African Proverbs

Proverbs are an integral part of African culture. Passed on from generation to generation for centuries, they are still in wide use today and are very much part of everyday speech. Proverbs are used to illustrate ideas, reinforce arguments and deliver messages of inspiration, consolation and celebration.

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  • The eyes do not carry the load but they know what the head can carry
  • A fool and water will go the way they are diverted”
  • The great Nigerian author Chinua Achebe once wrote: “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.”
  • When the mouse laughs at the cat there is a hole nearby. Nigeria
  • He who hunts two rats at the same time catches none. Uganda
  • The sky is too big for two birds to clash. Nigeria
  • A person who sells eggs should not start a fight in the market. Zambia
  • The tree that cannot shed its old leaves in the dry season cannot survive the period of drought. Tanzania
  • You cannot shave a man’s head in his absence. Nigeria
  • If you are filled with pride, then you will have no room for wisdom. Juba, South Sudan
  • Every monkey is a gazelle in the eyes of his mother. Northern Africa.
  • If money were to be found up in the trees, most people would be married to monkeys. Cameroon
  • If crocodiles eat their own eggs, what would they do to the flesh of a frog? Nigerian
  • He who does not look ahead always remains behind. Yaoundé, Cameroon
  • You may well have two legs but you still can’t climb two trees at the same time. Ethiopian
  • Even if the cock does not crow, the sun will rise. Zimbabwe
  • Those who like to play with dogs are likely to get their clothes torn. Nigeria
  • Advice and counsel him; if he does not listen, let adversity teach him. Ethiopia
  • If while climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you. Kenya
  • A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow. Lesotho.
  • The rain that makes a bitter leaf even bitterer is the same one that sweetens the sugar cane. Sierra Leone.
  • Slowly, but surely, the egg will walk on its legs. Ethiopia.
  • One must row in whichever boat one finds oneself. Nigeria.
  • You should not hire a hyena to protect your goats. Kampala,
  • One person alone does not climb the ladder of death. Ghana.
  • Leading a race does not mean that you will win it. Zambia
  • There’s no bad bush where you can throw away a bad child. Sierra Leone.
  • The breeze that disgraces the chicken always comes from the back. Liberia. The Gambia
  • Do not blame God for creating the tiger. Be thankful he didn’t give him wings. Ethiopian
  • Advice is a stranger; if he is welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day. Madagascar
  • When a lizard nods its head, it does not mean that all is well. Ashanti, Ghana
  • One finger alone cannot wash a face. Somalia.
  • That a tiger prowls along quietly does not mean he is timid. Nigeria
  • Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors. Malawi
  • A fish has nothing to do with a raincoat. Sierra Leone.
  • You cannot look through the neck of a bottle with both eyes at the same time. Ghana
  • One head cannot carry a roof. Lilongwe, Malawi
  • Do not expect to be offered a chair when you are visiting a place where the chief sits on the floor. South Africa
  • He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • A snake will always give birth to something long. Nigeria, Liberia
  • If a frog comes out of the water and tells you that the crocodile is dead, do not doubt it. Ghana
  • The day the monkey is destined to die all the trees get slippery. Kenya
  • The firewood gathered when you are healthy warms you when you are sick. Uganda
  • Every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner. Nigeria
  • Don’t be in a hurry to swallow when chewing is pleasant. Malawi
  • If you are slow but resolute, you accomplish much. Uganda
  • Beware of the naked man who offers you clothes.
  • You will never know the importance of the buttocks until you have a boil on one of them. Ghana
  • Do not beat a drum with an axe. Ghana
  • Only the soil knows that the baby mouse is sick. Zimbabwe
  • When the hyena is the judge, the goat has no rights. Uganda
  • When the bush is on fire, grasshoppers have no time to say good bye to each other. South Sudan
  • One does not tell a deaf person that war has broken out. Igbo, Nigeria.
  • It is better to have an old bride than to sleep in a bachelor’s hut. Zimbabwe
  • A fowl does not forget where it lays its eggs. Ghana
  • If a cockroach wants to rule over the chicken, then it must hire a fox as a body-guard. Nigeria
  • If the tiger sits, do not think it is out of respect. Uganda
  • Don’t set out on a journey using someone else’s donkey. Somalia
  • A baby on its mother’s back does not know the way is long. Nigeria

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