Igbo Proverbs With Their Meanings (Part 1)

(Last Updated On: February 16, 2018)

Igbo proverbs

Ask a typical guy who claims to be an Igbo man to tell you at least 15 Igbo proverbs and he’ll probably disappoint you. That’s not normal, but in a country like Nigeria where culture is fast being replaced by western values and lifestyle, it’s a norm.

The Igbos are one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria; a country with more than 250 different ethnic groups. The two other groups include the Hausas and Yorubas.

For the purpose of this post which will be divided into parts, this first part will bring to the limelight, some funny Igbo proverbs with their meanings (Igbo to English translations). This is part of the series of posts we’ll be doing on African proverbs and their meanings. Knowledge of proverbs are a true representation of interest and versatility in Igbo culture.

So, all aboard? Let’s go there!

Note: Italicized lines are the Igbo proverbs. Igbo kwenu!!! Ya!

  • Atuolu nwata inu kowara ya, ego eji nuta nne ya naa n’iyi. If you speak a proverb to a child and explain the same to him, the money that was used to marry the child’s mother has been wasted. (Don’t crucify me for starting with it.. lol)
  • Nwata etoghi eto juo ihe gburu nna ya, ihe gburu nna ya e gbuo ya. A child who is not old enough but starts asking what killed his father, will be killed by what killed his father.
  • Akwuru oto tuba nwanyi ime, o muo onye ara. If you impregnate a woman while standing, she’ll give birth to a mad person (Don’t ask me if it’s true.. lol)
  • Nwayo nwayo ka e ji eri ofe di oku. A hot soup is eaten slowly and steadily.
  • Ihu di nma adighi mma itu mbo. A pretty face doesn’t deserve to be pinched.
  •  Ngwere niile na akpu afo n’ala, amaghi nke afo n’asa. Because all lizards crawl on their bellies, one can’t say which one is purging.
  • Were ehihie choba ewwu ojii maka na chi jie, igaghi ahuzikwa ya anya ozo. Look for a dark goat when it’s still daytime for when night comes, it’ll be difficult to find it.  (Make hay while the sun shines)
  •  Anaghi eji maka mgbagbu aghara ogu. One cannot fail to go to war because he’s afraid of death.
  • Eme ngwa ngwa emeghara odachi. Attending to issues at hand prevents problems from arising. (A stitch in time saves nine).
  •  Okenye anaghi ano n’ulo ewu amu o n’ ogbi. An adult shouldn’t be at home while the she goat delivers whilst still tied to a stake.
  • Awo anaghi agba oso ehihie n’nkiti. The toad doesn’t run around in the afternoon without a tangible reason. 
  • Kaodikaodi kpoba, kaodikaodi egoru. A seller who puts up wares anyhow will attract an anyhow buyer. 
  • Aki na nwanne ya yi, ma na owere ichere gbabido onwe ya. The twin palm kernel separates itself from its brother. 
  • Ana m anwu anwu, jere be ana m anwunyu anya. A dying man has gone to the house of one who’s closer to the grave yard. 
  •  Pam pam ka nkwu ji eju agbo. Drop by drop, the palm wine keg gets filled up. (Little drops of water make an ocean)
  • O ji ututu tutuba na atutuju akpa. He who starts gathering early in the morning fills their bag before sunset. 
  • Okirikiri ka ana agba ukwu ose, anaghi ari ya elu. You cn only go round and round the pepper tree because no one can climb it. 

