African Proverbs and their Meanings, being the words of our Elders
In Africa, proverb is a subtle means of expression and it is widely believed that a wise-elderly man uses a variety of which in communicating with his kinsmen.
Words of our elders are indeed derived from words of ancient wisdom. A child shall learn wisdom and get understanding if he sits beside the elders, people have been saying. In Africa, proverb is a subtle means of expression and it is widely believed that a wise-elderly man uses a variety of which in communicating with his kinsmen. Just like the outlays found impeded in African wisdom perception, permeates works such as Ben Sira or the Wisdom books of Solomon. African proverbs are sensitive thus, needed an understanding to avoid misuse and misinterpretation.
Below follows some important proverb and their interpretation;
1. Lizard that ruined his mother’s funeral, what did he except others to do?
– If you disorganize any activity that concerns you, you do not expect others to act otherwise. (In African culture, mother’s burial is a personal affair. Nobody cares the way you plan it.) Use the proverb when you want to caution someone about his attitude towards planning.
2. He who sees an old hag squatting should leave her alone, who knows how she breathes?
– Do not interfere in someone affair especially when you know little about them. In other words, meddle not with other peoples business, its like taking a dog by the ears, expecting a good ro favourable outcome.
3. Anger against a brother is felt on the flesh, not in the bone..
– You must forgive and forget whatever your brother/relative did to you or someone else for that matter.
4. Maize bears fruits once and dies because it is not rooted into the ground.
– Without a good foundation, you cannot succeed and remain successful. Dont build your house on sand.
5. White anti chews ‘igbegulu’ (palm stem) because it is lying on the ground, let him climb the palm tree and chew it.
– People will insult you when failed to realize who you are and find yourself in everybody’s mist.
6. He who will swallow ‘udala’ (apple) seed must consider the size of his anus.
– To every action there is certainly a reaction, and thusly you must consider the consequence of said action. In this specific case an apple seed does not digest in the stomach. Well, you get it...
7. The fly that has no one to advise him, follows a corpse into the grave.
– When you lack a good counsel or more importantly fail to take one, you are bound to fall into a trap.
8. When a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing.
– Be careful when a stranger gets too acquainted or mind when you are been mocked.
9. He likes funeral ram’s meat, but recovers when sickness visits him.
– Somebody who like others to spend for him but is unwilling to spend. A greedy person.
10. When a mighty tree falls, the birds are scattered into the bush.
– When a good leader dies people lack direction if they fail to get a successor. It is a lamentation and holds great truth to it.
11. No matter how long a log stays in water, it does not become a crocodile.
- No matter how long you fake or pretend a personality, you will in the end always be who you are.
12. The little bird that hops off the ground and lands on anti-hill may not know it but still on the ground.
– You may think that you have achieved greatness but you are yet to start. Use it to caution or have a proud person reconsider their achievements.
13. A common snake which a man sees all alone may become a python in his eyes.
– One man’s account is not enough to judge a case. Witnesses's are needed, preferably two or three.
14. The very thing that killed a mother rat is always there to make sure that its young ones never open their eyes.
– The wicked ones and wickedness are at work all the time.
15. A boy who persists in asking what killed his father before he has enough strength to avenge, may be asking for his father’s fate.
– Do not fight a battle you are not prepared or old enough to win. Consider the fate of your father, and let it not be yours as well.
16. The man who belittled the sickness a monkey suffered, should ask to see the eyes which his nurse got from blowing his sick fire.
– Before you disregard others predicaments, think of the effects it has on them and their relatives. Sympathise.
17. When death wants to take a little dog, it prevents him from perceiving even the smell of excrement.
– When you are destined for a misfortune you will never listen to a wise counsel. You are not allowed to hear it.
18. A man who sees a hen scattering excrement should stop it, who knows who will eat the leg.
– When you see a young lady misbehaving, caution her for you never know who will marry her. It might be you or your relative.
19. If that rat cannot flee enough, let it make way for tortoise.
– If you cannot do it let others try. Nobody has absolute power or knowledge.
