50 African proverbs and their meanings

African Proverbs

A proverb is a traditional adage that gives guidance based on personal experience by using metaphors or allegories. Proverbs are common in spoken language. They passed onto future generations as part of African culture’s folklore.

African proverbs convey some of this “knowledge of the elderly”. Many of these exist in African countries, in a variety of languages. Some of these are still popular today! Let’s take a look at some of the most popular African proverbs.

Also, read The 10 Most Popular African Languages.

African Proverbs on life lessons

Restless feet may walk into a snake pit– When you have nothing good to do, you might land in trouble.

Two wives are like two pots of poison- Possessing more things means more threat.

Ears that do not listen to advice accompany the head when chopped off– A person who does not follow good advice will suffer.

A tree cannot stand without roots- Roots are the foundation of existence, which no one can ever take away.

You begin with the meal before the water is boiling- Someone too impatient.

Don’t be afraid of the forest because it’s dark- Don’t give up on things when they appear hard. 

Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him- A man’s character defines him.

He who does not brush his teeth before breakfast complains about sour food- An unprepared person complains about the situation.

Even the best dancer on the stage must retire sometime- Nothing lasts forever.

If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside cannot harm- When there are no negative thoughts in your mind, others can not harm you.

If you heal a person’s leg, do not be surprised if they run away- If you teach a skill to someone, they can use it against you. 

roaring lion kills no game- You won’t get far if you sit around and talk about it.

When you befriend a chief, keep in mind that he sits on a rope- No matter how free we wish to live, the obligations of our roles constrain us.

Getting up early shortens the journey- Preparing for something beforehand makes the process easier.

A single bracelet does not jingle- The power of numbers is undeniable.

If you have pride, you will have no room for wisdom- Only one who is humble can attain wisdom.

Whoever seeks good fortune does it at the expense of peace- Chasing after money leads to a chaotic life.

Eat when the food is ready. Speak when the time is right- Do something when it is the right time.

African Proverbs on work

He has twelve professions but thirteen mishaps- A person good at a number of things but not great at anything.

Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors- Comfortable situations don’t hone your skills.

Sugarcane is sweetest at the joint- In the everyday world, what appears to be difficult to achieve is usually the greatest.

Coffee and love taste best when hot- You can enjoy some moments only at a particular time.

A woman is never old; when it comes to the dance, she knows- that you are never too old to do something you are passionate about.

You learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down- You will only learn something by doing it.

Do not look where you fell but where you slipped- Don’t focus on your failures; instead, consider what led to them.

If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents- Always seek the truth or get in trouble.

Don’t set sail using someone else’s star- Just because someone was successful following a path does not indicate you will be able to accomplish it.

The elephant does not limp when walking on thorns- Self-belief is necessary for success. 

Gold should be sold to someone who understands its worth- Someone who understands the true worth of a valuable object achieves it.

The day the monkey dies, all the trees will get slippery- Fate turns in favour of a destined event.

Nobody is born wise- Wisdom comes from a relentless desire to learn and not from birth.

What you learn is what you’ll take with you when you die- We leave the material things behind. Only our learning and deeds exist as our legacy.

Being lost is a great method to learn how to navigate- You will know to strive in life when you face problems.

Proverbs on relationships

Milk and honey have different colours. Yet they coexist peacefully in the same house- Love each other and live peacefully despite the differences.

The axe fails to notice, but the tree remembers- We can move on, but we cannot undo the damage.

Love like rain doesn’t decide the grass it rains on- One should love without bias.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together- Having a team takes time to get results. But teammates complement one another for their differences so that you can make it far.

It is better to be loved than to be feared- Love is a powerful tool. It makes you a better person. Chose to receive love over fear.

All errors are amendable- Making mistakes is human nature.

Don’t tell the man carrying you that he stinks if you don’t want to walk alone- Value the person willing to help you. Don’t bother about their shortcomings.

Whoever adores the vase adores the contents as well- If you love someone because of one aspect, you should like their other qualities.

Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs- Every person we respect has a talent.

Once water spills, it cannot scoop back – Some things can not change no matter what.

A person who sells eggs should not start a fight in the market- Don’t trigger anything if you are vulnerable.

African proverbs on hardships

You’ll remember every drop once you start carrying your water- You only know the value of something once it is gone.

Nobody takes medicine on an unwell person’s behalf-  Nobody will switch places with you in bad times.

Even if the cock does not crow, the sun will rise- An inevitable event will happen no matter what.

Rain does not fall on just one roof- Everyone faces difficulties at some point in their lives.

When the hyena falls into a bottomless pit, he does not shout for help- No one helps a wicked person even in the worst situations.

You might find this interesting: Why Are People Moving to Africa?


  • Samayala

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