Africa's proverb of the day

  • 30 April 2015
  • From the section Africa
A woman and her child in Casamance, Senegal Photo: Manuel Toledo
"A baby on its mother's back does not know the way is long"

Proverbs are an integral part of African culture. Passed on from generation to generation for centuries, they are still in wide use today and are very much part of everyday speech.

Proverbs are used to illustrate ideas, reinforce arguments and deliver messages of inspiration, consolation, celebration and advice.

The great Nigerian author Chinua Achebe once wrote: "Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten."

Please use the form at the end of this page to send in your wise words.

Your proverbs from the last few months:

Thursday 30 April

If the frying pan is not heated up, the corn cannot pop. A Yoruba proverb sent by Samuel Fayiah Johnson, Ibadan, Nigeria

Wednesday 29 April

The fastest eater ends up with a burned mouth. A Luhya proverb sent by Humphrey Lumadede, Vihiga, Kenya

Tuesday 28 April

A man who hangs around a beautiful girl without saying a word ends up fetching water for guests at her wedding. An Alur proverb from Uganda sent by Nnamdi Udoye, London, UK

Monday 27 April

When you need something badly you have no choice but to follow it. Sent by Mubashir Hayow, Mogadishu, Somalia

Friday 24 April

When a hunter sets a trap using a goat as bait, he does not expect to catch a rabbit. Sent by Tolulope Fasanu, Akure, Nigeria

Thursday 23 April

You shouldn't hide something under your armpit while you are beating something else in a mortar. A Kono proverb sent by Jimissa, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Wednesday 22 April

All days are equal but not the same. A Rufumbira/Kinyarwanda proverb sent by Thomson Kwizina, Kampala, Uganda

Tuesday 21 April

Fruits in hand are not thrown away to get others from a tree. A Somali proverb sent by Mohamed Sheikh, Kenya

Monday 20 April

You may tell a little lie that seems as small as a thorn, but it will grow to the size of a spear and kill you. A Yoruba proverb sent by Akudrabo Geoffrey, Arua, Uganda

Friday 17 April

By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed. An Ashanti proverb sent by Hussein Bunyamin Djaarah, Sekondi, Ghana

Thursday 16 April

A man who does not know about war is likely to be the one who will rush to it. Sent by Mohamed Basal, Mogadishu, Somalia

Wednesday 15 April

Do not force a bangle that does not fit into your hand. A Kalenjin proverb sent by Juliet Chirie Korir, Kenya

Tuesday 14 April

The lizard that will bite behaves like a snake. Manzi Bertin, Kigali, Rwanda

Monday 13 April

You should never spit in your own well; you might come back to it for a drink. An Igbo proverb sent by Thaddaeus Obinna Nwaokeke, Karlstad, Sweden

Friday 10 April

A snakebite received at the age of six can still kill you at the age of 60. Sent by Mohamed, Somalia

Thursday 9 April

What prevents you from sleeping is of your own making. A Nuer proverb sent by Jal Gatluak Toch and Deng Nhial Chioh, both in Juba, South Sudan

Wednesday 8 April

It is easy for an elderly lady who is sitting to judge a tough wrestling game. A Somali proverb sent by Jamal Hussein Mumin, Wajir, Kenya

Tuesday 7 April

A washerman does not harbour a grudge with the river. A Yoruba proverb sent by Bosun Oshodi-Glover, London, UK

Monday 6 April

A man sent by a woman does not fear death. An Amharic proverb sent by Temesgen Workayehu Kassa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Friday 3 April

The eye crosses the river before the body. A Ndebele proverb from Zimbabwe sent by Sifiso Maposa, South Africa

Thursday 2 April

The mosquito that perches on the scrotum must be chased away with caution. Sent by Joseph Okwuokei, Nigeria; Kingsley O, US and Robel Berhanu, South Sudan

Wednesday 1 April

A fool's leg is borrowed to measure a snake hole. An Amharic proverb sent by Mikael Emiru, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tuesday 31 March

The best bed a man can sleep on is peace. A Somali proverb sent by Shafi'i Abdullahi, Khartoum, Sudan

Monday 30 March

He who wants peace makes his own peace. A Bemba proverb sent by Sampa Chitimukulu Lumbwe, Kitwe, Zambia

Friday 27 March

The dog of the village chief is not the chief of all dogs in the village. Sent by Peter Mbekem, Fontem, Cameroon

Thursday 26 March

The sun does not forget a village just because it is small. A Dogon proverb sent by Ibrahima Dolo, Bamako, Mali

Wednesday 25 March

A person who does not know a medicinal herb defecates on it. A Rundi proverb sent by Jean Bosco Harerimana, Bujumbura, Burundi

