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105 African Proverbs and Wise Saying for


Different Occasions

Victo r Chend ekemen Ya kubu 1

A Wo rd fo r the Wi se:

So met imes in hu man life, yo u need t o blend yo ur speech wit h pro ver bs, id io ms,
quo t es and wise sayings. I n Afr ican cu lt ure[s], an eld er is co nsider ed an elder
when he speaks w it h pro ver bs. When an eld er sp eak s wit ho ut a pro ver b, it is
lik e a child chasing t he w ind wit ho ut resu lt s. Pro verbs co lo ur t he sp eech and
make t he au d ience happ y o r t ho ught fu l.

The Bib le uses nu mero us met ap ho rs, p ro verbs and wise sayings t o exp lain
event s and s it uat io ns. Read ing t hem o ffer s co nso lat io n in o ur present co nd it io ns
and ho pe fo r a bet t er to mo rro w.

And Jesus is t he mo st lik ely per so n we can po int o ut who never spo ke wit ho ut
using a pro ver b, a wise saying o r a met ap ho r . E lder ly per so ns were mesmer ized
by h is abilit y t o spro ut o ut wit t y sa ying s o ffhand. One eld er even cha lleng ed
him and said, “Yo u are no t up t o fo rt y and yo u t alk lik e t his?” He was fu ll o f
wisdo m.

Examp les o f his saying s are man y. He said at o ne t ime, “T he Sabbat h was mad e
fo r man and no t man fo r t he Sabbat h”, o r “Dest ro y t his t emp le and in t hree d ays,
I shall r aise it up again” and at ano t her t ime he said, “When am lift ed up fro m
t he eart h I shall draw all men t o mys elf.” Of co urse, t hey were sho rt o f
und erst and ing.

So Jesu s left a co mpend iu m o f pro verbs fo r all k ind s o f peo p le fro m


agr icu lt ur ist s t o zoo lo g ist s. T here is so met hing abo ut Him which can mak e o ur
speeches ver y int er est ing and co lo ur fu l.

1
Fr . Vi c tor C. Y ak ub u i s pr i est of t h e Ca t hol i c Di oc es e of Za r i a , Ni ger ia . He ca n be
r ea ch ed a t vi c ch en y@ ch en dekem en . com . T h i s com pi l at i on wa s m a de bet ween 1987 a n d 1994.
But m ost l y i n 1993/ 1994 wh en I a ssum ed t h e posi t i on of Pr es i den t of t h e Phi l osoph i ca l
Soci et y of St . August i n e’s Ma j or S em i n ar y J os, Pl a t ea u St a t e – Ni ger i a a n d con tr i but in g
edi t or of Gadf l y m a ga z in e. Speci a l t han ks t o Fr . Isa i ah Och i gbo for hi s suggest i on s on t h i s
c om pi l a t i on espe ci a l l y t h e arr an gem en t an d str uct ur e. Man y t h an ks.

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu
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Yo u may be a preacher o r perso n who makes sp eeches ever yday t o an aud ience;
yo u need t o blend t ho se speeches wit h so me wise sa ying s, a pro ver b o r a
met ap ho r.

But remember, when yo ur au d ience is sho rt o f u nd erst and ing, yo u have t o t ake
o ver t he exp lanat io n so t hat yo u do not leave t hem in t he dark.

Mo st impo rt ant ly, k no w when t o app ly t hese pro ver bs t o a part icu lar o ccasio n.
When it is a so rro wfu l mo o d, yo u do not need t o use pro ver bs fo r wedd in g
ceremo ny o r when it is t ime fo r naming ceremo ny; yo ur pro ver bs mu st no t co me
fro m t he bur ial ceremo ny g enre.

Peo p le who list en t o speeches ar e qu ick t o det ect an empt y app licat io n o f a
pro ver b, when it do es no t mat ch t he o ccasio n. Mast er y o f t he pro ver b g ives yo u
t he added ad vant age o f using it when necessar y lik e Jesu s d id.

