African proverbs are short, wise and memorable sayings that are passed down orally from generation to generation in African cultures. These proverbs often convey traditional knowledge, cultural values, and common sense advice, and are used to teach important life lessons, morals, and values.
They cover a wide range of topics, including relationships, wisdom, morality, and the environment. African proverbs are typically expressed in a poetic and figurative language that is easily understood by members of the community, and they are often used to evoke a sense of pride in African culture and heritage. They are an important part of African folklore and are used in a variety of contexts, including storytelling, formal speeches, and everyday conversation.
If you are looking for African proverbs and their meaning, this article is written for you. As a continent endowed with natural resources, talent and creativity, Africa is also blessed with thousands of ancient wisdom passed down from generation to generation. Proverbs are idiomatic expressions used in conveying message or advice in a different manner.
In this article, we will reveal popular ancient wisdoms that are worth mentioning. We hope that some of them will help you in your daily life.
These proverbs were kept by our ancestors and are very useful today. From Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to the Okavango Delta in Botswana and many other great natural wonders in Africa, African proverbs combine yesterday’s history, today’s struggle and tomorrow’s glory. Here are the list of popular African proverbs we are used to hearing and their meanings.
140 POPULAR AFRICAN PROVERBS AND THEIR MEANINGS
- Only a fool with both feet can feel the depth of the river.
Meaning: Do not enter a situation without prior thought.
- The power of the crocodile is in the water
Meaning: You are stronger in your environment than anywhere else
- Knowledge is like a garden: if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.
Meaning: If you want to be well informed, you have to learn and seek knowledge.
- The best way to eat an elephant along the way is to cut it into small pieces
Meaning: You can solve each problem step by step
- When the hand passes over the elbow, it becomes something else
Meaning: Be careful when strangers are too liberated
- Whoever wants to eat from the stone must not look at the tips of the ax.
Meaning: If you want to be successful, be prepared to sacrifice
- The farmer does not clean the weeds and expects the grass to dry immediately
Meaning: Patience is necessary in everything you do in life.
- The insect that eats the cola nut is right on the list
Meaning: Your enemy is always closer to you than you think.
- When your jam burns, you will not lend your knife to anyone else
Meaning: Be content before you think of others
- You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets
Meaning: You have to work hard to be successful.
- A child who says his mother will not sleep will stay awake
Meaning: Your actions and inactions always affect you.
- A restless leg can enter a snake pit
Meaning: Those who are engaged in doing nothing can easily get into trouble.
- A roaring lion will not kill anyone.
Meaning: You will not achieve anything just by talking about it.
- Whoever draws a goat to the market is also at the market
Meaning: Anyone who tries to blur someone else’s image will blur his own image.
- The rain falls on the leopard skin, but does not wash the spots
Meaning: You cannot change the real character of a person, no matter how hard you try.
- You can’t teach an old gorilla forest trails
Meaning: Respect and listen to your elders
- When the snake bites, the lizard is afraid.
Meaning: You must be very careful in any situation that has hurt you before
- The Battle of the Grasshoppers is a feast for the hawks
Meaning: If you are not united, open the door to attack
- Do not call your host in the rainforest
Meaning: It is foolish to insult someone on whom survival depends
- No matter how angry he is, he doesn’t know how to cook sweet potatoes
Meaning: Anger is not always the solution
- The lizard, which jumped from Iroko’s tall tree to the ground, said she would brag if no one else did.
Meaning: This is one of the most famous African proverbs about leadership. This means that one should always remain satisfied with one’s results, even if no one cares.
- The lizard that ruined her mother’s funeral, what did she expect the others to do?
Meaning: This is a famous African proverb about life and death. In African culture, a mother’s burial is an individual matter. Nobody cares how you plan it. This saying means that if you stop an activity that worries you, don’t believe that others are doing it differently. Nigerians use this proverb if they want to warn someone of their approach to planning.
