You can take the boy out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the boy

Lynne Booker July 2013

Rui and Marinela Soares
Rui and Marinela Soares

Tavira-born Rui João Baptista Soares has studied and worked in both the USA and the UK, Finland, Poland (among others) and he has now come back to his roots in Tavira where he has been awarded the Municipal Medal of Merit for good service and dedication. The ceremony took place at the Municipal Library on the Dia de Cidade (24 June 2010).

After school in Tavira and Faro, Rui furthered his education at Lisbon University where he studied applied mathematics and geographic engineering. He was awarded a Master´s degree in Math Education at the University of Boston, a Master´s in Intercultural Relations at the Open University (OU) and then a PhD in the Science of Education (specialising in Intercultural Education), also at the OU. He has taught at all levels of education and specialised in further education courses in mathematics, intercultural relations and information technology.

It is never too late to learn

Rui is the President of AIP-IAP and for the last six years, Tavira has hosted the annual International and Interdisciplinary Colloquia on Proverbs. Peter and I were invited by a Portuguese friend to attend an event organised by the Associação Internacional de Paremiologia/ International Association of Paremiology (AIP-IAP), and it was here that I first met Rui Soares. Although I was pleased at learning a new word in Portuguese, I found that the English translation was unhelpful: International Association of Paremiology. Recourse to the dictionary showed that paremiology comes from the Greek word παροιμία - paroimía,meaning proverb or maxim, and paremiology itself, the study of proverbs, dates back to the time of Aristotle (fourth century BC).

AIP-IAP is the only association of its kind in the world (what a benefit to us that its home is here in Tavira). Its aims are: to encourage international cooperation in paremiology; to encourage public officials to establish programs of educational activities using proverbs; to encourage young researchers to protect intangible cultural heritage; to organise the annual conference of national and international paremiology; and to promote studies in paremiology. After spending an hour of so with the enthusiastic Rui and his wife Marinela, I began to understand his fascination with proverbs.

It´s all Greek to me

The Bible (and not just the Book of Proverbs) is the source of the most of the earliest proverbs and Erasmus´s translation of the Bible into Medieval Latin played a considerable role in the distribution of proverbs across Europe. Most countries have examples of their own national proverbs depending upon local observations but there are about 100 proverbs held in common over all of Europe. But proverbs are being coined all of the time particularly in advertising. The current most prominent scholar in the field of paremiology is Wolfgang Mieder of the USA who has edited or written over 200 books on the subject. His definition of a proverb is: A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation.

When the wind is in the East it is good for neither man nor beast

A proverb is a way of bridging the divide between humanities and science because it is a literary means of explaining probability explained Rui. He quoted a number of Portuguese proverbs regarding the weather. These proverbs have been coined out of the observations and experience of many people through time. These proverbs may not be correct on every occasion but the probability of them being true is perhaps no different from the probability that a scientific forecast will be right. The paremiologist can apply scientific principle to the folk memory or proverb of a people, and demonstrate that the folk memory may have more than mere group memory as a basis. That folk memory is often distilled into a proverb.

Rui also spoke about the sexist nature of many proverbs: they are anti-women and generally show that woman´s role was in the home. This sexism reflects the fact that most proverbs were written by men.

He who runs with action is never tired

Rui and Marinela are ´retired´ and they say that 80% of their time is now dedicated to the work of AIP-IAP. Together they organise the annual conferences and enthusiasts come from as far afield as Japan, Finland and the USA to participate in the conferences of this unique association. Rui and Marinela ensure that the conference proceedings are written up and they also spend a large proportion of their time in answering e-mail queries about the work of AIP-IAP and about particular proverbs.

At present Rui is working on an exhibition of illustrated proverbs to be displayed in the Municipal Library at Beja. In schools Rui and Marinela use proverbs to help people to think and they also organise talks and exhibitions around Tavira. In addition Rui has written, coordinated or edited twelve books about proverbs.

Rui disclosed a fact which I found amazing. Paremiologists have researched the use of proverbs in the speech and writing of famous people on the basis that the study of an individual´s use of proverbs may give us some indication of the kind of people that they are. Studies of the speeches of Barack Obama, of Martin Luther King, of ex-President Sarkozy give clues to their psychology and to their thought processes. This type of study can be applied to the great authors of the past and research has been done in Spain, surprisingly, on the analysis of the proverbs used by Shakespeare.

Constant dripping wears away the stone

It is clear that Rui´s earlier studies in the disciplines of mathematics, geography, IT and intercultural relations have provided an academic basis to his research on paremiology. The Tavira Municipal Medal of Merit for Rui´s work is well deserved since he is bringing international renown to his birthplace. Applying one of the proverbs to him and Marinela, we might say long may he and Marinela continue to drip away at the stone, wearing it away and making a mark.