African culture is deeply rooted in its people through music, quotes, and sayings. Songs, for instance, have a way of sending a particular message. They could be used to educate, warn, or praise an action. The same way, wise African proverbs were used to pass a hidden message and influence good morals.
What are African proverbs? They are a set of figurative words that have a hidden meaning. They can be used to educate, inform, warn, or console. Some can even be used to reinforce arguments. Apart from building the sense of humour in a conversation, they are used in most cases to build morals. It is, therefore, wise to understand their meanings and the contexts in which they are used.
South African proverbs
Apart from the English wise sayings that most people are familiar with, other proverbs are associated with their place of origin. African proverbs are associated with Africa, and most Africans are familiar with them. South African proverbs, for instance, are a reflection of the region's culture. The context in which these wise sayings are used can be used to pass specific meanings. These are some of the wisest African sayings and their meanings.
These sayings are used to pass wisdom to a particular group of people. They include:
1. Knowledge is like a garden. If it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.
Meaning: If one does not strive to gain knowledge, they cannot have it, and if they do not put it into use, it becomes useless.
2. The best way to eat an elephant in your path is to cut him into little pieces.
Meaning: For you to solve a big issue, you have to do it in bits.
3. A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted every day when it hatches.
Meaning: The end result of something can be foreseen by the signs that it exhibits at the moment.
4. If a child washes his hands, he could eat with kings.
Meaning: Prepare for something perfectly and you will receive the best results.
5. Life is like a shadow and a mist; it passes quickly and is no more.
Meaning: Live your best life.
6. Rain does not fall on one roof alone.
Meaning: Everyone has their difficult moments.
7. Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.
Meaning: A man is described by his character, regardless of his location.
8. Sugarcane is sweetest at its joints.
Meaning: The best things are difficult to achieve, but the fruits that they bring forth are worth it.
9. Anger against a brother is felt on the flesh, not in the bone.
Meaning: You should learn to forgive at all costs.
10. The lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree to the ground said it would praise itself if no one else did.
Meaning: Clap for yourself whenever you achieve something.
11. When a handshake passes the elbow, it becomes another thing.
Meaning: One should be watchful on the people they call friends.
12. He likes burial ram’s meat but recovers when sickness visits him.
Meaning: Do good unto those you wish to do good to you.
13. If white anti chews ‘Igbegulu’ (palm stem) is lying on the ground, let it climb the palm tree and eat it.
Meaning: People will look down upon you, especially when they do not know you.
14. If that rat cannot flee enough, let it make way for the tortoise.
Meaning: If you cannot do something, pave way for other people.
15. He who is bitten by the snake fears the earthworm.
Meaning: It is okay to be extra careful, especially after you have had a series of disappointments.
Warning African quotes
These are the most common African proverbs. They are used to give a warning on any forms of impending danger or consequences in case a certain instruction or address is not followed. These are some of the warning proverbs.
16. Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet.
Meaning: Before getting into situations, it is wise to think of the consequences.
17. Don't sail using someone else's star.
Meaning: Do not try to be like someone else because you do not know their journey.
18. A restless feet may walk into a snake pit.
Meaning: If someone is busy doing nothing, there is a likelihood of them getting into trouble.
19. After a foolish deed comes remorse.
Meaning: A stupid deed is always followed by consequences.
20. A roaring lion kills no game.
Meaning: It takes action and not words to achieve something.
21. A man who pays respect to the great paves way for his own greatness.
Meaning: What you give is what you will get in return.
22. Do not look at where you fell, but where you slipped.
Meaning: Do not focus on the fault, but rather the cause of the fault.
23. Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.
Meaning: Do not despise something or someone that was once beneficial to you.
24. Maize bears fruits once and dies because it is not rooted in the ground.
Meaning: Having a good foundation is all that it takes to get to the top.
25. He who sees an old hag squatting should leave her alone, who knows how she breathes?
Meaning: Do not meddle with people's business if you do not know what they are going through.
26. Lizard that ruined its mother’s burial, what did it expect others to do?
Meaning: You will be punished for all your wrong deeds.
27. He who will swallow ‘udala’ seed must consider the size of his stomach.
Meaning: One should think of the consequences before doing anything.
28. The fly that has no one to advise him follows a corpse into the grave.
Meaning: You will fall into a trap if you fail to take of advise.
