Wally R. Turnbull.
Durham, NC.: Lightmessages, 2005
ISBN # 0-9679937-6-8.
254 pages.

Comments by Bob Corbett
July 2005

Wally R. Turnbull offers more than 1200 Haitian proverbs in a clear layout, one conducive to interactive reading. The result is a most delightful book.

There are some 250 pages of proverbs, about six or seven on a page. In each one the layout is the same:

(Opening the book and picking randomly)

Kou ou prese; kafe ou koule ak ma
When you are in a hurry your coffee has grounds in it
When you hurry more than you should you make mistakes.

The first line is the Creole proverb, the second line, always in bold print, is his translation and the third line, often the most interesting line, is Turnbull’s interpretation of what it means within Haitian culture.

At the outset he argues that if one just takes a fairly literal translation of Haitian proverbs one often doesn’t quite know what to make of them. However, if one has adequate knowledge of the culture and language and has heard the proverbs in context, then one can come to get the essence of them, which is often a bit different that the literal translation suggests.

I think Turnbull is quite right about that, and this is precisely what made the book so much fun for me and what I would call an interactive read.

I’ll take it for granted he got the proverbs correct in Creole, but I wouldn’t know. I’d need to rely on others to do such gathering. While I’m far from fluent in Creole, I know enough to be satisfied with his second line for each proverb, his English translation.

All the fun is in the third line. Did Turnbull get the MEANING right? Or, play the game differently, as a game of translation and interpretation. On this version oone would read the Creole and make one’s own translation and compare yourself with Turnbull’s. Would be a fun party game. Some one would type up 30-40 of the proverbs in Turnbull’s Creole. Then one at a time they are passed out. The players write their version of the English translation, and by turns each player reads his or her translation. Discussion ensues. Not advisable to have baseball bats at the table.

The next stage of that game, of course, is then one writes one’s OWN meaning. When all have finished, Turnbull’s meaning is read, and the discussion and baseball bat swinging begins again.

I’m in no way mocking the book. I loved it, and I played those games with myself. I never questioned the Creole proverb itself, and, again, I not so strong in Creole that I could play the “is the English translation correct” game. But, as one who thinks he knows the culture fairly well, I had a marvelous time playing the “what is MY meaning” game, and comparing and contrasting my meanings with Turnbull’s. While there were a few meanings where I would quarrel with him a bit, overall I was quite impressed with his “third lines.”

I was very impressed with the collection itself. And more impressed with the layout. Very easy to read and follow along, conducive to this interactivity.

I recommend the book to all. Lots of fun.

Being the son of a “Bob Corbett” much better known than I (my father was a very well-know and loved soccer player of the 1930s-40s), I can imagine Wally R. Turnbull’s sensitivity to the question: Is he of “THAT” Turnbull family of the Baptist Mission. The bio in the book handled that issue with a nice gentle touch: “Wally Turnbull, born to missionary parents and raised in the mountains of Haiti ….”

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu