120 African proverbs and sayings you never heard

Looking for wisdom? Learn it from 120 African proverbs. This amazing list teaches many great lessons.

Africa is known for its various cultures. Generally, these are clothes, jewelry, instruments of labor, dwellings. But the African cultural values are transmitted not only through different objects. Writing, namely the African quotes, is of great importance. These expressions pass from father to son. Therefore, it is worth getting acquainted with this element of the African culture in more details.

120 African proverbs and sayings

The history of African proverb

The first mention of the African sayings sounded in ancient times. In the 5th century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus told that people, who inhabit Africa are the wise people, which live long life, has magnificent manners and speech. He believed that gods preserve Africans. Still then, the African wise men created eloquent expressions, which inspired people on feats. Since this time, these phrases travel all over the world. There are also absolutely new quotes, which are thought up by modern figures, such as N. Mandela.

The history of African proverb

The most wise and well-known African sayings

Well, let’s look at the top-120 idioms, which spread all over the world, and learn its meanings. Some of them have the interpretation added below.

  1. “Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet”.
    The person, who doesn't think about danger, is silly. He doesn't even guess that having stepped with two feet in water, he may not find a bottom.
  2. “Knowledge is like a garden: If it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested”.
    If the person does not fill up his knowledge, he will never be able to apply the one he already knows.
  3. “Sugarcane is sweetest at its joint”.
    It is difficult to achieve some things, but at the end, a man will enjoy the result.
  4. “If you offend, ask for a pardon; if offended, forgive”.
    Forgive the one, who is guilty to you. Apologize if you made a mistake.

  5. “Don’t set sail using someone else’s star”.
    Don't try to imitate someone. Be yourself. Be original.

    African sayings

    READ ALSO: What are cultural taboos in Nigeria?
  6. “The best way to eat an elephant in your path is cut him up into little pieces”.
    Don't try to solve a big problem at once. Do everything gradually.
  7. “Restless feet may walk into a snake pit”.
    If a person is involved in business, in which he understands nothing, there is a probability that he will fail.
  8. “A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches”.
    It is easy to learn the future of person thanks to his character.
  9. “After a foolish deed comes remorse”.
    If you have done something bad, the remorse will be your punishment.
  10. “A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness”.
    Treat people, as you want that they treat you.

    most wise African sayings
  11. “He who does not know one thing knows another”.
    It is impossible to know all things. Each kind of knowledge is valuable in its own.
  12. “A roaring lion kills no game”.
    If you only discuss business, without starting it, you will achieve nothing.
  13. “Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle”.
    Don't offend those who can help you.
  14. “When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful”.
    If you are surrounded by good people, everything will be OK.
  15. “It takes a whole village to raise a child”.
    Each person is responsible before society for children, which he has raised.

    Sugarcane is sweetest at its joint
  16. “If a child washes his hands he could eat with kings”.
    The person, whose conscience is true, is surrounded by the best people.
  17. “Rain does not fall on one roof alone”.
    The trouble can happen with everyone, but it won't last forever.
  18. “Life is like a shadow and a mist; it passes quickly by, and is no more”.
    You have only one life, and it is necessary to live it with advantage and pleasure.
  19. “Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him”.
    The person can leave his native place, but he will remain himself.
  20. “Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped”.
    Don't look at your failures. Try to find their reasons.

    After a foolish deed comes remorse
  21. “A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which his mother puts into his palm”.
    A person learns all difficulties of the life, only when he grows up.
  22. “An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb”.
    If someone speaks about qualities, which are inherent in some person, it will cause rough reaction from him.
  23. “By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed”.
    A silly person does everything not in time.
  24. “Even though the old man is strong and hearty, he will not live forever”.
    Any person is mortal.
  25. “A bird will always use another birds; feathers to feather its own nest”.
    It is necessary to use the help of the companion. Great progress is made thanks to great efforts.

    A roaring lion kills no game
  26. “A person is a person because of other persons”.
    Society makes a man such what he is.
  27. “Two small antelopes can beat a big one”.
    Small affairs lead to great success.
  28. “What is bad luck for one man is good luck for another”.
    Everyone has his personal desires and interests.
  29. “Fire and gunpowder do not sleep together”.
    Colleagues exist only to help each other.
  30. “Hunger is felt by a slave and hunger is felt by a king”.
    Any person won't be able to avoid difficulties.

