English is the official language of Saint Kitts. The island has a literacy rate of over 98%, which means that most people know how to read and speak Standard English.
However, back in the day when the old folk wanted to push some wisdom into the eager minds of younger family members, they sometimes reverted to the Saint Kitts Creole language.
Kittitian Language Lesson (In 2 Mins)
The present generation hardly quotes these sayings, but they understand them and take the messages seriously. A switch to the native dialect by someone who usually speaks Standard English (for example, a teacher or any other professional) still gets attention.
All the sayings in the table below make references to animals, which suggest that they go as far back as the 17th-century plantation, heavily populated by West African slaves surrounded by animals--some as part of the workforce or raised for food and profit. I also wrote a follow-up article, More Wise Sayings from the Saint Kitts Creole Language.
The sayings are selected from Local Sayings compiled by Creighton Pencheon and published in 2006 by the Saint Kitts Department of Culture. Judge for yourself the amount of wisdom that can be gained from the sayings of the Kittitian Old Folk.
|Creole Version||Standard English Interpretation||The Meaning|
1. Fowl wa sleep a roose no hard to ketch.
Fowls which sleep in their roost are not hard to catch.
Predictable people (who come home at the end of the day) are not difficult to figure out.
2. It tek time to foine ant’s belly.
It takes time to find the ant’s belly.
Persevere until you accomplish your goal, no matter how difficult it seems.
3. When cat out rat tek ee place.
When the cat is out, the rat takes its place.
When a superior officer is absent, it is a good time to show your capability (good or bad).
4. Cockroach no got no call in a fowl house.
Roaches have no good reason to be in a fowl house.
It is dangerous to be in a place where you know your life is in danger.
5. Dog no got no call a blacksmith shop.
Dogs have no good reason to be in a blacksmith’s shop.
It is foolish to show up for a performance, for which you know you are incapable.
6. A dog never know how big ee be until it swallow bone.
A dog never knows how big it is until it swallows a bone.
The worth of a person is measured by how well he or she handles a difficult situation.
7. Sensay fowl say pray fu long life not fu fedder.
Sensay fowls (they have few feathers) say pray for long life, not for feathers.
Focus on living and achieving, not on wishing for things you don't have and can live without.
8. Wa a joke to de butcher a det to the de animal.
What is joke to the butcher is death to the animal.
What is just matter-of-fact to one person can have severe consequences for someone else.
9. Wa sweet a goat mout sour a ee bottom.
What is sweet in the goat’s mouth, is sour at its bottom.
Some things which seem enjoyable at first can have unfortunate results.
10. All monkeys have de same face.
All monkeys have the same face (look alike).
The consensus is that you are exactly like the people with whom you associate.
11. Sheep nar bring goat.
Sheep do not give birth to goats.
Parents do not produce children who are entirely different from themselves.
12. Sorry fu ole hog it root dung you house.
Sorry for an old hog, it will root down your house.
People who should be grateful to you are usually the ones who make problems for you.
13. Monkey say wa dey a you jawbone no you wun.
Monkey says that what is your jawbone is not (your own) yours.
Even though something is in your possession, if you don’t own it outright, you can still lose it.
14. Every day is fishing day but no every day a catching day.
Every day is fishing day, but every day is not a catching day.
Put forth effort every day, but don’t expect tangible rewards every day.
15. Two bull cyarn live in de same pen.
Two bulls cannot live in the same pen.
Only one person can have the lead position; the other must accept a subordinate role.
16. You mingle wid de dog, you get bitten by de fleas.
You mingle with the dog, you get bitten by the fleas.
You keep bad company, you share their dishonor.
17. Me nar clean grung fuh monkey run pon.
I’m not cleaning the ground for monkeys to run on.
I am not laying the foundation for the benefit of some undeserving person.
18. Me too big a cat fuh lay kitten fool me.
I’m too big a cat to let a kitten fool me.
I am mature enough to deal wisely with the younger folk.
19. Wa roll of de hass back fall under ee belly.
What rolls off the horse’s back, falls under its belly.
Whatever you do now can affect your children later.
20. You never see de fowl bottom till wind blow.
You never see the fowl’s bottom until the wind blows.
You discover personal details about people when adversity strikes.
Everyone, from the schoolchild to the professor can find wisdom in these sayings. It would also be fun to practice speaking one or two in an appropriate situation.
It may seem difficult, but "A dog never know how big ee be until it swallow bone," so give it a try.
By Dora Isaac Weithers (April 2013).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do you say "Happy Birthday" in Saint Kitts?
Answer: "Happy Birthday" is what I hear most.
We may hear "Happy Butday" or "Happy Bertday" from those who discard the "th" in "birth."
Question: What about the expression, ‘Oh me monkey‘. What is the meaning? I recently saw it on a hat while from St. Kitts.
Answer: It sounds like an expression of surprise. "Oh, my goodness!" might have been just as good. "Monkey" is a common expression in Kittitian language, so "Oh me monkey" is acceptable but "monkey" probably has no specific meaning in that phrase.
© 2013 Dora Weithers