10 African proverbs to live by

A great man once said that proverbs are to Africa and Africans what roundhouse kicks are to Chuck Norris. Alright, so I’m not great yet but I think most will agree that if ever there was a list of things that highlight the values of a community, proverbs would be somewhere in that list.

Proverbs are common the world over as tools with which to live by or as a more intelligent replacement for the statement ‘I told you so’. Wherever you are, you have probably come across them in some shape or form. This week I chose to share 10 African proverbs or sayings that I have come across.

1. ‘Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So in Africa it doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running’ – Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat (2005–2006), Ch. 2, (p. 137 in the 2006 edition).

2. ‘A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches.’ (Through experience I have found that replacing the word ‘chick’ with ‘guy’ still rings true).

3. ‘If you are in hiding, don’t light a fire.’

4. ‘No one tests the depth of a river with both feet.’ (Except George Bush)

5. ‘No man stung by a bee, sets off to destroy all beehives’ (Except George Bush) – (Kenya).

6. ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.’ (West African proverb). Case in point, Darth Vader.

Please note I know it is women’s month and I am not being sexist or anything but… (Please insert statement with sexist undertones here…)
7. ‘No matter how hot your anger is, it cannot cook yam’ – Nigeria. (so guys don’t get your women angry if you want your food)

8. ‘It requires a lot of carefulness to kill the fly that perches on the scrotum’, a lot. – Ghana.

9. ‘If the throat can grant passage to a knife, the anus should wonder how to expel it’ – Seychelles. I’m going out on a limb here but am I wrong to suggest that it would have been easier to just say ‘I do my bit you do yours?’Just saying.

And for those of you that need an explanation of any of the above proverbs (there are always people who do) the last one is especially for you.

10. ‘When the fool is told a proverb, its meaning has to be explained to him.’


Author: norushinafrica

Here in Africa., "culture is not that delicious panacea which we consume in a sacramental mental space and which has its own special columns in the newspapers -- and in people's minds. Culture is space, speed, cinema, technology..." - Jean Baudrillard (Sociologist and philosopher)

4 thoughts on “10 African proverbs to live by”

  1. eh excuse me Teacher, what does the proverb – “When the fool is told a proverb, its meaning has to be explained to him.” mean?

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