To some, snails are a delicacy. To others, they are revolting. Whatever your stand on eating snails, let's chase one and see how our ancestors passed on wisdom to us using the snail as an imagery.
There are land snails (NWA) and water snails (ABEBEƐ). Both are edible. Our focus here is on NWA, which come in many types. The ones found in Ghana are mainly the giant African snails (Achatina achatina). There is also a rare type with pure black flesh called POBIRE (Kwakyewaa).
When a snail grows very large, it becomes OTOPE as the following proverb says: Nwa a ɔhunu ne ho so hwɛ no na ɔnyini ma yɛfrɛ no tope (The snail that looks after itself well lives to a great age, to get the name tope). Conscientiousness pays.
Snails don't have legs. They move slowly by secreting mucus which allows them to slide on surfaces using their ‘muscular foot.’ They leave behind a trail of slime when they move. They also have no bone and their soft body and internal organs are encased in a spiral shell. They usually retract into their shell when you touch the pairs of tentacles on their head.
Their shell, when made into powder, is used in traditional medicines to treat wounds. Since their shell is not as hard as that of the tortoise, a proverb says Abofra bɔ nwa, na ɔmmɔ akyekyedeɛ (A child breaks the shell of a snail but not a tortoise). A warning against biting more than you can chew.
Snails sometimes 'protest', though, when you pick them. They may make a kind of squishing sound (mtcheeeww), which is construed as the snail expressing its displeasure. In Twi, picking snails is used as a metaphor for taking advantage of a powerless person.
If you take advantage of a defenseless or kindhearted person, they may say, Wafa me nwa (You've picked me like a snail) as a warning that one day you may pick something not as defenseless as the snail (say a viper), and you will pay for it. Whether or not you eat snails, beware how you treat people who cannot or do not fight back because God speaks for the voiceless.
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