“Anger against a brother is only felt in the flesh; never in the bones”, goes one of the most interesting African proverbs you will ever hear. It means that you cannot hold a grudge against family forever because the bonds that tie you are stronger than any misunderstandings you may have. Africa has thousands of tribes which mean thousands of different cultures with wisdom passed from generation to generation. Proverbs were the best way to pass most of the knowledge and advice to the next generation which is why you will never lack a wise saying in whatever part of the continent you visit. Some of the proverbs are a little hilarious and while some have deep meanings that will shock you.
A man that insists on virginity over good character forgets that virginity only lasts a night
Many traditional African societies actually insisted on their daughters being virgins at marriage which could be the reason why this proverb isn’t so widely used. In many Swahili tribes, this is a proverb that people understand well. It is self-explanatory in itself but it also has a deeper meaning. It teaches you to set your eyes on things that really matter in life and not things that look good or beautiful for the moment.
A fly that doesn’t heed the grave digger’s warning ends up being buried with the corpse
In west Africa, this is a proverb told to everyone who won’t listen to people’s advice, especially young people. Gravediggers never got the chance to warn flies but of course, they could sense danger earlier than the flies. It tells you to listen to advice when it is being given by someone that has a better experience on the subject matter than you.
What an elder can see while seated, a child will not see even from the tallest tree
In Africa, elders enjoy absolute obedience and respect from the young generation because that is what every culture demands. Some elders abuse the privilege, but in most cases, elders pave the right path for the younger generation. It all comes down to someone having more experience of life than you and they probably know how most situations in life will pan out better than you can predict. That is why the word of an elder will take precedence over that of a younger person whenever serious matters affecting society are discussed.
Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet
This proverb is used widely in East and Central Africa but pretty much every part of the continent has their own version of it. It is all about being patient and smart, just like saying you should never put all your eggs in one basket. You have to think first before getting involved in any situation, especially when your life is on the line.
Don’t look at where you fell but where you slipped
When you have difficult moments, it is normal to think more about the problems you are having than about the solutions. To get yourself out of trouble, African elders believed that you have to evaluate how you got yourself into it in the first place. You have to start by fixing the mistakes that caused the problem before you can address it. The lesson here is to always get to the root cause of problems and not just think of the consequences.
It doesn’t matter how long a log stays in the water; It cannot become a crocodile
The African crocodile is deadly when it strikes but most of the time, before it attacks, it lurks under the water only sticking out part of its head which appears like a log. According to this proverb, a log attempting to fool people or animals that is a crocodile may do so for a while but not forever. Something always happens that exposes every pretender for who they really are. This is advice for anyone trying to pretend their way through life that you can only keep up appearances for so long.
The oilskin of the house is not rubbed on the skin of strangers
Traditionally, every household in an African village, especially in East Africa would have a special skin where oil for applying on the skin was kept. Now, every household had its way of minting its oil and the oilskin would often be rugged and dirty looking and therefore not exposed to the public. This proverb comes from the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya insisting on the fact that the dirty laundry of the family should be kept in the family and not be told to strangers.
Don’t fight for a fowl that is caught in someone else’s net
Hunting birds was a difficult task in the ancient days in Africa because you had to track down their trails and then set a trap for them using a special net and grains. Even with the grains, the big birds could still evade capture which is why finding one trapped bird was such a big thing for hunters. It was therefore normal for hunters to argue over birds that are trapped, especially when they set up identical-looking nets but you advised to only fight for what is yours because when the owner of the net comes, you will be at a loss.
A borrowed garment cannot cover your butt
This is another Swahili proverb which is a little scary for some people but it is actually meant to encourage people to work harder. The proverb means that You won’t be at peace when using an item that is borrowed from someone. You will be always looking over your shoulder for when the owner comes to take it back. It is, therefore, better to work hard and have your own stuff, even if they are small.
A monkey’s tricks end in the desert
This is another African proverb for people that try to cheat their way through life. A monkey is only intelligent when it is up in the canopies where it can swing from branch to branch and hide in the safety of the leaves. However, when a monkey runs out of trees, life becomes very difficult for it. So this is a warning, that you can only cheat until you find yourself in a desert.
Which of these proverbs do you like the most? Do you have one that you live your life by? Do let us know in the comments below!