Ho wever, it do es no t mean t hat ever y sp eech o r ever y sent ence yo u make mu st


carr y a pro ver b. This wo u ld be a mis-app licat io n o f what t hese pro ver bs are all
abo ut .

The Nig er ian nat io nalist and po lit ic ian, Chief Obafemi Awo lo wo [1909 – 1987]
o nce said, “Vio lence never set t les anyt hing r ig ht : apart fro m in jur ing yo ur o wn
so u l, it injur es t he best cau se.

It ling ers o n lo ng aft er t he o bject o f hat e has d isappear ed fro m t he scene t o


p lague t he lives o f t ho se who have emp lo yed it against t heir fo es.” Ot her
Nig er ian nat io nalist s lik e S ir Ahmadu Bello , Dr. Nnamd i Azik iwe and a ho st o f
ot hers, used int erest ing saying s t o st ress their po int s.

Many Afr ican nat io nalist s used wit t y saying t o fig ht fo r t he ind ependence o f
t heir st at es. Mo st po pular and mo st recent o f t hese is Nelso n Mandela. He said,
“Aft er climb ing a great hill, o ne o nly find s t hat t here are man y mo r e hills t o
climb. ” Fro m o ne o bst acle t o anot her, his peo p le were led t o t he abo lit io n o f
apart heid.

But aft er it , what came next is t he issu e o f sur mo u nt ing pro blems wit h in t he
So ut h Afr ican so ciet y and mak ing it fu nct io nal. So t hat saying is a ver y r elevant
saying when mak ing a sp eech t o a gro up o f peo p le willing t o make change s in
t heir so ciet ies.

In pre- mo der n t imes Afr ican cu lt ures have never had any wr it t en co mp ilat io n o f
t heir sa ying s fro m Casab lanca t o J’Burg and fro m Alg ier s t o Lusak a and fro m
T imbukt u to Ouagado ugo u.

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu
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These pro ver bs were handed o ver fro m parent s t o t heir childr en in o ral fo r ms in
st o ries and fo lk lo r es. Over t ime t hese saying s were refo r mu lat ed fo r lack o f
wo rds and mo st o f t hem lo st t heir o rig inal st yle.

Ho wever, wit h mo d er n met ho ds we can no w bo ast o f having a co mp ilat io n whic h


is handed o ver no t only in o ral fo r m but also in wr it t en fo r m which an y
int erest ed per so n can read.

I have co me t o lo ve wise sayings and proverbs no t becau se I am an Afr ican, but


larg ely be cau se t he hu man mind is it ch ing t o hear so met hing new lik e cat chy
wo rds, quot es o r sayings fro m d iffer ent cult ures.

My grand fat her at 97 years will clo se his eyes and speak in pro ver bs. So met imes
he sp eak s end lessly. My grand mo t her is wo rst. At 88 years, she lo ves t o sho ut in
pro ver bs and if yo u do n’t u nder st and t hem she get s angr ier in pro ver bs. I have
co me t o lo ve t hem fo r t he ins ig ht s t hey o ffer via pro ver bs and wise sayings fro m
t heir wealt h o f exp er iences.

As so meo ne who must t alk almo st ever y day o f my life, I imb ibe t he u se o f
d ifferent cat ego r ies o f pro ver bs. At t imes, t he aud ience is t hr illed and at ot her
t imes t hey are co nfused o r ju st seem pat het ic. So met imes my aud ience is
t ransfixed fo r lack o f u nder st and ing may be becau se I never said t he p ro ver b
acco rd ing ly. But do n’t be d isco uraged as I have never been.

Abo ve all, t hey have been insp irat io nal and necessar y when co mpo sing a t alk o r
a speech t o an aud ience. Yo u too mu st do t he same and yo u have yo ur o wn
co mp ilat io n fro m yo ur cu lt ure.

This simp le co llect io n is meant to aid yo ur speech whenever yo u make o ne. Do


no t be t aken by surpr ise when called t o address an aud ience.

Always beg in by mesmer iz ing t hem wit h an alr ead y med it at ed pro ver b and t hen
bu ild o n t hat . The mo st impo rt ant perio d t o shoot one is eit her fro m t he
beg inn ing, t he midd le o f yo ur speech o r at t he end.

