Ladder of death
Pronunciation of Owuo Atwedee
A symbol of the certainty and universality of death
From the Akan proverb “Owuo atwedeɛ baakofoɔ mforo” which literally means “Death’s ladder: not one person climbs it.” Alternatively,: death’s ladder is not climbed by just one person. The proverb expresses the belief that death is universal: everybody will die. The implications of this belief could be varied though. For example, to warn a particularly proud or cruel person of his mortality this proverb may be used. It may also be used to console bereaved persons that death is not such an extraordinary event but one that lies ahead for all.
Akan proverbs on death
1. Owuo tiri mu ye den
Literally: Death is wicked. Or, more literally, the inside of death’s head is hard.
2. Nyame nkuu wo a wonwui
Literally: If God hasn’t killed you, you are not dead yet.
3. Agya bi wu a, agya bi te ase
Literally: When one father dies, another father lives.
The raising of children is a communal activity in Akan societies. With such an arrangement, a child could have many fathers, where a father is an older male who takes some responsibility for raising the child. In such a situation, if one’s biological father dies or is absent, there are many others to collectively play his role.
It is also used when a substitute is found for something valuable or someone important.
4. Feree ne animguasee dee, fanyinam owuo
Literally: Given the choice between shame and disgrace, death is a better option.
5. Owuo kura adee a nkwa ntumi nnye
Literally: When death is holding something, life cannot wrest it from him.
6. Yebewu nti yenna?
Literally: We will die so we won’t sleep?
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe gives an apt interpretation of this proverb: Should our fear of death prevent us from sleeping?