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10 African Proverbs And Their Meanings

African proverbs and their meanings

African culture is rich and goes way back to the beginning of time. This is shown in literature and many other historical texts. However one thing about African culture is the fact that it is passed down orally. Generally from generation to generation. That’s one reason why Africans truly value their elders, since they contain the key to the world in a way. 

We talk about some African proverbs and their meanings. 

So what is a proverb?

A proverb is basically a short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice. – From Google

Below are a few we think may be interesting to you, or give you another perspective of life.

”He who does not know one thing knows another”.

This teaches you not to look down on people. Not everyone can be well informed or knowledgeable about a particular topic, however, them not knowing that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know anything. As humans we should learn to be understanding and not condescending, after all, you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.

”Rain beats the leopard’s skin but it does not wash out the spots”.

This is a good one, and it’s about public opinion and personal character. As people, we normally have different ways or characters we show towards certain people. No matter how “bad” someone is, you can’t change the public opinion of them if it has gotten to the point where it is irredeemable. Also, you can’t change someone that doesn’t want to be changed. 

“A roaring lion kills no game”

African proverbs and their meanings
Lion roaring, standing amidst the natural environment of the forest.

Another good one to live life by. Saying you’ll do something is one thing, but actually getting to it is another. 

It’s like the story of the mice who tried to outsmart the cat. One suggested they hang a bell around its neck so they hear it when it’s approaching. Which is a great idea, however, how would they accomplish that? Sometimes it’s best to just be silent.


”Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.”

This idiom is about thankfulness or gratefulness. As humans, we go through many things in life, different journeys, and meeting different people. And from those people we receive help or get hurt. We have to learn to appreciate those that help us and not repay love with hate. Basically don’t bite the hand that feeds you.


”Not everyone who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it chased it”.

This is about self-improvement, and taking chances. Not everyone that starts a new venture or business succeeds, however, if you decide to not take the first step, then you’ll never have anything accomplished in life. We need to learn to fail to succeed. Successful people don’t make it overnight.


“Better little than too little.”

Sometimes as humans we tend to get greedy, it’s nice to want more.. However, that depends on the situation you are in. If someone does you a favour by helping you when you’re in a predicament, don’t overreach, be happy with what you have. It could always be worse. 


“It’s the Crooked wood that shows the best sculptor”

Pressure makes diamonds. Hard times or difficult situations bring out the best in people or show you who they really are. This can be applied to many situations. Someone bragging about a certain achievement but failing poorly when it comes to actually demonstrating it. Don’t be like them, always be humble.


“The death of an elderly man is like a burning library”

The elderly are our key to the secrets of the world, we should appreciate their wisdom and knowledge and seek to learn more from them as they are still with us. We learn from them so that we may pass it on to our children in the future and also improve our lives and not make the same mistakes they made. This proverb really drives that point home. Respect your elders.


“If you are building a house and a nail breaks, do you stop building or do you change the nail?”

Old hammer with nails lying on boards

This one is about perseverance and dedication. If you have a dream, work towards it with everything you have. Don’t let little problems stop you from accomplishing your goals. The nail in this case could be a minor issue, or maybe some bad advice from someone. Stay true to yourself and focused on your path in life.


 “You cannot build a house for last year’s summer.”

Times are ever-changing, what may happen today, won’t happen tomorrow. It’s good to remember the past, however, sometimes it is best to just move on in life. Nothing you do would change anything in the past, the only thing left is to improve and be prepared for the future.

READ ALSO : African Folklore

That’s it for some African proverbs and their meanings. Live by these words and you’ll never go wrong in life.

 We hope you learned something new today and pray it improves your daily lives.

Have any more you live by and want to share with us? Drop it in the comment section below and we will reply asap . 

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