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Zambian Proverbs

As Alan Loy McGinnus says, “There is no more noble occupation in the world than to assist another human being – to help someone to succeed.” Our goal with the Zambian Proverbs section was to provide a place to share words of wisdom others have said before us, a place to help us all succeed by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Zambian Proverbs

Here are some proverbs from Zambia:

  • A child that does not travel praises his mother as the best cook.
  • A cow does not find its own horns heavy.
  • A tender bamboo cannot be eagerly desired for building.
  • If you are ugly, know how to dance.
  • If you followed what a chicken eats, would you eat the chicken?
  • One who enters the forest does not listen to the breaking of twigs in the brush.
  • On travelling it is visiting; on returning it is home.
  • Start early before the floods come.
  • Talk to a person who can understand and cook for a person who can be satisfied.
  • The shark who has eaten cannot swim with the shark that is hungry.
  • To get rid of anger, first weed out the bitter roots.
  • Tomorrow brings many things.
  • Two thighs will always rub together
  • You have to look after wealth, but knowledge looks after you.
  • Your feet will take you away from home, but your stomach will always bring you back.

Southern African Proverbs

Here are some proverbs from Southern Africa:

  • Walking in two is medicine.
  • If the palm of the hand itches it signifies the coming of great luck.
  • Remember, after the storm there will be a rainbow.
  • It is better to have no law than not enforcing it.
  • Mother is God number two.
  • Copying everyone else all the time, the monkey one day cut his throat.
  • A fool is like a wanderer lost on a path.

Northern African Proverbs

Here are some proverbs from Northern Africa:

  • Let your love be like the misty rain, coming softly, but flooding the river.
  • A wise man who knows proverbs can always reconcile difficulties.
  • You must judge a man by the work of his hands.
  • If there is cause to hate someone, the cause to love has just begun.
  • Children will hate all those who give all things to them.
  • Everybody loves a fool, but nobody wants him for a son.
  • Rising early makes the road short.
  • Little by little the bird builds its nest.
  • The tears running down your face do not blind you.
  • Those who waste time only hurt themselves.
  • When the leg does not walk, the stomach does not eat.

Eastern African Proverbs

Here are some proverbs from Eastern Africa:

  • All monkeys cannot hang on the same branch.
  • An orphaned calf licks its own back.
  • The man may be the head of the home but the wife is the heart.
  • Funeral is for us all.
  • Happiness is like a field you can harvest every season.
  • The heart of the wise man lies quiet like limpid water.
  • A man’s heart is not a sack open to all.
  • What is inflated too much will break into fragments.
  • To one who does not know, a small garden is a forest.
  • He who learns, teaches.
  • Evil enters like a needle and spreads like an oak tree.
  • The cattle is as good as the pasture in which it grazes.
  • Only a medicine man gets rich by sleeping.
  • A close friend can become a close enemy.
  • One who recovers from sickness, forgets about God.
  • When the heart overflows, it comes out through the mouth.
  • Confiding a secret to an unworthy person is like carrying grain in a bag with a hole.
  • When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.
  • Unless you call out, who will open the door?
  • A loose tooth will not rest until it’s pulled out.
  • A home without a woman is like a barn without cattle.
  • The fool speaks, the wise man listens.
  • A too modest man goes hungry.
  • He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured.
  • Where there is no shame, there is no honour.
  • If you find no fish you have to eat bread.
  • A good deed is something one returns.
  • He who receives a gift does not measure it.
  • He who does not know one thing knows another.
  • Talking with one another is loving one another.
  • Thunder is not yet rain.
  • Absence makes the heart forget.
  • Virtue is better than wealth.
  • Home affairs are not talked about on the public square.
  • Seeing is different from being told.
  • Don’t take another mouthful before you have swallowed what is in your mouth.
  • Don’t kick a sleeping dog.
  • A cutting word is worse than a bowstring, a cut may heal, but the cut of the tongue does not.
  • One must talk little, and listen much.
  • Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author.
  • Not all the flowers of a tree produce fruit.
  • Too large a mousel chokes the child.
  • A home without a mother is a desert.
  • It is better that trials come to you in the beginning than that they come to you at the end.
  • No one knows caution like regret.

Central African Proverbs

Here are some proverbs from Central Africa:

  • No matter how full the river, it still wants to grow.
  • Love is like a baby, it needs to be treated tenderly.
  • Children are the reward of life.
  • The teeth are smiling, but is the heart?
  • The friends of our friends are our friends.
  • Woods may remain ten years in the water, but it will never become a crocodile.
  • Those who respect the elderly pave their own road toward success.
  • Work is the medicine for poverty.
  • You are beautiful, but learn to work, for you cannot eat your beauty.
  • Pride only goes the length one can spit.

Western African Proverbs

Here are some proverbs from Western Africa:

  • The pillar of the world is hope.
  • Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food.
  • There is no medicine against old age.
  • Hold a true friend with both hands.
  • It takes a village to raise a child.
  • Don’t insult the crocodile until you cross the water.
  • A big blanket encourages sleeping in the morning.
  • Rats don’t dance in the cat’s doorway.
  • A hippopotamus can be made invisible in dark water.
  • Even the Niger river must flow around an island.
  • If the rhythm of the drum beat changes, the dance steps must adapt.
  • Rain beats a leopard’s skin, but it does not wash out the spots
  • When a man is wealthy, he may wear an old cloth
  • Hunger is felt by a slave and hunger is felt by a king.
  • It is a bad child who does not take advise.
  • There is no medicine to cure hatred.
  • When you follow in the path of your father you learn to walk like him.
  • You don’t need pain killers for another man’s headache.
  • It is the calm and silent water that drowns a man.
  • What is bad luck for one man is good luck for another.
  • He who cannot dance will say “The drum is bad.”
  • It is no shame at all to work for money.
  • Even though the old man is strong and hearty, he will not live forever.
  • Money is sharper than a sword.
  • A man with too much ambition cannot sleep in peace.
  • Thought breaks the heart.
  • Knowledge is better than riches.
  • He who asks questions, cannot avoid the answers.
  • Rain does not fall on one roof alone.
  • If you find no fish you have to eat bread.
  • The world sees the mouth, God sees the stomach.
  • The day a man tastes the sweetness of a woman, that day he also tastes the bitterness.
  • A good deed is something one returns.
  • Too much discussion means a quarrel.
  • Mutual gifts cement friendship.
  • The dying man is not saved by medicine.
  • If you watch your pot, your food will not burn.
  • He is a fool whose sheep ran away twice.
  • When your neighbor’s horse falls into a pit, you should not rejoice at it, for your own children may fall into it too.
  • An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.
  • A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride.
  • If a child washes his hands he can eat with kings.
  • We should talk while we are still alive.
  • You cannot take away someone’s luck.
  • A lie can destroy a thousand truths.
  • He that forgives gains victory.
  • A chattering bird builds no nest.
  • The rain does not recognize anyone as a friend, it drenches all equally.

Source: Image courtesy of Andrew Rennie


  1. Emmanuel chileya Emmanuel chileya June 20, 2018

    Please first write them in their original languages then translate them

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