Read our selection of 200 of the best known and inspiring African proverbs below.

What’s a proverb?

A proverb is a brief, simple, traditional saying that gives advice based on practical experience, often in the form of a metaphor or allegory Proverbs are popular in spoken language, and form part of the folklore of a culture, passing down the generations.

Many African proverbs reference nature – the earth and animals – giving pearls of wisdom through the metaphors of everyday activities and objects. The selection below come from right across the African continent – whilst most of the proverbs are specific to countries or ethnic groups, there are a number that are of unknown source, and are simply ‘African proverbs’. Read on below for 200 of the most inspiring and thought-provoking African proverbs.

“A rooster is not expected to crow for the whole world.”

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“A woman is never old when it comes to the dance she knows.”

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“All errors are amendable.”

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“Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs”

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“By crawling a child learns to stand.”

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“Discord between the powerful is a fortune for the poor.”

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“Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off.”

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“Even the best dancer on the stage must retire sometime.”

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“Family names are like flowers, they blossom in clusters.”

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“Fear no forest because it is dense.”

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“Gold should be sold to the one who knows the value of it.”

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“He who doesn’t clean his mouth before breakfast always complains that the food is sour.”

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“He who loves the vase loves also what is inside.”

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“He who runs after good fortune runs away from peace.”

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“If while climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you.”

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“If you are filled with pride, then you will have no room for wisdom.”

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“If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents.”

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“Milk and honey have different colors, but they share the same house peacefully.”

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“No matter how big a child is, he cannot deny that he was once carried on the back of a woman.”

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“Nobody is born wise.”

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“One who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom.”

African proverbs on dusty road background

“Pretend you are dead and you will see who really loves you.”

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“Rising early makes the road short.”

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“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

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“The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat.”

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“To get lost is to learn the way.”

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“What you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him to learn.”

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“What you learn is what you die with.”

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“When a king reigns, it is thanks to the people when a river sings, it is thanks to the stones.”

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“You always learn a lot more when you lose than when you win.”

Cameroonian Proverbs

african proverbs - rain does not fall on one roof alone

“A man’s wealth may be superior to him.”

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“Better little than too little.”

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“If love is a sickness, patience is the remedy.”

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“Rain does not fall on one roof alone. “

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“There are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree.”

Congolese Proverbs

african proverbs - little by little bananas grow

“You learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down.”

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“A single bracelet does not jingle.”

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“A tree cannot stand without roots.”

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“Children are the reward of life.”

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“Little by little grow the bananas.”

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“Love is like a baby: it needs to be treated tenderly.”

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“No matter how full the river, it still wants to grow.”

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“Prepare now for the solutions of tomorrow.”

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“The bee is the doctor of flowers.”

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“The friends of our friends are our friends.”

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“Those who are absent are always wrong.”

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“You do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla.”

Ethiopian Proverbs

african proverbs - coffee and love tastes best when hot

“Coffee and love taste best when hot.”

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“Eat when the food is ready speak when the time is right.”

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“He who learns, teaches.”

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“If you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other.”

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“The elephant does not limp when walking on thorns.”

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“The fool speaks, the wise man listens.”

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“When a strong man sends a message, he sends it with a weak man”

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“When the shepherd comes home in peace, the milk is sweet.”

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“Where a woman rules, stream run uphill.”

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“Where there is no shame, there is no honor.”

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Ghanaian Proverbs

african proverbs on village background

“Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author.”

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“Only a wise person can solve a difficult problem.”

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“The good mother knows what her children will eat.”

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“Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it.”

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“Wisdom is not like money to be tied up and hidden.”

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“What is bad luck for one man is good luck for another.”

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

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

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

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“He is a fool whose sheep runs away twice.”

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“He who cannot dance will say, ‘The drum is bad!'”

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“A child does not laugh at the ugliness of his mother.”

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“All heads are the same, but not all thoughts are the same.”

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“An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.”

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“If a blind man says he will throw a stone at you, he probably has his foot on one.”

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

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“If we put a hammer in every person’s hand, could they all become blacksmiths?”

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“If an arrow has not entered deeply, then its removal is not hard.”

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“If you educate a man you educate one individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.”

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“It is not the cook’s fault when the cassava turns out to be hard and tasteless.”

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“One camel does not make fun of the other camel’s hump.”

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“One head alone does not go into council”

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“So many little things makes a man love a woman in a big way.”

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“The elders of the village are the boundaries.”

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“Those who are born on top of the anthill take a short time to grow tall.”

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“When a fish rots, the head stinks first”

Kenyan Proverbs

african proverbs on jumping maasai background

“A flea can trouble a lion more than a lion can trouble a flea.”

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“A fully grown tree cannot be bent into a walking stick.”

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“A leader who does not take advice is not a leader.”

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“A man who uses force is afraid of reasoning.”

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“All monkeys cannot hang on the same branch.”

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“An empty pot makes the loudest noise.”

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“Baboons do not go far from the place of their birth.”

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“Do not allow the belly to make you useless.”

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“Don’t fight a lion with a stick.”

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“Every door has its own key.”

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“Glory does not come by calling.”

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“He who refuses to obey cannot command.”

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“However much it rains on you, no wild banana tree will grow on your head.”

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“It is the belly which daily gives thanks.”

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“Lonely is one.”

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“One arrow can knock down an elephant.”

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“One whose seeds have not sprouted does not give up planting.”