- Who sees the old witch squatting, has to leave her alone, who knows how to breathe?
Meaning: You should never interfere in other people’s problems, especially if you know nothing about them.
- Brother’s anger is felt in the body, not the bones.
Meaning: You must forget and forgive everything your relatives have done for you.
- Corn gives birth and dies once because it is not rooted in the soil.
Meaning: Without good foundations, you will never reach the top and remain prosperous.
- Whoever swallows seeds ‘married’ must reckon with the size of his stomach
Meaning: The seed of “Udala” is the seed of an apple. He never digests his stomach. This proverb means that one should always think of all the possible consequences of one’s actions.
- A fly that has no one to advise goes to the grave behind the corpse.
Meaning: You will fall into the trap if you do not have good advice or refuse to follow it.
- When the handshake passes over the elbow, it becomes something else.
Meaning: It is one of the most common African proverbs about friendship. This means that you should always be careful if someone else knows or makes fun of you.
- She loves the meat of a hearse, but she recovers when she falls ill.
Meaning: one who wants others to spend money for him but is unable to do so.
- White against chewing ‘Igbegul’ (palm trunk), when left on the ground, let it rise in the palm of your hand and eat.
Meaning: ‘Igbegulu’ is the trunk of a palm tree. The proverb is about a situation where people bully you if they don’t realize who you are and find themselves in the fog of everyone else.
- When a large tree falls, the birds scatter across the bushes.
Meaning: This is another famous African proverb about leadership. When a great leader dies, many people lose their way if they do not find a successor.
- No matter how long the trunk stays in the water, it will not become a crocodile.
Meaning: You will always be who you are, no matter how long you pretend to be.
- A bird that jumps off the ground and lands on a hill may not know it, but it is still on the ground.
Meaning: You may think that you have attained greatness, but you have not begun. Wise people in Africa use this proverb to warn an arrogant man.
- An ordinary snake, when it sees a man alone, can turn into a python in his eyes.
Meaning: It is never enough to judge something by the male version.
- The same thing that killed the mother mouse is always there to make sure the puppies never open their eyes.
Meaning: Bad people are always at work.
- A boy who insists on asking what killed his father before he regained his strength for revenge may ask about his father’s fate.
Meaning: You should never start fighting unless you are ready or old enough to win.
- A man who despises monkey disease should ask to see what his nanny’s eyes are when extinguishing a sick fire.
Meaning: Before ignoring the difficulties of others, you should always consider the effects it has on you and your family.
- When death wants to take the dog, it even prevents him from noticing the smell of feces.
Meaning: This is another great African proverb about life and death. You will never hear the advice of the sages if you are doomed.
- A man who sees a chicken throwing manure must stop. Who knows who will eat the leg?
Meaning: It is one of the most famous African proverbs about marriage.
- Whenever you see that a girl is behaving badly, take advantage of it, because you never know who will marry her.
Meaning: You can always be you or a family member.
- If this mouse can’t run fast enough, give the turtles room.
Meaning: If you cannot do something, let others try it. No one has complete knowledge or power.
- Black grouse with beautiful feathers.
Meaning: This proverb is about a thing or a person who is useless. Useless person or thing. It is often used when people talk about a beautiful woman in a bad mood.
- Look for the dark goat during the day at the earliest, because you may not find it at night.
Meaning: You should always organize and pursue your goals before it is too late to achieve them.
- What the old man saw sitting down could not be seen by the young man standing
Meaning: Older people always have more knowledge and wisdom than younger people.
- The day I need a wife is a market full of lunatics
Meaning: If you want something, you will never get it. It is a commonly used saying about bad luck.
- When a man builds a fence, you know the level of his wisdom.
Meaning: Your knowledge is always revealed in your activities.
- The bird does not forget those who cut their feathers during the rainy season.
Meaning: A man will never forget the help given to him in difficult times.
