African Proverbs and Meanings
African Proverbs and Meanings! A proverb is a short, well-known pithy saying stating a general truth or a piece of advice. Proverbs and wise sayings played a significant role in ancient African traditional history. Proverbs are often metaphorical and use formulaic language. Together, they form a genre of folklore.
In Africa, proverbs are seen as a treasure of wisdom from ancestors and are used to warn, teach, entertain and prevent tragedy by using wise examples through oral literature and wise sayings.
Below, we have compiled a list of the top 205 African proverbs with their meanings. Share with your loved ones and digest the deep meaning of the wisdom in the sayings of our ancestors.
205 Best African Proverbs and their Meanings
1) Do not repair another man’s fence until you have seen your own.
Meaning: Deal with your own real issues before you start poke-nosing into someone else’s.
2) What an elder saw while sitting, a youth could not see it standing
Meaning: the elderly ones are mostly more knowledgeable and experienced than the younger ones.
3) Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight.
Meaning: The first step is always hard but as time goes, things become easier for you.
4) Maize bears fruits once and dies because it is not rooted in the ground.
Meaning: You will find it difficult to get to the top without a good foundation.
5) After a foolish deed comes with remorse.
Meaning: If you feel sorry always, it follows a foolish act.
6) He who will swallow ‘udala’ seed must consider the size of his stomach.
Meaning: You must always think of all the possible consequences of your actions.
7) You do not teach the path of the forest to an old Gorilla
Meaning: we should respect our elders, obey them, and listen to their good advice because they have more experience with this life than we do.
8) The day I need a wife, the market is filled with mad people.
Meaning: the day I needed something important, I didn’t get it.
9) Two chicken knives are found in the home of the lazy man, the one that is sharp has no head and the one that has a head is not sharp.
Meaning: Nature abhors laziness. Killing time is only the name for another of the multifarious ways by which time kills us.
10) When one father dies, another father lives.
Meaning: In some societies, even in the absence of the biological parents of a child, the elders around will take care of him or her.
12) Unless you call out, no one will open the door?
Meaning: If you don’t ask for assistance, you may never get one.
13) If a nak*ed man promises you a cloth, listen to his name
Meaning: A man cannot provide for you what he does not have.
14) It is from the ground that one climbs to the tops of the tree.
Meaning: We attain heaven through the earth.
15) A fowl does not forget who trims his feathers during the raining season
Meaning: a good person you helped do difficulties will never forget the help rendered to him or her.
16) Wisdom is like a Baobab tree, no one individual can embrace it.
Meaning: It means that no human has the knowledge of everything and that wisdom belongs to everyone.
17) It is he who climbs with his teeth that knows the tree with bitter back.
Meaning: Experience is the best teacher.
18) We send a wise person, not one with long legs.
Meaning: It is better to order a tiny wise person to communicate or deliver a message no matter how slow he is than to order a giant person who is faster and yet cannot deliver.
19) A single bracelet does not jingle.
Meaning: There is strength in numbers.
20) Do not respond to a mosquito with a hammer because you will miss and hurt yourself.
Meaning: Don’t take extreme decisions over minor issues, it can turn around and hurt you.
21) Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.
Meaning: We learn and grow when times are tough.
22) When one is in love, a cliff becomes a meadow.
Meaning: When people are in love, they don’t see things realistically.
23) All fingers are not the same.
Meaning: All fingers are not the same height; some are longer than the others. Same in the realm of humans; we are not all the same. Some are rich some are poor. Some are dark, some are light. And some are gentle and some are harsh.
24) When God wants a creature to fly, he gives him wings.
Meaning: God is omnipotent. The nature of the world is His design.
25) Send your child where he wants to go and you will see the pace.
Meaning: It is an action that drives our passion for something.
26) He who is bitten by a snake fears lizard.
Meaning: To be fearful of experiencing a similar fate that has befallen you in the past.
It can also be interpreted as being afraid of making an action that caused you pain in the past to repeat itself.
27) The fly that has no others to advise him follows a corpse to the grave.
Meaning: You will destroy yourself if you don’t have someone that advises you or you refused to follow good advice.
28) A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches.
Meaning: You can easily foretell the future of something based on the kind of character it possesses today.
