Yoruba Legal Maxims and Their English Law Equivalent


By Temidayo Adewoye

The concept of justice, often called jurisprudence, is universal. I learnt Yoruba proverbs while growing up in Osun State. After learning principles of English law, I realized some similarities between certain Yoruba proverbs and English maxims.

I will write first in Yoruba, transliterate the proverb and then state the English equivalent. 

  1. A kii gbe ile eni ka fi orun ro (I shouldn’t break my neck while staying in my house.) English law principle (ELP): The Rule in Ryland v Fletcher which states that when a person brings anything to his land, he must keep it there at his own peril; he will be liable if it escapes into another person’s property).
  1. Bi a ba s’oko s’oja, ara ile eni lo n ba (If one throws stone into a market, it will hit his family member) EPL: This is the neighbor principle in establishing whom duty of care is owed as explained by Lord Atkins in Donoghue v Stevenson.
  1. Bi ebiti o ba pa era, a f’eyin fun eleyin (if a trap set to catch an ant does not catch it, it must give up its palm fruit bait)
    EPL: This is the Common Law principle of money had and received, which states that where a contract is not performed due to failure of mutual consideration, then consideration furnished by a party must be returned. 
  1. Orisa oke boo le gba mi, semi bi o se ba mi (If the gods in heaven cannot rescue me, please restore me back to how you met me)
    EPL: This is the principle of restituo in integrum established in Hadley & Anor v Baxendale & Ors [1854]. It states that a party that has suffered losses by a breach of contract must be restored, as far as money can do it in damages, to the position he would have been if there was no breach.
  1. Agb’ejo enikan da, agba osika (He who judges by hearing only one party is a wicked person)
    EPL: This is the principle of audi alterem partem which means hear the other party.
  1. Mi o le wa ku kii r’oye ile baba re je/ Eni yara ni Ogun n gbe (I-cannot-come-and-go-and-die person cannot ascend into the chieftaincy office of his fathers/ The gods aids who is fast)
    EPL: Equity aids the vigilant or Equity does not aid the sluggard.
  1. Ara o ni iwofa bi onigbowo; abanikowo lara n ta (A debtor’s pawn is never as troubled as the guarantor; the surety of a loan is the one who loses his peace)
    EPL: This is the principle of the liability of a guarantor who assumes the role of a primary obligor to facility transaction especially one which makes him liable in event of a default by the debtor without recourse.
  1. Aje ka lana, omo ku loni. Tani ko mo pe aje ana lo pa omo oni je> ( A witch confessed to witchcraft yesterday and child dies mysteriously today, who does not know that it is the witch that confessed that killed the child)
    EPL: This is the principle of causation in law, which holds a person liable for every natural consequences of his actions.
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Do you know any proverb that has a principle in English law in your native language; teach us please.


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