African proverbs and their meanings

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African proverbs and their meanings

It is quite common for Africans to use proverbs in conversations. Knowledge of proverbs could also be useful in introspective moments. For instance, when trying to make decisions, you could use proverbs to guide your thoughts. Find popular African proverbs and their meanings below.

There are currently 21 proverbs in this directory
A child would easily mistake medicine for vegetables
This proverb talks about ignorance. It is easy for those without experience to take for granted what can help them.
Submitted by: Samuel

A dog that is doomed to lose its way will not pay heed to its owner’s call.
A dog that is doomed to lose its way will not pay heed to its owner’s call.


This African proverb is usually used to describe the action of someone who embarks on a reckless plan or mission despite warnings.

A hen perches on a rope; both the hen and the rope are uncomfortable.
An African proverb that refers to a situation where the impact an action negatively affects both subject and object of an action.
Submitted by: Michael Akerele

Dada cannot fight, however he has an elder sibling he can rely on
Don't look down on anyone. They may seem incapable at first glance, however, they might have a secret help you don't know about.
Submitted by: Samuel

Darkness of the night will not prevent a snakelet from going out
Darkness of the night will not prevent a snakelet from going out


This African proverb is about brave people or people who are accustomed to danger. It means that such people would not be hindered from pursuing their daily activities because of fear or danger. The still take action despite chaos or rumours of danger.
Submitted by: Michael Akerele

However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source.
However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source.

This is a classic African proverb. It means you should always remember your roots and respect your tradition no matter where you travel or relocate to.

If a child cuts down a tree, only an elder can tell which way it would fall
This proverb emphasizes the wisdom and experience of the elderly. Only an elder can see ahead and foretell the outcome of an action taken by an inexperienced youth.
Submitted by: Samuel

If a palace burns down, it acquires more aesthetics.
This proverb means that if a king's palace is destroyed by fire or other disasters, a subsequent one is usually built with reinforcement and aesthetics.

Job/work is the cure for poverty
An African proverb used to admonish people to be hard working. It means by working, you can avoid being broke.

The child that knows how to wash his hands will dine with the elders
This proverb is talking about the application of wisdom. If you know how to have your way around situations, you will obtain favor and reap many benefits.
Submitted by: Samuel

The enemy is in the backyard; the traitor is a flatmate.
Without betrayal from someone close to you, your enemy can’t get to you.

The first masquerade to dance would eventually become a spectator
In some African traditions, masquerades represent the spirits of ancestors and some of these masked entities dance in some festivals.


What this proverb means is that the first person to perform during an activity would later take a sit to observe other performances by others. If you were the first to deliver a presentation in a classroom for instance, you would most probably take a sit afterwards and watch others deliver theirs.

This proverb is usually used against an adversary in a competition.
Submitted by: Michael Akerele

The insect that eats a leaf does so from underneath it
When problems arise, it may be those you least suspect that may be the cause of those problems.
Submitted by: Samuel

The person we are fasting on behalf of is having lunch
This Yoruba adage addresses those who take other peoples problems upon themselves. You might thing you are helping someone, however, they might not appreciate it.
Submitted by: Samuel

The ram that shuffles backwards has gone to gather its strength
This proverb has a profound meaning. It means that anyone who retreats from a fight has gone to reinforce with backup. It could also mean that whoever retreats from a fight will become stronger when they return.
Submitted by: Samuel

The tree cut down from the forest will eventually grow back
This proverb is meant to comfort the downhearted. It means that no matter how bad things may get, you can can eventually come out of it.
Submitted by: Samuel

To prevent a tree branch from striking your face, avoid it from a distance
This proverb means that if you want to avoid trouble, steer clear of it before it gets the chance to escalate.
Submitted by: Samuel

We can see facial expressions but we cannot see the hearts of people.
People can feign kind expressions with their faces even though what goes on in their minds might be completely different. This proverb is an admonition against trusting people based on their facial expressions or kind gestures.

What comes after number six is greater than number seven
There is more than meets the eye. This proverb may have even deeper meanings. However, it is simply saying that you shouldn't think that what you are seeing is all there is to it. There may be more to things than it may seem.
Submitted by: Samuel

When a parent says 'help me beat my child', It doesn't always come from the heart
This proverb is talking about familial love. An elder or a parent may see their loved ones in trouble or bearing the consequence of an action, however, they are not always pleased about it.
Submitted by: Samuel

You can't visit the home of an elder for free
This proverb addresses the Yoruba culture. Don't expect to visit an elder in a Yoruba home without helping with a task.
Submitted by: Samuel


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You might also be interested in popular Nigerian slangs.

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