African proverbs are not just witty sayings. They are quotes of inspiration and pages of knowledge succinctly captured in a single sentence or two or three. They are gifts from older generations’ life experiences to the younger generation. These “words of wisdom” or “words of elders” usually have a deeper meaning and convey many truths about life. Just as there are multiple languages in Africa, there are also various proverbs spanning across different areas of life—friendship, love, life and death, happiness, etc.
The Meaning Behind Proverbs
These sayings are often metaphorical and require deep thinking and reflection to appreciate. Although some African proverbs possess euphemisms, are short, and funny, they are also very insightful. However, most of these sayings help to preserve African cultures. They can influence perspectives and change the way you think. Here are some of the African proverbs that will change your life forever.
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1.”The strength of the crocodile is in the water.”
People are more likely to succeed at what they do and reach their full potentials when located in the right environment and the right conditions. Your environment greatly influences your life’s outcome and can either help build or suppress your potentials or talents.The strength of the crocodile is in the water. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
2. “A roaring lion kills no game.”
Achievements do not come by merely talking about them. They require hard work. If you must achieve your goals or get something done, quit talking and start working.A roaring lion kills no game. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
3. “If you offend, ask for a pardon; if offended, forgive.”
This proverb is as straightforward as it sounds. Regardless of who it is, you should apologize when you wrong someone. Also, if anyone wrongs or upsets you, you should forgive the person. Holding onto wrongdoings hurts you more than the offender.If you offend, ask for a pardon; if offended, forgive. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
4. “To be without friends is to be truly poor.”
This proverb exposes the importance of friendship to everyone. True friendship is wealth because they are a source of help and encouragement in times of need. Today, your network determines your net worth. So, the entirety and substance of your network affect your net worth.
5. “Do not repair another man’s fence until you have seen your own.”
Learn to address your own life’s problems and challenges before poking your nose into someone else’s. Don’t meddle in people’s issues or affairs unnecessarily. Face your life!Do not repair another man's fence until you have seen your own. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
6.”A restless foot may walk into a snake pit.”
You can quickly get into trouble if you remain idle for a long time or if you get involved in something you don’t understand.A restless foot may walk into a snake pit. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
7. “If the rat cannot flee enough, let it give way for the tortoise.”
Nobody is all-wise or all-knowing. If you do not have the capacity or knowledge to carry out a task, give way to people who can.If the rat cannot flee enough, let it give way for the tortoise. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
8. “A fowl does not forget the one who trims his feathers during the raining season.”
In Africa, raining season is sometimes likened to a challenging or difficult period generally. However, this situation is more peculiar to fowls because of the hunting difficulty they experience due to their feathers’ rapid or overwhelming growth. This proverb means that a person rarely forgets anyone who helps during difficulties and the help rendered.A fowl does not forget the one who trims his feathers during the raining season. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
9. “A chick that will grow into a rooster can be spotted the very day it hatches.”
The outcome of every situation can be predetermined through certain signs if you look or examine it closely.
10. “A toad does not run in the day for nothing; there must be a green snake in the grass.”
Uncommon events or actions are usually a result of unusual incidences. If something strange happens, there is a strange reason why.A toad does not run in the day for nothing; there must be a green snake in the grass. - African Proverb Click To Tweet
10 Proverbs on Wisdom
11. “Do not set sail using someone else’s star.”
Do whatever works for you and avoid imitating other people. Avoid copying someone else’s work or path because what works for another person may not work for you. Find what works for you and follow that path.
12.”Nobody knows the beginning of a great man.”
Greatness is not always predictable because most times, the beginning may look laughable and frustrating. Therefore, make conscious efforts not to laugh at people or put them down because of their status. The fact that they are small now doesn’t mean they will remain small forever. People or situations that make you laugh today may become a source of inspiration tomorrow.
13. “A fly that has no others to advise him follows a corpse to the grave.”
You will die lonely if you have no good friends who give genuine and sound advice when necessary. Furthermore, you are also bound to get into trouble or make terrible decisions when you refuse to listen to good advice.
14. “A hippopotamus can be made invisible in dark water.”
Ignorance can negatively influence your perspective of things and, in turn, allow you to make decisions that put you at risk of danger. Ignorance makes you blind to apparent dangers or red flags. Learn to acquire knowledge so that you can always be informed and alert.
15.”Knowledge is like a garden; if you do not cultivate it, it cannot be harvested.”
Until you consciously seek or acquire knowledge, you cannot have it. Also, the acquired knowledge is of no benefit when left unused and becomes useless. Therefore, gain understanding and apply what you have learned.
16.“He who sees an old hag squatting should leave her alone; who knows how she breathes?”
Quit interfering in people’s affairs, especially when you barely know anything about their lives.
17.”Wood already touched by fire is not hard to alight.”
When starting something for the first time, the first steps you take might be complicated. However, things become way easier with time.
18.“Wisdom is like a Baobab tree, and no one person can embrace it.”
Knowledge is incredibly vast, and one person can’t have a grasp of everything. Therefore. Knowledge and wisdom belong to every person.
19.”Look for a dark goat first in the daytime because you may not fight it at night.”
Make your plans, set your life goals, and make efforts to achieve them before you run out of time. Do all you need to do while you still have the time.
20.”An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.”
This proverb means that your mind wouldn’t be at rest when a crime you have committed is being debated. Also, if you have ever overcome a difficult situation, there is a huge chance you don’t want to go back there. Therefore, you tend to become uneasy when such situations come up in discussions.
