The Fascinating Story Behind the Yoruba Proverb “Se Bíotimo, Ẹlẹ́wà Sàpọ́n”

In Abeokuta, Ogun State, a popular saying has been passed down for generations: “Se Bíotimo, Ẹlẹ́wà Sàpọ́n,” meaning “Cut your coat according to your size.” But few know the intriguing history behind this phrase.

The story begins at Sapon, a bustling hub in Abeokuta where people, especially bachelors, would gather to enjoy delicious food and drinks. Sapon was extracted from the phrase “Saponloore, Se Apon loore,” meaning “help the bachelors.” This vibrant spot connected several major roads, including Ijaiye, Ago-Oba, Itoku, Lafenwa, Isale Igbein, and Ake.

At the heart of Sapon was a remarkable woman named Madam Janet Ewusi Odesola, who sold mouthwatering beans with stew, known as Ẹ̀wà Pekule. Her beans were a sensation, attracting people from all walks of life, including kings, government officials, men, women, and children. Born in 1925, Madam Janet attended Methodist Primary School in Ijoko, Abeokuta, and initially hawked dry fish before venturing into cooked beans in 1951.

As her bean business flourished, Madam Janet faced a challenge. People loved her beans so much that they would often buy on credit, and she struggled to keep up with the debts. To address this, she adopted a clever strategy. When customers came to buy, she would ask for money upfront. If they had 10 kobo, she would sell 10 kobo worth of beans. If they asked for more on credit, she would say, “SEBIOTIMO” – “cut your cloth according to your size.” This phrase became synonymous with her no-credit policy.

Over time, people grew accustomed to Madam Janet’s approach and would often anticipate her response. They began calling her “Se Biotimo, Elewa Sapon,” a nickname that stuck. Interestingly, she only sold one big pot of beans daily and wouldn’t cook extra, so when asked why, she would reply, “Mo se bi motimo ni” – “I cut my cloth according to my size.”

Madam Janet’s wisdom and business acumen have left a lasting legacy in the form of this Yoruba proverb, reminding us to live within our means and prioritize financial prudence. The next time you hear “Se Bíotimo, Ẹlẹ́wà Sàpọ́n,” remember the inspiring story of Madam Janet Ewusi Odesola, the bean seller who taught her community the value of financial responsibility.

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