A Collection of Wisdom: Proverbs

African Proverbs

African Folktales

Do not rush the night—the sun will always rise for its own sake.

Send a boy where he wishes to go, and you will see his best pace.

A man who pays respect to the great paves his own way for greatness.

Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.

When the heart acts, the body is its slave.

He who has not traveled widely thinks that his mother is the best cook.

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Do something at its (right) time, and peace will accompany it.

It is not what you are called, but what you answer to.

The key that unlocks is also the key that locks.

Honor a child, and he will honor you.

Repetition is the mother of knowledge.

The sun shines on those who are standing before it shines on the people kneeling under them.

Three things that a man must know to survive: what is too much for him, what is too little, and what is fitting.

The world does not make promises to anybody.

When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.

If you live next to the cemetery, you cannot cry for everyone.

A wise man doesn’t know everything—only a fool does.

Anxiety will not let you die of hunger.

If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for something.

A weapon that you don’t have in your hand will not kill a snake.

Looking for something can get in the way of finding it.

The person who rides a donkey cannot avoid smelling its farts.

Indecision is like a stepchild: if he doesn’t wash his hands, then he is called dirty; but if he washes his hands, then he is wasting water!

A leopard is chasing us, and you are asking me, “Is it a male or a female?”

A marketplace is not the pace for a husband and wife to argue.

However long the night may last, there will be a morning.

Daylight follows a dark night.

Algerian Proverbs

If you have not been to two different bazaars, then you do not know what the best value is. (Burkina Faso)

The unborn baby that fears criticism will never be born. (Burundi)

Cameroonian Proverbs

A man with too much ambition cannot sleep in peace. (Chad)

He who does not like chattering woman will remain a bachelor. (Congo)

A day of hunger is not starvation. (Congo)

No matter how long the night is, the morning is sure to come. (Congo)

If you are too modest, then you will go hungry. (Congo)

He who talks continuously, talks nonsense. (Cote d’Ivoire)

Egyptian Proverbs

Ethiopian Proverbs

Bad friends will prevent you from having good friends. (Gabon)

Heal yourself first before you heal others. (Gambia)

Several repeated visits to the mud pit enable the wasp to build its house. (Ghana)

Don’t expect to be offered a chair when you are visiting a place where the chief sits on the floor. (Ghana)

If someone is walking towards you, you don’t need to tell him “come here.” (Ghana)

Bad luck for one man is good luck for another. (Ghana)

Only a fool tests the water’s depth with both feet. (Ghana)

By coming and going, a bird constructs its nest. (Ghana)

When you are rich, you are hated; when you are poor, you are despised. (Ghana)

One lie spoils a thousand truths. (Ghana)

It is no disgrace at all to work for money. (Ghana)

When the hunter returns and is holding mushrooms, don’t ask him about how his hunt went. (Guinea)

No matter how much milk a cow has, you cannot milk butter from it. (Guinea)

A man’s actions are more important than his ancestry. (Kenya)

Crawling on hands and knees has never prevented anyone from walking upright. (Kenya)

The enemy you know is better than the one you do not know. (Kenya)

The day before yesterday and yesterday are not the same as today. (Kenya)

The always-hurrying person eats goat, but the one who takes his time eats beef. (Lesotho)

Note: In Lesotho and many other parts of Africa, cow meat is prized much more than goat meat.

An elephant never gets tired of supporting its tusks. (Liberia)

Don’t look where you fell; look where you slipped. (Liberia)

Gossiping about the enemy can result in a war. (Liberia)

Every head must do its own thinking. (Liberia)

Each trip gives you its own uniqueness. (Libya)

If everyone thought the same way, no goods would ever be sold. (Libya)

A mad dog bites anything except itself. (Libya)

While the sun is shining, bask in it! (Malawi)

No matter how many house chores you complete, there are always more to be done. (Mali)

The hyena chasing two gazelles at the same will go to bed hungry. (Mali)

