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African Proverbs: 300+ Ancient Proverbs And Their Meanings

(Last Updated On: October 4, 2017)

Wonders shall never end! They surely won’t, not with the amount of wisdom one finds in African proverbs, some of which are ancient. There’s a great likelihood that you’ve at one point or another heard someone drop some wise sayings from Africa. You probably fell in love with it, and would love to learn more… You’ll find the best African proverbs including Yoruba proverbs about love, Igbo proverbs about life, as well as inspirational proverbs and other proverbial sayings from Africa.


best ancient African Proverbs meanings
Image – MzStatic


Gradually, we will update the meanings as we did on our post on Igbo proverbs.

African Proverbs Collection…

  1. A bad cook also has his/her share of the bad food.
  2. A beautiful one hurts the heart.
  3. A beautiful thing is never perfect.
  4. A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground.
  5. A chicken with beautiful plumage does not sit in a corner.
  6. A child can play with its mother’s breasts, but not its father’s testicles.
  7. A child is a child of everyone.
  8. A close friend can become a close enemy.
  9. A doctor who invoked a storm on his people cannot prevent his house from destruction.
  10. A dog knows the places he is thrown food.
  11. A family is like a forest, when you are outside it is dense, when you are inside you see that each tree has its place.
  12. A family tie is like a tree, it can bend but it cannot break.
  13. A fight between grasshoppers is a joy to the crow.
  14. A flea can trouble a lion more than a lion can trouble a flea.
  15. A friend is someone you share the path with.
  16. A happy man marries the girl he loves, but a happier man loves the girl he marries.
  17. A healthy person who begs for food is an insult to a generous farmer.
  18. A housewife who complains that there is not enough foodstuff in the market should remember that if her husband adds to what is already available, there would be more for everyone.
  19. A large chair does not make a king.
  20. A leader who does not take advice is not a leader.
  21. A man who uses force is afraid of reasoning.
  22. A man’s wealth may be superior to him.
  23. A patient man will eat ripe fruit.
  24. A patient person never misses a thing.
  25. A patient that can swallow food makes the nurse doubtful.
  26. A pretty basket does not prevent worries.
  27. A pretty face and fine clothes do not make character.
  28. A real family eats the same cornmeal.
  29. A short man is not a boy.
  30. A single bracelet does not jingle.
  31. A single stick may smoke, but it will not burn.
  32. A small house will hold a hundred friends.
  33. A spider’s cobweb isn’t only its sleeping spring but also its food trap.
  34. A united family eats from the same plate.
  35. A wise person will always find a way.
  36. A woman who pursues a man for sex loses her spiritual beauty.
  37. A woman’s polite devotion is her greatest beauty.
  38. Advice is a stranger; if he’s welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day.
  39. Advice is a stranger; if he’s welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day.
  40. Always being in a hurry does not prevent death, neither does going slowly prevent living.
  41. An abundance of food at your neighbor’s will not satisfy your hunger.
  42. An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
  43. An intelligent enemy is better than a stupid friend.
  44. An old lady feels uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb
  45. An orphaned calf licks its own back.
  46. An ugly child of your own is more to you than a beautiful one belonging to your neighbor.
  47. Anger and madness are brothers.
  48. Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor.
  49. As porridge benefits those who heat and eat it, so does a child benefit those that rear it
  50. At the bottom of patience one finds heaven.
  51. Bad friends will prevent you from having good friends.
  52. Be a mountain or lean on one.
  53. Beautiful discourse is rarer than emerald, yet it can be found among the servant girls at the grindstones.
  54. Beautiful from behind, ugly in front.
  55. Beautiful words don’t put porridge in the pot.
  56. Beauty is not sold and eaten.
  57. Because he lost his reputation, he lost a kingdom.
  58. Better little than too little.
  59. Between true friends even water drunk together is sweet enough.
  60. Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs.
  61. Brothers love each other when they are equally rich.
  62. By crawling a child learns to stand.
  63. By labor comes wealth. ~ Yoruba
  64. By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.
  65. By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from the tree.
  66. Children are the reward of life.
  67. Coffee and love taste best when hot.
  68. Cooked food is not sold for goats.
  69. Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.
  70. Despite the beauty of the moon, sun and the stars, the sky also has a threatening thunder and striking lightening.
  71. Dine with a stranger but save your love for your family.
  72. Do a good deed and throw it into the sea.
  73. Do not follow a person who is running away.
  74. Do not forget what is to be a sailor because of being a captain yourself.
  75. Do not let what you cannot do tear from your hands what you can.
  76. Dogs do not actually prefer bones to meat; it is just that no one ever gives them meat.
  77. Don’t take another mouthful before you have swallowed what is in your mouth.
  78. Dress up a stick and it’ll be a beautiful bride.
  79. Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off.
  80. Earth is the queen of beds.
  81. Eat when the food is ready; speak when the time is right.
  82. Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands.
  83. Even the best cooking pot will not produce food.
  84. Even the colors of a chameleon are for survival not beauty.
  85. Even the lion, the king of the forest, protects himself against flies.
  86. Every woman is beautiful until she speaks.
  87. Fine words do not produce food.
  88. Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with gravel in his mouth.
  89. Food you will not eat you do not boil.
  90. Getting only a beautiful woman is like planting a vine on the roadside everyone feeds on it.
  91. Good music goes with good food.
  92. Good words are food, bad words poison.
  93. Greatness and beauty do not belong to the gods alone.
  94. Greed loses what it has gained.
  95. Happiness is as good as food.
  96. Having a good discussion is like having riches
  97. Having beauty doesn’t mean understanding the perseverance of marriage.
  98. He that beats the drum for the mad man to dance is no better than the mad man himself.
  99. He who burns down his house knows why ashes cost a fortune.
  100. He who doesn’t clean his mouth before breakfast always complains that the food is sour.
  101. He who earns calamity, eats it with his family.
  102. He who eats another man’s food will have his own food eaten by others.
  103. He who fears the sun will not become chief.
  104. He who goes to sleep with an itching anus wakes up with smelly fingers
  105. He who is destined for power does not have to fight for it.