    Two small antelopes can beat a big one
  31. “The lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did”.
    It isn't necessary to be proud of foreign progress. What is more important is to make your own.
  32. “The mouth which eats does not talk”.
    It is not correct to do several businesses at the same time.
  33. “He that digs up a grave for his enemy may be digging it for himself”.
    Don't try to set up the enemy; otherwise you can be set up too.
  34. “Money is sharper than a sword”.
    Money can become the reason of a big hostility and envy.
  35. “A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride”.
    If the person is strong and proud, he solves any problem despite everything.

    Fire and gunpowder do not sleep together
  36. “As the dog said, if I fall down for you and you fall down for me, it is playing”.
    The victim is reasonable only if it rescues the other person.
  37. “If you are in hiding, don’t light a fire”.
    Don't do that isn't necessary for you.
  38. “It is Mr. Old-Man-Monkey who marries Mrs. Old-Woman-Monkey”.
    People in couple are worth each other.
  39. “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for something”.
    Any position needs to be defended.
  40. “When the cock is drunk, he forgets about the hawk”.
    In any state, don't forget about honor.

    The mouth which eats does not talk
  41. “When the fool is told a proverb, its meaning has to be explained to him”.
    Don't say anything about that what you don’t know.
  42. “Only when you have crossed the river, can you say the crocodile has a lump on his snout”.
    Only one who endured a grief can understand a grief of another man.
  43. “Rain beats a leopard’s skin, but it does not wash out the spots”.
    The trouble causes damage, but doesn't destroy you.
  44. “The sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them”.
    Kind acts give rise to a good attitude.
  45. “Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble”.
    Even if you have reached something, be not too proud.

    Money is sharper than a sword
  46. “When a man is coming toward you, you need not say: Come here”.
    The first impression can be deceptive.
  47. “When a man is wealthy, he may wear an old cloth”.
    Money doesn't speak about character.
  48. “A man’s grave is by the roadside”.
    The person can die at any moment.
  49. “When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him”.
    Go your own road; take your own lessons from life.
  50. “Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight”.
    After any trouble, it is possible to be restored.

    If you are in hiding, don’t light a fire
  51. “It is no shame at all to work for money”.
  52. “It is the calm and silent water that drowns a man”.
    It is possible to be mistaken where you don’t wait.
  53. “A wise man who knows proverbs, reconciles difficulties”.
    Knowledge is a force.
  54. “The poor man and the rich man do not play together. The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people”.
    The conflicts are born because of envy.
  55. “A bad name is like a stigma”.
    A good reputation is important for everyone.

    A man’s grave is by the roadside
  56. “When you are rich, you are hated; when you are poor, you are despised”.
    Envy is peculiar to people.
  57. “You can tell a ripe corn by its look”.
    Appearances are deceiving.
  58. “You must judge a man by the work of his hands”.
    Character of person is learned through his work.
  59. “The moon moves slowly, but it crosses the town”.
    Slowly doesn't mean badly.
  60. “There is no medicine to cure hatred”.
    Hatred will always exist.

    It is no shame at all to work for money
  61. “A bad child is who does not take advice”.
    Listening for seniors is wise.
  62. “One cannot both feast and become rich”.
    The person can't receive everything at once.
  63. “Looking at a king’s mouth one would never think he sucked his mother’s breast”.
    Don't create an idol for yourself.
  64. “When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk”.
    One event generates another.
  65. “It is the fool’s sheep that break loose twice”.
    Stupid person makes the same mistakes.

    A bad name is like a stigma
    READ ALSO: How to clear tribal marks – 5 best methods for Nigerians
  66. “One falsehood spoils a thousand truths”.
    It is easy to lose honor.
  67. “By crawling a child learns to stand”.
    Pleasures are learned through a grief.
  68. “The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat”.
    It is necessary not only to have knowledge, but also to apply it.
  69. “One who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom”.
  70. “The surface of the water is beautiful, but it is no good to sleep on”.
    Beautiful doesn't mean it is useful.