29) Sugarcane is sweetest at its joints.
Meaning: No matter how difficult things of this life may appear to get, in the end it is worth it.
30) Rain does not fall on one roof alone.
Meaning: You can’t escape troubles in life because it is normal to everyone.
31) Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet.
Meaning: Don’t jump into a situation without first thinking about it.
23) If a child washes his hands, he could eat with kings.
Meaning: If you are humble, you will achieve great things in life.
33) He likes burial Ram meet but recovers when sickness visits him.
Meaning: When you want someone to spend for you but you are stingy to spend.
34) Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.
Meaning: it will be foolish of you to insult the institution that you depend upon to survive. In another meaning; to disregard someone who is your helper in times of need.
35) If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime
Meaning: it is better that you should empower a man rather than help him with just stipends.
36) With the passage of time, the child becomes like the mother.
Meaning: It means, as the child grows, the bond between mother and child become stronger.
37) The blacksmith who does not know how to fashion the gong, let him observe the kite’s tail.
Meaning: The Universe is the best university. One should always learn from nature.
38) Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.
Meaning: If you don’t make an attempt to acquire knowledge, then you will not expect to have it and if you don’t put the knowledge you have to use, you cannot expect to benefit anything from it.
39) A roaring lion kills no game.
Meaning: You can only achieve your dream by taking action not talking about it.
40) When a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing.
Meaning: Always be watchful of an unfamiliar person that is too acquainted or be mindful when you are been made a jest of.
41) When Two Elephants fight, it is the Grass That Gets Trampled.
Meaning: This means that it is better to embrace peace because if two individuals wage war against each other, it is the innocent ones that will suffer the consequences.
42) A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam, which his mother puts on his hand.
Meaning: No matter what it may be, your real love will never kill you.
43) It is what an animal eats that is used to set a trap for him.
Meaning: You will always be tempted based on your good qualities
44) A hippopotamus can be made invisible in dark water.
Meaning: Ignorance can lead to potential danger. It is important to be informed and alert.
45) When a mighty tree falls, the birds are scattered into the bush.
Meaning: If a great leader falls many will find their life difficult if there is no
capable successor to replace the past leader.
46) Not Everyone Who Chased the Zebra caught it, but he who caught it, Chased it.
Meaning: It means that you should not give up even when you failed to succeed in several times. You still need to be persistent.
47) Death does not kill a person unless his chi gives consent.
Meaning: The Power of death is in one’s Chi. One who is at peace with his Chi is not afraid of death. He has conquered death.
48) No matter how long a log stays in the water, it doesn’t become a crocodile.
Meaning: You will always be who you are no matter how hard you try to fake your personality.
49) If you offend, ask for a pardon. If offended forgive.
Meaning: If you offend someone, apologize, and if someone else offends you forgive the person so that peace will rain.
50) We will water the thorn for the sake of the rose.
Meaning: sometimes you have to deal with aggravating situations repeatedly to get to the prize at the end.
51) When a child washes his hands clean, he eats with elders.
Meaning: Mature behavior entitles even the young to sit beside kings.
52) A common snake, which a man sees all alone, may become a python in his eyes.
Meaning: It is never enough to judge a situation or someone with just one man’s opinion.
53) Don’t set sail using someone else’s star.
Meaning: Avoid imitating someone else’s work; what works for someone else may not work for you.
54) Do not look where you fell but where you slipped.
Meaning: Be mindful of what makes you made a mistake not the mistake itself.
55) The very thing that killed a mother rat is always there to make sure that its young ones never open their eyes.
Meaning: Wicked people never relent on their evils so you have to be watchful.
56) A toad does not run in the day for nothing, there must be a green snake in the grass.
Meaning: An unusual event will always be the reason for an unusual incidence.
57) You do not beat a child on the day he breaks a pot.
Meaning: one should have started training his child from the early stage of his or her life.
58) A child breaks a snail, not a tortoise.
Meaning: Children should do things that pertain to children and avoid those that concern the adults.
59) Life is like a shadow and a mist; it passes quickly by and is no more.
Meaning: To show that life is short and you will only live for once.
60) White anti chews ‘Igbegulu’ (palm stem) because it is lying on the ground, let it climb the palm tree, and eat it.