Read about Igbo Ora: Nigeria’s Twin CapitalMore African Proverbs below.

  1. He who is unable to dance says that the yard is stony.
  2. He who learns, teaches.
  3. He who loves money must labor.
  4. He who loves the vase loves also what is inside.
  5. He who marries a beauty marries trouble.
  6. He who receives a gift does not measure.
  7. He who refuses to obey cannot command.
  8. He who runs after good fortune runs away from peace.
  9. He who thinks he is leading and has no one following him is only taking a walk.
  10. Hold a true friend with both hands.
  11. Home affairs are not talked about on the public square.
  12. However little food we have, we’ll share it even if it’s only one locust.
  13. However long the night, the dawn will break.
  14. Hurry, hurry has no blessings.
  15. If ten cents does not go out, it does not bring in one thousand dollars.
  16. If the cockroach wants to rule over the chicken, then it must hire the fox as a body-guard.
  17. If the throat can grant passage to a knife, the anus should wonder how to expel it
  18. If there is character, ugliness becomes beauty; if there is none, beauty becomes ugliness.
  19. If you are building a house and a nail breaks, do you stop building or do you change the nail?
  20. If you are filled with pride, then you will have no room for wisdom.
  21. If you are looking for a fly in your food it means that you are full.
  22. If you are ugly you must either learn to dance or make love.
  23. If you can’t resolve your problems in peace, you can’t solve them with war.
  24. If you carry the egg basket do not dance.
  25. If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents.
  26. If you do not have patience you cannot make beer.
  27. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there (Uganda)
  28. If you find “Miss This Year” beautiful, then you’ll find “Miss Next Year” even more so.
  29. If you find no fish, you have to eat bread.
  30. If you give bad food to your stomach, it drums for you to dance.
  31. If you marry a monkey for his wealth, the money goes and the monkey remains as is.
  32. If you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other.
  33. If you see a man in a gown eating with a man in rags, the food belongs to the latter.
  34. If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.
  35. If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
  36. If you watch your pot, your food will not burn.
  37. If your cornfield is far from your house, the birds will eat your corn.
  38. If your only tool is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.
  39. In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.
  40. Instruction in youth is like engraving in stone.
  41. It is better to be loved than feared.
  42. It is crooked wood that shows the best sculptor.
  43. It is no shame at all to work for money.
  44. It is not the cook’s fault when the cassava turns out to be hard and tasteless.
  45. It is only a stupid cow that rejoices at the prospect of being taken to a beautiful abattoir.
  46. It requires a lot of carefulness to kill the fly that perches on the scrotum
  47. It takes a village to raise a child.
  48. It’s much easier to fall in love than to stay in love.
  49. It’s those ugly caterpillars that turn into beautiful butterflies after seasons.
  50. Judge not your beauty by the number of people who look at you, but rather by the number of people who smile at you.
  51. Knowledge is better than riches.
  52. Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand.
  53. Lack of money is lack of friends; if you have money at your disposal, every dog and goat will claim to be related to you.
  54. Lack of money is lack of friends; if you have money at your disposal, every dog and goat will claim to be related to you.
  55. Learning expands great souls.
  56. Love has to be shown by deeds not words.
  57. Love is a despot who spares no one.

