Home » Positive Thinking » 70 Best African Proverbs For Helpful Wisdom, Guidance, And Advice
By Martha Weston Leave a Comment
Every culture and country has proverbs unique to their society, and Africa is no different. African proverbs not only provide guidance and wisdom like proverbs from other places, but they also provide outsiders with a view of life in the various African tribes. These proverbs describe everything from the nature around the tribes to everyday tribal life and culture.
Many African proverbs are attributed to single tribes or countries, while the origins of others are not known specifically, so we have labeled them only as “African Proverb” on our list. We wanted to give you a look into proverbs in a way that will help you with your current situation, so we’ve divided them up into categories so that you can focus on areas where you need advice.
It was easy to find African proverbs on goals and achievement, which makes us think this is a vital aspect of African culture. These proverbs come from throughout the continent and from many different tribes, which means that goal setting and achievement are integral throughout African culture.
- “There are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree.” Cameroonian Proverb
- “Little by little grow the bananas.” Congolese Proverb
- “The big game often appears when the hunter has given up the hunt for the day.” Igbo Proverb
- “The big game often appears when the hunter has given up the hunt for the day.” Igbo Proverb
- “Haste and hurry can only bear children with many regrets along the way.” Senegalese Proverb
- “Rising early makes the road short.” African Proverb
- “A person with too much ambition cannot sleep in peace.” Chadian Proverb
- “Around a flowering tree, there are many insects.” Guinean Proverb
- “Little by little the bird builds its nest.” Nigerian Proverb
- “You cannot climb to the mountain top without crushing some weeds with your feet.” Ugandan Proverb
- “If you are building a house and a nail breaks, do you stop building, or do you change the nail?” African Proverb
- “No tattoo is made without blood.” Mozambican Proverb
- “No person is born great. Great people become great when others are sleeping.” African Proverb
On Family and Love
Family relations are important to many different tribes in Africa. It is interesting to see the themes of motherhood, unity, and knowing where you come from echoed throughout these proverbs.
- “If love is a sickness, patience is the remedy.” Cameroonian Proverb
- “The laughter of a child lights up the house.” Swahili Proverb
- “If you educate a man you educate one individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.” Fanti Proverb
- “When the mother goat breaks into the yam store, her kid watches her.” Igbo Proverb
- “If the elders leave you a legacy of dignified language, you do not abandon it and speak childish language.” Ghanaian Proverb
- “Coffee and love taste best when hot.” Ethiopian Proverb
- “Baboons do not go far from the place of their birth.” Masai Proverb
- “Lonely is one.” Masai Proverb
- “The cow that bellows does so for all cows.” Kenyan Proverb
- “A tree cannot stand without roots.” Congolese Proverb
Like most cultures, leaders play important roles in African tribes. In some tribes, elders take on a leadership role, while in others there is a designated leader who is voted on or who assumes the position naturally. You can see the thoughts on how to become a leader and maintain leadership are different throughout African tribal culture from the proverbs below.
- “If you overtake a leader, you break your neck.” Ugandan Proverb
- “A fully grown up tree cannot be bent into a walking stick.” Kenyan Proverb
- “No matter how full the river, it still wants to grow.” Congolese Proverb
- “Other people’s wisdom prevents the king from being called a fool.” Nigerian Proverb
- “Even an ant can hurt an elephant.” South African Proverb
- “Only someone else can scratch your back.” Kenyan Proverb
- “The chameleon changes color to match the earth; the earth doesn’t change colors to match the chameleon.” Senegalese Proverb
- “A canoe does not know who the leader is when it turns over, everyone gets wet.” Madagascar Proverb
- “Water that has been begged for does not quench the thirst.” Soga People of Uganda Proverb
On Wisdom and Knowledge
Learning and becoming wise are common themes of proverbs throughout the world, so it’s no shock that Africa has its fair share. Some of these proverbs may even seem familiar to you since their sentiments are echoed throughout the world in proverbs from other countries and continents.
