African Proverbs in African Literature

A Critical Resourcebase


ETHIOPIA [Capital City:Addis Ababa]

The only country in Africa not to be colonized by the European powers, Ethiopia (known in history as Abyssinia) enjoyed much pollitical stability under the rulfe of Emeror Haile Selassie until 1974 when Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam‘s military putsch caused mayhem ande bloodshed, which have continued to be remembered as the “dark days” of Ethiopian politics.


1. To one who does not know, a small garden is a forest.

2. When one is in love, a cliff becomes a meadow.

3. A fool looks for dung where the cow never browsed.

4. The cattle is as good as the pasture in which it grazes.

5. Evil enters like a needle and spreads like an oak tree.

6. A close friend can become a close enemy.

7. What is inflated too much will burst into fragments.
[Interpretation: If you overdo things, you will create problems. Moderation is the best policy.]

8. Restless feet may walk into a snake pit.

9. A coward sweats in water.

10. Snake at your feet – a stick at your hand!

11. The witness of a rat is another rat.

12. He who learns teaches.

13. A fool will pair an ox with an elephant.

14. One who runs alone cannot be outrun by another.

15. Cactus is bitter only to him who tastes of it.

16. The frog wanted to be as big as the elephant and burst.

17. One who recovers from sickness forgets about God.

18. Termites live underground.

19. Woman without man is like a field without seed.

20. If a friend hurts you, run to your wife.

21. If the heart is sad, tears will flow.

22. Unless you call out, who will open the door?

23. Her horns are not too heavy for the cow.

24. There is no one who became rich because he broke a holiday, and no one who became fat because he broke a fast.

25. When the heart overflows, it comes out through the mouth.

26. You cannot build a house for last year’s summer.

27. A partner in the business will not put an obstacle to it.

When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.

28. He who digs too deep for a fish may come out with a snake.
[Interpretation: If you pry too much into people’s affairs, you will end up getting into trouble. Do what will not be problematic.]

29. Confiding a secret in an unworthy person is like carrying grain in a bag with a hole.

30. A loose tooth will not rest unless it’s pulled out.

31. The dog I bought bit me; the fire I kindled burned me.

32. A blade won’t cut another blade; a cheat won’t cheat another cheat.

33. If one is not in a hurry, even an egg will start walking.

34. If relatives help each other, what evil can hurt them?

35. A home without a woman is like a barn without cattle.

36. Sitting is being crippled.

37. The fool speaks, the wise man listens.

38. A cat may go to a monastery but she still remains a cat!

39. I have a cow in the sky but cannot drink milk.

40. Dine with a stranger but save your love for your family.

41. A too modest man goes hungry.

42. If you offend, ask for pardon; if offended, forgive.

43. He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured.

44. A fool and water will go the way they are diverted.

45. Where there is no shame, there is no honor.

46. A silly daughter teaches her mother how to bear children.

47. Advise and counsel him; if he does not listen, let adversity teach him.

48. Anticipate the good so that you may enjoy it.

49. Clothes put on while running come off while running.

50. A cow gave birth to a fire; she wanted to lick it but it burned her; she wanted to leave it but she could not because it was her own child.

51. One scoops something with a scoop.

52. Living is worthless for one without a home.

53. When one sets a portion for oneself, usually, it is not to small.

54. He who wants to barter usually knows what is best for him.

55. She who does not yet know how to walk cannot climb a ladder.

56. When a fool is cursed, he thinks that he is being praised.

57. It is easy to become a monk in one’s old age.

58. Singing “Halleluia” everywhere does not prove piety.

59. Saying that it’s for her child, she gets herself a loaf of bread.

60. What has been blown away cannot be found again.

61. The fool is thirsty in the midst of water.

62. Even over cold pudding (porridge, pap), the coward says: “It will burn my mouth.”

63. What one hopes for is always better than what one has.

64. A single stick may smoke but it will not burn.

65. As the wound inflames the finger, so though also inflames the mind.

66. He who lives with an ass makes noises like an ass.

67. If a man comes, a quarrel comes.

68. Move your neck according to the music.

69. One is born, one dies; the land increases.

70. If God breaks your leg, He will teach you how to limp.

71. Let your friendship be that of the mouth and the hand: if the hand is hurt the mouth blows it, if the mouth is hurt the hand strokes it.

72. A grasshopper that wants to know the length of a chameleon will end up in its belly.

73. If a bird does not recognize a tree, it will not rest on it.

74. Those who have no fence around their land have no enemies.

75. Dogs do not actually prefer bones to meat; it is just that no one ever gives them meat.

76. If a father does not cultivate, the son does not inherit.

77. When the leg does not walk, the stomach does not eat.

78. What is hanging up cannot be reached sitting down.

79. Money is like the waters of a swelling river, it flows away.

80. Whoever walks in the mud, at some point must clean his feet.

81. Whoever takes a hut, also takes the rats and cockroaches in it.

82. The haughty blind person picks a fight with his guide.

83. Do not vacillate or you will be left in between doing something, having something and being nothing.

84. It is foolhardy to climb two trees at once just because one has two feet.


The following links will take you to sources that have some important information on Africa:



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