- The gentle stride of a Triger is not a symbol of cowardice
Meaning: It simply means do not take me for a coward simply because I look calm and easy
- Break the nut for chicken.
Meaning: This proverb is used when one is crying in vain for something.
- Send your child where he wants and you will see his rhythm.
Meaning: Passion must always guide our actions.
- The baby’s fingers do not burn a piece of hot sweet potato, which his mother puts in his hand.
Meaning: Whatever it is, your inheritance will never kill you.
- The old woman is always embarrassed when the proverb says dry bones.
Meaning: This proverb means that your mind will judge whether you are guilty of a crime, and now it has been said.
- The chicken that grows into a rooster can be seen on the day it hatches.
Meaning: There is a sign for every situation to which you are prone in the early stages if you seem critical. Of course, there are hundreds of African proverbs.
- A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground – No matter how high you rise in life, never forget where you came from.
A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches – Early signs of potential should not be ignored.
A child who is carried on the back will not know how far the journey is – People who don’t experience something firsthand cannot truly understand it.
A closed mouth catches no flies – If you don’t speak up, you won’t be heard.
A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies – Don’t pretend to be something you’re not.
A crowing chicken invites the hawk – Bragging can attract unwanted attention.
A dog that intends to bite does not bear its teeth – Sometimes people who are planning something harmful don’t give any warning signs.
A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it cannot break – Family bonds are strong and durable.
A good swimmer is not safe from drowning – Even someone who is very skilled can still fail or face danger.
A single bracelet does not jingle – You need others to achieve success.
A smart enemy is better than a foolish friend – A clever opponent can be more beneficial than an unwise ally.
A wise person is one who knows how to learn – It is important to be open to learning and growth.
After all is said and done, more is said than done – People often talk more than they act.
All fingers are not the same – People have different strengths and weaknesses.
All that glitters is not gold – Appearances can be deceiving.
An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep – Leadership is important.
An old man sitting down sees more than a young man standing up – Experience can bring wisdom.
An ox remains an ox even if it wears a crown – You cannot change who you are.
As porridge benefits those who heat and eat it, so does a child benefit those that rear it – Children benefit from the love and care of their parents or guardians.
Bad friends will prevent you from having good friends – Choose your friends wisely.
Bad is never good until worse happens – Sometimes things need to get worse before they can get better.
By crawling, a child learns to stand – Success comes through practice and learning.
By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed – It’s better to learn from others’ mistakes than to make them yourself.
Children are the reward of life – Children bring joy and meaning to life.
Do not let what you cannot do tear from your hands what you can – Don’t focus on what you can’t do, but rather what you can.
Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped – Identify the cause of a problem, not just the symptoms.
Don’t cross the river if you cannot swim – Don’t take on tasks or challenges that are beyond your abilities.
Even an ant can hurt an elephant – Even small things can have a big impact.
Even if the sun forgets shining, the shepherd mustn’t forget feeding his sheep – Responsibilities cannot be neglected.
Even the best dancer on the stage must retire sometime – Everyone has their time in the spotlight and must eventually move on.
Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing – Appearances can be deceiving.
“A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground.” – Even if someone has achieved great things, they still have flaws and can make mistakes.
“A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches.” – You can tell the potential of a person from a young age.
“A child who is carried on the back will not know how far the journey is.” – If someone is always dependent on others, they may not understand the struggles they face.
“A closed mouth catches no flies.” – If you don’t speak up, you won’t get what you want.
“A dog knows the places he is thrown food.” – People will always go back to places or people that are familiar to them.
“A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it cannot break.” – Family bonds are strong and can withstand difficult times.
“A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow.” – When two weaker parties are fighting, a stronger party can take advantage of the situation.
“A fly that has no one to advise it, follows the corpse into the grave.” – If you don’t listen to advice, you may end up making the same mistakes as others.
“A good dancer knows when to leave the floor.” – Knowing when to quit is just as important as knowing when to start.
