Imagery In Etsako Proverbs – Complete project material




The main purpose of this research is to closely and critical examine the use of imagery in Etsako proverbs. The use of imagery in Etsako proverbs is highly functional and therefore highly optionized in the imagery. Etsako proverbs are made solid and concrete through the use of imagery which tends to intensify the application and meaning of the proverbs.


The study is divided into five chapters the first chapter is the introduction, background of the Etsako people and some literature review. The second chapter takes a look at concrete imagery in Etsako proverbs. The third chapter explores abstract imagery in Etsako proverbs. The forth chapter analyzes sensory imagery in Etsako proverbs and other literary devices. The fifth chapter is the summary of the essay and the evaluation of the significance of proverbs in Etsako community.


In this research, imagery in Etsako proverbs will be recorded in its actual use and most of the information will be will be based on oral evidence because it will involved field work research and library research.


The Social Cultural Organization of Etsako Community

According to Chief Felix odior, in an interview, he says that “the strength, unity and continuity of the socio-cultural set up of the people are built on the age grade system” (interview). The individual not only had his role fixed by the system, he is also a single but integral part of a complex whole. Ruing is a collective responsibility (interview).1

In an interview with Aluagbaya Imoso, he says that the social organization ranges from “Ape” – family, “Ede” – quarter, to the village council. According to Imoso, “Ape” – the family unit is the smallest unit in the social set up in Etsako. The man at the helm of affairs is known as “Erama” meaning father or head of the home. The “Erama” settles quarrels and dispute among the family, appeases the gods towards misfortune and prays for blessing and protection for his family.

Furthermore, Imoso says that the “Ede” consist of many families which constitute at extended family. The oldest man in the quarter is the “Erama – no Khua”. The Erama – no khua controls and makes final decisions in any quarters meeting. He is responsible for the welfare of the people in the quarter. He further says that the Erama – no khua organizes and pays the dowry on a wife to be married by any son in the quarter. He gives names to children born into the family.

Imoso says that Etsako community comprises of three clans (Etsako West, Etsako Central and Etsako East). All these quarters have their representatives in the village council with the Chief of the helm of affairs. Other members of this council include the “Ede n’ Edie” and the four oldest men in the village. He also says that the council performs both administrative and religious responsibilities of the village. It’s verdicts on any matter in the village is final. All matters that cannot be amicably solved at the quarter level are referred to the council for proper deliberation and judgment. Defaulter of law and orders are severely punished (interview).2

Historical and Geographical Location

Historical account claimed that the Etsako people (Afemai) migrated from Benin, during the tyrannical rule of Oba Ewuare, who as the greatest warrior legend and most outstanding King in the history of Benin Empire. The title “Ewuare (Oworuare) meaning it is cool or the trouble has ceased” and as a result of the war is over. The title symbolizes an epoch of reconciliation, reconstruction and the return of peace among the warring factions in Benin between 1435 – 1440 AD (Wikipedia).

According to Chief Edward O. Erhagbe, in an interview, he says that Etsako people are located in the Northern part of Edo State when the “Kukuruku Division” was established in 1919 as an administrative unit in the former Benin province, Etsako district was one of the three districts included in it. The clans that make-up Etsako are presently distributed among three local government areas:

Etsako West

Etsako Central

Etsako East

The 1919 Federal Census Figures shows that Etsako clan occupies an area of approximately 100 square miles with a population of 264,509 approximately. (Interview).3


The main occupation of the Etsako people is farming. Farming has always been a major source of livelihood for the people. Food crops such as maize, yam, cassava, groundnut, etc are produced by the people. Etsako people are peasant farmers who leave for their farm at dawn to return at dusk (in the dark). They spend a lot of time in their farm because it is their source of food.

During the day, the town often looks deserted with men gone to farm and children to school. Only the women are seen of groundnut, peeling cassava to fry as “garri” and all sorts of related chores. Few of the people also engage in hunting as a subsidiary occupation while some others mostly the men are involved in palm wine tapping. (Interview with Agbomekhe Inanape).4

Religion/Cultural Belief

The Etsako people are Christian, Muslims and Traditional worshippers.

According to Mohmoh Ogedegbe in an interview, says that the Etsako people from the earliest time evolved a traditional religion which was essentially based on the worship of idols and deities. The people had a general belief in a supernatural being that they referred to as “Osivegba” – God. They were monotheistic (the doctrine that there is only one God) in that they believed in existence of a supreme Being a “High God” who created himself, other gods and the world. But this religion may also be said to have being polytheistic (the belief in or worship of more than one God) in that there are numbers of spirits or lesser divinities that were believed to stand and mediate between the individual and the High God.