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“Only a medicine man gets rich by sleeping.”

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“Only someone else can scratch your back.”

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“Peace is costly but it is worth the expense.”

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“Rich people sometimes eat bad food.”

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“Teeth do not see poverty.”

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“The cow that bellows does so for all cows.”

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“The night has ears.”

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“The stick in the hand kills the snake.”

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“There is not such a thing in the world as a sheep of many colours.”

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“There’s no rainy season without mosquitoes.”

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“To lead is not to run roughshod over people”

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“Traveling is learning.”

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“Unity is the real thing”

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“We should put out fire while it is still small.”

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“When the food is cooked there is no need to wait before eating it.”

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“When the lion cannot find meat, it eats grass.”

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“You cannot force water up a hill.”

Madagascan Proverbs

african proverbs - a canoe does not know who the leader is

“A canoe does not know who the leader is – when it turns over everyone gets wet.”

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“A little rain each day will fill the rivers to overflowing.”

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“Advice is a stranger; if he’s welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day.”

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“Wealth is like hair in the nose: it hurts to be separated whether from a little or from a lot.”

Malawian Proverbs

african proverbs - he who thinks he is a leader and has noone following him is only taking a walk

“Even the fiercest leader in the world is overcome by sleep.”

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“He who thinks he is leading and has no one following him is only taking a walk.”

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“Obstinacy does not redeem anyone.”

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“The betrothed of good is evil, the betrothed of life is death, the betrothed of love is divorce.”

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“The words of the elders become sweet some day.”

Mozambican Proverbs

african proverbs - a snake that you can see does not bite

“A snake that you can see does not bite.”

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“An ox shits more than a hundred mosquitoes “

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“Never marry a woman who has bigger feet than you.”

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“No tattoo is made without blood.”

Namibian Proverbs

african proverbs - if you do not have patience you cannot make beer

“If you do not have patience you cannot make beer.”

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“Leadership does not depend on age.”

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“Learning expands great souls.”

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“Love is a despot who spares no one.”

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“‘Supposing’ doesn’t fill the grain basket, ‘if’ doesn’t fill the larder.”

Nigerian Proverbs

african proverbs on desert background

“A bird that flies from the ground onto an anthill does not know that it is still on the ground.”

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“A person who has children does not die.”

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“A tree does not move unless there is wind.”

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“An intelligent enemy is better than a stupid friend.”

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“Being happy is better than being king.”

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“Even the Niger river must flow around an island.”

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“If you damage the character of another, you damage your own.”

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“If you think you have someone eating out of your hands, it is a good idea to count your fingers.”

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“In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.”

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“Little by little the bird builds its nest.”

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“Other people’s wisdom prevents the king from being called a fool.”

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“The big game often appears when the hunter has given up the hunt for the day.”

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“The rain does not recognize anyone as a friend, it drenches all equally.”

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“The rhinoceros never dances with the monkey.”

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“The roaring lion kills no prey”

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“Time destroys all things.”

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“When the mother goat breaks into the yam store her kid watches her.”

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“When your neighbour’s horse falls into a pit, you should not rejoice at it, for your own child may fall into it too.”

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“Where you will sit when you are old shows where you stood in youth.”

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“Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food.”

Senegalese Proverbs

african proverbs - the chameleon changes colour

“Haste and hurry can only bear children with many regrets along the way.”

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“The chameleon changes colour to match the earth, the earth doesn’t change colour to match the chameleon.”

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“The strong do not need clubs.”

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“There can be no peace without understanding.”

Somali Proverbs

african proverbs - a bridge is only repairs when someone falls into the water

“A brave man dies once, a coward a thousand times.”

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“A bridge is repaired only when someone falls into the water.”

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“He who does not seize opportunity today, will be unable to seize tomorrow’s opportunity.”

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“The key to a healthy body is a good head.”

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“Wisdom does not come overnight.”

South African Proverbs

african proverbs - the jungle is stronger than the elephant

“A clever king is the brother of peace.”

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“A crowd can easily overpower a bull.”

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“Even an ant can hurt an elephant.”

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“The jungle is stronger than the elephant.”

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“The sun never sets without fresh news.”

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“Copying everyone else all the time, the monkey one day cut his throat.”

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“What has horns must not be hid in a sack.”

Tanzanian Proverbs

african proverbs - do not forget what it is to be a sailor

“A boat cannot go forward if each rows his own way.”

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“Do not forget what is to be a sailor because of being a captain yourself.”

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“If you are filled with pride, then you will have no room for wisdom.”

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“The humble pay for the mistakes of their leaders.”

Ugandan Proverbs

african proverbs - without a leader, the black ants are confused

“By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from the tree.”

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“He who fears the sun will not become chief.”

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“He who is destined for power does not have to fight for it.”

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“If a leader loves you, he makes sure you build your house on rock”

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“The chameleon looks in all directions before moving”

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“The one nearest to the enemy is the real leader”

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“Water that has been begged for does not quench the thirst.”

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“When the powerful sit, they are none the weaker.”

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“When there is peace in the country, the chief does not carry a shield.”

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“When you befriend a chief remember that he sits on a rope.”

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“Without a leader, black ants are confused.”

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“You cannot climb to the mountain top without crushing some weeds with your feet”

That’s your lot for African proverbs. What do you think – any great ones that we’re missing? Drop us a line in the comments section below.