29. When a mighty tree falls, the birds are scattered into the bush.
Meaning: When a good leader passes on, his subjects lose direction if they do not choose another able leader.
30. No matter how long a log stays in the water, it does not become a crocodile.
Meaning: You will always be described by your character, regardless of what you become.
31. The very thing that killed a mother rat is always there to make sure that its young ones never open their eyes.
Meaning: You need to always be on the watch out for the evil people.
32. The little bird that hops off the ground and lands on anti-hill may not know that it is still on the ground.
Meaning: You should not be proud of greatness until you fully achieve it.
33. A boy who perseveres in asking what killed his father before he has enough strength to avenge may be asking for his father’s fate.
Meaning: Do not get into a battle that you are not sure you will win.
34. A man who sees a hen scattering excrement should stop it. Who knows who will eat the leg?
Meaning: Do not watch a young girl misbehave because you do not know who is going to marry her.
35. A boy who perseveres in asking what killed his father before he has enough strength to avenge may be asking for his father’s fate.
Meaning: It warns against getting into a battle that you are not sure you will come out successful.
36. The man who belittled the sickness a monkey suffered must ask to see the eyes which his nurse got from blowing his sick fire.
Meaning: Be considerate before you think of disrespecting the problems of other people.
37. A common snake, which a man sees all alone, may become a python in his eyes.
Meaning: Do not rely on the impression that you have about people alone. That does not define them.
38. However long the night, the dawn will break.
Meaning: Amid a difficult situation, there is a need to be hopeful.
39. It takes a village to raise a child.
Meaning: Everyone should play their part in something for good results.
40. You cannot shave someone in his absence.
Meaning: You cannot correct a bad habit that someone has when they are not present.
41. A tree is known by its fruits.
Meaning: Someone's deeds have a great contribution to their personalities and how they carry themselves around.
42. There would be no gunshots in the forest if the tortoise and the snail were the only animals in the forest.
Meaning: It is good manners to mind your business and embrace the quietness of the snail and tortoise.
43. Two heads are better than one.
Meaning: Better results are achieved when you choose to do things as a group, instead of doing them individually.
44. You don't pick birds' nests on the way when going to a city full of birds.
Meaning: Good things take time, and it is okay to wait patiently and not fall for everything that comes your way.
45. You may not like the taste in your tongue, but that is where you always lick.
Meaning: Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations that we can do nothing about.
46. You learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down.
Meaning: No one is ever born an expert in doing anything. It takes consistent practice to be good at doing something.
47. A horse has four legs, yet it falls often.
Meaning: Do not be afraid of doing something because you feel that you are not good at it, because even those that are good at something often fail.
48. One should stab a hyena and then aim for a lion.
Meaning: It is good to have goals in life.
49. It is not necessary to blow out the other person’s lantern to let yours shine.
Meaning: Growth involves tagging your fellows along.
50. A home without a woman is like a barn without a cattle.
Meaning: A family cannot stand without the direction and guidance of a woman.
The proverb ages of each one of these African wise sayings is subject to its origin. Some of the proverbs are in the native language of their country of origin. For instance, these are some of the South African sayings from the Xhosa community that are commonly used;
51. Akuko mpukane inqakulela enye.
Translation: One fly does not provide for another.
Meaning: This is a line that the hardworking tell the lazy ones to get up and work.
52. Akuko ranincwa lingagqimiyo kowalo umxuma.
Translation: There is no beast that does not roar in its den.
Meaning: Every man associates themselves with their achievements.
53. Lunyawo lwemfene.
Translation: It is the foot of a baboon.
Meaning: It is used to refer to someone who exhibits perfidious character.
54. Ishwa lomhluzi wamanqina.
Translation: The misfortune of soup is made of shanks and feet
Meaning: It refers to someone who is always working hard but does not do well.
55. Kude e-Bakuba, akuyiwanga mntu.
Translation: Bakuba is far away, no person ever reached it.
Meaning: It is used to warn against ambitions that do not sound realistic
South African quotes
Besides the proverbs, quotes are also considered to be words of wisdom. These are words of wisdom from most of the country's philosophers. They are of different categories. So far, these are the best South African quotes;
Proverb quotes can also be used in place of proverbs to send to convey hidden meanings. These are some of the proverb quotes;
56. You cannot be lost on a road that is straight.
57. One meets his destiny often in the road he takes to avoid it.
58. He that will cheat at play will cheat you anyway.
59. If you see a friend without a smile, give him one of yours.
60. A real cousin (or friend) is someone who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
61. Better a thousand times careful than once dead.
62. Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.