If the rabbit is your enemy, admit that he can sprint fast. (Mali)

The radiant and well-understood speech of one person is better than the speech of a thousand people that is not. (Morocco)

The cat and the mouse can’t be neighbors for long. (Namibia)

The person who guards himself will not be destroyed. (Namibia)

Old people’s speech is not to be dishonored—after all, they saw the sun first. (Namibia)

The zebra told the white horse, “I am white,” and told the black horse, “I am actually black.” (Namibia)

When the music changes, so does the dance. (Niger)

Every kind of love is love, but self-love is supreme among them. (Niger)

Nigerian Proverbs

In the birds’ court, a cockroach never wins his case. (Rwanda)

You can outrun what is running after you, but not what is running inside of you. (Rwanda)

If you are building something and a nail breaks, should you stop building altogether, or should you change the nail? (Rwanda)

Work is good, as long as you don’t forget to live. (Rwanda)

If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. (Senegal)

The house roof fights the rain, but the person who is sheltered ignores it. (Senegal)

Where there is negotiation, there is hope for agreement. (Somalia)

Moving water makes stagnant water move. (Somalia)

Even when there is no rooster, the morning will still start. (South Africa)

Don’t meddle with a family feud. (South Africa)

A small shrub may grow into a tree. (Sudan)

A person who is not disciplined cannot be cautioned. (Tanzania)

I pointed out the stars and moon to you, but all you saw was the tip of my finger! (Tanzania)

Little by little, a little becomes a lot. (Tanzania)

Help me during the flood, and I will help you during the drought. (Tanzania)

Hunger is felt by a slave, and hunger is felt by a king. (Togo)

Rain wets the leopard’s spots, but it doesn’t wash them off. (Togo)

Respect yourself, and you will get it back. (Tunisia)

If you see someone riding a bamboo-cane [in a way that he is enjoying his imagination and fantasizing like he is riding an animal], tell him “What a lovely horse!” (Tunisia)

It is better to blush than to keep the concern in your heart. (Tunisia)

The hunter who is tracking an elephant does not stop to throw stones at birds. (Uganda)

If you have a dog, don’t throw away bones. (Uganda)

The laughter of a child is the light of a house. (Uganda)

You can learn a lot about someone by observing him when he is hungry. (Zambia)

A roaring lion kills no game. (Zimbabwe)

Note: It is difficult to pinpoint what specific countries many African proverbs are primarily from, especially due to the enormous number of different cultures that Africa is home to, as well as the varied factors responsible for African country divisions, many of which have very recently been created. However, for most of these proverbs, I have included a country of common use and origin.

Africa is the second largest continent on Earth (Asia is first), and has a current population of over 800 million people. Much of the region is made up of deserts or forests. The population in Africa is very unevenly distributed—much of it is uninhabitable, while other parts are heavily populated.

Natural Wonders

Africa is noted for natural wonders such as its tropical rainforests, the Sahara Desert (the world’s largest desert), and the Nile River (the world’s longest river).

The continent also contains a wide range of animals, including leopards, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, wildcats, antelope, buffalo, rhinos, hippos, zebras, giraffes, elephants, foxes, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, seals, whales, dolphins, and fish.

Birthplace of Humankind

Many archeologists and biologists consider Africa the birthplace of humankind. While numerous theories abound, many scientists believe that the earliest form of humans lived in Africa a few million years ago (the average estimate is about 3.5 million years ago) and spread throughout the world.

Most scientists also believe that the modern variation of human (Homo sapiens sapiens) also originated in Africa about 150,000 years ago, and later spread to the Middle East and Asia, and then to the rest of the world.

Cultural Groups

Africa has an immense variety of people and cultures. Just the Black Africans alone have over 1000 different distinct ethnic groups among them, most of which have different languages, traditions, and ways of life.

Cultural Backgrounds

Africa contains a vast number of cultural background and population groups. Northern parts of Africa contain predominantly Arab Africans and Berbers, while sub-Saharan Africa is inhabited predominantly by Black Africans, who make up most of Africa’s population.

