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14 African Proverbs To Guide You Through Life

The African population is made up of a multitude of cultures, but they share some common threads, including their deeply rooted storytelling and oral traditions. Proverbs — pithy sayings that encapsulate a general truth about life — are one noteworthy way African people and members of the African diaspora have passed down wisdom from generation to generation.

Proverbs are a good way to say a lot without saying much, a trait that’s central to their effectiveness and popularity. There are proverbs about navigating hardships, the importance of cultivating community with family and friends, and how to find joy despite life’s many challenges. Other proverbs explore topics such as the value of knowledge, the depth of intergenerational memory, and what it means to love and be loved in this lifetime.

In short, whatever it is that ails us or whatever questions we find ourselves asking about life and the universe, there’s likely an African proverb — or several — that can convey invaluable wisdom to guide us. Below, we’ve rounded up 14 sage phrases from various countries throughout the continent.

Ghana

Nimdeɛ te sɛ baobab dua; obiara ntumi mfa ne nsa ntwa ho hyia.

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Knowledge is like a baobab tree; no one can encompass it with their hands.

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​​Abofra a obisa nsɛm nnyɛ ɔkwasea.

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A child who asks questions does not become a fool.

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Mfa ɔkwan no so. Kɔ baabi a ɔkwan biara nni hɔ a wobɛfa so afi akwan bi ase.

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Do not follow the path. Go where there is no path to begin a trail.

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Mma nea wuntumi nyɛ nntetew wo mfi nea wubetumi ayɛ no ho.

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Let not what you cannot do tear you from what you can do.

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Morocco

لا جمال إلا جمال العمل

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There is no beauty but the beauty of action.

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أحب الحقيقة حتى لو كانت تؤذيك ، وتكره الكذب حتى لو خدمتك

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Love truth even if it harms you, and hate lies even if they serve you.

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South Africa

Izandla ziyagezana.

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Hands wash each other.

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Nginguye, ngoba wena.

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I am, because you are.

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Isihlahla saziwa ngesithelo saso.

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A tree is known by its fruit.

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Ngeke ukwazi okuhle ngaphakathi kwakho uma ungakwazi ukukubona kwabanye.

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You cannot know the good within yourself if you cannot see it in others.

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Malawi

Musamafulumire kumeza pamene kutafuna kuli kosangalatsa.

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Don't be in a hurry to swallow when chewing is pleasant.

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Nyanja zosalala sizipanga amalinyero aluso.

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Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.

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Zambia

Kutsogolera mpikisano sikutanthauza kuti mudzapambana.

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Leading a race does not mean that you will win it.

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Ngati mukufuna kukonza kukumbukira kwanu, kubwereketsa munthu ndalama.

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If you want to improve your memory, lend someone money.

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Featured image credit: LN.Vector pattern/ Shutterstock

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About the Author
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen is a writer, editor, and community builder based in Seattle, Washington.
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