Meaning: Igbegulu is a palm stem in Nigeria or every other part it could be found; the adage means that some people abuse you even when they don’t know your real status.
61) A man who sees a hen scattering excrement should stop it. Who knows who will eat the leg?
Meaning: When you see a girl misbehaving, try and advise her because you don’t know if someone related to you will be the one to marry her.
62) He who sees an old hag squatting should leave her alone, who knows how she breathes?
Meaning: You should avoid interfering in other’s issues especially when you don’t know anything about them.
63) A restless feet may walk into a snake pit.
Meaning: it is easy for someone to get into trouble if does nothing or he or she is busy doing what does not concern them.
64) Anger against a brother is felt on the flesh, not in the bone.
Meaning: Forget and forgive anything that your relative did to you.
65) Rain beats the Leopard’s skin but it does not wash out the spot.
Meaning: It is almost impossible to change a person’s character no matter how hard you try.
66) The man who belittled the sickness a monkey suffered must ask to see the eyes which his nurse got from blowing his sick fire.
Meaning: Before you disregard other people’s difficulties, always remember the effect it has on them and the families.
67) A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness.
Meaning: what you sow you shall reap. It can also mean what goes around comes around.
68) It is because of “blow the dust off my eyes” that two antelopes walk together.
Meaning: it is good to do things in-group rather than trying to do it all alone.
69) It is when you climb a good tree that we push you.
Meaning: The elders in a community and the society itself should support a good cause, not a bad one. Therefore, if you need their support, you should do good things that they will identify with and support.
70) By trying often after the monkey, one has to learn to jump from tree to tree without falling.
Meaning: If you practice something frequently, you will master it gradually.
71) Water that has been begged for does not quench the taste.
Meaning: If you don’t have experience on how to handle help rendered to you, it is as if it did not help.
72) A boy who perseveres in asking what killed his father before he has enough strength to avenge may be asking for his father’s fate.
Meaning: Don’t start your revenge until you are strong and sure enough that you will succeed, otherwise, you might pay with your life.
73) The Lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground told it will praise itself if no one else did.
Meaning: If nobody cares about your achievement, never mind because you know your worth.
74) The best way to eat an elephant in your path is to cut him up into little pieces.
Meaning: The best method to give a solution to a problem is to handle it step by step; one after the other.
75) The lizard that ruins the mother’s burial, what did it expect others to do?
Meaning: If you destroy your own plan, expect others to do otherwise.
76) When death wants to take a little dog, it prevents him from perceiving even the smell of excrement.
Meaning: When you are destined to die in a day, no matter how people advise you, you will face the fate as it is destined for you.
77) Every misfortune is a blessing.
Meaning: In every situation that you find yourself, always remember that there is hope for prosperity.
78) No one can tell which lizard has stomach ache because they all lay on their belly.
Meaning: You can tell your real lovers by merely judging by the face alone.
79) One head (or an individual) does not hold the council.
Meaning: It is better for two or more people to deliberate on a subject matter rather than allowing only one person to decide on an issue.
80) If you think you have someone eating your hands, it is a good idea to count your fingers.
Meaning: When in doubt always make sure.
81) Nobody knows the beginning of a great man.
Meaning: You cannot predict the beginning of greatness because they always look awkward and frustrating; therefore, it is not good to laugh at people or judge them based on their current status. Tomorrow, the great work they started may transform their life into greatness.
82) A child can play with its mother’s breasts but not with the father’s testicles. – Ghanaian Proverb
83) When you see a woman sitting with her legs open, never tell her to close them, because
you do not know her source of fresh air. – Ethiopian Proverb
84) In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges, and the foolish build dams. ~ Nigerian proverb
85) When there is peace in the country, the chief does not carry a shield. ~ Ugandan proverb
86) A united family eats from the same plate. ~ Baganda proverb
87) Dine with a stranger but save your love for your family. ~ Ethiopian proverb
88) There is no fool who is disowned by his family. ~ African proverb
89) If while climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you.