Always mak e it so u nd int erest ing, co her ent and st raig ht fo rward. The best t hing
abo ut pro ver bs is t o say it wit ho ut a break, o r to break in t he midd le o f it and
sig h, t hen co nclud e t he seco nd half. Yo u will t hr ill yo ur aud ience and send t hem
in co mp let e jit t ers fu lly mesmer ized.

Mo st o f t he pro ver bs in t his co llect io n ar e rend it io ns fro m Fr. Isaiah Ochig bo , a


pr iest o f t he Cat ho lic Dio cese o f Ot ukpo and fo r mer lect urer a t t he St .
Au gust ine’s Majo r Seminar y Jo s P lat eau St at e Niger ia.

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu
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He was fo nd o f us ing man y pro ver bs wh ile preaching o r t eaching his st udent s.
This is ded icat ed to his lo ving memo r y. List ening t o him eit her preaching o r
t eaching was fu n and man y list ener s lo ved t he way he t ailo red h is sp eeches fu l l
o f id io ms, pro ver bs and wise sayings.

Unfo rt u nat e ly mo st o f t hem ar e d irect t ranslit erat io n fro m t he Ido ma language


o f wh ich Fr. Och ig bo belo ng ed. His mo st po pu lar wise sayings are, [1] “Yo u
canno t co mb yo ur head while yo u ar e st ill in t he fo rest ” and [2] “When a
handshake reaches t he elbo w, t hen it is so met hing else.”

Each t ime he ment io ned t hese pro ver bs in h is sp eeches, t he aud ience was always
t hro wn in laug ht er. But t he messag e was clear.

Feel fr ee t o do wnlo ad t hese wise saying s and use t hem acco rd ing ly. I n case yo u
have co mment s, quest io ns o r suggest io ns to wards impro ving t his co mp ilat io n,
do feel free to send me yo ur o bser vat io ns fo r fut ure impro vement s.

Send all o bser vat io ns t o : viccheny@chend ekemen.co m.

They are put int o gro ups co nt aining t en pro ver bs o r wise saying s. Read t he m
carefu lly o ver a nd o ver t o get t he sense and ho w t o app ly t hem at yo ur next
o ccasio n.

This co mp ilat io n o wes it s o r ig in t o t his hu mb le man o f Go d Fr. Ochig bo , read


t hem while praying fo r him as o r ig inato r. I am ju st hap p y t o make t he m
availab le t o yo u “fo r where t he o ld t ree d ies t here t he yo u ng o ne will spro ut .”

Vict o r Chendek emen Yaku bu


Cat ho lic Dio cese o f Zar ia
NIGERI A
vicchen y@chend ekemen. co m

==

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu
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105 African Proverbs for Your Delight

Group I

1. Wat er t ast es bet t er fro m a go urd.


2. He who want s pap yru s ash, sho u ld bur n one.
3. The eyes o f a fro g canno t prevent t he zebr a fro m dr ink ing wat er in t he
r iver.
4. The g ir ls who canno t dance blame t he drums.
5. He who go ssip s is lik e a granar y fu ll o f ho les.
6. The fo o lish bird bu ild s a nest in a d ead t ree and do es no t kno w it will be
cut do wn.
7. Yo ung su gar cane g ives no beer.
8. Even an ant can hurt an elep hant .
9. The family members ar e t ho se who kno w what happ ens in t he family.
10.Where a st range t ree gro ws ano t her will fo llo w.

Group II

11.Co ws graze best where t hey are bro ug ht up.


12.Unless yo u call o ut , no o ne will answer.
13.One came l do es no t make fu n o f ano t her camel’s back.
14.One do es no t send a child t o co llect ho ney.
15.A be ll need s it s t o ngue.
16.A wise man washes his po t in prepar at io n fo r t o mo rro w’s meal.
17.A d isho nest man o r liar sweat s even in co ld wat ers.
18.An e lder who eat s all his fo o d wit ho ut leaving any remnant s fo r ot hers
will carr y his lo ad to t he to wn.
19.A ch ild do es no t fly o nly a wing.
20.The fact t hat yo u quarrel wit h an o ppo nent sho u ld no t mean t hat yo u want
t he o ppo nent t o die.