Tuesday 24 March

The child of an elephant will not be a dwarf. A Yoruba proverb sent by Isaac Emmanuel Galadima, Abuja, Nigeria, and Joshua Agboado, Takoradi, Ghana

Monday 23 March

If you cannot cut the hand that threatens you, kiss it. A Somali proverb sent by Muuse, London, UK

Friday 20 March

A man who lives beside a river should not wash his hands in spittle. Sent by Taiwo Hollist, Lagos, Nigeria

Thursday 19 March

At a coward's home there is no mourning. A Ndebele proverb from Zimbabwe sent by Mercy Changwesha, Minneapolis, US

Wednesday 18 March

It is better to eat a hyena than to be eaten by it. An Oromo proverb sent by Adamu Tesfaye, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tuesday 17 March

If you know something can swallow you, don't let it lick you. A Bwa proverb from Mali and Burkina Faso sent by James Albright, Toccoa, Georgia, US

Monday 16 March

The guilty person runs away when no-one is chasing him. An Igbo proverb sent by Emeka Obia, Lagos, Nigeria

Friday 13 March

A wise man shuts his mouth, but not his door. An Oromo proverb sent by Samuel Fekadu, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Thursday 12 March

A lizard in the village can never be a crocodile in the city. Sent by Ntazana Sindano, Lusaka, Zambia

Wednesday 11 March

A mule that grazes with horses thinks it is also a horse. A Somali proverb sent by Abdulrazak Ahmed Iriri, Nairobi, Kenya

Tuesday 10 March

When the labourer is praised, his cutlass begins to cut more keenly. Sent by Charles "Neva Giveup", Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Monday 9 March

"Though I am not edible," says the vulture, "I nurse my eggs in the branches of a high tree because it is hard to trust men." An Ashanti proverb sent by Bernice Ekua Agyeiwaa Kissi, Accra, Ghana

Friday 6 March

There is no point in taking shelter in a cave after the rain. A Tigrinya proverb from Eritrea sent by Fuad Ibrahim, Brampton, Canada

Thursday 5 March

Whoever is left under the scorching sun will find a way to the shade. Sent by Ofentse Bev Moraka, Botswana

Wednesday 4 March

A blind man already has his foot on the stone he threatens to throw at you. Sent by Lawrence Pangani, Tanzania; Jerry Aguedo, Ivory Coast; Kojo Asare, Japan, and Sao Bockarie, US

Tuesday 3 March

You cannot pick up a pebble with one finger. Sent by Doo Bia S Zaapayim, Tamale, Ghana

Monday 2 March

A witchdoctor who invokes a storm on his people cannot prevent his own house from being destroyed. Sent by Babatunde Dada Joseph, Lagos, Nigeria

Friday 27 February

You cannot blow your nose and whistle at the same time. A Krio proverb from Sierra Leone sent by Claudio Brima Kamara, Somerset, New Jersey, US

Thursday 26 February

If you are in hiding, don't light a fire. An Ashanti proverb sent by Frank Osei Kwabena Asamoah, Obuasi, Ghana

Wednesday 25 February

A palm tree climber is not expected to tell everything he sees from up above. An Igbo proverb sent by Ken Onyia, Enugu, Nigeria, and Emeka Obia, Lagos, Nigeria

Tuesday 24 February

Warm water never forgets that it was once cold. Sent by Louis Mjalli, Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Monday 23 February

It is not difficult to get hold of a flame with someone else's hand. An Oromo proverb from Ethiopia sent by Kadir A Burayou, Grand Forks, North Dakota, US

Friday 20 February

A young man's beauty is never without defects. An Ishan/Esan proverb sent by Ise Okhueleigbe, Lagos, Nigeria

Thursday 19 February

A bird flies with what it has swallowed. A Gichuka proverb sent by Mwenda wa Micheni, Chuka, Kenya

Wednesday 18 February

If you look into the eyes of a dead person, you will see a ghost. An Akan proverb from Ghana sent by Janice Acquaah, Basildon, United Kingdom

Tuesday 17 February

When the great lord walks by, the wise peasant bows deeply and passes wind silently. An Ethiopian proverb sent by Jeremy Majors, Osaka, Japan

Monday 16 February

Cutting off the head is not the cure for a headache. A Yoruba proverb sent by Yomi Akerele, Arlington, Texas, US, and Segun Omolaja, Philadelphia, US

Friday 13 February

For news of the heart, ask the face. A Guinean proverb sent by Adji Diop, US

Thursday 12 February

Someone not going with you on a long journey will pack ripe bananas for you to eat along the way. A Luganda proverb sent by Alex Barigye Kabuto, Kayonza, Rwanda