90) Peace is costly but it is worth the expense. ~ Kenyan proverb
91) Two ants do not fail to pull one grasshopper. ~ Tanzanian proverb
92) The forest not only hides man’s enemies but it’s full of man’s medicine, healing power, and food. ~ African Proverb
93) Wine, women, and food give gladness to the heart. ~ Ancient Egyptian Proverb
94) He who eats another man’s food will have his own food eaten by others. ~ Swahili Proverb
95) Don’t take another mouthful before you have swallowed what is in your mouth. ~ Malagasy Proverb
96) You should know what’s being cooked in the kitchen otherwise you might eat the forbidden food. ~ African Proverb
97) Cooked food is not sold for goats. ~ Kikuyu Proverb
98) One spoon of soup in need has more value than a pot of soup when we have an abundance of food. ~ Angolan Proverb
99) The grasshopper which is always near its mother eats the best food. ~ Ghanaian Proverb
100) A single stick may smoke, but it will not burn. ~ African proverb
101) Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. ~ Bondei proverb
102) When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful. ~ Ashanti proverb
103) Brothers love each other when they are equally rich. ~ African proverb
104) He who thinks he is leading and has no one following him is only taking a walk. ~ Malawian proverb
105) If you are filled with pride, then you will have no room for wisdom. ~ African proverb
106) When a fly perches on a man’s scr*otum, he immediately learns humility. – Ghanaian Proverb.
107) The heart of the wise man lies quiet like limpid water. ~ Cameroon proverb
108) A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow. ~ Lesotho proverb
109) If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~ African proverb
110) A family is like a forest when you are outside it is dense, when you are inside you see that each tree has its place. ~ African Proverb
111)Before you go out with a widow, you must first ask her what killed the husband. – Traditional African Proverb
112) Milk and honey have different colors, but they share the same house peacefully. ~ African proverb
113) Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand. ~ Guinean proverb
114) A person who sells eggs should not start a fight in the market. – Traditional African Proverb
115) A wise person will always find a way. ~ Tanzanian proverb
116) An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep. ~ Ghanaian proverb
117) Home affairs are not talked about in the public square. ~ African proverb
118) The major reason why a tortoise will carry the weight of its house forever is fear. – Nigerian Proverb
119) Learning expands great souls. ~ Namibian proverb
120) Without a leader, black ants are confused. ~ Ugandan proverb
121) Between true friends, even water drunk together is sweet enough. ~ African proverb
122) Bad friends will prevent you from having good friends. ~ Gabon proverb
123) He who loves money must labor. ~ Mauritania proverb
124) Beautiful from behind, ugly in front. ~ Uganda Proverb
125)A beautiful one hurts the heart. ~ African Proverb
126) The surface of the water is beautiful, but it is no good to sleep on. ~ Ghanaian Proverb
127) Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor. ~ Yoruba Proverb
128) The skin of the leopard is beautiful, but not his heart. ~ Baluba proverb
129) Do not let what you cannot do tear from your hands what you can. ~ Ashanti proverb
130) Make some money but don’t let money make you. ~ Tanzania proverb
131) A small house will hold a hundred friends. ~ African proverb
132) He who refuses to obey cannot command. ~ Kenyan proverb
134) If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents. ~ African proverb
135) No matter how far a man can urinate, the last drop will always land between his feet. – Kenyan Proverb
136) The old woman looks after the child to grow its teeth and the young one, in turn, looks after the old woman when she loses her teeth. ~ Akan proverb
137) Children are the reward of life. ~ African proverb
138) Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you. ~ African proverb
139) Hold a true friend with both hands. ~ African proverb
140) When brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate. ~ Ibo proverb
141) He who earns calamity eats it with his family. ~ African proverb
142) He who is destined for power does not have to fight for it. ~ Ugandan proverb
143) A man who uses force is afraid of reasoning. ~ Kenyan proverb
144) The man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows corn by the road side have the same problem. – Ghanaian Proverb
145) Wealth, if you use it, comes to an end; learning, if you use it, increases. ~ Swahili proverb
146) A large chair does not make a king. ~ Sudanese proverb
147) If there is character, ugliness becomes beauty; if there is none, beauty becomes ugliness. ~ Nigerian Proverb
148) The one who loves an unsightly person is the one who makes him beautiful. ~ Ganda Proverb
149) Every woman is beautiful until she speaks. ~ Zimbabwean Proverb
150) A pretty face and fine clothes do not make the character. ~ Congolese Proverb
151) Dress up a stick and it’ll be a beautiful bride. ~ Egyptian Proverb
152) A chicken with beautiful plumage does not sit in a corner. ~ African Proverb
153) Judge not your beauty by the number of people who look at you, but rather by the number of people who smile at you. ~ African Proverb
154) Three things cause sorrow to flee; water, green trees, and a beautiful face. ~ Moroccan Proverb
155) You are beautiful, but learn to work, for you cannot eat your beauty. ~ Congolese Proverb
156) You always learn a lot more when you lose than when you win. ~ African proverb
157) Hot temper will never cook yams. – Nigerian Proverb
158) The frowning face of a goat cannot stop its owner to take it to the market. – Traditional African Proverb
159) A rooster is not expected to crow for the whole world.