63. No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning.
64. To attract good fortune, spend a new penny on an old friend, share an old pleasure with a new friend, and lift up the heart of a true friend by writing his name on the wings of a dragon.
65. Don't do what you'll have to find an excuse for.
Funny South African quotes by politicians
Politicians make utterances to get back at each other. Little do they know that most of them are considered quotes, and when mentioned, people will always relate them with the person who said them. These are some of the funniest political quotes:
66. Even God expects us to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back. - Jacob Zuma.
67. We will use bicycles, donkey-carts, cars, lorries, trucks, buses, trains, planes, helicopters, ships, boats, and all forms of transport. - Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
68. There is no reason why condoms are given for free and sanitary pads are not. Are we saying sex is good and you will not need sanitary pads because you will be pregnant by then? - Lindiwe Dzimba.
69. SARS will soon auction my Twitter because they want to take away everything I have. - Julius Malema.
70. This continent is the biggest continent in the world. All continents put together will fit into Africa. -Jacob Zuma.
Africa day quotes
Africa day quotes are statements from African leaders that are a representation of unity. Some of these Africa quotes were said as a way of praising the continent. Some of them are quotes about South Africa. These are some of the African proverb quotes:
71. Yet all stock exchanges in the world are pre-occupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ore. We have been too busy nursing our separate states to understand fully the basic need of our union, rooted in common purpose, common planning and common endeavour. – Kwame Nkrumah
72. I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land. – Thabo Mbeki
73. Africa’s story has been written by others; we need to own our problems and solutions and write our story - Paul Kageme.
74. We must unite now or perish… We must recognise that our economic independence resides in our African union and requires the same concentration upon the political achievement. -Kwame Nkrumah.
75. We spoke and acted as if, given the opportunity for self-government, we would quickly create utopias. Instead injustice, even tyranny, is rampant. - Julius Nyerere.
Wise man quotes
You could also pass hidden messages through wise man quotes. They include:
76. Doubt is the origin of wisdom.
77. Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.
78. The fool wonders, the wise man asks.
79. Wisdom is knowing when you can’t be wise.
80. Memory is the mother of all wisdom.
Quotes can be symbolic, for instance, one use an animal in a quote to mean something else. These are some of the elephant quotes that one can relate to:
81. I have a memory like an elephant. I remember every elephant I’ve ever met.
82. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.
83. Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.
84. When eating an elephant, it takes one bite at a time.
85. The elephant is a gentleman.
The same way that elephants have been used in wise sayings, snakes too can be used. These are some of the snake quotes;
86. The snake will always bite back.
87. The snake that cannot shed its skin perishes.
88. For every snake, there is a ladder; for every ladder, a snake.
89. Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous.
90. The snake stood up for evil in the Garden.
91. Snakes have no arms. That's why they don't wear vests.
92. Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.
93. Snake eyes is a gambling term, and an animal term, too.
94. Even snakes are afraid of snakes.
95. When the snake decided to go straight, he didn't get anywhere.
Zulu is one of the tribes that is rich when it comes to quotes. Apart from the Zulu love quotes that most people know, there are idioms that could be used to pass coded messages. Some of them include:
96. Ingwe ikhontha amabala ayo amlhlope namnyama.
Translation: The leopard licks both its black and white spots.
Meaning: Justice should be fair, regardless of one's social status.
97. Nala kungekho qhude liyasa.
Translation: Even when the rooster is not present, day dawns.
Meaning: No one should feel too important.
98. Akunyoka yakhohlwa ngumgodi waya.
Translation: There is no snake that forgets its home.
Meaning: It could be used in place of; home is where the heart is.
99. Impungushe kayivalelwq nezmvu
Translation: The jackal is not kept on the same kraal with the sheep.
Meaning: It warns about putting together things that should be separated.
100. Unebhungan’ ekanda.
Translation: He has a beetle in his head
Meaning: Could be used to refer to someone who ha a weird character.
African proverbs have been in existence for ages. They are the most interesting and sophisticated forms of literature. Their use has been passed from generation to the other and are best used to teach morals.