I came upon the proverb “the axe forgets but the tree remembers” a few days ago, and it immediately stayed in my mind for so long.
It sounds simple yet melodic, and behind it, there’s a deep sorrow.
Okay, the truth is, I found the proverb too relatable to my life, especially an event that just happened not too long ago. I will talk about it more below. However, if you are only here to find the meaning and the origin of the proverb, that is okay too.
The Axe Forgets But the Tree Remembers Meaning
The proverb uses the axe and the tree as metaphors to represent a person who hurts another person.
It means that the person who gets hurt will always remember, and will have a scar – while the other person who harms will forget or may not even realize what they have done.
As we know, axes are made to do damage. Before an axe is broken, it probably has hit more than a hundred trees so they will not likely remember any specific tree. However, any individual tree is sure to remember the axe that has hit them.
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The Axe Forgets But the Tree Remembers Origin
The axe forgets but the tree remembers is an African proverb, specifically from the Shona tribe in Zimbabwe.
Between the Shona people, this proverb is being used a lot when they grow up. They may hear people, specifically the elderly, use it in their village or at their schools.
Of course, the original proverb is in their language, the Shona language. It sounds like this, “chinokanganwa idemo asi chitsiga chakatemwa hachikanganwi” which literally means “it’s the axe that forgets, but the stump that was cut will never forget”.
A former Prime Minister of Rhodesia Ian Douglas Smith once claimed that the happiest Africans on earth are black Rhodesians. In response, the elderly there would mumble this proverb because Smith, as the white ruler, did not have the right to speak on his victims’ behalf.
The Shona people use the proverb to remind those who wrong others that while they may not realize or forget what they have provoked, the sufferers remember. They also will add that justice or punishment will eventually come to those people.
Based on what we have discussed, it seems that the proverb has a pretty dark connotation, because they don’t use it in a forgiving way – rather in a revengeful way. Every time the Shona people use it, there is an underlying desire for retribution.
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Am I Victimizing Myself?
Sometimes, when I feel traumatized or hurt while the other person who did it acts like they don’t know what they have done, I end up blaming myself for being weak or having a victim mentality.
I don’t have a good relationship with my father for many reasons. But notably, he was abusive to me and my mother. Thankfully, my parents have been separated and I have lived with my mother for years.
I’m not really in contact with my father anymore. But if he messaged me, I would answer it, cooly most of the time.
But recently, I have received a message from him. It was a forgiveness message, but not the kind that I expected. The message says, “I have forgiven you for everything.”
I immediately felt angry. Stunned. Confused. What have I done to him that needs to be forgiven? Do I need to ask forgiveness from a person who abused me and my mother?
Therefore, when I came upon the proverb the axe forgets but the tree remembers, I felt like an epiphany came to me.
I am the victim. I don’t need to ask for forgiveness from him.
In the end, I realized that the act of forgetting that they do is a continuation of yet another bad deed that they have always done.
Okay, phew, that’s the end of today’s trauma dumping. I’m not going to lie, that felt good hahaha.
So, what do you think about the proverb? And of course, personal stories are allowed! 🙂