My Favourite Traditional Proverbs
This list provides but a small sample of the rich tradition of African proverbs:
If a donkey kicks you and you kick back, you are both donkeys. (Gambia)
An adult squatting sees farther than a child on top of tree. (Gambia)
A fly that has no one to advice it, follows the corpse into the grave. (Gambia)
Giant silk cotton trees grow out of very tiny seeds. (Gambia)
However black a cow is, the milk is always white. (Gambia)
The disobedient fowl obeys in a pot of soup (Benin – Nigeria)
The crocodile does not die under the water so that we can call the monkey to celebrate its funeral (Akan).
When two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers (Uganda).
The frog does not jump in the daytime without reason (Nigeria).
One goat cannot carry another goat’s tail (Nigeria).
The family is like the forest, if you are outside it is dense, if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position (Akan).
It is the woman whose child has been eaten by a witch who best knows the evils of witchcraft (Nigeria).
The hunter does not rub himself in oil and lie by the fire to sleep (Nigeria).
The hunter in pursuit of an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds (Uganda).
If all seeds that fall were to grow, then no one could follow the path under the trees (Akan).
Even the mightest eagle comes down to the tree tops to rest (Uganda).
A tiger does not have to proclaim its tigri-tude (Wole Soyinka – Nigeria)
Before you ask a man for clothes, look at the clothes that he is wearing (Yoruba, Nigeria)
As long as there are lice in the seams of the garment there must be bloodstains on the fingernails (Yoruba, Nigeria)
If a blind man says lets throw stones, be assured that he has stepped on one (Hausa, Nigeria)
Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter (Igbo, Nigeria)
When you are eating with the devil, you must use a long spoon (Igbo, Nigeria)
The fowl digs out the blade that kills it (Somali)
Although the snake does not fly it has caught the bird whose home is in the sky (Akan)
One should never rub bottoms with a porcupine (Akan)
Fowls will not spare a cockroach that falls in their mist (Akan)
You do not need a big stick to break a cock’s head (Akan)
Marriage is like a groundnut, you have to crack them to see what is inside (Akan)
The rain wets the leopard’s spots but does not wash them off (Akan)
If crocodiles eat their own eggs what would they do to the flesh of a frog (Nigeria)
A man does not wander far from where his corn is roasting (Nigeria)
Rat no dey born rabbit (Nigeria)
When man pikin dey piss, him dey hold something for hand. Woman wey try-am, go piss for her hand (Palmwine Drinkards, Nigeria)
Those who get to the river early drink the cleanest water (Kenya)
Hurry hurry has no blessings (Kenya)
A person changing his clothing always hides while changing (Kenya)
A donkey always says thank you with a kick (Kenya)
Nobody gathers firewood to roast a thin goat (Kenya)
Having a good discussion is like having riches (Kenya)
Many births mean many burials (Kenya)
The important things are left in the locker (Kenya)
A boy isn’t sent to collect the honey (Kenya)
If you don’t wish to have rags for clothes, don’t play with a dog (Nigeria)
No sane person sharpens his machete to cut a banana tree (Nigeria)
If a monkey is amongst dogs, why won’t it start barking? (Nigeria)
An elephant’s tasks are never too heavy for it (Zimbabwe)
It is the soil that knows that the mouse’s baby is ill (Zimbabwe)
A man who doesn’t know his or her family is like a lion wounded while trying to make a kill for lunch (B. Audifferen)
If you can walk, you can dance; If you can talk, you can sing
Greed loses what it has gained
The house-roof fights with the rain, but he who is sheltered ignores it. (Wolof)
To love the king is not bad, but a king who loves you is better. (Wolof)
Allah does not destroy the men whom one hates. (Wolof)
If nothing touches the palm-leaves they do not rustle. (Oji, Ashanti)
He is a fool whose sheep runs away twice. (Oji, Ashanti)
The man who has bread to eat does not appreciate the severity of a famine. (Yoruba)
