
They say you cannot do anything; anything has not come to you. 

No matter how sweet soup is, if you don't take some salt and add it, the soup is going to be a useless soup. 

A lizard hides, and the head is red.

If your fellow person is crying and you are laughing, tomorrow you too will cry.

If you come to cross a river where there are oyster shells, it is better to be careful how you walk in the water than to divert your way. 

Your mouth talks too much, and so what is the use of you? 

They hate me and told lies about me. 

To fear trouble is better than to say, "What can they do to me?" 

A broom is not in the house, and the compound is dirty. 

What a cat sees and hides, if a dog sees it, everyone will hear of it. 
What a cat will see and keep quiet, if a dog sees it, he will come and beat it outside.

Water that lies still is bad water. 

Someone who has horns cannot enter a hole.

A tree that stands in mud doesn't fear water. 

Believing in God is better than believing in somebody. 

What can ants do to a stone?:  only lick it.

Different talks spoil a town; gather-and-say will repair a town.

 How a family is, it is like a tree standing outside with many branches.

Inside every commoner is the strength of chieftaincy, and the strength of chieftaincy is the commoner. 

An ex-serviceman does not keep away from the barracks. 

If we drummers were not in Dagbon here, by now the family would have been dead.

It is in chieftaincy that we drummers have strength, and it is in drumming that a chief has strength. 

We drummers and the chiefs are just like a calabash and its lid. 

 It is at the gathering place you have to show yourself and people will know you. 

If a woman has no buttocks but has beads, someone who has got buttocks cannot collect the beads from her. 

The person who doesn't have life is the one who cannot do something.

Patience gets everything, but annoyance gets nothing.

They are late, and nothing is there.

Tomorrow is medicine.

Key words for ASCII searches  <top of page>

Chiefs and elders

Naa Abdulai
Naa Abila Bila
Naa Alaasani
Naa Andani Jengbarga  (Naa Andani Jɛŋgbarga)
Naa Garba
Naa Kulunku  (Naa Ziblim Kulunku)
Naa Luro
Naa Mahama Kpema  (Naa Mahama Kpɛma)
Naa Mahamadu
Naa Mahami
Naa Ninmitooni  (Naa Niŋmitooni)
Naa Nyagsi  (Naa Nyaɣsi)
Naa Sigli  (Naa Siɣli)
Naa Simaani (Naa Simaani Zoli)
Naa Tutugri  (Naa Tutuɣri)
Naa Yakuba
Naa Zolgu  (Naa Zɔlgu)
Naa Zagli  (Naa Zaɣli)
Naa Zanjina
Naa Ziblim Bandamda
Naa Ziblim Kulunku  (Naa Kulunku)
Naa Zoli  (Naa Simaani Zoli)

Other titled persons
Dalunlana Blemah
Nanton-Naa Alaasani
Nyohinilana Pakpon  (Nyohihilana Pakpɔŋ)
Savelugu-Naa Alhassan
Savelugu-Naa Bukari Kantampara
Savelugu-Naa Mahami
Singlana Aduna
Tolon-Naa Yakubu
Zoggolana Dasana
Zugulana Ali

Proverbs and names

A kpee yi da ka di bier' a feere ni  (A kpee yi da ka di biɛr' a feere ni)
A kpee yi kumdi ka a lara a gba sa ni kum biegu  (A kpee yi kumdi ka a lara a gba sa ni kum biɛɣu)
A noli yagiya a bukaata  (A noli yaɣiya a bukaata)
Abura kafu beeshika laami
Be je ma mi nmo m-pa ma pa la simli a mi nyin' da di be feere ni (Bɛ jɛ ma mi ŋmo m-pa ma pa la simli a mi nyin' da di be feere ni)
Be yi ye' ni a ku nin sheli sheli m-bi paag'a (Bɛ yi yɛ' ni a ku niŋ shɛli shɛli m-bi paag'a)
Be yoli yelgu  (Bɛ yoli yɛlgu)
Be yoli yelgu ka sheli kani  (Bɛ yoli yɛlgu ka shɛli kani)
Bundana lagi nandan' zori Naawuni ti kalana pini  (Bundana laɣi nandan' zori Naawuni ti kalana pini)
Jenkuno yi nya sheli ka zan sogi baa nun' yi nya li sokam wumdimi baa nun' yi nya o nmer moli
    (Jɛnkuno yi nya shɛli ka zaŋ sɔɣi baa ŋun' yi nya li sokam wumdimi baa ŋun' yi nya o ŋmɛr moli)
Jergu zhi ni yela tagra  (Jɛrgu ʒi ni yɛla taɣra)
Jergu ka so nmen' o ka a nya  (Jɛrgu ka so ŋmɛn' o ka a nya)
Kom do chichi ko' biegu m-bala  (Kom dɔ chichi ko' biɛɣu m-bala)
N danwanka yi naa kuuka ka naa dalia goobe kee ma kaa kuuka
"N'a daa" pa la simli
Naawuni zalgu
Ninsal' nun kon yevili nun nku tooi nin sheli  (Ninsal' ŋun kɔŋ yɛvili ŋun nku tooi nin shɛli)
Ninsal' ni zagsi sheli ka Naawuni pihi m-maanda  (Ninsal' ni zaɣsi shɛli ka Naawuni pihi m-maanda)
Nyirkogulana m-mali o limli so bi deera  (Nyirkɔɣulana m-mali o limli so bi deera)
Sogu ka yina ka dundon tari  (Sɔɣu ka yiŋa ka dundɔŋ tari)
Suglo mal' nyori sul' ka sheli  (Suɣlo mal' nyori sul' ka shɛli)
Yeda Allah yaafi yedan koowa  (Yɛda Allah yaafi yɛdan koowa)
Yaayaa kuda kan yi da duusi shee laasa
Yitaache fadama bee sooro lua
Zom' yela n-gari be ni nin a bo  (Zɔm' yɛla n-gari bɛ ni niŋ a bɔ)
Zama kulga
Zama kulga banmi sigibu n-gari logbu  (Zama kulga baŋmi siɣibu n-gari loɣbu)

Musical terms and drum chiefs
Bangumana  (Baŋgumaŋa)
Bizun  (Bizuŋ)
Lunzhegu  (Lunʒɛɣu)
Namo-Naa Issahaku

Names and people

Towns and places

Cultural groups
Dagbamba, Dagbana

Miscellaneous terms
Dagban' sabli
Holy Prophet Muhammad
Muslim, Muslims
Naa Nyagsi bia  (Naa Nyaɣsi bia)
pakpon  (pakpɔŋ)