The most senior of the Elders (Itadi) acts as the custodian of the culture, taboos and tradition of the people. They worship the ancestral spirits on behalf of the people. They consult Oracle and offer communal sacrifices to solicit and appease the ancestral gods for the welfare of the people. Meanwhile the Itali performs the priestly and judicial function.

Moreover, Mohmoh says that routine of sacrifices were offered at various location or shrines which were believed to house their deities. These intermediary spirit were frequently involved in rituals to determine the wishes of God or some powerful spirits.

There is also the belief in the Christian doctrine and Islam. So now the people no longer speak with one voice in matters that deals with rituals. There is now a sharp division between the adherent of African traditional religion, Christianity and Islamism and they no longer speak with one voice.

In Etsako today, Christianity is now a great threat to the indigenous (native) religion). (Interview).5

Oral Literature

According to Ruth Finegan, in her Oral Literature in Africa, oral literature is by definition “dependent on a performer who formulates his words on a specific occasion”.

According to F.B.O. Akporobaro, in his Introduction to African Oral Literature, he defines Oral literature as the heritage of imaginative verbal creations, stories, folk beliefs and songs of pre-literate societies which have been evolved and passed on through the spoken word from one generation to another. His variant definitions of Oral literature are;

The corpus of artistically significant verbal expressions evolved by a group of people and transmitted orally from one generation to another.

The creative expression (such as folk tales, myths and proverbs and songs) composed in traditional or primitive societies and passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth.

The totality of verbal expressive forms and beliefs evolved in tribal societies for social entertainment and fro the ordering of society and passed on orally from one generation to another.

The imaginative compositions distinguished by their beauty of forms of expressions and local ideas developed over the years by a people and handed down from one generation to another by words of mouth

Songs, stories, beliefs and legends which have artistic merit and cultural values and which form the cultural traditions of a people and are usually handed down from one generation to another.

The unwritten traditions of a nation their religious beliefs, stories, myths and legends which express the artistic life and moral beliefs of the people.

According to Chief Felix Odior in an interview, he says that Oral Literature in Etsako community can be classified into major genres and minor genres. The major genres have three parts which are oral narratives, oral poetry and traditional drama. The minor genres consist of proverbs and riddles. (Interview).Major Genres

Chief Odior further says that “A majority of the narrative in Etsako are told in the evening after a hard day work”. This is done for relaxation and entertainment (interview). These stories are usually told by an oral artist who is usually and elder in the community or an elderly member in the family. (Interview). Oral narratives in Etsako community can be divided into three sub-groups namely; myths, legends and folktales.

In Etsako, myths (Okhakekan) are stories that are usually sacred and associated with religious. Odior says that they are usually set in the remote past, they feature supernatural beings and are often believed to be true and held sacred by the Etsako people. An example of myths in Etsako is the story of “How Snake Lost his Legs”.

Legend – (Okha Arevbose)

Legendary stories in Etsako are like M.H. Abrahams says that the protagonist is usually a person rather than a supernatural being. Chief Odior says that they tell the deeds of founding fathers, exploits of heroes and worriors; of migration etc. these tales are regarded as historical and believed by the people as true. An example is “Azima the Brave Warrior” (interview).6

Folktales – (Okha Umaranmwe); are imaginative and functional stories. They are told primarily for entertainment and instructions. Animal and human characters feature in folktales.

In an interview with Aluagbaya Imoso, he says that “Etsako folktales are fictions prose narrative which recounts the adventure of trickster’s animals, human beings, objects and gods”. An example is the excessive greed of the Tortoise, his cleverness and his subsequent punishment (interview).7

Oral Poetry – (Okharha): The term oral poetry refers to a wide variety of expressions which have poetic qualities. These forms of expressions could be songs, chants or incantations. Oral poetry in Etsako is classified into many forms. The common classification of Etsako oral poetry are Lullaby, dirges (funeral), war songs (special purpose), marriage songs, festival songs and panegyric. (in an interview with Aluagbaya Imoso).8

Lullaby: Lullabies are poems rendered in a soft and gentle manner to lure a baby to sleep or stop the baby from crying. For example: Owime (omomo) kha ge vie (baby don’t cry).

Festival Songs (Ihuan Ugie): Festival songs which are mostly sung during festival periods to thank the ancestors connected with the festivals. For example Esie festival (yam gestival) Otu festival (age mate), Ine festival and Uneme festival.