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21. “A child who washes his hands can dine with kings.”
Opportunities are only possibilities to those who prepare. Make conscious efforts to train yourself and prepare for opportunities. You can never tell when they’ll come—and will pass if you are not ready.
22. “The iguana puffs up to make itself look like a man.”
People pretend to be something they are not just to feel important. However, this only lasts for a short time as they cannot keep up with this pretense for long.
23. “No matter how long a log stays in the water, it cannot become a crocodile.”
You will always remain who you are, regardless of the show you put on. A pretentious or fake life does not change anything about the real you.
24.”When a man builds a fence, you will know his level of wisdom.”
Your level of knowledge and understanding reflects in your actions and results. The decisions you make and the actions you take are a mirror of your level of expertise.
25. “He who will swallow an “udara” (African star apple) seed must first consider the size of his stomach.”
The “udara” seed doesn’t digest when ingested. Be sure to consider the consequences of your actions before taking them.
26. “When the rain falls on the leopard, it wets the spots on his skin but does not wash them off.”
Challenges or circumstances do not change people’s nature and real character.
27. “The cobra that blocks the path is going his own way, yet people run from him when they see him.”
The consequence of a bad reputation or name is lost trust. People will hardly trust a person with a bad reputation, even when they intend no harm.
28. “Anyinaboa (Beetle), the fire will eventually reach you (when the tree you are hiding in gets burnt to the ground).”
The consequences and repercussions for every wrong choice, decision, or action you take will eventually catch up with you regardless of how much you try to hide it.
29. “When it lies behind you, take it.”
When you can, utilize knowledge from past experiences to solve your present problems.
30. “When a man goes alone to scrap the bark from a tree, he falls to the ground.”
We all need help at one point or another. Never feel too proud to ask for help when you need one.
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31. “Rain does not fall on only one roof.”
Everyone is bound to face difficult times in life as they are only typical. Also, never think that you are facing the most difficulties in life because many more are going through a similar situation.
32. “Maize bears fruits only once and dies because it isn’t well-rooted in the ground.”
The quality of your foundation determines how far in life you can go. A faulty or bad foundation will prevent you from getting to and staying at the top and vice versa.
33. “Not everyone who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it chased it.”
Everyone who achieves something today took the step to start, even if they failed severely. This proverb means that you need to be persistent and refuse to give up even after you may have failed badly.
34. “The best way to eat an elephant in your path is to cut him up into little pieces.”
The most appropriate way to approach a problem (especially a persistent one) is step by step. Problems are easily solved when they are solved one bit at a time.
35. “Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet.”
Never jump into any situation or business without carefully gauging it and putting the consequences in view. Every action you take should be well thought out to avoid facing dire consequences in the future.
36. “You don’t expect to find a virgin woman in a maternity ward.”
This proverb means that when looking for anything you should go to the right source. You will never find what you are looking for in the wrong location no matter how hard you search.
37. “If you swallowed a knife, the throat can fail to stop its passage, but the anus must find a way to expel it.”
It is easier for people to provide solutions to the problems they brought upon themselves. They will always find a solution, one way or another.
38. “If you go fast or slow, you will surely die.”
The ultimate destination of every man, rich or poor, is death. Everybody is bound to die eventually.
39. “A horse has four legs, and yet it falls often”
Do not be afraid to start or do something because you think you aren’t up to the task or good enough. Even people who are experts in it still fail sometimes. Don’t be scared of failing; you can always try again if you do.
40. “If an animal will bite you, it will be from your cloth.”
This proverb is a warning to be careful of people you call your friends or loved ones. Several times, betrayal and hurt are more likely to come from trusted and close friends rather than your supposed enemies.
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41. “No one can tell which lizard has stomach ache because they all lay on their belly.”
The character or genuine intentions of a friend or lover towards you can not be determined by their face or looks.
42. “It is he who climbs with his teeth that knows the tree with a bitter back.”
People who experience certain situations and things have a better knowledge of them. This proverb emphasizes the saying that experience is the best teacher.
43. “You cannot beat a drum with one finger.”
Whatever you do, put in your best.
44. “You cannot drink medicine on behalf of a sick person.”
There are times when people have to stand up for themselves and face some of life’s challenges alone. At such times, the best you can do is stand and watch.
45. “Old age does not announce itself.”
Your maturity is not in your words but your actions.
46. “There is no smoke without fire.“
Every action a person takes is triggered by an underlying cause. For every action or reaction, there is a root cause.
47. “If you see your neighbors beard burning, fetch water by yours.”
You do not have to experience a thing or a situation to learn from it. You can learn vital lessons from the life experiences of others.
48. “When two carry, it does not hurt.“
More is always better. A situation is easier to solve with help from capable people. Also, burdens are easier when shared with another.
49. “The goat perspires, but its hair does not reveal it.”
If you persistently do wrong or have a bad name for yourself, any good thing you do will go unnoticed.
50. “If you cannot look ahead, then you will always remain behind.”
Having plans and goals is a prerequisite to achieving success. If you cannot plan for the future, you will regret it as you will make no progress. This proverb also implies that you will continually remain below your contemporaries when you fail to plan.
If you listen to African proverbs like a mere saying, you will lose the message. Interestingly, almost every African language have their unique proverbs—and there are hundreds of such languages. No matter the situation you are going through in life, there is always an African proverb to cheer you up. You only need to find the right one. What is your favorite African proverb? Feel free to share with us in the comment box below.