Around Africa with 52 Proverbs

“If you find no fish, you have to eat bread” – Ghana.

The above Ghanaian proverb teaches that sometimes, things don’t go the way you’d anticipated. And when that happens, you have to accept it, take what you can from it, and then move on.

A proverb is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated which expresses a truth based on the practical experience of humanity. Proverbs, or methali as known in the Kiswahili culture, are used to pass on advice from one generation to another. It’s what an older generation would use and still use to reprimand and give instruction when dealing with a younger generation. With hidden meaning, proverbs refer to culture and the environment to pass on wisdom.

This month, we highlight one proverb from each country in Africa to boost your knowledge and expose you to advice across the continent.

Here you go:

“One hand can’t applaud” – Algeria

“It is the voyage not the ship that matters” – Angola

“We can only speak the truth when we turn off the light” – Benin

“Only a lion knows best its own needs and can best serve them” – Botswana

An axe does not cut down a tree by itself” -Burkina Faso

“It is easy to pull a thorn out of someone else’s skin”-Burundi

“A big head is a big load”-Cape Verde

“The heart of the wise man lies quiet like limpid water”        -Cameroon

“When the shepherd comes home in peace, the milk is sweet”-Central African Republic

“Sleep is the brother of death” -Chad

“A fool and water will go the way they are diverted” -Comoros

“Children are the reward of life” -D.R of Congo

“You’re beautiful but learn to work, you cannot eat your beauty” -Congo

“A bad son gives a bad name to his mother” -Cote d’Ivoire

“A camel never sees its own hump”-Djibouti

“If you search for the laws of harmony, you will find knowledge” -Egypt

“A wise man never knows all, only fools know everything” -Equatorial Guinea

“Tomorrow is pregnant and no-one knows what she will give birth to”-Eritrea

“An idle brain is the devil’s workshop”-Eswatini/ Swaziland

“Please all, and you will please none”-Ethiopia

No one test the depth of a river with both feet”-Gabon

“People get fed up even with honey”-Gambia

One head (or person) does not hold council.”-Ghana

He who does not cultivate his field will die of hunger”-Guinea

“What one hopes for is always better than what one has” -Guinea-Bissau

“It is the grass that suffers when elephants fight”-Kenya

“If the palm of the hand itches, it signifies the coming of great luck” -Lesotho

“If you try to cleanse others – like soap, you will waste away in the process”-Liberia

“Silence is the door of consent”-Libya

“Cross in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you” -Madagascar

“If you have, give; if you need, seek”-Malawi

“The hyena chasing two antelopes at the same time will go to bed hungry”-Mali

“Two eyes see better than one”-Mauritania

A hen cannot lay eggs and hatch them in the same day”-Mauritius

The bull defending his own head breaks his horns”-Morocco

A parasite cannot live alone”-Mozambique

“There are many a good tune played on an old fiddle”-Namibia

Only a medicine man gets rich by sleeping”-Niger

A man being short does not make him a boy”-Nigeria

If your mouth turns into a knife, it will cut off your lips”-Rwanda

The crocodile finds refuge in the river when it starts to rain”-Sao Tome and Principe

Your ears are wiser than you are”-Senegal

A well-fed old lion is better than a hungry young one”-Seychelles

If you beat (the drum) for a madman, you are crazy too”-Sierra Leone

“One refusing a sibling’s advice breaks his arm” -Somalia

“By pounding the dough the bread will rise”-South Africa

A fool will not even find water at the Nile”-South Sudan

“Always taking out and never putting in, soon reaches the bottom”-Sudan

“A tree is best measured when it’s down”-Swaziland

“Every bird flies with its own wings”-Tanzania

“Don’t butter the skillet before catching the fish”-Togo

How lovely is the sun after rain, and how lovely is laughter after sorrow”-Tunisia

“A sheep does not lament the death of a goat’s kid”-Uganda

“Your feet will take you away from home, but your stomach will always bring you back”-Zambia

You cannot tell a hungry child that you gave him food yesterday”-Zimbabwe


By Cherotich Bernadette


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