Group III

21.Never ask a land lo rd fo r a chair when he has o nly a mat o n which he sit s.
22.Do es t he mere sig ht o f a but cher mak e t he so up t ast e delic io u s?
23.I f wat er is ro tt en wit h what shall yo u wash it ?
24.The ear is never great er t han t he head.
25.No mat t er ho w lo ng t he neck is, t he head is always o n it s t o p.
26.Wit h p at ience, even a ho t plat e o f so up can be licked.
27.The fr iend o f a t hief sho u ld be read y t o hear unco mp liment ar y co mment s.
28.The nat ive do ct or kno ws t hat he can do no t hing wit ho ut Go d.
29.One who chases a fo wl t hat do es no t belo ng t o him is bo u nd t o t umble.
30.Fro gs and t o ads like wat er but no t when it is ho t .

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu
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Group IV

31.He who eat s o nio ns canno t sto p his mo ut h fro m smelling.


32.Yo u do n’t welco me a per so n fro m a jo ur ney, u nt il he co mes back.
33.A debt o r do es no t make no ise wit h co ins.
34.I f yo u are no t a lo ver o f peo p le, no ne shall fo llo w yo u.
35.An egg in t he mo ut h is bet t er t han a ch ick en in t he po u lt r y.
36.No mat t er t he nu mber o f pr iv ileges g iven to a slave, he is no t great er t han
t he heir.
37.Wat er do es no t fer ment o n it s o wn.
38.The hawk flies hig h in t he air but it s grave is r ig ht do wn o n t he eart h.
39.Only a do nkey sho ws pat ience u nder an o ppressive lo ad.
40.An o kra p lant is no t t aller t han t he far mer who p lant ed it .

Group V

41.An o kra bud is never hig her t han t he main p lant .


42.He who t alk s t oo much so met imes t ells lies.
43.Do n’t t hro w away t he wat er in yo ur co nt ainer, just because yo u see sig ns
o f a po ssib le rain.
44.The lip s have t o co me t o get her befo re t hey can whist le.
45.The t hu mb is t he sho rt est fing er but it is ver y impo rt ant .
46.Search fo r t he black sheep befo re it is dar k.
47.To day t eaches t o mo rro w a lesso n.
48.No o ne sends a go at wit h a hyena t o his in - laws.
49.A small lo in clo t h aro und t he waist is bet ter t han naked ness.
50.I f yo u are d igg ing a p it fo r an enemy do not dig t oo de ep, because yo u
ma y fall in it yo ur self.

Group VI

51.Aft er t he snake has escap ed t here is no need to beat ing it s t ail.


52.A sho rt man hang s his bag wher e his hand s can reach.
53.The mo ut h so met imes cut s t he t hro at.
54.I f yo u do n’t wish t o eat saliva, t hen do n’t eat wit h a baby.
55.Yo u canno t blo w a fir e to make it bur n while yo ur mo ut h is fu ll o f wat er.
56.Yo u canno t heal a wo u nd while t her e is st ill a t ho rn ins ide it .
57.An aut ho r it y wit ho ut wisdo m is like an ax e wit ho ut an edge.
58.Yo u canno t run o ver yo ur shado w.
59.I f a perso n do es no t hear ‘st o p it ’ at least he will hear ‘so rr y’.
60.When yo u see yo ur bro t her’s head bur ning , yo u sho u ld immed iat ely get
wat er to wet yo urs.

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu
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Group VII

61.Yo u canno t see t he back o f yo ur head, o nly t ho se wa lk ing behind yo u can.