“A good leader is a good listener.” – A good leader takes the time to listen to the opinions and concerns of others.
“A hoe never misses its way to the farm.” – If you have a clear goal, you will always find your way to it.
“A horse has four legs, but it still stumbles.” – Even the strongest people can make mistakes or face challenges.
“A leopard cannot change its spots.” – People’s character and behavior are often consistent.
“A little fire that warms is better than a big fire that burns.” – It’s better to have something that is small but meaningful than something large but harmful.
“A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness.” – Treating others with respect can lead to positive outcomes for oneself.
“A monkey never thinks her baby is ugly.” – Parents will always see the best in their children.
“A mother never dies.” – A mother’s influence and love are always present, even after she passes away.
“A new broom sweeps clean but an old broom knows every corner.” – Experience is valuable and can be more useful than something new.
“A person who is far from the enemy has the chance to return.” – It’s important to stay away from situations that can harm you.
“A person who is unable to dance says that the yard is stony.” – People often make excuses for their own shortcomings.
“A person with too much ambition cannot sleep in peace.” – Too much ambition can lead to stress and anxiety.
“A rat who gnaws at a cat’s tail invites destruction.” – It’s not wise to provoke someone or something that is much stronger than you.
“A single stick may smoke, but it will not burn.” – Unity is strength, and working together can accomplish more than individual efforts.
“A small bird that sings well is better than a bird that does not sing at all.” – It’s better to do something well, even if it’s small, than not to do anything at all.
A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground – No matter how high a person may rise in life, they should remember where they came from.
A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches – One can see the potential of someone from an early stage.
A closed mouth catches no flies – If you do not talk too much, you are less likely to say something foolish.
A clear conscience is more valuable than wealth – Having a good conscience is priceless and more important than material possessions.
A donkey always says thank you with a kick – Some people never appreciate kindness.
A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it cannot break – No matter the challenges, family always remains strong.
A good name is better than a good ointment – A good reputation is more valuable than wealth or material possessions.
A leopard cannot change its spots – People cannot change who they truly are.
A liar’s pants will eventually catch fire – The truth always comes out in the end.
A man’s wealth may be superior to him – Wealth does not define a person.
A person who is strong cannot be destroyed by strength alone – Inner strength is more important than physical strength.
A person who sells eggs should not start a fight in the market – People who are in a vulnerable position should not provoke others.
A person who wants to cross a river should not insult the crocodile – One should never disrespect those who have more power.
A person who wears a hat knows why they wear it – Only the person knows their own motives and reasons for their actions.
A single bracelet does not jingle – One person alone cannot accomplish much, but many people working together can achieve great things.
A small axe can cut down a big tree – Even small actions can have a big impact.
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor – One becomes stronger through adversity and challenges.
A tree is known by its fruit – People are known by their actions and deeds.
After dark, all cats are leopards – Things may seem scarier or more dangerous in the dark.
An elephant that dies leaves a big hole – When someone important passes away, their absence is felt deeply.
An old camel makes a straight furrow – Age and experience bring wisdom.
An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb – Some memories are too painful to discuss.
As you sow, so shall you reap – The consequences of your actions will come back to you.
Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know – It is better to deal with a problem or situation that is familiar rather than a new one that may be worse.
Birds of a feather flock together – People with similar interests or characteristics tend to stick together.
Blood is thicker than water – Family bonds are stronger than other relationships.
Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you – There is safety in numbers.
Do not call a man a fool until you know him well – One should not judge others without knowing them first.
Do not remove a fly from your friend’s forehead with a hatchet – One should not overreact or use excessive force to deal with small problems.
Do not throw stones at a man who is carrying a pot of water – One should not criticize or mock those who are trying to do something difficult.
“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”- when people come together and work towards a common goal, they can accomplish great things even if they are small and seemingly insignificant.
These African proverbs are wisdom filled, anytime you need meanings of popular African proverbs, you can always check the list above for their meanings.