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Yoruba Proverbs

Guest Author - Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu

The population of the Yoruba tribe numbers around 17 million and is spread across three African countries: Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. The Yoruba were never a cohesive tribe with one ruler, but consisted of many smaller groups. Unfortunately, these smaller groups would constantly be in conflict with one another. Nevertheless, they did manage to have a cultural unity. Here are some Yoruba proverbs.


A man with a cough cannot conceal himself.

When the door is closed, you must learn to slide across the crack of the sill.

If something that was going to chop off your head only knocked off your cap, you should be grateful.

Patching makes a garment last long.

The person who has been a slave from birth does not value rebellion.

Rather than an abatement of her viciousness, a witch gives birth to only female children and witchcraft multiplies.

Covetousness is the father of unfulfilled desires.

When you stand with the blessings of your mother and God, it matters not who stands against you.

The pot-lid is always badly off: the pot gets all the sweet, the lid nothing but steam.

Only what you have combated for will last.

Many words do not fill a basket.

The young cock crows as he hears the old one.

When hunger gets inside you, nothing else can.

Words are like spears: Once they leave your lips they can never come back.

Truth came to market but could not be sold; however, we buy lies with ready cash.

One takes care of one’s own: when a bachelor roasts yam, he shares it with his sheep.

No one can uproot the tree which God has planted.

The young cannot teach tradition to the old.

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Medicine left in the bottle can’t help.

He who eats well speaks well or it is a question of insanity.

Stretch your hands as far as they reach, grab all you can grab.

Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor.

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

‘I nearly killed the bird.’ No one can eat ‘nearly’ in a stew.

It is a thief that can trace the footsteps of another thief on a rock.

We must blame the thief first before we say that where the owner put her property improper.

You can’t stop a pig from wallowing in the mud.

As there is guilt in innocence, there is innocence in guilt.

A stammerer would eventually say father.

Nobody knows the mysteries which lie at the bottom of the ocean.

Fear a silent man. He has lips like a drum.

The man who has bread to eat does not appreciate the severity of a famine.

The hand of the child cannot reach the shelf, nor the hand of the adult get through the neck of the gourd.

Silence is an attribute of the dead; he who is alive speaks.

When the rain falls in the valley, the hill gets angry.

When wood breaks it can be repaired, but ivory breaks forever.

Because friendship is pleasant, we partake of our friend’s entertainment; not because we have not enough to eat in our own house.

A proverb is the horse that can carry one swiftly to the discovery of ideas.

For no man could be blessed without the acceptance of his own head.

One who waits for chance may wait a year.

Gossips always suspect that others are talking about them.

When the white man is about to leave a garden for good, he wrecks it.

Ashes always fly back in the face of him who throws them.

Those who die through ignorance are many; those who die because they are intelligent are few.

You cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.

The person who forgives gains a victory in the dispute.

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

A great affair covers up a small matter.

As long as there are lice in the seams of the garment there must be bloodstains on the fingernails.

The bell rings loudest in your own home.

You must be willing to die in order to live.

What you give you get ten times over.

If you don’t sell your head, no one will buy it.

He who throws a stone in the market will hit his relative.

After we fry the fat, we see what is left.

Work is the medicine for poverty.

The butterfly that brushes against thorns will tear its wings.

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

If we stand tall it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dawn Denton for details.

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