Top 50 African proverbs and meanings that you should know

Top 50 African proverbs and meanings that you should know

Our ancestors have always been wise and all-knowing people. Their written heritage is kept in numerous proverbs. In particular, African proverbs are full of wisdom and deep meaning. Young people perfectly realize that the sayings of our elders are a real understanding. If you read these proverbs thoughtfully, you will surely find all the necessary knowledge you have been looking for long ago. Therefore, below you will find the top 50 African proverbs and meanings.

African proverbs and meaning
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African sayings about life, love, friendship, marriage and other important issues reflect all the ancient and vital knowledge every educated person should know. A saying in Africa has always been a subtle means of expression. For example, Nigerian people believe that a senior man uses a variety of them while communicating with his relatives. Below are the best African proverbs and their meanings.

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African proverbs and meanings

African sayings about life and death have helped many people make the right choices. Here are some of the most common Nigerian proverbs and their meanings.

  • The lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree to the ground said it would praise itself if no one else did.

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Meaning: This is one of the most known African proverbs on leadership. It means a person must always stay happy about their achievements even if nobody cares.

  • Lizard that ruined its mother's burial, what did it expect others to do?

Meaning: This is a famous African proverb about life and death. In African culture, the mother's funeral is an individual matter. None cares about the way you plan it. This saying means that if you disorder any activity that worries you, you should not believe others to do otherwise. Nigerian people use this proverb if they want to caution somebody about his approach to planning.

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  • He who sees an old hag squatting should leave her alone; who knows how she breathes?

Meaning: You should never interfere in someone's issues, particularly when you do not know anything about them.

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

Meaning: You should forget and forgive anything your relatives did to you.

  • Maize bears fruits once and dies because it is not rooted in the ground.

Meaning: You will never get to the top and stay prosperous without a good foundation.

  • He who will swallow the 'udala' seed must consider the size of his stomach.

Meaning: 'Udala' seed is an apple seed. It is never digested in the stomach. This proverb means that you must always think about all possible consequences of your actions.

  • The fly that has no one to advise him follows a corpse into the grave.

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Meaning: You will fall into a trap if you do not have good advice or refuse to take one.

  • When a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing.

Meaning: It is one of the common African sayings about friendship. It means that you should always be watchful when an unfamiliar person is too acquainted or when you are being made fun of.

  • He likes burial ram's meat but recovers when sickness visits him.

Meaning: Someone who wants other people to spend for him but is indisposed to spend.

  • 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. The proverb tells about a situation when people will abuse you when they do not realize who you are and find yourself in everyone's mist.

African proverbs and their meanings
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  • When a mighty tree falls, the birds are scattered into the bush.

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Meaning: It is another famous African proverb on leadership. When a great leader passes away, many people lose their way in life if they do not find a successor.

  • No matter how long a log stays in the water, it does not become a crocodile.

Meaning: You will always be who you are regardless of how long you fake your character.

  • The little bird that hops off the ground and lands on anti-hill may not know it but is still on the ground.

Meaning: You may think you have achieved greatness but have yet to start. Wise people in Africa use this proverb to caution an arrogant person.

  • A common snake, which a man sees all alone, may become a python in his eyes.

Meaning: It is never enough to judge anything on one man's version.

  • The very thing that killed a mother rat is always there to ensure its young ones never open their eyes.

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Meaning: The wicked people are at work all the time.

  • 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: You should never start a battle if you are either not ready for or old enough to become a winner.

  • The man who belittled the sickness a monkey suffered must ask to see the eyes which his nurse got from bl*wing his sick fire.

Meaning: Before you disrespect other people's difficulties, always think of the effects it has both on them and their families.

  • When death wants to take a little dog, it prevents him from perceiving even the smell of excrement.

Meaning: It is another great African proverb about life and death. You will never heed wise advice when you are fated for bad luck.

  • A man who sees a hen scattering excrement should stop it. Who knows who will eat the leg?

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Meaning: It is one of the most known African proverbs about marriage. Any time you see a girl misbehaving, warn her, for you never know who will marry her. It is always might be either you or a member of your family.

  • If that rat cannot flee enough, let it make way for a tortoise.

Meaning: If you cannot do something, just let other people try to do it. No one has complete knowledge or power.

South African proverbs and their meanings

African proverbs with meaning
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Proverbs were utilized in everyday communication in South African communities, particularly among the elderly and younger generations. Below are some of the best South African proverbs you can share.

  • You cannot beat a drum with one finger.

Meaning: You have to give all your energy and attention to anything you do.

  • White fowl with beautiful feathers.

Meaning: This proverb tells about either thing or person that is good for nothing. A good-for-nothing person or thing. This proverb is commonly used when discussing a beautiful woman with an evil character.

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  • Look for a dark goat first in the daytime because you may not find it at night.

Meaning: You should always order your goals and follow them before it is too late to accomplish them.

  • What an elder saw while sitting, a youth could not see it standing.

Meaning: Elder people always have more knowledge and wisdom than young people.