Wednesday 11 February

What the mind has hidden, drink brings forth to the tongue. An Amharic proverb sent by Abraham Kahsay, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tuesday 10 February

Let the hen urinate if she says it is so easy to do so. Sent by Lateef Olugbon, Ibadan, Nigeria, and Victor Iluobe, Hamburg, Germany

Monday 9 February

A dog cannot bark with a bone in its mouth. A Lamba proverb sent by Mulenga Mulenga, Ndola, Zambia

Friday 6 February

A lizard that fell from the top of a tree wastes its time looking backwards. Sent by Pious Enang, Juba, South Sudan

Thursday 5 February

The chief who bullies the landowner starts by breaking his sugarcane. A Ugandan proverb sent by Nuhu Hamidu, Kumasi, Ghana

Wednesday 4 February

Death and justice affect everyone equally. A Somali proverb sent by Mohamed Bashle, Mogadishu, Somalia

Tuesday 3 February

A belt fastened while running will come undone while running. An Amharic proverb sent by Mulubrhan, Seattle, US

Monday 2 February

The stomach is not afraid to be in the front. An Igbo proverb sent by Ogbonna Nwokpoku, Lagos, Nigeria

Friday 30 January

The lizard said he would have loved to sit down but for the slight inconvenience of its tail. Sent by Uzoma, London, UK

Thursday 29 January

The torture of the grave is known only to the dead. A Swahili proverb sent by Layla, Pretoria, South Africa

Wednesday 28 January

A cow may refuse to give to the milking jar but it cannot refuse to contribute to the cooking pot. An Oromo proverb from Ethiopia sent by Tesfaye Regassa, Munich, Germany

Tuesday 27 January

The one who suffers from diarrhoea is the one that fights with the door at night. Sent by Mwiya Mundia, Lusaka, Zambia

Monday 26 January

A foolish person runs from the rain when the rain has already soaked him through. An Igbo proverb sent by Emeka E Emma, Enugu, Nigeria

Friday 23 January

A person stronger than you can beat you with your own stick. A Runyankore proverb from Uganda sent by Sabir Khamis Gbuku, Yambio, South Sudan, and Valerie Kebirungi Amgbu, Halifax, Canada

Thursday 22 January

A good action reaps another. A Kikuyu proverb sent by Jesuis John, Kenya

Wednesday 21 January

Just because the father eats honey it does not mean the son's mouth is sweet. An Oromo proverb from Ethiopia sent by Jamal L Elmii, Saint Paul, Minnesota, US

Tuesday 20 January

To benefit from a nursing mother's kindness, you must be willing to babysit for her. A Shona and Ndau proverb sent by Tsitsi Muza, Harare, Zimbabwe

Monday 19 January

If the chicken's egg cracks the palm kernel, the grinding stone is put to shame. An Igbo proverb sent by Oluwamayowa Tijani, Ibadan, Nigeria

Friday 16 January

You become wise when you begin to run out of money. Sent by Kenneth Opare-Obuobi, Nyankpala, Ghana

Thursday 15 January

Even the big baboon curls its tail to win the respect of the little ones. A Shona proverb sent by Beth Chitekwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

Wednesday 14 January

Starting early is better than seeking a medicine man later. A Luo proverb sent by Owino Onyango Mak'Oburu, Kenya

Tuesday 13 January

It is women who make some men succeed where others fail. A Somali proverb sent by Hussein Mohamud, Nashville, US

Monday 12 January

The rat said: "If I had not been denied food, would I be stealing it?" An Igbo proverb sent by Chukwuemeka Ekere, Calabar, Nigeria

Friday 9 January

Dine with a stranger but save love for your family. An Ethiopian proverb sent by Martin Manyiel Wugol, Aweil, South Sudan

Thursday 8 January

When there is peace in the country, the chief does not carry a shield. Sent by Kasozi George, Kampala, Uganda

Wednesday 7 January

When you raise a leopard, you shouldn't be upset when it eats your goat. A Krio proverb from Sierra Leone sent by Sigismond Wilson, Oklahoma, US

Tuesday 6 January

If you want to catch a monkey, behave like one. Sent by Nd Osemeke and Motunde Badmos, both in Nigeria

Monday 5 January

No matter how drunk a rat is he doesn't go to sleep in a cat's bed. A proverb from Cameroon sent by Nganje Cheryl, Mannheim, Germany, and Zuobog Philip Neri, Hamile, Ghana

Friday 2 January

A hunter does not tell of everything he sees in the bush. Sent by Sonny Nwadike, Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Thursday 1 January

A fattened ox dwells with its butcher. An Ethiopian proverb sent by Kiflu Kenso, Dallas, US


Please use the Comments section to send us your African proverb:

Required field

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions