Proverbs provide wonderful nuggets of discussion-provoking
wisdom. Proverbs, while arising out of and illuminating distinct
cultures, also speak to widely shared, perhaps planet-spanning, truths.
According to the Ghanaian reer Kofi Asare Opoku, "The Yoruba
of Nigeria emphasize the value of proverbs with a proverb, saying, 'A
proverb is the horse that can carry one swiftly to the discovery of
ideas.'" (quotation from https://www2.wcoil.com/~mdecker/af-prov.htm).
Like a good storyteller, proverbs can paint vivid pictures of precepts
which accelerate understanding. Good proverbs are more complex than they
seem at first blush -- they can almost always be fruitfully examined,
discussed, and even reversed.
Proverbs can be used for many pedagogical purposes. They
can provide focus to gatherings and closings, either used singly to
emphasize one idea, or with each individual or group getting a different
one and asking for a few people to share ones that are meaningful to
them (thanks to Linda Lantieri for this approach). If you have more
time, each pair or group could lead a discussion about the meaning of
their saying. Proverbs can be used in character colloquies (intellectual
discussions) as part of character education programs. Comparing proverbs
from different cultures can emphasize both our unity and multicultural
diversity. Additionally, they are useful as springboards for discussions
of the implications and ethical dimensions of literature, historical
events, scientific and technological controversies, our own beliefs, our
learning styles, and our own behavior.
The citations on the web sites used to compile this list
usually cited either the ethnic group in which the proverb arose or the
country of origin, but few mentioned both an ethnic origin and a country
name. Where possible, the proverb's description as included here
includes the contemporary country or countries in which that linguistic
or ethnic group primarily lives, and in some cases a regional
description. Some sites listed both the English translation and the
transliteration of the original, and so where possible that is included
too. They are reproduced here spaced widely apart to make it easier to
print this page out and cut it into slips to hand out.
"The man who has bread to eat does not appreciate the
severity of a famine." Yoruba proverb
"He is a fool whose sheep runs away twice." Oji
"Copying everyone else all the time, the monkey one
day cut his throat." Zulu proverb
"Where there is no shame, there is no honor."
"Happiness can grow from only a little
contentment." Pygmy proverb
"Always being in a hurry does not prevent death,
neither does going slowly prevent living." Ibo proverb
"If you understand the beginning well, the end will
not trouble you." Ashanti proverb
"When the brothers fight to the death, a stranger
inherits their father's estate." Ibo proverb
"When the mouse laughs at the car, there is a hole
nearby." Benin proverb
"A chattering bird builds no nest." Cameroon
"Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable." Bondei
"Work is the medicine for poverty." Yoruba
"You are beautiful; but learn to work, for you cannot
eat your beauty." Congo proverb
"The rain does not recognize anyone as a friend; it
drenches all equally." Ibo proverb
"Pride only goes the length one can spit." Congo
"One falsehood spoils a thousand truths." Ashanti
"He who hates, hates himself." Zulu proverb
"Money is sharper than a sword." Ashanti proverb
"Hate has no medicine." Ghanaian proverb
"He who is guilty is the one that has much to
say." Ashanti proverb
"Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its
author." Twi proverb
"Everybody loves a fool, but nobody wants him for a
son." Malinke proverb
"God! I am in your hands! What you say will happen!
Nothing baffles you!" Ibo prove
"Sorrow is like rice in the store; if a basketful is
removed everyday, it will come to an end at last." Somali proverb
"By the time the fool has learned the game, the
players have dispersed." Ashanti proverb
"We will water the thorn for the sake of the
rose." Kanem proverb
"He who treats you as himself does you no
injustice." Lon proverb
"Words are sweet, but they never take the place of
food." Ibo proverb
"Ndiobaga muniku." Kimbeere -- Embu Dialect
"I don't roast seeds."
"Ni ithiga ukwire yerie ngwenje." Kimbeere --
Embu Dialect (Kenya)
"You are telling a stone to prepare for a haircut."
"Nibubire coro na kuria kwarie." Kimbeere -- Embu
"You blew the flute on the wide side."
"Mwigiritania na tkwora ndaturaga ngi." Kimbeere
-- Embu Dialect (Kenya)
"Whoever leans on a rotting body lacks no flies."
"Ciakuraca tricaga mburto." Kimbeere -- Embu
"Strangers eat keenly."
"Yakuira yuraga we kianagima." Kimbeere -- Embu
"A goat that is loose listens not to the voice of the
"Gutiri umenyaga ikirwa ta akifetwa." Kimbeere --
Embu Dialect (Kenya)
"No one knows caution as regrets."
"Gutiri mwii na mucuthiriria." Kimbeere -- Embu
"There is no thief and tie onlooker."