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Igbo Proverbs

Guest Author - Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu

The Igbo tribe resides in Eastern Nigeria. They are one of the three largest tribes in Nigeria. Along with the Yoruba tribe, they lay claim to the proverb Hillary Clinton made famous - "It takes a village to raise a child." Here are many more Igbo proverbs for you to enjoy.


A man has the same last name as his brother.

A person who happens by a neighbor's house at dinner time, and is invited to join the meal, does not swallow such large morsels as to break the string of pearls around his neck.

A pot trader whose fortunes are all invested in her clay pots isn't much of a merchant.

The skunk rat can get as fat and plump as he pleases.

A debt may get moldy, but it never decays.

A child's fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which his mother puts into his palm.

Whether it was the tenant who seduced the landlord's wife, or the landlord who seduced the tenant's wife, it is the tenant who would leave the house.

A calm spirit will enable a man to survive even a six-month jail sentence.

If you decide to eat a toad, you should at least select one that is big.

The piglet has the same type of snout as her mother.

When the leopard has a broken paw, the antelope comes to collect an old debt.

Stream said that it is because it has nobody to direct it that it goes in a zigzag way.

Whatever the type of firewood found in a place, it is usually good enough for the people of that place to cook with.

The world is like a goat's udder. It does not yield any milk, unless you punch and squeeze at it.

A man who believes that he can do everything, let him dig a grave and bury himself.

The prince is never guilty in his father's court.

A servant serves a king, he serves the king well; a servant serves two kings, he is true to one.

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.

What an elder sees sitting; the young can't see standing.

You may be clever but you can never lose your shadow.

A slave boy is blamed no matter what he does: If he does not wash his hands, he is accused of being dirty. If he washes his hands, he is accused of wasting water.

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

When a once-beautiful piece of cloth has turned into rags, no one remembers that it was woven by Ukwa master weavers.

If you wish to eat a mushroom, you cannot consider what the mushroom fed on.

A man who rushes into battle does not realize that battle entails death.

What gives the child the itch has already given him the fingernails for scratching it.

God swats flies for an animal that has no tail.

A woman who needs to borrow a calabash cannot count on going early to the stream.

When the music stops, a deaf person continues to dance.

Never kill a man who says nothing.

A snake that swallows his friend will have a tail sticking out of his mouth.

The rain does not recognize anyone as a friend; it drenches all equally.

A bad habit that lasts more than a year may turn into a custom.

Let the kite hawk have a perch, and let the eagle also have a perch. Whichever begrudges the other the right to perch, may he break a wing.

Criticism of the brave is behind his back.

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

When a poor man gets a little money, his thoughts go off in ten different directions.

He who spits towards the sky is spitting on his face.

No one gets a mouthful of food by picking between another person's teeth.

When a drunk meets a mad man, he learns the difference between being merely drunk and truly mad.

The lizard would like to stand erect, but his tail will not permit him.

The same rain that drenches the slave also drenches the slave driver.

While the wooden idols are tormenting me, the termites are tormenting them.

At whatever age a child gets a problem, at the same age she has to shoulder the responsibility.

When the brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their father's estate.

A guest mourner does not wail as though his heart is broken.

Knowing but not telling it is what kills old men. Hearing but not heeding it is what kills young men.

The riverside monkey is apt to be blamed for every twig found in the river.

A person can never run so fast as to run away from his backside.

A person who is being carried to the market does not realize that the way is long.

One first drives off the fox, before taking the chickens home and blaming them for straying.

A traveled child knows better than the old man who sits at home.

A wayward woman is like the weaver bird. She uses her perch on one tree to scout other trees.

Wherever something stands, another thing stands beside it.

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

The lizard says that he knows the condition of his underbelly. The reason he has it pressed against the ground.

Do not argue with a fool, for people will not be able to tell between the two of you.

If the kernels are not finished, the jaw will not rest.

One who knows everything at times draws water with a basket.

Anger against a brother is felt in the flesh, not in the bone.

Book stands by itself and experience stands by itself.
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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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