African Proverbs

Proverbs are an integral part of African culture. Passed on from generation to generation for centuries, they are still in wide use today and are very much part of everyday speech.

Proverbs are used to illustrate ideas, reinforce arguments and deliver messages of inspiration, consolation, celebration and advice.

The great Nigerian author Chinua Achebe once wrote: “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.”

Please use the form at the end of this page to send in your wise words.

Some of recent proverbs:

Someone with a sense of humour is never at a loss for words or action. A Somali proverb sent by Yoonis, Somalia

The elder who eats without sharing will carry his own load to the house. A Yoruba proverb sent by Urbanyooba, Lagos, Nigeria

You stand on a crooked branch to cut a straight one. An Akan proverb sent by Kwame Effa, San Marcos, Texas, US

The path of a liar is short. A Swahili proverb sent by Zakayo Ndiritu, Nairobi, Kenya

Clay pots are meant to be fragile yet they survive the heat of the kiln. Sent by Mwebe Takalirya, Masaka, Uganda

A sheep that wants to grow horns should ask the ram how its neck feels. An Igbo proverb sent by Anthony Esekhaigbe, Lagos, Nigeria

People shouldn’t be given advice at their departure time but on their return. A Nuer proverb sent by Deng Nhial Chioh, Juba, South Sudan, and Kalany Tekjiek Nyany, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A roaring lion kills no game. Sent by Robert Stuart-Thompson, Grahamstown, South Africa, and Ajayi Agboola Olubukola, Oyo, Nigeria

A hyena will not change its spots even if it moves to a different forest. Sent by Douglas K, Ntcheu District, Malawi

Teeth have no enemies. A Nuer proverb sent by Gatmai Machar, Ayod, South Sudan, and John Youhanes Magok, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A red-eyed lion does not attack. A Madi proverb sent by Tedini James Grant and Vuchiri John Gavin, both from Adjumani, Uganda

When a fowl perches on a rope both the rope and the fowl feel uneasy. A Yoruba proverb sent by Oludimite Austin Moor, Okeluse, Nigeria

Courtesy is not slavery. A Swahili proverb sent by George Okumu Omollo, Mombasa, Kenya

Teeth can only bite when they work together. A Somali proverb sent by Evan, Washington D.C., US

If you throw a stone at a wall it will bounce back to you. An Akan proverb sent by Jafar Jamal Yakubu Bandao, Kumasi, Ghana

Poverty has no roots but it has tendrils. A Kikuyu proverb sent by Ibrahim Evanso, Gilgil, Kenya

A heart is like a tree; it grows wherever it wants. A Shona proverb from Zimbabwe sent by Itai Munedzimwe, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The rabbit is in the veld that you underestimate. An Oshiwambo proverb sent by Petrine Hango, Oshakati, Namibia

If a man says he will swallow an axe, hold the handle for him. A Fulani proverb sent by Usman Usman, Kaduna, Nigeria

The hyena says: ‘All roads lead to a village.’ A Nuer proverb from South Sudan sent by Yien Wil Mayuak, Gambella, Ethiopia

Truth and teeth should both be polished. A Somali proverb sent by Aweis Ahmed Gabow, Somalia

Little by little, as we drink we make plans. An Akan proverb sent by Henry Panford, Accra, Ghana

The palm nut that goes into a mortar won’t leave without a scar. Sent by Uchenna Sylvester, Enugu, Nigeria

To wait is not to tremble. A Kikuyu proverb sent by Michael Kagumu, Nairobi, Kenya

When a lion eats a bad person and it is not killed, next it will eat a good person. Sent by Awadi Lupai Sebit, Juba, South Sudan

If you want to see an old person’s teeth, give them sour palm wine. An Igbo proverb sent by Don Pallisy, Anambra, Nigeria

A mother holds a knife by the blade. A Sepedi proverb sent by Faith Dikgale, Pretoria, South Africa

The person who gossips with you will gossip about you. Sent by Juneydii Abdirisak, Mogadishu, Somalia

A lamp is not valued in the afternoon but it’s appreciated at night. A Yoruba proverb sent by Alabi Olayinka, Ikire, Nigeria

Sitting is a male calf while travelling is a female one. A Nuer proverb sent by Tut Laey, Bentiu, South Sudan

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