Read about Oriki: That Yoruba Song

  1. Love never gets lost it’s only kept.
  2. Make some money but don’t let money make you.
  3. Man is like a pepper, till you have chewed it you do not know how hot it is.
  4. Many hands make light work.
  5. Marriage is like a groundnut; you have to crack it to see what is inside.
  6. Milk and honey have different colors, but they share the same house peacefully.
  7. Money can’t talk, yet it can make lies look true.
  8. Money is not the medicine against death.
  9. Money is sharper than the sword.
  10. Much wealth brings many enemies.
  11. Nature gave us two cheeks instead of one to make it easier to eat hot food.
  12. Never marry a woman who has bigger feet than you.
  13. No matter how beautiful and well-crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death.
  14. No matter how hot your anger is, it cannot cook yams
  15. No one gets a mouthful of food by picking between another person’s teeth.
  16. No partridge scratches the ground in search of food for another.
  17. Nobody is born wise.
  18. One cannot both feast and become rich.
  19. One cannot count on riches.
  20. One spoon of soup in need has more value than a pot of soup when we have an abundance of food.
  21. One thread for the needle, one love for the heart.
  22. One who bathes willingly with cold water doesn’t feel the cold.
  23. One who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom.
  24. One who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom.
  25. One who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others. Proverb
  26. One who plants grapes by the road side, and one who marries a pretty woman, share the same problem.
  27. Only a wise person can solve a difficult problem.
  28. Patience attracts happiness; it brings near that which is far.
  29. Patience can cook a stone.
  30. Patience is the key which solves all problems.
  31. Patience is the mother of a beautiful child.
  32. Patience puts a crown on the head.
  33. Peace does not make a good ruler.
  34. Peace is costly but it is worth the expense.
  35. Poverty is slavery.
  36. Pretend you are dead and you will see who really loves you.
  37. Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you.
  38. Rich people cook their food in a potsherd.
  39. Rich people sometimes eat bad food.
  40. Roosters’ tail feathers: pretty but always behind.
  41. She is like a road – pretty, but crooked.
  42. Show me your friend and I will show you your character.
  43. Slander by the stream will be heard by the frogs.
  44. Slowly, slowly, porridge goes into the gourd.
  45. Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.
  46. Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.
  47. Sweet words lure the snake out of its cave.
  48. Teeth do not see poverty.

Read these cool facts about the Igbos and facts about the Yoruba people. More African Proverbs below.

