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Bu Me Be

Bu Me Bε: Proverbs of the Akans

Authors: Peggy Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Ivor Agyeman-Duah



RRP: £18.99
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ISBN: 978-0-9555079-2-2 | 336 pages | Weight: 0.69kg | Hardback | Published 2008 | Rights: World

Categories: African | Black Interest | Heritage | Languages | Multi-lingual English/Akan Dictionary |


Bu Me Bε: Proverbs of the Akans is the most extensive bi-lingual Twi Proverbs Dictionary published since JG Christaller's A Collection of 3600 Twi Proverbs (1879). Kwame Anthony Appiah's Introduction demonstrates how these proverbs can be interpreted within the tested and contested theories of meaning and literary production to show how they compare with philosophical musings from ancient Greece to England. To understand these proverbs, one needs to understand the culture from which they come. The matrilineal culture traces the familial lineage from the mother's side hence the Akan saying that; 'a child may resemble the father, but he has a family' - the family being a reference to one's mother and others within the mother's bloodline.

This is invaluable. Our languages cannot grow as literary languages unless we also develop tools that will enable their effective use. Our languages must be in dialogue with not only the languages of Europe but also those of Africa and Asia. This dictionary is an important step in that direction.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Director, International Centre for Writing and Translation, University of California.

If language is a window to reality, then Appiah's Bu Me Be may be justly described as an opening to an entire universe. This collection will be useful not only for linguists, but for anyone that takes Akan culture seriously, from anthropologists to historians, to cultural critics and even to modern-day product advertisers. It is a veritable treasure trove.

Ato Quayson, Director, Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies, University of Toronto.

An invaluable collection of some 7000 proverbs that speak to the depth and nuance of Akan and Asante life, thought, belief and social organisation.

Emmanuel Kwaku Acheampong, Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.

Key Selling Points

  • The bi-lingual arrangement makes this dictionary unique and user-friendly to non-Akan speakers. A specialist African language text that will be of interest to academics and students on African history and language courses.
  • An informed collection of over 7000 proverbs published over a century after Christaller's book of 3600 proverbs was first published.
  • Appiah's Introduction contextualises the nuanced meaning of the proverbs to reveal the wit and wisdom of the Akan language and how it compares with other world languages.




Bu Me Bε: Proverbs of the Akans by Peggy Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Ivor Agyeman-Duah (Oxfordshire: UK: Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited, 2007) 312pp.

Reviewed by David Owusu-Ansah, Professor of History at James Madison University and author of the Historical Dictionary of Ghana (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

Bu Me Bε: Proverbs of the Akans is a wonderful collection of Akan sayings and proverbial statements that represent the virtues, experiences and traditions of the people.  The authors—Peggy Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Ivor Agyeman-Duah—organised the work in a dictionary format.  This 2007 Ayebia Clarke edition was first published in 2001 by the Ghana based Centre for Intellectual Renewal.  Entries in this 312-page book is arranged in double columns and organised alphabetically for easy access.  However, readers must note the changes that occur in some Akan words in the singular and plural forms.  For example, it is expected for a statement that begins with a word such as “Deε” to be searched automatically under the alphabet “D.”  But so too must “Adeε,” “Nnεma,” “Me deε,” “Wo deε” and other such usages.  This is presented only as an example but it is indication that a number of entries that may appear at first to be inconsistent with the alphabetical arrangement into which they are grouped are indeed linguistically appropriate.  Once the reader figures out the logic of organising such entries, the book becomes user friendly.

The first 12 pages of Bu Me Bε tell the story of how the 7,015 proverbs were collected for this project.  Even though Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah and Ivor Agyeman-Duah are co-authors of the project, the original story must commence with the late Peggy Appiah.  As the eminent Ghanaian journalist Cameron Doudou stated in the 6 March 2006 obituary tribute to Mrs. Appiah in the UK Guardian, this British woman of privilege parentage went “native” upon marrying her Black African suitor in 1953.  Indeed, Doudou used “going native” in the best sense of the phrase because as he noted, Peggy Appiah soon applied herself to the study of the Akan language and ultimately wrote books that reflected a deep understanding of her husband’s culture as embedded in its folklore, philosophy, music, customs and everyday expressions.  She also nurtured important contacts in Ghana to grant her access to Asante dignitaries and scholars from whom the proverbs were accumulated.  In her own 2000 written statement, which is reproduced as the preface to the 2007 publication, Peggy Appiah referred to the project as a composite work of such persons as C. E. Osei, Yaw Adusei-Poku, K. Nsiah and A. C. Denteh from whom several of the entries were collected.  Some of these very able linguists and Akan grammarians were recognised as having helped with the initial translation.  They also provided commentary on the work that Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Kwame Anthony Appiah expanded upon.

To illustrate the breadth of the collection, the authors compared their 7,015 proverb entries to a similar 1879 publication by J. G. Christaller titled Three Thousand Six Hundred Proverbs From the Asante and Fante Languages.  It was from this Christaller collection that the noted British anthropologist R. S. Rattray selected and prefaced with anthropological notes the 1916 publication titled Asante Proverbs: The Primitive Ethics of a Savage People.   Notwithstanding the usefulness of such works by Christaller and Rattray as well as Kofi Ron Lange’s 1990 edition under the slightly modified title Three Thousand Six Hundred Ghanaian Proverbs: From the Asante and Fante Languages, I will argue that the original intention of the Christaller/Rattray production was colonial, anthropological and paternalistic.  Bu Me Bε is uniquely important because the primary purpose of the authors is to demonstrate in a very positive way that traditional oral based societies are capable of conceptualising and developing values and ethics that are constructed from keen observations and experiences.  The work preserves valuable knowledge of the past not for its own sake, but as part of Ghana’s cultural knowledge from which the future must be guided.  This is a valuable contribution in its own right.  Similar traditional knowledge must be included as content of the Religious and Moral Education.

About the Authors

Kwame Anthony Appiah is currently Professor of Philosophy at the Centre for Human Values, Princeton University and one of the leading scholars in Ethics and Philosophy. He has taught Philosophy and African American Studies in Ghana where his parents Peggy and Joe Appiah lived, and at Clare College, Cambridge University where he completed his Doctorate of Philosophy.

Peggy Appiah was awarded the MBE by Queen Elizabeth II for her distinguished promotion of Anglo-Ghanaian cultural and creative industries. She died in 2006 in Kumasi at the age of 84. Daughter of Sir Stafford Cripps, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first post-war British Labour Government, she lived in the Asante capital for over 50 years before and after the death of her statesman husband, Joe Appiah.

Ivor Agyeman-Duah is the founder of The Centre for Intellectual Renewal in Ghana. He has been a visiting scholar at California State University and a Visiting Writer at the University of Nebraska. Among his publications are two editions of Between Faith & History: A Biography of J A Kufuor (2003, 2006). He was an advisor at the Ghana Embassy in Washington DC and is currently the Minister Counsellor for Information at the Ghana High Commission in London.

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