Great Works on Afghan Proverbs

As a student of Social Science, I have usually focused on the academic and tangible work culture of Afghanistan. One day I was researching about the cultural values of Afghanistan, and accidently I came across a book named “Mataluna: 151 Afghan Pashto Proverbs.” This book fascinated me, and I started reading it for two reasons: first, I like proverbs; and second, just to know who had written it. I searched the author’s name and then I looked for him in Twitter. As soon as I saw his name, I clicked the Follow button! His exceptionally wide-ranging work on Afghan Proverbs makes me me happy 🙂

Captain Edward Zellem is a U.S Navy officer and the six-time award-winning author of three bilingual books of Afghan Proverbs, now published in 15 languages. His work has enriched both official languages of Afghanistan (Pashto and Dari) worldwide. So far, his books are available in over 100 countries. I think his work is a major step forward in the promotion of Afghan language and culture.

According to anthropologists, culture is defined in multiple ways.  However, one common definition is “a set of shared values, beliefs, expectations, and customs.” Meanwhile, language is the set of common sounds by which people communicate. Culture and language both are considered rich when the nation is rich in its verbal art.

Proverbs have long been used in anthropological literature to illustrate or stress a feature of belief or behavior. They are special types of sayings that are said in a relatively standard way, and are popular and lively.  Traditionally, proverbs play a crucial role as a great product of folk wisdom. If one focuses on the functions of proverbs, they will find that the ways proverbs are used reveal cultural diversity.  In turn, this is connected with patterns of values and dimensions which convey moral lessons learned, past reasoning, suggestions on the present, and  instructions as well as warnings about the future. To put it in a nutshell, proverbs are basically a treasure of experiences!

My two favorite proverbs in Captain Zellem’s books are:

1:  خپله لاسه ګله لاسه    (The labor of one’s own hand is beautiful)

2: دنیا را آب ببرد مرغابی را تا بند پایش؛    (Even if the world is covered by water, a duck will be on top)

I have good memories of both of these proverbs.

 “د خپله لاسه ګله لاسه  “  (The labor of one’s own hand is beautiful)

This Pashto proverb was used my grandmother. Once my ‘Grandma’ was ill and I had to do all her work, comb her hair, cut her nails, iron her scarf etc. I was sure I am doing it right, but when she was well and started doing her own work again she once used this proverb “د خپله لاسه ګله لاسه “  (The labor of one’s own hand is beautiful).  I asked her what she meant by that.  She explained that when she was ill she had to rely on me and wait for me to come and do her work, but now she does not have to wait.  She can do her work however she wants and she enjoys it more this way.  Since then, this proverb has become one of my very favorites.

Another proverb that most of my friends and family use for me is a Dari Proverb:

 دنیا را آب ببرد مرغابی را تا بند پایش؛   (Even if the world is covered by water duck will be on top)

They ‘My family and friends’ often use this proverb about me, because I usually do not care more or less what goes on around me. I tend to mind my own business, and will hardly take interest in what is happening around me as long as I am not directly involved. I live and let other live too; but yeah,  if one calls on me for help I try my best to help even if that is the person I dislike the most. other than that I try to stay calm and quiet in my little world.

Yayiiii, I am so glad that both of the proverbs are available in Captain Zellem’s books 😀

(Mataluna: 151 Afghan Pashto Proverbs and Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs.)

After reading these wonderful books, I have come to the conclusion that Captain Edward Zellem’s name is and will always be among those few people who have done great works for the culture and literacy of Afghanistan.  His excellent books of Afghan proverbs are unique, and to my knowledge no foreigner has ever worked so extensively with the proverbs of Afghanistan.  The translations of the proverbs are kept as literal as possible to help with language and cultural learning, while interestingly still making the sayings meaningful in English.

The Foreword to Mataluna mentions that ““A NATION STAYS ALIVE WHEN ITS CULTURE STAYS ALIVE”. So a big “Thank You” to Captain Edward Zellem and his international team of volunteer translators for making the effort to keep the Afghan culture alive!  Your work is truly a treasure for us and for future generations.

Its bad I have not contributed anything to these books; however, hopefully in future if you wanted to write about Afghanistan I will contribute in anyone I could.

Note: If you want to learn about Afghan proverbs below are the hyper links for Edward Zellem’s books

پښتو متلونه

ضرب المثل های دری


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