Ndi Igbo turu ilu si:
Egbe bere ugo bere, nke si ibe ya ebena nku kwaa ya.
This Igbo proverb means in English:
Let the eagle perch, let the kite perch; if one does not want the other to perch, may his wings break.
People often interpret this particular proverb as meaning “live and let live.” The word “bere” means “perch,” or “rest,” or “wait.”
In some variations, instead of saying “ebena,” which means “don’t perch,” some say “ebezina” which means “don’t perch well.”
As I was getting ready for bed tonight, I asked myself “why did Igbos use birds in this proverb?” They could have said “let the fish swim and the chicken lay eggs.” That also means “live and let live,” right? So, why did they specifically say it like this? Was it because it just sounds better? After all the “b, gb” sound is kind of cool to say really fast.
But I thought about it, and specifically thought about the consequence given in this proverb. That consequence being a broken wing.
The wing is the most important part of the bird. It is what actually makes it a bird. Without its wings (both wings), the bird can not fly, find food, escape danger, etc. It might as well be dead. In fact, a broken wing is worse than death if you are a bird. That broken wing kills all of your dreams.
What is this saying?
Igbos understand that all things are connected. It is embedded in their concept of CHI. We are all connected. You are connected to those around you in ways that go as deep as being spiritual.
Your neighbor’s presence is not a threat to you.
In fact, it is the one who threatens his neighbors well-being who is a threat to himself.
Egbe bere ugo bere is two birds resting on a perch. Imagine that they both have been flying along and are tired and just seeking some rest. The story is so simple that it does not make sense why a bird refusing to share his branch would be a bad thing. In fact, many have mistaken Igbo proverbs for being “childs play” and missed the opportunity to become wiser and more distinguished by understanding them on a deeper level.
The birds are an object lesson to us human beings. Live and let live. Onye ji madu n’ani ji onwe ya. This is not childs play. Ignoring or missing the lesson can destroy your life.
Many people sabotage themselves by trying to destabilize their neighbor. They do not focus on themselves, rest as they should or just go about their business. Instead they are focused on causing chaos and confusion for other people. Well, nature has an answer for such people.
The Broken Wing: The Killer of Dreams
When your entire mission is to sabotage others, you only end of sabotaging yourself. You have not done the work to build yourself up. You have taken justice into your own hands to do something that is not within your power. And while you are chasing somebody else’s destruction, it is actually you who are left unguarded. It is actually you who has opened yourself up to become vulnerable. It is you who becomes weak. You open your wings to swat away the other bird who is firmly perched and with the swat of the wing, you have injured yourself and killed your own dreams.
Your dream to go higher can be destroyed by your attempts to push another off course. Do not kill your own dreams. Do not lose your ability to fly.
What This Proverb Does Not Say
This proverb is not saying that you should expect others to do for you. This proverb does not encourage entitlement. This proverb gives wisdom to the hearer. However, you do not walk into another man’s house uninvited and start shouting “EGBE BERE UGO BERE!” No! This is a guidance for you. In the end, the universe will sort out the offenders. Also, if somebody enters your house uninvited to ambush you, this proverb does not say you just allow them to harm you or do what they like. Actually, you have the right to take your own course of action as it is your own property.
However, if somebody is passing you by, minding their own business you would be destabilizing them by injecting yourself into their affairs. And the universe always finds a way to deal with all such offenders.
Also, ebezina is an important variation to the proverb. This word is the difference between tolerance and acceptance. If you tolerate another’s presence, you are allowing the person to stay, but not allowing them to get comfortable. Acceptance is allowing them to stay without questioning their rights to liberty of how they choose to stay. At the end of the day, neither should violate the other’s personal space, because the one who does is violating this principle.
It is only small minded people that fear the right of others to live and let live, because the small mind has no vision for himself and thus fears those who may pass him by and fly to greater heights.