Proverbs Are The Palm-oil With Which Words Are Eaten

What does "...proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten" mean in Chapter 1 of Things Fall Apart?

Expert Answers
gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Achebe illustrates the importance of proverbs in Igbo society by writing, "Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten" (2). In Igbo society, palm oil is a fundamental ingredient used for cooking. Palm oil not only provides flavor to the meal but also prevents the food from burning while it is being prepared. Achebe's metaphor indicates that proverbs in conversations are as important as palm oil is to food that is being prepared. Like palm oil, proverbs are not essential for conversation but add depth and character to the discussion. Proverbs are also pleasing to hear and provide purpose to the conversation. Achebe's metaphor comparing proverbs to palm oil reveals another piece of insightful information that allows the reader to better understand Igbo society. Throughout the novel, Achebe continuously uses proverbs to explain, emphasize, and foreshadow events. 

renelane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The whole quote, "Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten" (5) is one of the most famous quotes. Our lifestyle is one of fast-paced conversations, yet the Igbo prize conversation as an art form. Proverbs are meant to be considered and studied, not quickly digested and forgotten. The metaphor suggests that words are prepared by proverbs for digestion. Palm oil was a common form of cooking oil, and many foods were prepared with it for consumption. Therefore, proverbs are the basis by which words/conversations are made.

bobezeh | Student

There is a saying in Igbo land that "when a proverb is used and explained to a man, that his mother's bride price was paid in vain." The mark of an elder in Igbo land is the ability to use proverbs dexterously in social conversations. A man who is not seasoned in the use of proverbs is seen as immature or foolish in talk. Proverbs are particularly useful because they are used to state the length and breadth of a matter in such a way that children and women are kept outside the loop, thus elders are able to freely converse in the presence of children and women without fear of letting too much out.

Palmoil is a very important staple used for cooking or even on its own for many purposes in the dietary life of the Igbo man. It is so important that there is hardly any food that palmoil does not feature as a part of the meal. Thus the use of the metaphor of proverbs, the oil with which elders eat words. The metaphor shows how important proverbs are in Igbo social discourse when we come to understand the important role of palmoil in the cooking and dietary culture.

fashionableb1 | Student

Palm-Oil in the Igbo culture is basically used in every meal they eat, it used to eat yam, cassava and many things. The meaning of the saying is that Proverbs are the palm oil of words, they are important and essential.

janlracz | Student

This proverb means that their conversational style involves NOT getting right to the point.  In our culture, we value our time and have an expectation people will be clear and concise when conversing.  In the Ibo community, this would be considered rude.  They must first talk pleasantries or about things going on in the tribe and only then can the reason for the conversation be discussed. 

aantwalker9 | Student

he was using palm oil as a mepahor

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Things Fall Apart

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