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

Meaning: When you want something, you will never get it. It is a widely used proverb depicting bad luck.

  • When a man makes a fence, you will know his level of wisdom.

Meaning: Your knowledge always reveals in your activities.

  • A fowl does not forget who trims his feathers during the rainy season.

Meaning: A person will never forget the help rendered to him during the duration of hard times. Raining season in Africa has always been difficult for fowls since it is tough for them to hunt for food while their feathers keep growing.

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  • To break a palm-knell nut for a fowl.

Meaning: This proverb is used when a person grieves in vain for something.

  • Send your child where he wants to go, and you will see his pace.

Meaning: Passion must always drive our actions.

  • A child's fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam, which his mother puts into his hand.

Meaning: No matter what, your inheritance will never kill you.

African proverbs with meaning
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  • A chick that will grow into a rooster can be spotted the very day it hatches.

Meaning: There is a sign to every situation where it tends at the early stages if you look judgmentally.

  • When two elephants meet on a narrow bridge, they cannot go anywhere until one of them lies down

Meaning: Sometimes, people need to give way and help others succeed.

  • When you are crying for rain, you are crying for mud too

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Meaning: Good situations come with consequences; if you are looking for one, be ready for the consequences.

  • Knowledge is like a garden: If it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.

Meaning: If you don't make efforts to acquire knowledge, then you would not expect to have it, and if you do not put the knowledge you have to use, you cannot expect to gain anything from it.

  • A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness.

Meaning: What goes around, comes around, so whatever you sow, you shall reap.

  • Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.

Meaning: What defines a man is his character which is inseparable from him and follows him wherever he goes.

  • It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Meaning: Society is responsible for the moral characters it creates. Everyone in a community should be responsible for helping to train a child irrespective of who the parents are, offering correction where they are needed.

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  • Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.

Meaning: Do not insult someone who is capable of taking your responsibility or taking care of you.

  • If you offend, ask for a pardon; if offended, forgive.

Meaning: This is as simple as it sounds: If you upset someone, apologize to them. If someone upsets you, forgive them because what goes around comes around.

  • Don’t set sail using someone else’s star.

Meaning: Avoid copying someone else. Just because someone has been successful in what he/she does should not be what will make you do the same thing and expect to be successful.

Funny African proverbs and meanings

funny African proverbs and meanings
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Source: UGC

If you are looking for some amusing African proverbs to brighten your day, check out these amusing sayings that will have you cracking up.

  • You don't expect to find a v*rgin woman in a maternity ward.

Meaning: You can never get pregnant without having intercourse. So you are the major cause of some of your problems right now.

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  • A man who always says the truth will find himself being expelled from 9 villages.

Meaning: The truth hurts, and everybody feels uneasy about being told life realities that concern them. This explains why some people do not always trust those who tell the truth.

  • If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have not spent the night with one mosquito.

Meaning: No one person is bigger than another person; we all have the potential to do something spectacular if we believe in ourselves.

  • Dying poor and long is better compared to dying rich and young

Meaning: The proverb addresses matters concerning getting clean money that is not associated with illegal jobs or businesses. If you earn your wealth in a clean manner is always the best than earning it from illegal means like theft.

  • An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.

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Meaning: This proverb means that your mind will judge you when you are guilty of some crime, and it is being said now.

  • He who sleeps with an itchy an*s must wake up with smelly fingers.

Meaning: There is nothing dirty that you do privately that won't come out.

  • If life has beaten you severely and your face is swollen, smile and act like a fat man.

Meaning: In life, you should always try your best to make the best out of it, no matter the circumstances that you are going through.

  • Hot anger cannot cook yams

Meaning: The Nigerian proverb means that no matter how much you feel someone has angered you, it will surely come down. It is better to learn to forgive those who wrong you because you will also one day need forgiveness from them.

  • The frowning face of a goat cannot stop its owner from taking it to the market.

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Meaning: No matter how much you think a person is unable to do something, maybe because of a disability, you will be shocked with their victory one day. It means you should not take one's disability as their inability because one day their hard work will pay them.

  • If you cannot look ahead, you will always remain behind

Meaning: The proverb means that you should always know what you want to achieve in the future to work on achieving it. If you don't have any objectives for your life, then others will succeed as you are left in the same position.

There are hundreds of African proverbs and meanings. The above are some pieces of ancient wisdom which are worthwhile mentioning. You can share them with your friends and family.

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Reading quotes about consistency will help you remember your long-term goals. It's also a good idea to keep them and share them with friends and loved ones to help them stay on track as they strive for success in life.


Adrianna Simwa avatar

Adrianna Simwa (Lifestyle writer) Adrianna Simwa is a content writer at where she has worked since mid-2022. She has written for many periodicals on a variety of subjects, including news, celebrities, and lifestyle, for more than three years. She has worked for The Hoth, The Standard Group and Triple P Media. Adrianna graduated from Nairobi University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in 2020. In 2023, Simwa finished the AFP course on Digital Investigation Techniques. You can reach her through her email:

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