Proverbs are part of Africa’s rich oral tradition. Proverbs are sayings that reveal wisdom and truth. They deliver messages of inspiration, comfort and advice. They come from people’s experiences. Proverbs are passed on from generation to generation in African society. They show African values and teach life lessons. There are many proverbs that teach us how to live our lives better.
“HOWEVER FAR A STREAM FLOWS, IT NEVER FORGETS ITS ORIGIN” (Yoruba people)
This proverb is about identity. We might be far from home and our traditions but we will never stop being who we are. Like the stream which flows from a source, we all come from somewhere. We should be proud of who we are.
“IF YOU THINK YOU’RE TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, SPEND A NIGHT WITH A MOSQUITO”
We should never think that our actions don’t have any effect on the world. A mosquito is very small but it will leave lots of painful bites all over your body. Every single person has the power to make a change, no matter how big or small. Don’t underestimate what you can achieve.
“THE HYENA CHASING TWO GAZELLES AT THE SAME TIME WILL GO TO BED HUNGRY” (Mali)
This proverb tells us not to be greedy. If the hyena had chased one gazelle he would not have gone to bed hungry. But he was greedy so he ended up with nothing. We always want more than we have. We should be grateful for the things we do have and not want something even better.
“YOU LEARN HOW TO CUT TREES BY CUTTING THEM DOWN” (Bateke people)
This proverb is about learning. We can learn by reading things but that is not always the best way to learn. If you cut trees down you will learn how to do it. Sometimes we need to practise skills over and over again to get them right.
“NO MATTER HOW LONG THE NIGHT IS, THE MORNING IS SURE TO COME” (Congo)
Life can be full of sadness and anger. But we have to remember that even if a situation is terrible, tomorrow will arrive. The morning brings hope for a better future. We can be comforted by this.
“WE LIVE LIFE FORWARDS BUT IT CAN ONLY BE UNDERSTOOD BACKWARDS” (Swahili, East Africa)
The best way to understand life in the present is to learn about life in the past. If we look at the past we can see how people used to live and what decisions they made. We can celebrate our culture and its history. We can learn from our mistakes.
These proverbs help to guide us. They become part of our language and the way we express our feelings to other people. We can all learn from the wisdom of proverbs.