Panegyric (praise) song (Urhomwen): Is the type of court poetry and it is one of the most developed and elaborated poetic genres in Africa for example; Ai mien onwa no ye vbe rue.

Marriage Song (Ihuan Orhonmwe): Marriage song are sung when a girl is given out in marriage, it could be song on the day of paying bride price as well as on the wedding day and excursion day. The song becomes very interesting and meaningful if the girl is beautiful, a virgin and of a good behavior.

War Song (Ihuan Iubiyokuo): War Songs are rendered in Etsako to inspire the warriors. The songs make them bold and very courageous. War songs may also be rendered during a festival to mimic past war heroes who went to fight in defence of their communities and clans.

Dirges/Funeral (Aron): A dirge expresses grief on the occasion of some one’s death. It is short, less formal and is usually represented as a text to be sung. A dirge in Etsako is sung to mourn the death and it is rendered during the funeral of the deceased.

Satiric (Otagie): Satirical songs are used either to correct or to mock. This song are sung to satirize neighbours, co-wives, mates and even husbands when there is a misunderstanding between them.

Traditional Drama (Ikuarre): According to Aristotle, drama is “imitated human action”. This means that what is acted on stage mirrors human traits or society. Traditional drama like other forms of literature is a product of the people’s culture.

Traditional Etsako drama includes various festivals, ceremonies, ritual displays, harvest, marriages, coronations, seasonal changes and religious festivals. They entails the introduction into life’s normal pursuit with dominant element of impersonation of role playing.


Proverbs (Itan): Proverbs may be defined as short, apt and pithy saying which have a deeper meaning than is obvious at the surface level. Proverbs are generally used by elders and economy of words. For example: Atsu uno ma lo sone (unity is strength)

Riddles (Irror): Riddles takes the form of question and answer. Riddles are based on analogy of sound, shape, size, colour, taste and movement. Riddle is a form of entertainment which causes amusement among the youth and children. For example: Tell me who is beating drum on my roof? Etsako = Guwemi me oya oni oya kpe ema e okwi owa natseme.

Tongue Twister (Ifiaranmwen): It is an attempt to express idea by repeating sound vowels and consonants. To make the utterance musical, rhythmic and interesting, the performer is required to be vast in Etsako language to combine those words effectively. For example: A plantain planer, planted a plantain in a plantain plantation. Etsako – Ogbe ogede ogbe ogede o Eme nati Ogede.

Etasako Political Administration of Etsako: According to Omogbai Aleogena, in an interview, says that “there is no clear cut division between t4he political and administrative function in the traditional setting” (interview).9 The Administration was the collective responsibility of all, with individual being entrusted with specific functions specially based on age.

Basically, councils were formed of the oldest members in each unit for supervising their affairs. As already mentioned, the position of the head of the council was reserved for the oldest man in Etsako Community (interview).10

Furthermore, Omogbai asserts that in the pre-colonial period, they embraced the traditional government in which the elders had a great say. This all levels of administration in Etsako, there existed various councils of elders who at all times acted as moderators and their orders were directed to the promotion of peace and prosperity.

In each kindred, the four eldest males Edior n’ Edie formed the traditional council which interpreted the customary law. These customary laws were made by a council known as “Ekwe” which was summoned at the instance of the oldest man. The customary laws dealt with matters bordering the funerals, inheritance, murder, arson, marriage, fundamental human rights and traditional festival (interview).11

The elders also dealt with the duties and obligations of the citizens. Besides the customary laws, the Okphe-ukpi (the different leaders of each age group) and his council of ministers “Iduerho” could make social law that deal with petty stealing, land ownership, unguarded utterance or malicious gossips. The Ukpe-Ukpi was not expected to be a dictator because the elders controlled his decisions (interview).12

However, Omogbai believes that the main principles that under lay the judicial system of the people was that of arbitration by a council embracing the units of disputants. Where a compromise could not be achieved at the first level, the case referred to the next higher unit and soon to the highest functioning unit (interview).13

A.E. Erhagbe says that in judicial matter, all cases of customary practices were usually referred to the four eldest persons in each of the kindreds. They usually imposed such fines as a goat or fowl to appease the ancestors most especially in cases of adultery or willful murder (interview).14

Finally, A.E. Erhagbe adds that in cases of Chief or theft offenders were expected to pay back the stolen article. In case of murder, the offenders were usually punished by hanging in a market places, to act as deterrent to others (interview).15

Such were the laws interpreted by the four oldest men in each of the kindred of Etsako.


