The Origin Of The Yoruba Adage “Ṣebotimọ Ẹlẹwa Ṣapọn”

Once upon a time, there was a woman who sold cooked beans in Abeokuta. Her bean joint at the time connected the roads that led to Ijaiye, Ago-Oba, Itoku, Lafenwa, Isale Igbein and Ake roads. The location of her restaurant was tagged “Ṣapọn,”

which was derived from the word “Ṣapọnloore,” meaning “help the bachelors.”

People, especially bachelors, derived pleasure from eating at a restaurant because they perceived it as a place to wine and dine in those days. In addition, important personalities like kings, government officials, civil servants, and even students, used to buy beans and stew (ẹwa pakure) from her.

Madam Janet Ewusi Odesọla was born in 1925. Young Janet attended the Methodist elementary school in Ijoko, Abeokuta. She began her food selling business by selling dry fish before she felt the need to own a restaurant that sold cooked beans in 1951.

So, because of the calibre of people that patronized her, her cooked beans sold very fast every day, despite the large quantity of beans she cooked.

Although, history has it that she cooked a big bag of beans daily, and there wouldn’t be any leftovers.

However, it came to a point where people started owing her. Some would buy her beans and pay, while some would buy on credit. Also, there were some people whose money would not be enough and who would promise to pay later, which they never did. She started drowning in debt as the credit accumulated. So, she began to think of a solution and then came up with a plan.

The plan was that anyone who bought from her and if their money did not suffice, she would advise with the phrase “ṣebiotimọ” (that is, cut your coat according to your cloth/material). For instance, if they came to her to buy beans, she would ask for money, and if it was 10 kobo, she would sell 10 kobo worth of beans. If such a person then asked to put more (that is more than 10 kobo) that he would pay later, she would respond with “ṣebiotimọ.”

With time, people got used to her response (ṣebiotimọ), and as a result, anytime they asked her to add more beans, they quickly remember and respond with “ṣebiotimo, ẹlẹwa ṣapọn.”

Since the revolution of her restaurant’s policy, her customers nicknamed her “ṣebiotimọ ẹlẹwa ṣapọn.” Also, she stopped cooking more than a pot of beans. So, when they asked for more, she would respond with “mo ti ṣe bi mo ti mọ” (that is, I have cut my coat according to my cloth/material).

That’s how her nickname “ṣebiotimọ,” became a proverb that’s imbibed into the Yoruba culture, which teaches the morals of you not buying things that you can not afford.

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