African Proverbs in African Literature

A Critical Resourcebase


GHANA [Capital City: Accra]

The first country South of the Sahara to gain independence from Britain on March 6, 1957, Ghana is upheld as a good example of a democratic system even though the country has had military interventions on many occasions, which destaiblized it in many ways. Since 1992, the country has been implementing a constitutional democratic system of governance, which cements the ties between the over 100 different ethnic groups constituting this nation of gold-rich country.


A. From the Akans

This ethnic group is located in the easter, central, and western parts of Ghana and is well-known for its wealth and rich culture. There is much literature on the Akans of Ghana that can be accessed from several Web sites, including this one.

1. Rain beats the leopard’s skin but it does not wash out the spots.
[Interpretation: Old habits die hard. If you are known in your community for one thing (especially, that which is bad), it will be very difficult for the society to change its opinion about you even if you one day do good things. Impressions count a lot.]

2. Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight.

3. It is the wife who knows her husband.

4. Only when you have crossed the river can you say the crocodile has a lump on his snout.

5. If you are in hiding, don’t light a fire.

6. One falsehood spoils a thousand truths.

7. When a man is wealthy, he may wear an old cloth.

8. Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.

9. Hunger knows no bounds. It is felt by both a slave and a king.

10. The moon moves slowly but it crosses the town.

12. The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.

13. When the cock is drunk, he forgets about the hawk.
[Interpretation: This proverb is an admonition to people who get out of one circumstance and forget about it. In life, it is always good for one to remember that whatever threatens one’s life never goes away, regardless of one’s circumstances. The advice is that one should always be on the alert.]

14. There is no medicine to cure hatred.

15. It is a bad child who does not take advice.

16. When a man is coming toward you, you need not say: “Come here.”

17. Even though the old man is strong and hearty, he will not live forever.

18. When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful.

19. By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed.

20. The poor man and the rich man do not play together.

21. It is the calm and silent water that drowns a man.

22. When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him.

23. When a woman is hungry, she says: “Roast something for the children that they may eat.”

24. What is bad luck for one man is good luck for another.

25. When the fool is told a proverb, its meaning has to be explained to him.

26. He who cannot dance will say: “The drum is bad.”

27. One cannot both feast and become rich.

28. It is no shame at all to work for money.

29. Money is sharper than a sword.

30. It is the fool’s sheep that break loose twice.

31. When you are rich, you are hated; when you are poor, you are despised.

32. It is Mr. Old-Man-Monkey who marries Mrs. Old-Woman-Monkey.

33. Fire and gunpowder do not sleep together.

34. Even though we carry gunpowder on our head, we still smoke a pipe.

35. No one tests the depth of a river with both feet.

36. Two small antelopes can beat a big one.

37. When the bag tears, the shoulders get a rest.

38. If you want someone more knowledgeable than yourself to identify a bird you do not first remove the feathers.

39. No one points out God to a child.

40. A family is like a forest, when you are outside it is dense, when you are inside you see that each tree has its own position to occupy.

41. If all seeds that fall were to grow, then no one could follow the path under the trees.

42. Although the snake does not fly it catches the bird whose home is in the sky.

43. Whatever is destined to succeed knows no failure.

B. From the Ewes

Members of this ethnic group are in Ghana, Togo, and Benin. Noted for their cultural diversity, the Ewes constitute a significant proportion of Ghana’s population. This link provides more information on the Ewe people.

1. What the cat sees and turns its eyes away from, the dog sees and barks at.

2. If there were no elephant in the jungle, the buffalo would be a great animal.

3. Even though the eye is blind, it still contains sleep.

4. The stomach has no holiday.

5. The monkey says that yawning is contagious.

6. A child who knows how to wash his hands dines with the elders.

7. In the presence of the head, the knee does not wear a hat.
[Interpretation: If you invest all your resources in one venture, you stand the risk of losing all and suffering the painful consequences. Before you do anything at all, make sure that you have a back-up for it. In other words, it is dangerous for you to plunge yourself into a situation without any careful effort to determine its outcome in advance.]

8. The antelope says that if you stay at one spot in the forest for far too long, you will become thirsty.

9. He who tests the depth of a stream with both feet must be prepared to swim.

10. The parrot that knows how precious its feathers are does not build its nest by the roadside.

11. A lizard that knows how to hide grows to become a crocodile.
[Interpretation: If you know how to handle issues properly, you will always make progress.]

12. If you store saliva in your mouth for too long, it turns into water.

13. A crab does not beget a bird.

14. Monkeys play by sizes.

15. A child must learn to cut only the morsel that is fit for his mouth.

16. When a bachelor goes to sleep, he does not hide his entire body in the mosquito net.

17. It is not everybody who is awake when the rain falls at night.

18. The child who has not traveled anywhere before believes that his mother is the best cook.

19. If you find no fish, you have to eat bread.

20. The wasp says that several regular trips to a mud pit enables it to build a house.

21. The wealth of the greedy ultimately goes to the community.

22. Loving someone who does not love you is like loving the rain that falls in the forest.

23. Only someone else can scratch your back for you.

24. The bitter heart eats its owner.

25. A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness.

26. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride.

27. Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped.

28. If you look at a king’s mouth, you will never think that he ever sucked his mother’s breast.

29. Looking somewhere is better than not to look anywhere at all.

30. If you do not spare a day to fix a door to your room, you will waste three years searching for your money (in the room) but you will never find it.

31. If you want to speak to God, tell it to the wind.

32. In a community of beggars, stealing and not begging, is considered a crime.

33. Much roaming about deprived the male rat of its fat.

34. The cockerel drinking water raises its head to God in thankfulness.

35. A woman is a flower in a garden; her husband is the fence around it.
36. An African should not be made to suffer the loss of an arm from a gunshot in Europe.

37. Though the lion and the antelope happen to live in the same forest, the antelope still has time to grow up.

38. A stranger does not skin a sheep that is paid as a fine at a chief’s court.

39. The orphan does not rejoice after a heavy breakfast.

40. The poor man’s main tool is his tongue with which he defends himself.

41. “Though I am not edible,” says the vulture, “yet I nurse my eggs in the branches of a high tree because man is hard to be trusted.”

42. Yam is sweet, but one should eat it in the normal way, lest swallowing chokes him.


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


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