Thursday, February 1, 2018

Engan Proverbs

The first time that I visited the Enga Cultural Center, I was fascinated as I read some of the traditional Engan proverbs on display. The short, pithy sayings communicate truths not only about traditional life in Enga, but also about life in general. Let me give you some examples. The proverb, “With words alone nothing is done,” communicates the reality that “talk is cheap,” and action is required to actually get anything accomplished. The proverb, “When an opossum is sitting in the tree, don’t say that you are going to eat it,” is similar to our saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” and communicates that it is not wise to make plans that are based on something that hasn’t actually happened yet. The proverb, “Pigs are bound with rope; men are bound with words,” reminds me of the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and communicates that words can be more powerful than brute strength when it comes to dealing with people. 
Some Engan proverbs on display at the Enga Cultural Center
While I am always interested to ponder these proverbs whenever I am in the cultural center, there are two proverbs that I am drawn to more than all the others. The first is, “The small tongue kindles a big fire.” What is fascinating about this proverb is its similarity to James 3:5, which says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” The second proverb is equally fascinating; it says, “What you do for someone else; that also he does to you.” This sounds like a paraphrase of the golden rule in Matthew 7:12, which states, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” It seems that even before missionaries ever arrived in Enga, God was already revealing His truth to the people. And just as Jesus came to bring fulfillment to the Law and the Prophets, my prayer is that the people of Enga will see that that traditional wisdom and sayings that God gave them in the past also find their fulfillment in Jesus and the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

More Engan Proverbs
Since I have whet your appetite for traditional Engan proverbs, let me share a few more with you. Like many Enga proverbs, the saying, “When you see the sun, don’t put out the fire,” has a surface-level meaning as well as a hidden meaning. The surface-level meaning is this: just because the sun has risen in the morning doesn’t mean that you won’t still need a fire to cook with and to keep warm by at night. The hidden meaning is similar to our expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” and basically means, “When you see something that appears better than what you have, don’t underestimate what you have and leave it for what appears to be better.”

Another proverb states, “Once you have split a taro, you cannot put it back together.” Often when people share food like a taro, they do so by splitting it in half and handing a portion to someone else. But once you have split the taro apart, you obviously cannot put it back together. The hidden meaning of this proverb speaks to relationships and suggests that once a relationship is broken, it cannot be mended. Sharing food is indicative of good relationships, and so this proverb is particularly apropos.

Another proverb communicates a similar message; it states, “You can put an ax back, but you can’t put words back.” The idea is that a person can always return an ax to his belt, where he normally keeps it, but once he has spoken words, he cannot take the words and put them back in his mouth. This proverb reminds people of the importance of thinking before they speak.

The proverb, “Don’t try to knock down a hawk while looking at its shadow,” communicates the necessity of looking at the heart of a matter and not just the surface. The proverb, “An earthworm that crawls around is destined to die,” indicates that a person should not wander around aimlessly. And the proverb, “A sprouting bean seed will always climb a bean stick,” is a hidden way to say, “If you incite trouble, it will always stay with you.” 

An earthworm that crawls around is destined to die
God created the entire world as an expression of his personality, and as we study creation we learn about God’s character. As Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” How thankful we are that God has prepared the Enga people in advance to receive the one who is the exact imprint of God’s very nature!