Most other countries and continents of the world have their proverbs and wise sayings. In Africa, it is the same and African proverbs are the pride of the African culture. From time immemorial, African proverbs have been used to convey messages during important conversations. It is believed that these such sayings come from the wise and only the wise understands it. Over the years, it has become associated with the wise, the elderly and the grey haired who pride themselves in the knowledge of these proverbs and more often than not, it is usually used to advise a child or a youth as the advice tends to stick more when the proverb is understood. In most traditions in Africa, it is usually atypical for one to tell an African proverb and still be the one to explain the meaning.
1. Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet.
Meaning: You don’t jump straight into a situation without thinking about it first.
2. 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.
3. Sugarcane is sweetest at its joint.
Meaning: Good and sweet things of live may appear difficult to achieve but in the end, it is worth it.
4. If you offend, ask for a pardon; if offended forgive.
Meaning: This is as simple as it sounds: If you upset someone, apologize to him or her. If someone upsets you, forgive him or her because what goes around, comes around.
5. 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 to do the same thing and expect to be successful.
6. The best way to eat an elephant in your path is cut him up into little pieces.
Meaning: The best approach to solving a problem is to take it bit by bit; one at a time.
7. A restless feet may walk into a snake pit.
Meaning: If someone is busy doing nothing or is involved in what he does noe know about, it is easy for him to get into trouble.
8. A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches.
Meaning: You can easily foresee the future of something through the character and tell-tale signs it exhibits today.
9. After a foolish deed comes remorse.
Meaning: Feeling sorry always follows a foolish act.
10. 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
11. He who does not know one thing knows another.
Meaning: No one knows everything, but everyone knows something.
12. A roaring lion kills no game.
Meaning: You cannot achieve or gain anything by mere sitting around and just talking about it.
13. 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
14. When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful.
Meaning: What defines a man is the circumstances and people around him and if they are good, he turns out good.
15. It takes a whole village to raise a child.
Meaning: The society is responsible for the moral characters it creates and 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.
16. If a child washes his hands he could eat with kings.
Meaning: If you prepare and allow yourself to be well trained when you have the opportunity, you will achieve a lot and be favored in due course.
17. Rain does not fall on one roof alone.
Meaning: Trouble comes to everyone at one time or another.
18. Life is like a shadow and a mist; it passes quickly by, and is no more.
Meaning: Life is short, and you only live it once.
19. 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.
20. Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped.
Meaning: Don’t look at your mistakes; look at what caused you to make the mistakes otherwise you may repeat the mistake.
The beauty of African proverbs lies in their mystery. Earlier in this article, we mentioned that in most African traditions, it is “unacceptable” to tell an African proverb and still be the one to explain the meaning. In the spirit of African culture, we’ve left a few assignments on more interesting African proverbs below. Read through them and enjoy the richness and wisdom of African culture while trying to see how much of it you can interpret.
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