Because friendship is pleasant, we partake of our friend’s entertainment; not because we have not enough to eat in our own house. (Yoruba)
When your neighbor’s horse falls into a pit, you should not rejoice at it, for your own child may fall into it too. (Yoruba)
The pot-lid is always badly off: the pot gets all the sweet, the lid nothing but steam. (Yoruba)
His opinions are like water in the bottom of a canoe, going from side to side. (Efik)
You lament not the dead, but lament the trouble of making a grave; the way of the ghost is longer than the grave. (Efik)
For no man could be blessed without the acceptance of his own head. (Yoruba)
If you don’t sell your head, no one will buy it. (Yoruba)
The bell rings loudest in your own home. (Yoruba)
No one can uproot the tree which God has planted. (Yoruba)
Where you will sit when you are old shows where you stood in youth. (Yoruba)
Nobody knows the mysteries which lie at the bottom of the ocean. (Yoruba)
If we stand tall it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us. (Yoruba)
When you stand with the blessings of your mother and God, it matters not who stands against you. (Yoruba)
After we fry the fat, we see what is left. (Yoruba)
When the door is closed, you must learn to slide across the crack of the sill. (Yoruba)
You must be willing to die in order to live. (Yoruba)
What you give you get, ten times over. (Yoruba)
Stretch your hands as far as they reach, grab all you can grab. (Yoruba)
If you are on a road to nowhere, find another road. (Ashanti)
You must act as if it is impossible to fail. (Ashanti)
Do not follow the path. Go where there is no path to begin the trail. (Ashanti)
The ruin of a nation begins in the home of its people. (Ashanti)
Do not let what you cannot do tear from your hands what you can. (Ashanti)
True power comes through cooperation and silence. (Ashanti)
Force against force equals more force. (Ashanti)
Two men in a burning house must not stop to argue. (Ashanti)
One falsehood spoils a thousand truths. (Ashanti)
The one who asks questions doesn’t lose his way. (Akan)
You must eat an elephant one bite at a time. (Twi)
It is a fool whose own tomatoes are sold to him. (Akan)
You must live within your sacred truth. (Hausa)
Strategy is better than strength. (Hausa)
When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. (Kikuyu)
A child who is to be successful is not to be reared exclusively on a bed of down. (Akan)
Treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day, give him a hoe! (Swahili)
Wisdom is not like money to be tied up and hidden. (Akan)
The friend of a fool is a fool. The friend of a wise person is another wise person. (The Husia)
You cannot pick up a pebble with one finger. (Malawi)
Two hippopotamuses cannot share the same hole. (Cote d’Ivoire)
One bean does not make a whole meal. (Morocco)
An axe does not cut down a tree by itself. (Burkina Faso)
The tortoise is friends with the snail: those with shells keep their shells close together. (Benin)
People helping one another can bring an elephant into the house. (Rwanda)
When you wake up in the morning you see the other person’s butt.
Nobody mourns an unnoticed death. (Burundi)
The river may be wide, but it can be crossed. (Cote d’Ivoire).
He who eats well speaks well or it is a question of insanity. (Yoruba)
No matter how long a log may float in the water, it will never become a crocodile. (Gambia)
The blacksmith in one village becomes a blacksmith’s apprentice in another (Ghana)
If a child’s hands are clean, he can eat with elders (Gambia)
A child who denies their mother a night’s sleep will also remain awake (Gambia)
He who has been bitten by a snake becomes scared by the sight of a rope. (Hausa)
One rotten bean is enough to spoil the entire sauce. (Dan wake daya ke bata miya). (hausa)
Famine strikes the adult as much as the child (Yunwa cadi yaro cadi baba). (Hausa)
One hand washes the other (Isandla siya kezane) (Zulu)
“Boto kensengo buka lo no” (Gambia – Mandinka) – An empty bag can not stand.
Mix yourself with the grain and you will be eaten by the pigs. (South Africa)
The same heat that melts ghee, hardens the egg.