Other African ethnic groups include people of European dissent (most of which live in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya), and people of Asian ancestry (who are mainly of Indonesian and Indian backgrounds).

Early Empires and City-States

Africa was home to one of the world’s first known empires, Ancient Egypt, which lay along the Nile River and existed primarily from 3200 BC to 0 AD.

Many other empires later originated or existed in Africa, including Carthage (700s BC-600 AD), the Ghana Empire (400s-1000s), the Mali Empire (1200s-1400s), the Songhai Empire (1400s-1500s), the Kongo Kingdom (1200s-1600s), and many other kingdoms in the 2nd Millennium. Regions in Northern Africa have also been part of foreign Empires at various times, such as the Roman Empire from the 100s BC to the 400s AD.

Many large city-states also developed in Africa, such as Lepcis Magna (900s BC-500s AD), Axum (100s AD-400s AD), Mogadishu (900s AD-Present Day), and Mombasa (1000s AD-Present Day).

Arabs and Islam

In the 600s AD, Muslim Arabs conquered much of Northern Africa and soon established trade with other parts of Africa. They also spread the Islamic religion throughout Northern Africa and parts of the rest of the continent, and caused the creation of an Arab / Bantu-African hybrid language known as Swahili.


Besides its city dwellers, most Africans have lived in smaller communities throughout most of African history. Those societies generally had one of these five themes dominant in its peoples’ lifestyles: hunting & gathering, fishing, grain growing, nomadic animal herding, or tropical forest village farming.


In the 1400s, Europeans (particularly the Spanish and Portuguese) established trading posts in Africa, and by the 1500s, they began taking Africans captive as slaves. (Slave labor had also existed in earlier times in Africa, particularly in Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, and in some African Islam states.)

The British (and the French and Dutch to lesser extents) soon became the main slave trading presence in Africa, and the slave trade grew steadily, particularly due to the plantation-based economy in the Southern United States that depended on slave labor. Some African cities later began capturing slaves to trade with the Europeans, and some of them also used slave labor within their own borders.

In the early 1800s, the British government issued laws making the slave trade illegal, but the trading continued to persist. By the 1860s, the United States had abolished slavery within its borders, and the slave trade lessened in Africa.


By the late 1800s, different European countries began competing for control of various African regions and resources, and began colonializing the continent. The European presence soon caused the slave trade to end.

By the early 1900s, Europeans (from Britain, Portugal, France, and Germany) controlled most of Africa (except Ethiopia and Liberia), and also caused Christianity to spread in the colonies. Some Europeans also settled in parts of Africa. For the most part, the European presence in Africa was to exploit the continent’s resources, particularly its diamonds and gold.


Africans resisted the European rulers, and throughout the 1900s, all African nations gained their independence. The first was Egypt in 1922 and the last was South Africa in 1988; while most others happened in the 1950s and 1960s.

Current Africa

Most Africans today inhabit farms and have a lifestyle similar to Africans generations ago. Others live in cities and have a modern lifestyle.

African Themes

Although Africa varies greatly, some themes of Africa include religion (including traditional African religions as well as Christianity and Islam), textiles, sculptures, cultural ceremonies and festivals, rituals, music (especially drums), dancing, hot weather, folktales / storytelling, witchcraft, mineral and crop exporting, diamond and mineral mining, coffee, cotton, petroleum, fishing, poetry, spears, pottery, beadwork, poverty, famine, political turmoil, overcrowding, soccer, boxing, cricket, long distance running (particularly in Kenya), South African hero Nelson Mandela, Egyptian UN diplomat Boutros Boutros-Gali, and multiculturalism.


Most of the country divisions in current Africa are due cultural differences, political situations, and the effects of European colonialism.

The countries of Africa include Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Kinshasa—formerly known as Zaire), Congo Republic (Brazzaville), Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea–Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, Sao Tome e Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.