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  • Onye ejide n’ukwu ose ka ana akpo onye ori ose. Whoever is caught at the foot of the pepper tree, is regarded as the pepper thief.
  • Onye nodu ebe ono, ebe onoghi ana agu ya. No matter what a man’s position is, he’ll still want to go to a higher position.
  • Ugwu muta igbaji ikpere, agadi nwanyi amuta ejekata akwuru. If the hill becomes difficult to climb, the old woman will always device a means of climbing. (When the going gets tough, the tough gets going).
  • Nwata rie awo, o ju anu. When a child eats a frog, he’ll never eat meat again. 
  • Ijiji na anaghi anu ndumodu n’eso ozu ala n’inyi. The heedless fly follows the corpse to the grave. 
  • Nti na anaghi anu ndumodu, egbupu isi, nti esoro ya. The ear that doesn’t listen to advice will get cut off along with the head. 
  • Ochuu nwa okuko new ada, nwa okuko nwe mwomwo oso. He who chases the chicken has the falling to do, while the chicken has the running to do.
  • Oke mmukosi na ebuta oke mkpari. Over familiarity breeds contempt.
  • Onye ulo ya na agba oku anaghi achu oke. He whose house is on fire doesn’t go about chasing a rat.
  • O bu na okpu isi amaghi akpu ka o bu n’aguba adighi nko? Is it that the barber doesn’t know how to cut the hair, or that his tools aren’t sharp?
  • Mmiri mara ugo sara ugo ahu. The rain that falls on the eagle bathes the eagle. 
  • Nkita na anaghi anu nti n’aga eri nshi ya. The dog that doesn’t listen goes back to eats its’ faeces.
  • Eneke siri na kemgbe mmadu mutara gbaba ya egbe na akwusi akwusi, ya onwe ya mutara febe efebe ebeghi ebe. Eneke the bird said that since humans learnt to shoot at it nonstop without missing, it has learnt to fly without perching.
  • Onye bi n’ulo ugegbe anaghi atu okwute. He who lives in a glass house doesn’t throw stones.
  • Ndi bi n’uso ulo uka na ekpe azu abia uka. The people that live close ot the church are always late for service. 
  • Mbe no na ikpo nsi rue mgbe aga akpoputa ya, osi ha mee ngwa ngwa na nsi esigbuo ya. The tortoise was in a pit filled with faeces for a long time, and when it was time to bring him out, he yelled at his helpers to be quick that he’ll die from the stench.

Check out these facts about the Igbos you probably didn’t know.

More Igbo proverbs below…

  • Mberede nyiri dike, mana o bu mberede ka e ji ama dike. A sudden impossibility is too much a task for a hero, but a hero is known for doing sudden impossibilities.
  • Ezigbo oyi kariri ezi nwanne. A good friend is better than a brother/sister.
  • Nwata etoghi etoghi wara ogodu, ikuku kue, o buru ya n’ogodu o ma n’ukwu. A child who is not yet of age but ties a wrapper, if the wind blows, the child will be blown away with the wrapper.
  • Onye ya na ekwensu n’ eri nri na eji ogologo ngazi. He who dines with the devil uses a long spoon.
  • Onye ndi iro gbara gburugburu n’eche ndu ya nche mgbe nile. He who is surrounded by enemies, guards his life always.
  • Azotasia ala, ewe zoba ute. Fight and win the land first before fighting for the mat to place on it.
  • Onye ara na ama onye ara ibe ya. A mad man knows a fellow mad man.
  • Ezigbo aha ka ego. A good name is better than riches.
  •  Eziokwu bu ndu. Truth is life. 
  • Okwa siri umu ya na ha turu ji, ha turukwa mgborogwu maka na onye new ji gwuru ji ya, ha ewere mgborogwu biri. The partridge told its kids to feed on both the yam and the roots so that when the owner of the yam harvests the yam, they’ll still be able to feed on the root.
  • Egwu anaghi atu afo oburu uzo. The stomach is never afraid, that’s why it’s always in front.
  • Mmiri anaghi eri onye ohuro ukwu ya. The waters cannot drown the man who it doesn’t see his leg. 
  • Agadi nwanyi anaghi aka nka n’egwu o ma agba. An old woman is never old when it comes to the dance steps she knows too well.
  • Anaghi agwa ochi nti n’agha esu. You don’t tell the deaf that war has begun. 
  • Onye anoghi ebe eliri ozu, na esi na okpa abo ya. One who isn’t present when the dead was buried will start digging up the dead from the leg.
  • Anu gbanari taa, echi bun ta. When a game escapes today, tomorrow is yet another hunting day.
  • Nkwucha abughi ujo. Being at alert doesn’t mean one is afraid.
  • Ukpana okpoko gburu, nti chiri ya. The grasshopper that is killed by the train is certainly deaf.
  • Ka afutasia ka afutasia, ka mgbo ji tuo enwe n’isi. The inquisitive monkey gets hit in the face by a bullet.

Also Check Out Naming Ceremony in Igbo land

  • Tupuru Nkita okpukpu n’ezi ma hapuru ya ogu ya na umu ndi mmuo. Throw the bones out to dogs and leave it to fight with the spirits.
  • Onye nyere nwata nkakwu/nkapi ga enyekwa ya mmiri o ga e ji kwo aka. He who gives a child a shrew (a rat with pointed nostril) should also give him water to wash his hands.
  • Nwata rie ihe o ji maka ya muru anya, o rahuo ora. When a child has gotten that which kept him awake, he can then sleep.

Special thanks to this Nairaland Topic.

Now’s your turn, add any Igbo proverbs you know via the comment box below.

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