Editorial note: With the breezes of summer still flowing and the call of beaches still in our veins, this piece is sponsored by our friends at A Jamaican Experience. ~TC
There’s nothing more colorful or more meaningful than Old World wisdom. Sometimes it seems like our ancestors had a saying or advice for every foreseeable situation. Today, we’re going to show you the most famous Jamaican saying and proverbs – true words of wisdom that are sure to inspire and, why not, offer some insight into the Jamaican culture. To see just how colorful Jamaica’s language is, we are going to write them in both Patois and American English.
About Patois and Jamaican Savoir-Vivre
Despite English being Jamaica’s national language, its inhabitants prefer Patois, a dialect based on English and West African dialect blend. The word “patois” itself is not Jamaican in origin, but French. It refers to the dialect spoken by the uneducated masses. Of course, the dialect has long shed its pejorative meaning and has now become a hallmark of Jamaica. Everything about Jamaica’s savoir-Vivre (the art of knowing how to live) is contained in the language, that reunites all the good things from different cultures and civilization.
Jamaican quotes are a marvelous way to illustrate the idea of trans- and multiculturalism. The old sayings mirror how the Jamaican came to look at life after discovering the New World, therefore offering an in-depth look at a diverse and colorful culture.
“A no want a fat mek nightingales foot ‘tan’ so.”
American English: “It’s not for the want of fat that the nightingale’s legs stand so.”
Phrased more clearly, this old saying refers to avoiding judging a person based on his or her appearances.
“Every hoe ha them stick at a bush.”
American English: “Every hoe has its thicket of bushes.”
This means that no matter how lonely you’re feeling, you’ll be sure to find someone out there that will love you for who you truly are.
“Heel nevah go before toe.”
American English: “The heel should never go before the toe”
This saying refers to prioritization. In layman terms, it means that you should deal with crucial matters first.
“Parson christen him own pickney first.”
American English: “The Parson (vicar, clergyman, minister, preacher) will always christen his child first.”
Although slightly vague, most linguists agree that this proverb is the equivalent of “charity begins in one’s home.”
“Rocka ‘tone a ribba bottom no fell sun hot.”
American English: “A rock at the bottom of the river/water doesn’t feel the heat of the sun.”
It means that those who have it easy, don’t know the meaning of hardship.
“Dry’tump a cane-piece nuh fi laugh when cane-piece ketch a fyah.”
American English: “A dry sugarcane stump won’t be that funny after it catches fire.”
In other words, it’s probably not a good idea to take pleasure in your neighbor’s/friend’s misfortune because, sooner or later, a similar thing could happen to you.
“If yu cyaa a turkey, satisfy wid John Crow.”
American English: “If you can’t get a turkey, you’ll have to settle for John Crow.”
This old saying refers to seeing the bright side of every bad situation and being grateful for what you have.
“Nuh everything you yearry good fe talk.”
American English: “Not everything you hear is good to talk about.”
It means that it’s probably not a good idea to talk about things you’ve heard during conversations.
“Ole fire stick easy fi ketch.”
American English: “An old fire stick can easily be reignited.”
As you might have deduced, it refers to old romances – love affairs that have never gone cold.
“Fe see mi is one ting, fe come live wid mi is anodda.”
American English: “Seeing me is one thing, living with me is an entirely different matter.”
Having a casual chat with a person doesn’t mean that you will know him/her. If you really want to discover who that person is, you should have more meaningful talks or to try living with him/her.
“Sleeb hab no massa.”
American English: “Sleep knows no master.”
This means that there’s nothing you can do when the Sandman comes.
“No mek one donkey choke you.”
American English: “Do not allow a mere donkey choke you.”
It means that you shouldn’t take people’s opinions for granted, especially if they come from persons who are unfamiliar with the topic.
“When Eskimo have money him buy fridge.”
American English: “When an Eskimo earns money, he’ll go and buy a fridge.”
This Jamaican saying refers to how easily people tend to spend hard-earned money on things they don’t need.
“Mi old, but nuh cold.”
American English: “I may be old, but not cold (dead).”
It means that it’s disrespectful to not listen to your elders’ opinions.
“No wait till drum beat before you grine you axe.”
American English: “Don’t wait for the sound of the drums to start grinding your axe.”
This colorful proverb refers to being prepared for the unforeseen.
“Wha gawn bad a maanin, cyaan kum gud a Evelin.”
American English: “What goes bad in the morning, doesn’t look different in the evening.”
It means that should stop worrying about problems that cannot be solved.
“Pit inna de sky, it fall inna you e’eye.”
American English: “If you spit in the sky, the spit will fall in your eye.”
Every action has consequences, so think twice before acting.
“Tek whey yuh get tell yu get whey yu want.”
American English: “Take what you get, until you get what you want.”
It means that seizing every opportunity is going to get you one step closer to achieving your goal.
Instead of a Conclusion
As you can very well see, there’s no ending to what the Jamaican folklore can offer. And, as we’ve mentioned time and time again, these sayings perfectly mirror this country’s way of life – don’t worry be happy, and, of course, there’s nothing a little rum can’t solve.
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