- “Supposing doesn’t fill the grain basket, ‘if’ doesn’t fill the larder.” Ovambo Proverb
- “Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand.” Guinean Proverb
- “Examine what is said, not him who speaks.” Egyptian Proverb
- “He is like a drum, which makes a lot of noise but is hollow inside.” Sudanese Proverb
- “The chameleon looks in all directions before moving.” Ugandan Proverb
- “An empty pot makes the loudest noise.” Kenyan Proverb
- “A bird that allows itself to be caught will find a way of escaping.” Cameroonian Proverb
- “We should put out fire while it is still small.” Kenyan Proverb
- “We are what our thinking makes us.” Nigerian Proverb
- “He who learns teaches.” Ethiopian Proverb
Not the same as family, these proverbs describe how to achieve and maintain relationships with friends, colleagues, and others both inside and outside of your tribal culture.
- “Do not call to a dog with a whip in your hand.” Sudanese Proverb
- “Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author.” Twi Proverb
- “One Camel does not make fun of the other camel’s hump.” Ghanaian Proverb
- “If you damage the character of another, you damage your own.” Yoruba Proverb
- “The friends of our friends are our friends.” Congolese Proverb
- “He who loves the vase loves also what is inside.” African Proverb
- “A snake that you see does not bite.” Mozambican Proverb
- “One who relates with a corrupt person likewise gets corrupted.” Kenyan Proverb
- “Confiding a secret to an unworthy person is like carrying grain in a bag with a hole.” Nilotic Proverb
- “If your mouth turns into a knife, it will cut off your lips.” Rwandan Proverb
On Success, Bravery, and Lack Thereof
Bravery is a common theme in proverbs throughout the world because it is linked closely to achievement and good relationships. These proverbs talk about what it means to be brave, what it means to succeed, and what it means to fail in African culture.
- “Those who are absent are always wrong.” Congolese Proverb
- “The elephant does not limp when walking on thorns.” Ethiopian Proverb
- “Numbers can achieve anything.” Ghanaian Proverb
- “A brave man dies once, a coward a thousand times.” Somali Proverb
- “What is bad luck for one man is good luck for another.” Ashanti Proverb
- “However much it rains on you, no wild banana tree will grow on your head.” Kenyan Proverb
- “A rooster is not expected to crow for the whole world.” African Proverb
- “One arrow can knock down an elephant.” Kenyan Proverb
- “If an arrow has not entered deeply, then its removal is not hard.” Buli Proverb
On Time and Endings
The theme of “all things must end” is another common one in proverbs around the globe. In the proverbs below, you will also notice that these tribes don’t necessarily believe that the end of your time is the end of all time and that we need to honor what comes after our time is done.
- “Time destroys all things.” Nigerian Proverb
- “Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands.” Nigerian Proverb
- “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Haida Proverb
- “Even the best dancer on the stage must retire sometime.” African Proverb
- “Old and new millet seeds end up in the same mill.” Acholi Proverb
On Owning Your Actions
The final theme we see in these proverbs is being a good person or owning up to your actions and understanding that they have consequences. This is once again a common theme in proverbs around the world, but one that African tribes have adopted as well.
- “He who doesn’t clean his mouth before breakfast always complains that the food is sour.” African Proverb
- “He who cannot dance will say, ‘The drum is bad!’” Ashanti Proverb
- “Copying everyone else all the time, the monkey one day cut his throat.” Zulu Proverb
- “All monkeys cannot hang on the same branch.” Kenyan Proverb
- “Birds of all kinds will end up landing.” Egyptian Proverb
African culture is full of wisdom and guidance for almost any time in your life. We hope that reading through these proverbs helped you to understand that what it means to be a decent human being is not so different in other areas of the world as it is in ours. We also hope that you can take some of this guidance and advice with you on the rest of your journey.
The purpose of a proverb is to help you navigate life well utilizing the knowledge and understanding of those who came before you to better yourself and your community. We believe this is showcased well in the 70 proverbs we shared above.
Martha lives in the Bay Area and is a dedicated reader of romance novels. She runs a yoga studio and taught yoga for many years. She always says that yoga fuels her writing. She’s also a vegetarian and advocate for living a healthy life. Martha has been writing for us for a while now, giving readers a glimpse into her lifestyle and work.