There have been a variety of definitions of proverbs and imagery by various writers of various times; the variety in definitions has resulted into a non-definite definition of proverbs.

Proverbs are parts of every African spoken language and are related to such other forms of folk literatures as riddles and fables that have originated in oral tradition.

Ogbala, F. and Emenajo, N. defines proverbs ‘as a terse statement which figuratively give expression to the point of traditional wisdom relevant to given situation”. These two writer propose three levels of meanings in most African proverbs and they are literary, philosophical and contextual levels.

Krappe, Alexandra H. in his book entitled, The Science of Folklore defines proverbs as “something which represent which represents in its essential form, some homely truth expressed in a concise and terse manner so as to recommend itself to a more or less extended circle”. It is important to analyze figurative speech proverbs in collation to the content of use in order to enhance proper understanding and interpretation.

Another review of proverbs is the one by A.E. Erhabe in Itan-Edo Etsako proverbs and their meaning in English. The Etsako community is rich in culture and cannot be controverter. A part of a people culture is their language. A.E. Erhagbe thus attempts to put down some of these rich proverbs for the benefit of the present and future generations. To make it easier for the natives and non-natives to learn the proverbs, he gave the English equivalents are not necessarily exact translations, but close meaning.16

The over two hundred (200) proverbs are arranged in alphabetical order. Some examples are:

English = No smoke without fire

Etsako = Ai mie ewo gheti era or yorEnglish = The way to success if not smooth

Etsako – Armie ughe nati okhai oni armie eche yorAccording to M.E. Omijeh in his article of “Etsako proverbs, he says that proverbs are indispensable in conversation, discussion or in supporting one’s arguments”. In village meetings, a speaker invariably follows up each idea with a proverbs, and they never become too many or monotonous…as the most impressive and effective method for expressing one’s ideas and feelings.

Ruth Finnegan shares the view that “proverbs are rich source of imagery and succinct expression in which more elaborate forms can draw”. Although she further confesses the fact that the exact definition is no easy matter, yet she says, “there is however some general agreement as to what constitute a proverb. It is a saying in more or less fixed form marked by shortness, sense and though distinguished by the popular acceptance of the truth tersely expressed in it (393).

Proverbs also have been defined as “an aphorism, a wise saying based upon people’s experience and his reflection of the social values and sensibility of the people (105).

In conclusion, proverbs may embrace moral embedded metaphors, illustrate anecdotes, parables, when used to drive home a moral in ongoing discourse. It is full of advice, meaning and humour. It tries to correct ills of the society.

Imagery: Imagery has been defined by various people of all ages.

According to Holman, C.H., Imagery in its literary sense means the collection of images within a work or a unit of literary works. In a broader sense, it is used synonymous with TROPE or FIGURE OF SPEECH (24).

Rene Wellek and Austine Warren asked in their book, Theory of Literature, “is there any important sense in which ‘symbol’ differ from ‘imagery?” they think, in the recurrence and persistence of invollked once as a ‘metaphor’ but if persistently recurs, both as presentation and representation, it becomes a symbol, may even becomes part of symbolic system (187 – 189).

Another definition is given by C. Day Lewis. He tells us that “an image is a picture made out of words (17 – 18). David White also tells us that “it is by words that things come into being” (29). Ezra Pound asserts that “poetry is a dance among words and picks his images. Poetic image may be described as all methods of making the kind of statement by which one thing is perceived as resembling another. We shall also like to examine R.N. Egudu’s definition of the image. According to him, an image is a metal picture created by a writer by means of words he uses (29).

Imagery therefore are collection of images to create a mental picture through the use of words.


Many people have contributed their views as to what they think proverbs and imagery is, according to Ogbalu and Co-edely to express a point in a given situation. He looked at it from philosophical and textual level. Krappes view is that proverbs is some homely truth expressed in a concise and terse manner. J.O.U. Odiase simply classified it as a part of Etsako (Edo) rich culture. While Ruth Finnegan in her book view proverbs as rich source of imagery and succinct expression. Prof. F.B.O. Akporobaro also shares the same view with others. According to him, proverbs are wise saying which is based upon people’s experience in revealing the people’s culture – belief and their general outlook on life. R.N. Egudu viewed imagery as mental picture.

However, we find that imagery is a major vehicle utilized by proverbs in discourse and one of the main tools for driving home the points intended.


This essay shows that Etsako proverbs are realized through the use of concrete imagery, abstract imagery, sensory imagery and figurative language.


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