62.Do n’t ask a deaf man t o beat t he dru ms fo r yo u to dance.
63.A t ree do es no t gro w wit ho ut t he root s.
64.I f yo ur fing er hurt s, yo u do not give it t o so meo ne t o lick it fo r yo u.
65.It is o ne man who d ig s t he well fo r many peo p le t o drink.
66.When t he fo wl is weep ing fo r no t having t eet h, t he elep hant is weep ing
fo r no t having t he lips t o co ver it s o wn.
67.The r ig ht and t he left wash each o t her.
68.He who sp it s in t he sk y sp it s o n his face.
69.When a finger is so iled wit h o il, o t her fin gers may eq ually be so iled.
70.The no se and t he eye are bro t hers.

Group VII

71.Ko la nut s last lo ng in t he mo ut h o f t he man who values it .


72.A finger canno t remo ve a lo use.
73.Even a go at can bit e when co nd it io ns beco me u nbear able.
74.Only a st up id but t erfly t hink s it is a bird.
75.A big man’s dance is no t difficu lt , no mat t er ho w he mo ves he is dancing.
76.It is easier t o sell wine t o t he mo nkey t han t o get back yo ur calabash.
77.The mo ut h mu st co nt inue t o chew wit h caut io n u nt il t he ro tt en toot h is
remo ved.
78.It is a man wit h a bro ken no se t hat t urns his mo t her ’s fu neral ceremo nies
int o a laug hing mat t er.
79.I f a fish sleep s ano t her will eat it .
80.A fish do es no t co mp lain o f co ld o r t hir st .

Group IX

81.When t he co mpo und is o n fire, even t he wo man can pu sh away t he ro o f o f


t he shr ine.
82.Yo u do n’t t ie egg s t o get her wit h a ro pe.
83.It is o nly when t here is a crack in t he ho le t hat t he lizard get s a hid ing
p lace.
84.The co ckro ach is never inno cent in a co urt president o ver b y t he chicken.
85.It is t he fish t hat o pens it s mo ut h t hat get caug ht up by t he ho o k.
86.The fly t hat has no bo d y t o advise it fo llo ws t he co rpse int o t he grave.
87.Yo u do n’t cut o ff yo ur t ig ht s if yo ur child excret es o n t hem.
88.Yo u do n’t wash a chick en’s legs and t hen t ell it t hat yo u are jo k ing wit h
it .
89.It is no t t he nat ural child t hat no r mally d igs t he grave in wh ich t he par ent
is bur ied.
90.Do not st art a fir e yo u canno t quench.

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu
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Group X

91.Wat er do es no t just develo p a t errib le o dour unless so met hing has d ied in
it .
92.The chameleo n says it shall no t change it s d ig nified way o f walk ing ju st
becau se t he fo rest is o n fire.
93.The snak e has no hands and no leg s, yet it can climb t rees.
94.It is senseless t o t ry t he cap o n t he k nees when yo u have yo ur head.
95.A lamp t hat decides to act like a wo lf sho u ld be read y fo r t he hu nt er’s
arro ws.
96.I f a hand shak e go es beyo nd t he elbo ws, t hen it beco mes su sp ic io u s.
97.Yo u sho u ld no t k ill t he eart hen wo r m fo r an o ffense co mmit t ed by t he
snak e.
98.When t he bu sh rat gro ws to o o ld t o cat er fo r it self, it beg ins t o feed fro m
t he br east s o f it s o ff-spr ing s fo r sur viva l.
99.Ever y per so n pu lls a ro pe to wards himself.
100. A man do es no t kno w t he impo rt ance o f h is but to cks unt il a bo il
develo p s o n t hem.

Group XI

101. Two rams do no t drink fro m t he same wat er ho le at t he same t ime,


but well- bred hu man being s can.

102 The cr y o f a go at do es no t prevent it fro m being t aken t o t he


mark et .
103 Do not co mb yo ur head while yo u are st ill in t he fo rest .
104 The o ld wo men said t o t he po t , “Be carefu l wit h me becau se yo u are
meet ing me fo r t he seco nd t ime. ”
105 The rabbit is angr y no t wit h t he perso n t hat caught it but t he perso n
t hat chased it fro m it s hid ing p lace.

- End -

African Pro ver bs and W ise Sayings for Different Occasio ns by V. C. Yakubu