African Proverbs and their Meanings

African Proverbs and their Meanings

African Proverbs and their Meanings

African proverbs and their meanings makes it easy for you to digest the deep meaning of the wisdom in the saying of our four fathers.

  1. Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet.

Meaning: Don’t jump into a situation without first thinking about it.


  1. 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.


  1. Sugarcane is sweetest at its joints.

Meaning: No matter how difficult things of this life may appear to get, in the end it worth it.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. After a foolish deed comes with remorse.

Meaning: If you feel sorry always, it follows a foolish act.


  1. 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.


  1. A roaring lion kills no game.

Meaning: You can only achieve your dream by taking action not talking about it.


  1. If a child washes his hands, he could eat with kings.

Meaning: If you are humble, you will achieve great things in life.


  1. Rain does not fall on one roof alone.

Meaning: You can’t escape troubles in life because it is normal to everyone.


  1. Do not look where you fell but where you slipped.

Meaning: Be mindful of what makes you made a mistake not the mistake itself.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. Anger against a brother is felt on the flesh, not in the bone.

Meaning: Forget and forgive anything that your relative did to you.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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 will be the one to marry her.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.

Funny African Proverbs and Meaning

  1. You do not teach the path of the forest to an old Gorilla

Meaning: That is, we should respect our elders, obey them, and listen to their good advice because they have more experience with this life than we do.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. Every misfortune is a blessing.

Meaning: In every situation that you find yourself, always remember that there is hope for prosperity.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. The day I need a wife, the market is filled with mad people.

Meaning: the day you needed something important, you didn’t get it.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.



  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. It is from the ground that one climbs to the tops of the tree.

Meaning: We attain heaven through the earth.


  1. It is he who climbs with his teeth that knows the tree with bitter back.

Meaning: Experience is the best teacher.


  1. When God wants a creature to fly, he gives him wings.

Meaning: God is omnipotent. The nature of the world is His design.


  1. 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


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. When a child washes his hands clean, he eats with elders.

Meaning: Mature behavior entitles even the young to sit beside kings.


  1. If you offend, as 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. A child breaks a snail, not a tortoise.

Meaning: Children should do things that pertain to children and avoid those that concern the adults.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. If a naked man promises you a cloth, listen to his name

Meaning: A man cannot provide for you what he does not have.


  1. 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.


  1. 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. Some are gentle and some are harsh.



African Proverbs and their Meanings
African Proverbs and their Meanings


1. “To get lost is to learn the way”


2. “By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.”


3. “You do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla.”


4. “Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off.”


5. “A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow.”


6. “An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.”


7. “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”


8. “He who thinks he is leading and has no one following him is only taking a walk.”


9. “Where a woman rules, streams run uphill.”


10. “Wealth diminishes with usage; learning increases with use.”


11. “If the cockroach wants to rule over the chicken, then it must hire the fox as a body-guard.”


12. “Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.”


13. “A single bracelet does not jingle.”


14. “One who plants grapes by the roadside, and one who marries a pretty woman, share the same problem.”


15. “Money can’t talk, yet it can make lies look true.”


16. “A united family eats from the same plate.”


17. “Brothers love each other when they are equally rich.”


18. “There is no fool who is disowned by his family.”


19. “Marriage is like a groundnut; you have to crack it to see what is inside.”


20. “Despite the beauty of the moon, sun, and the stars, the sky also has a threatening thunder and striking lightning.”


21. “The friends of our friends are our friends.”


22. “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.”


23. “A close friend can become a close enemy.”


24. ”Make some money but don’t let money make you.”


25. “The wealth which enslaves the owner isn’t wealth.”


26. “Dogs do not actually prefer bones to meat; it is just that no one ever gives them meat.”


27. “You should not hoard your money and die of hunger.”


28. “A beautiful thing is never perfect.”


29. “Why they like an ugly person takes long for a beautiful person to know”


30. “Coffee and love taste best when hot.”


31. “Never marry a woman who has bigger feet than you.”


32. “The food that is in the mouth is not yet in the belly.”


33. “Don’t take another mouthful before you have swallowed what is in your mouth.”

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