Original Research

A literary figure or patriarchal reality? Reflections on the ‘ēšet hayil in light of depictions of womanhood from selected Yorùbá and Sotho proverbs

Madipoane Masenya
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 39, No 1 | a1861 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v39i1.1861 | © 2018 Madipoane Masenya (ngwan'a Mphahlele) | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 March 2018 | Published: 15 October 2018

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In varying Jewish and African contexts (cf. the Yorùbá and Sotho in the present essay), the ‘ēšet hayil is regarded as a historical figure who should serve as a model for women both young and old. As an organic scholar within an African context, I am both fascinated and also challenged by how biblical notions of gender and womanhood, as portrayed in the paean on the ‘ēšet hayil in Proverbs 31:10–31, seem to be at variance with notions of gender and womanhood as depicted in some Yorùbá and Sotho proverbs. Noting the emphasis in Proverbs 31:10–31 on the positive image of the ‘ēšet hayil as the ideal wife, this article shows that overall, in the African proverbs, the woman is depicted positively as a mother, though many proverbs (cf. especially the Yorùbá proverbs) cast the woman as a wife in a negative light. It is argued that the epitome of womanhood, which in Proverbs 31:10–31 is the ideal wife, appears to stand in tension with the image of a good mother and of a bad wife observed in some of the African proverbs. This article therefore focuses on the kind of gender- and family-conscious hermeneutic that may be envisioned when Proverbs 31:10–31 is read in the Yorùbá and Sotho contexts.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The research carried out in this article entails Old Testament Studies, Gender Studies and African Languages. Sotho and Yorùbá proverbs on womanhood are used as a hermeneutical lens to interrogate the text of Proverbs 31:10–31, resulting in fresh insights on womanhood. The resultant output makes a needed contribution in challenging patriarchal ideologies and contexts.


Womanhood; Yorùbá; Northern Sotho; ‘ēšet hayil; (African) proverbs; book of Proverbs; Proverbs 31:10-31


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