    You can tell a ripe corn by its look
  71. “Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off”.
    The one who doesn't listen for the others, is subject to misfortune.
  72. “The man who refuses to obey cannot command”.
    A proud person can't take responsibility for others.
  73. “Milk and honey have different colors, but they share the same house peacefully”.
    Even contrasts can be useful when they are integrated.
  74. “The one who loves an unsightly person is the one who makes him beautiful”.
    Love is able to change everyone.
  75. “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

    There is no medicine to cure hatred
  76. “A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow”.
    Contention is a pleasure for enemy.
  77. “You do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla”.
    Don't teach those who know something better than you.
  78. “Dogs do not actually prefer bones to meat; it is just that no one ever gives them meat”.
  79. “Dine with a stranger but save your love for your family”.
    You may have a big circle of contacts, but don't forget about the relatives.
  80. “An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep”.
    It is important not what society consists of, but who operates it.

    One falsehood spoils a thousand truths
  81. “You are beautiful because of your possessions”.
    Results of person’s activity tell about him more than appearance.
  82. “Instruction in youth is like engraving in stone”.
    Character of person is formed in youth.
  83. “Those who fear the sun will not become chief”.
    Fear prevents to make success.
  84. “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”.
  85. “Those who are destined for power have to fight for it”.

    By crawling a child learns to stand
  86. “A large chair does not make a king”.
    Big wealth doesn't make a person better.
  87. “You are beautiful, but learn to work, for you cannot eat your beauty”.
    Beauty doesn't rescue from responsibility.
  88. “War has no eyes”.
  89. “Having beauty doesn’t mean understanding the perseverance of marriage”.
  90. “Those who are leading and have no one following them are only taking a walk”.

    A large chair does not make a king
  91. “Money is not the medicine against death”.
  92. “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled”.
    When there is a problem between two people, it doesn't only effect arguing. Everyone around them suffers too.
  93. “A small house will hold a hundred friends”.
  94. “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”.
    Treat people politely, and sometime they will find you.
  95. “If the cockroach wants to rule over the chicken, then it must hire the fox as a body-guard”.
    It isn't necessary to try to operate those who are stronger than you.

    War has no eyes
  96. “If there is character, ugliness becomes beauty; if there is none, beauty becomes ugliness”.
  97. “There can be no peace without understanding”.
  98. “A close friend can become a close enemy”.
  99. “A single bracelet does not jingle”.
    An advantage can be found even in small things.
  100. “Money can’t talk, yet it can make lies look true”.
    Money can make deceptive impression.

    A small house will hold a hundred friends
  101. “When there is peace in the country, the chief does not carry a shield”.
  102. “A person, who earns calamity, eats it with his family”.
    Families are the only people who will support you in any situation.
  103. “When the crocodile smiles, be extra careful”.
    Don't trust enemies.
  104. “If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents”.
    If you don't pay attention to possible danger, you learn about it after your suffers.
  105. “Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse”.

    A close friend can become a close enemy
  106. “Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth”.
  107. “When a needle falls into a deep well, many people will look into the well, but few will be ready to go down after it”.
    Many people see their problems, but not all really wish to cope with it.

    And these are some proverbial quotes, which were said by famous people:
  108. “Rich man’s dog gets more in way of medical care than do the workers upon whom the rich man’s wealth is built”.
  109. “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised”.
  110. “Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off”.

    It is better to be loved than feared
  111. “Do not tell the man who is carrying you that he stinks”.
  112. “It is better to be loved than feared”.
  113. “Quarrels end, but words once spoken never die”.
  114. “Pretend you are dead and you will see who really loves you”.
  115. “Brothers love each other when they are equally rich”.

    Love never gets lost, it’s only kept
  116. “Ashes fly back into the face of him who throws them”.
  117. “Love never gets lost, it’s only kept”.
  118. “Wisdom does not come overnight”.
  119. “Marriage is like a groundnut; you have to crack it to see what is inside”.
  120. “Patience can cook a stone”.

    These proverbs and sayings carry wisdom collected by African people throughout the centuries. Many of them are still applicable to our modern life and are not outdated.

Your comment
Add image

By posting your comment, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.