  1. The beauty of a woman becomes useless if there is no one to admire it.
  2. The best of mankind is a farmer; the best food is fruit.
  3. The chicken that digs for food will not sleep hungry.
  4. The child of a rat is a rat.
  5. The child you sired hasn’t sired you.
  6. The cook does not have to be a beautiful woman.
  7. The death of an elderly man is like a burning library.
  8. The food eaten first lasts longest in the stomach.
  9. The food that is in the mouth is not yet in the belly.
  10. The food which is prepared has no master.
  11. The fool speaks, the wise man listens.
  12. The forest not only hides man’s enemies but it’s full of man’s medicine, healing power and food.
  13. The forest provides food to the hunter after he is utterly exhausted.
  14. The friends of our friends are our friends.
  15. The frown on the face of the goat will not stop it from being taken to the market
  16. The goat says: “Where there is blood, there is plenty of food.”
  17. The grasshopper which is always near its mother eats the best food.
  18. The heart of the wise man lies quiet like limpid water.
  19. The hyena with a cub does not consume all the available food.
  20. The impotent man does not eat spicy foods.
  21. The man who counts the bits of food he swallows is never satisfied.
  22. The man who has bread to eat does not appreciate the severity of a famine.
  23. The man who marries a beautiful woman, and the farmer who grows corn by the roadside have the same problem
  24. The most beautiful fig may contain a worm.
  25. The mouth is stupid after eating it forgets who gave it the food.
  26. The night has ears.
  27. The old woman looks after the child to grow its teeth and the young one in turn looks after the old woman when she loses her teeth.
  28. The one who loves an unsightly person is the one who makes him beautiful.
  29. The poor man and the rich man do not play together.
  30. The rich are always complaining.
  31. The same sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay.
  32. The skin of the leopard is beautiful, but not his heart.
  33. The surface of the water is beautiful, but it is no good to sleep on.
  34. The way to the beloved isn’t thorny.
  35. The wealth which enslaves the owner isn’t wealth.
  36. The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat.
  37. The worlds of the elders do not lock all the doors; they leave the right door open.
  38. The young bird does not crow until it hears the old ones.
  39. The zebra told the white horse, “I am white,” and told the black horse, “I am actually black.
  40. There are many colorful flowers on the path of life, but the prettiest have the sharpest thorns.
  41. There can be no peace without understanding.
  42. There is always a winner even in a monkey’s beauty contest.
  43. There is no beauty but the beauty of action.
  44. There is no fool who is disowned by his family.
  45. There is no one who became rich because he broke a holiday, no one became fat because he broke a fast.
  46. There is no virgin in a maternity ward.
  47. They ate our food, and forgot our names.
  48. Things are to be tried, an old lady cooked stones and they produced soup.
  49. Those who are at one regarding food are at one in life.
  50. Three things cause sorrow to flee; water, green trees, and a beautiful face.
  51. To be without a friend is to be poor indeed.
  52. To get lost is to learn the way.
  53. To love the king is not bad, but a king who loves you is better.
  54. To run is not necessarily to arrive.
  55. Traveling is learning.
  56. Two ants do not fail to pull one grasshopper.
  57. Ugliness with a good character is better than beauty.
  58. Unity is strength, division is weakness.
  59. War has no eyes.
  60. War is not porridge.
  61. Water is colorless and tasteless but you can live on it longer than eating food.
  62. We desire to bequeath two things to our children; the first one is roots, the other one is wings.
  63. Wealth diminishes with usage; learning increases with use.
  64. Wealth, if you use it, comes to an end; learning, if you use it, increases.

Checkout these latest Agbada styles. They’re so lovely…

  1. What one won’t eat by itself, one will eat when mixed with other food.
  2. What you give you get.
  3. What you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him to learn.
  4. What you learn is what you die with.
  5. When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful.
  6. When a man is stung by a bee, he does not destroy all beehives.
  7. When a once-beautiful piece of cloth has turned into rags, no one remembers that it was woven by Ukwa master weavers.
  8. When brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate.
  9. When the food is cooked there is no need to wait before eating it.
  10. When the leg does not walk, the stomach does not eat.
  11. When the roots of a tree begin to decay, it spreads death to the branches.
  12. When the shepherd comes home in peace, the milk is sweet.
  13. When there is peace in the country, the chief does not carry a shield.
  14. When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.
  15. When you befriend a chief remember that he sits on a rope.
  16. When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him.
  17. When you show the moon to a child, it sees only your finger.
  18. When your luck deserts you, even cold food burns.
  19. Where a woman rules, streams run uphill.
  20. Where there are experts there will be no lack of learners.
  21. Where there are many, nothing goes wrong.
  22. Where there is love there is no darkness.
  23. Where water is the boss there the land must obey.
  24. Where you will sit when you are old shows where you stood in youth.
  25. Why they like an ugly person takes long for a beautiful person to know.
  26. Wine, women and food give gladness to the heart.
  27. Wisdom does not come overnight.
  28. Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it.
  29. Wisdom is like fire. People take it from others.
  30. Wisdom is not like money to be tied up and hidden.
  31. Wisdom is wealth.
  32. With wealth one wins a woman.
  33. Without a leader, black ants are confused.
  34. Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food.
  35. You always learn a lot more when you lose than when you win.
  36. You are beautiful because of your possessions.
  37. You are beautiful, but learn to work, for you cannot eat your beauty.
  38. You become wise when you begin to run out of money.
  39. You cannot build a house for last year’s summer.
  40. You cannot name a child that is not born.
  41. You cannot tell a hungry child that you gave him food yesterday.
  42. You cannot work for food when there is no food for work.
  43. You do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla.
  44. You have little power over what’s not yours.
  45. You learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down.
  46. You must act as if it is impossible to fail.
  47. You must act as if it is impossible to fail.
  48. You must attend to your business with the vendor in the market, and not to the noise of the market.
  49. You should know what’s being cooked in the kitchen otherwise you might eat a forbidden food.
  50. You should not hoard your money and die of hunger.
  51. You should not hoard your money and die of hunger.
  52. Youth is beauty, even in cattle.

I’m sure you loved these African Proverbs. So, which of these proverbs do you like?

Special Thanks To AfriTorial, Matadornetwork,


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