Trinidadian proverbs arose from the need of the oppressed to communicate among themselves in terms that the foreign and elite ruling classes could not readily understand. The language is creolized, and has now been popularized, and encoded in texts. Maybe it is encoded in texts because so much of it is being forgotten. To aid the remembering, I list some of my favourites below, just right for the spirit of this blog.

All skin teet eh laugh.
Not every smile indicates genuine friendliness. Beware the treacherous. Beware duplicity.

Behin’ back is “Dog.” Before face is “Mr. Dog.”
Pretending to be on a first name basis with someone who is very well known and highly regarded, pretending to be in the “in crowd,” speaking as if you and a certain V.I.P. are best of friends — then when faced with that person, you show the same deference and humility as everyone else.

Bush have ears.
Be careful what you say in public, someone may be listening. (Conveniently it sounds like a reference to George Bush’s domestic spying program.)

Common sense come before book sense.
Knowledge was here long before formal education. Sometimes, ordinary sense is more applicable and practical than academic knowledge.

Crapaud smoke yuh pipe!
You were careless, got caught out, and now you’re done for!

Cut eye doh kill.
Bad or angry stares won’t kill you.

Cut yuh style to suit yuh cloth.
Live within your means. Adjust to the shituation.

De longest rope have an end.
The misery might seem unending, but all comes to an end, even the hangman’s rope.

Do-so eh like-so.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Doh put water in yuh mouth to talk.
Tell it like it is! Talk straight, speak with honesty, be direct.

Eat de bread dat de devil knead.
To live in an intolerable situation. To be subjected to long-lasting trials and miseries.

EVERYDAY FUH T’IEF, ONE DAY FUH WATCHMAN.
Wrong doers are eventually caught. People can scam everyday, but when they end up before the watchman, it will be the watchman’s day, the last day of someone’s wrong doing.

Everyday at yuh neighbour house eh good.
Familiarity breeds contempt.

Everyt’ing good to eat, but everyt’ing eh good to talk.
It’s great to get all sorts of information from talkative people, but you should be wary of saying too much.

Full-belly man tell hungry-belly man, “keep heart.”
Rich people doing nothing to help the disadvantaged, except to offer some token moral support.

Heat in yuh tail but yuh whistlin’.
You are pretending to be alright when in fact you are hurting.

How yuh make bed, so you lie.
What you sow is what you shall reap. The chickens come home to roost.

Hungry dog eat raw corn flour.
Sometimes, in difficult circumstances, you have to do unpleasant things. Also: Make do with what you’ve got.

If de priest could play, who is me?
You can excuse me for sinning, if the holier than thou types, even priests themselves, are caught sinning.

If snake come outta bush an’ say “Snake dey!”…he dey.
If someone more knowledgeable than you informs you of something, then there is a good chance it is correct.

In a monkey pants.
To be in serious trouble.

Jigger foot clear de way, rockstone comin’ dong.
If you are weak and vulnerable, take care, you can be harmed.

Las’ chile does kill de mudda.
Sometimes it’s the very last try that proves to be the fatal one — the desperate last ditch effort can prove to be disastrous.

Makin’ track for ‘gouti to run.
Doing all the hard work, for someone else to claim the credit and claim the prize.

Monkey eye deep all about.
A greedy person who wants a piece of everything from everyone.

One day, one day, congotay.
Sooner or later, you will get what is coming to you! You won’t escape unscathed forever.

One-one does full basket.
Slowly but surely, things get done.

Playing dead to catch corbeau alive.
Play passive, docile, and humble, to win out over your captor, oppressor, or opponent.

Shroud eh have pocket.
No matter how rich you are, or want to be, when you die you won’t take any of it with you.

Sparrow does fly high, but it mus’ come down low to sleep.
Even high flying big shots come back down eventually.

Time longer than twine.
Even the worse problems will come to an end. All bad things come to an end, given enough time.

Today for me, tomorrow for you.
I may be the one to suffer today, but tomorrow it will be your turn.

What doh kill does fatten.
If it does not kill you right away, chances are you will survive, maybe even thrive, so take heart.

What eh meet yuh, go pass yuh.
You will get what is coming to you, sooner or later. Also: Don’t count your blessings too fast, you never know what is coming next.

What yuh does in darkness mus’ come to light.
Your covert misdeeds will be exposed.

When dog accustom suckin’ egg, he doh stop so.
When a dog gets accustomed to stealing, it is very hard to stop the bad habit.

When water more than flour.
When something becomes too difficult to bear and thus clearly something has to be done.

Who doh hear does feel.
Those who don’t take advice. who don’t take heed, will learn the hard way.

Words are wind, blows are unkind.
“Ole talk,” threats, name calling don’t matter, they are not tangible. A physical beating is a different matter.

Yuh cyar play mas’ and ‘fraid powder.
Like people who want to masquerade as American sailors during Carnival, and whiten their faces with talcum powder, and throw powder at onlookers — don’t get involved if you can’t take the consequences. (see this image from boboleepix)


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1D4TW

EVERY DAY FUH T'IEF,
ONE DAY FUH WATCHMAN

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trinidad street graffiti images courtesy of thumbprints.co.tt; all other photos courtesy of caribbeanfreephoto, under Creative Commons licenses.

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