ድር ቢያብር አንበሳ ያስር፡፡ means when webs of a spider join together, they can trap a lion.
Ethiopian people have enormous proverbs which can explain social work knowledge in the same manner as western theories. Some of these proverbs can articulate and detail social, economic, political, spiritual, environmental, and psychological subjects within one sentence. The proverbs have passed from generation to generation through oral. The communities will wrap up the big issue within one proverb and the owners of the case will understand the situation better and work for its solutions. Thus, the community members will look for elders or wise well-experienced individuals when they are seeking advice/psychosocial supports. Then, these knowledgeable community members will communicate via their timely assembled and accumulated indigenous proverbs to indicate possible solutions for different problems. For more clarification, let’s observe some European theories with the lens of Ethiopian proverbs.
Social learning theory
In the Ethiopian context, the community always said, “ከአህያ ጋር የዋለች ጊደር ፈስ ተምራ መጣች”. Its literal meaning is ‘A Heifer with a donkey learned to fart’. This proverb shows how someone will learn behaviors and actions from someone in where s/he spends her or his time. In this case, the proverb communicates how individuals will learn from one another by observing and imitating what they observed. The community members will learn how our friends/peers influence our behavior and action. Equally, social learning theory elaborates how the interaction with community members and observing behaviors and actions from their model will determine the behaviors and actions of the members. And individuals will imitate the observed behaviors and actions in line with positive and negative rewards of the community to the behaviors and actions individuals exhibited.
System theory vs African collectivism theory
Ethiopian communities believe that the whole system operates smoothly with the collective efforts of the small systems starting from families are functioning well. Then the combinations of these small systems will contribute to the larger system. Every community member has something to contribute to the peaceful coexistence and survival of the whole community. One of the Ethiopian proverbs that magnify the importance of each and every member of the community says ‘ሀብታም በገንዘቡ ደሀ በጥበቡ እርስ በርስ ይቃረቡ’. It indicates the wealthy with their money and the poor with its wisdom comes together. During the tough periods, the community will mobilize resources from its members. Hence, those who have money come with their money and those who are poor will come with their wisdom and labor forces to overcome the challenging situations.
As you see, the community knows its problems and resources since they are the experts in their own cases. This is why they said, ‘ድር ቢያብር አንበሳ ያስር፡፡’. Its literal meaning is ‘when webs of a spider join together, they can trap a lion’. Look how collectivism matters a lot for Ethiopian rather than individualistic life as westerns advocate for. Ethiopians acknowledged the significance of collaborative and cooperative life because everyone will survive inside their families, neighbors, communities, and the larger societies. And they always advise the members to come together for every situation that needs the attention of the community. As you know, a small system functions properly while interacting and contributing to the larger/whole system; similarly, Ethiopians recognized the interaction after coming together. This shows us, how we Africans have well-organized indigenous knowledge, skills, and values even before the westerns’ theories. And Ethiopian communities recommend, ‘ሰው እንደቤቱ እንጂ እንደጎረቤቱ አይኖርም’. It means, ‘humans live according to their home; not as their neighbors’. Therefore, Africans have their own indigenous knowledge and values that can be suitable for their people instead of borrowing from westerns.
African scholars should conduct an intensive investigation to learn and use indigenous knowledge and values. Scholars are responsible for pointing out context-oriented solutions for African problems. Therefore, scholars should come together for this golden purpose of dealing with our issues. Ethiopians say “ባለቤት ካልተጣራ ጎረቤት አይደርስም”. It shows that unless you call out, who will open the door? Let’s call out. Because the Ethiopian communities said that fifty lemons are a load carried by one person, but for fifty people they are perfume “ሀምሳ ሎሚ ለአንድ ሰው ሸክሙ ለሀምሳ ሰው ጌጡ”. And the real solution for the African problem will be obtained, if and only if we are committed enough to look for the solution from inside. And Ethiopian said, ‘የአገሩን መሬት በአገሩ በሬ’. It represents ‘plowing the country’s land with the country’s Ox’. So, superior solutions will be attained from the inside not from the outside; therefore, looking inward is unquestionable.
Ethiopians aware of the modernization and its impact and tell to the community by saying “ዘመድና ሳንቲም ከመንገድ ወድቀው, ሳንቲሙን አነሡ ዘመድን ትተው” meaning “A relative and money having lain down on the street, they pick the money leaving back the relative”. They know the individualistic perspectives of modernization in destroying collective responsibilities of the community and they uphold the humanistic values.
African proverbs are theories in themselves, why do we have to look elsewhere for social work knowledge when we have these theories (proverbs and may other oral sources) that our people can understand. ድር ቢያብር አንበሳ ያስር፡፡, when webs of a spider join together, they can trap a lion. Meaning, when we put together all African knowledges and knowledge sources, we do not need non-African knowledges.
Alemayehu Gebru Gebremariam from Jimma University, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, School of Social Work