160) What you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him to learn. ~ African proverb
161) Where a woman rules, streams run uphill. ~ Ethiopian proverb
162) An ugly child of your own is more to you than a beautiful one belonging to your neighbor. ~ Ganda Proverb
163) A woman’s polite devotion is her greatest beauty. ~ African Proverb
164) He who loves the vase loves also what is inside. ~ African proverb
165) Because he lost his reputation, he lost a kingdom. ~ Ethiopian proverb
167) Pretend you are dead and you will see who really loves you. ~ African proverb
168) A happy man marries the girl he loves, but a happier man loves the girl he marries. ~ African proverb
169) If you marry a monkey for his wealth, the money goes and the monkey remains as he is. ~ Egyptian proverb
170) To love the king is not bad, but a king who loves you is better. ~ Wolof proverb
171) Coffee and love taste best when hot. ~ Ethiopian proverb
172) She is like a road – pretty, but crooked. ~ Cameroonian Proverb
173) When a once-beautiful piece of cloth has turned into rags, no one remembers that it was
woven by Ukwa master weavers. ~ Igbo Proverb
174) If the cockroach wants to rule over the chicken, then it must hire the fox as a body-guard. ~ Sierra Leone proverb
175) By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed. ~ Ashanti proverb
176) A woman is never old when it comes to the dance she knows.
177) A truthful man will soon find himself expelled from 9 villages. – Kenyan Proverb
178) Never marry a woman who has bigger feet than you. ~ Mozambique proverb
179) One thread for the needle, one love for the heart. ~ Sudanese proverb
180) Patience is the mother of a beautiful child. ~ Bantu proverb
181) Patience attracts happiness; it brings near that which is far. ~ Swahili proverb
182) At the bottom of patience, one finds heaven. ~ African proverb
183) Patience is the key that solves all problems. ~ Sudanese proverb
184) Marriage is like a groundnut; you have to crack it to see what is inside. ~ Ghanaian proverb
185) It takes a village to raise a child. ~ African proverb
186) When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him. ~ Ashanti Proverb
187) Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off.
189) He who doesn’t clean his mouth before breakfast always complains that the food is sour.
190) Advice is a stranger; if he’s welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day. ~ Malagasy Proverb
191) Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you. ~ African proverb
192) However long the night, the dawn will break. ~ African proverb
193) The man who counts the bits of food he swallows is never satisfied. ~ African Proverb
194) You cannot work for food when there is no food for work. ~ African Proverb
195) Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with gravel in his mouth. ~ African Proverb
196) Rich people sometimes eat bad food. ~ Kikuyu Proverb
197) As porridge benefits those who heat and eat it, so does a child benefit those that rear it. ~Amharic Proverb
198) Where there are many, nothing goes wrong. ~ Swahili proverb
199) Where there are experts there will be no lack of learners. ~ Swahili Proverb
200) The only woman who knows where her man is every night is a widow. – Togolese Proverb
201) Gold should be sold to the one who knows the value of it.
202) A good wife is easy to find, but suitable in-laws are rare. – Madagascan Proverb
203) By crawling a child learns to stand.
204) Instruction in youth is like engraving in stone. ~ Moroccan Proverb
205) A restless feet may walk into a snake pit.
Meaning: If someone is busy doing nothing or is involved in what he does not know about, it is easy for him/her to get into trouble.