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

About the author(s)

Madipoane Masenya, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa, South Africa


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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Crossref Citations

1. The cultural distortion of the African world view and the subordination of women in ‘postcolonial’ African societies
Ebbah Dube
South African Journal of Philosophy  vol: 42  issue: 3  first page: 192  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1080/02580136.2023.2285078