20. White fowl with beautiful feathers.
– A good for nothing person or thing. A common observation in Africa when you are talking to or about a lady who is beautiful but sadly is lacking a good character.
21. Look for a dark goat first in the daytime because you may not find it at night.
– Prioritise your goals and pursue them early before it is late to achieve them. I explained this one to my mom, and she got it right away, we now joke about finding our right goats before it gets to dark to see them.
22. The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.
– Be contented about your achievement, even when nobody cares, be content with what you have.
23. What an elder saw while sitting, a youth cannot see it standing.
– Elder has more wisdom and knowledge as compared to the youths.
24. The day I need a wife, the market is filled with mad people.
– You don’t get what you want when you want it. Talking about bad luck or not being in favour with God.
25. A fowl does not forget who trim his tails/feathers during the raining season.
– A man does not forget help rendered to him during a difficult time. The raining season is always a difficult time for fowls because they find it hard hunting for food and their feathers/tails keep growing.
26. To break a palm-knell nut for a fowl.
– To suffer in vain for something. This is a lamentation.
27. Send a child where he wants to go and you will see his pace.
– Passion drives our actions. Such truth to this one
28. When a man makes a fence, you will know his level of wisdom.
– Your wisdom manifests in your actions. What you do and how you do it defines you.
29. A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches.
– To every situation or thing; there is sign of where it is tending to at the early stages if you look critically.
30. A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which his mother puts into his hand.
– Your inheritance will not kill you no matter what it is.
31. An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.
– Your mind always judges you when a crime you are guilty of is mentioned.
32. A man who pays respect to the king shall have his own chance of been king.
– If you respect your elder, you will grow old be respected.
33. A man that spits into the air spits on his self.
– If you fail to obey the law of nature thereby committing evil against your fellow human being, you are doing it against yourself.
34. A child who said his mother will not sleep will also be awake.
– You are not at rest when you made someone to pass through stress.
35. If a child washes his hand he can dine with kings.
– If you distinguished yourself, you earn the respect of elders.
36. An okiro plant cannot grow taller than its farmer.
– Nobody is above his parent(s) or guardian. (No matter how tall an okiro plant is, a farmer bends it to harvest its fruits.)
37. When a kid goat bends down, it sucks from its mother’s breast.
– With humility you get what belongs to you from your senior. No kid-goat stands to suck its mother’s breast though it belongs to it.
38. The mouth which eats does not talk.
– Nobody has the moral right to criticize what he benefited from.
39. Allow the breeze that brought a maize plant down to strengthen it.
– Give people the chance to correct their mistakes.
40. Whenever a man wakes up become his morning.
– All hope is not lost or it is never late to kick start your life.
41. There is no wall without lizard but when you raise alarm over lizards on your wall children will help you killed them.
– Every individual or family has a problem thus don’t let people come and settle yours.
42. All lizards lay flat thus no one knows the one that is suffering from stomach ache.
– Be careful of peoples appearance for their intentions are hidden. It can as well mean with a good appearance no one will know your problems.
43. When you tell a man a proverb and explain it to him the dowry paid on his mother’s head becomes a waste.
– It is expected of you to have a common sense.
44. Mother - goat that gives birth to a He-goat is childless.
– A reprobate is not useful to his family or community.
45. A blind man’s apple.
– A precious gift or possession that is irreplaceable.
46. He who does not know the road to a stream should be guided by pieces of broken clay pot.
– Let experience of others guides your decisions.
47. When a mother goat eats its jaw, the kid will always watch and learn.
– Your kids learn from your actions.
48. When a man failed to realize where rain started beating him he cannot predict where it will stop.
– A man that fails to know how his problem started may not be able to find a solution.
49. A sculptor that does not know how to make a gong should look at the kite’s tail.
– Learn from others when you lack the knowledge.
50. An okiro seed does not have the strength to be rooted into the ground and it is complaining of a rocky soil.
– A lazy man give excuse for failure.
I must admit not everyone of these do have Biblical roots, and do show signs of animism, though you cannot deny their wisdom.