Some African Proverbs and Their Meaning

Proverbs are frequently-used sayings which often provide witty insight into a culture's beliefs and traditions. Many people ask me the meanings of some African Proverb they picked up in a movie or heard from a friend. So to satisfy people's curiosity without having to repeat the same things to different people, I decided to compile the most common ones and their meanings. Below are some of the most popular African proverbs. Enjoy it!

African Proverb



When capture a snake’s head, the rest of the body becomes a rope. - Nigerian Proverb

 Interpreted Meaning: When you get the important thing the rest becomes easy to deal with.


Give advice; if people don’t listen, let adversity teach them. - Ethiopian proverb


Interpreted Meaning: As much as you can warn people from impending danger, if they won’t listen, let them alone. They will learn from experience (the hard way).


Send a boy where he wants to go and you’ll see his best pace. - Nigerian Proverb.


Interpreted Meaning: Passion is the greatest motivator.


A toad does not run in the day for nothing, there must be a green snake in the grass. -Nigerian Proverb


If you see someone doing something unusual, there must be an unusual cause. 

Interpreted Meaning: A toad must be threatened in order to run in the daytime. Toads do not like to run in the daytime because it is hot, and they tend to be lazy.

No matter how long a log stays in the water, it doesn’t become a crocodile. - Bambara Proverb


 Interpreted Meaning: You can't be something you're not and thus stresses the importance of just being yourself.


Water that has been begged for does not quench the thirst. - Soga People of Uganda


Interpreted Meaning: Something that was asked for is likely to be limited, below what was required or unsatisfactory.


We will water the thorn for the sake of the rose. - African Proverb


Interpreted Meaning: You can't have a beautiful flower like the rose without dealing with some thorns along the way. In the same way, a good life is filled with "thorns" that you need to remove or overcome, but is well worth the effort in the end.


Every Misfortune is a blessing. -African Proverb


Interpreted Meaning: There is always a positive you can take from a disappointment.


If you think you have someone eating your hands, it is a good idea to count your fingers. -                Nigerian Proverb


Interpreted Meaning: When you suspect something fishy, make sure it you eliminate all possible dangers.


Interpreted Meaning: Do not repair another man’s fence until you have seen your own. –African Proverb


Charity begins at home.


Much talking does not make you a leader.-African Proverb


Interpreted Meaning: Talk is cheap; the real mar coy is in acting.


A hippopotamus can be made invisible in dark water. –African Proverb


Interpreted Meaning: Ignorance can lead to potential danger. It is important to be informed and alert.


When one is in love, a cliff becomes a meadow. -Ethiopian Proverb


 Interpreted Meaning: When people are in love, they don't see things realistically.


A single bracelet does not jingle.

Interpreted Meaning: Sometimes it takes many to affect a change.

 Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.

Interpreted Meaning: We learn and grow when times are tough. The lessons learned can then be applied to make things smoother and easier. If you never have opposition, how can you begin to understand what works and what doesn't?

 Unless you call out, who will open the door?

Interpreted Meaning: When required, ask for help. You won't receive it unless you let people know that you need their assistance. And when you ask, doors of opportunity often open.