100 Igbo proverbs to amaze you

The use of proverbs is a way of life in Nigeria with the two dominant tribes,the Yoruba and the Igbo making extensive use of it in their every day conversation


1. If the snake bites the tortoise he breaks off his mouth.  (One who thinks of something bad he will do to his fellow man thinks in vain.)

2. The tortoise says that his family did well to dress him in a garment of iron.  (Anything done for a poor person impresses him.)

3. If one hunts the tortoise vigorously, he starts to go [into his shell?]  (When a child swallows his food quickly, is the food running away?)

4. The corpse does not know that maggots have eaten it.  (A person does not know when his friend, who is very talkative, has revealed what he has told him not to talk about.)

5. The breadfruit tree that fell on New Year's Day fell too late to be used [on that day].  (One who tries to save someone whom one is trying to kill by hanging, when his head is put into the guillotine he does not come in time.)

6. The string that holds the parcel:  if the string becomes untied, the parcel opens.  (One cannot tell what the behavior of a newborn child will be until it is grown.)

7. The chicken says that it will not forget the one who plucked his tail during the rainy season.  (One does not forget one who does something for a person when he is in great need.)

8. The dog tells the one he sent to buy a mat to bring back his money-- he is accustomed to squatting on the ground.  (If I send a child to fetch water for me because my throat is dry and he does not come quickly, I will no longer be thirsty.)

9. The fly that follows meat does not starve.  (Those who are servants to kings always fill their stomachs.)

10. One cannot rely on his maturity [in years]  to eat yams [saved out] during famine.  (It does not mean, when a child has grown tall, that he has reached a place where he can live as head of a family of his own.)

11. When stew ingredients are very numerous, the spoon does not enter it [too thick to stir].  (If granulation [?] fills the sore, medicine will not touch it.)

12. If one uses thistles to wind a headpad, after lifting it up, he sets it down again.  (When a good wrestler comes out into the arena and his peers look him over, no player will agree to go and wrestle with him.)

13. When the soft mud that makes up a house caves in, the sand used to build it washes away into gaping holes.  (If God, because of the evil men do, withholds the air, everyone will die.)

14. If the cockroach carries 400 hawks easily [without resistance], he will go to the chicken's compound.  (If one thinks erroneously that he is an important man and goes out into the town, no one will see him.)

15. The medicine cannot be prepared that includes as an ingredient the stomach of an ant.  (If the doctor says that one should bring something that is extremely difficult to obtain, you know that he does not want to  cure the body.)

16. I, being a tortoise, walk smoothly and steadily, but it is said that I walk clumsily and sluggishly.  (No matter what an unimportant person does, it is said that he does it badly.)

17. Who, when told to come and put on jewelry, will fail to look pleased?  ( No one who fails to be happy when given something valuable.)

18. If you hurry to dig and cut up a yam, you must bend down and dig up its tail.  (If when cooking food a person stuffs firewood filled with flammable grass into the fire so that he can cook quickly, and the fire starts to burn the house, his problems are doubled.)

19. When a dog who has a bell hung around his neck eats excrement, it is as though he were begging, "please, please."  (When one begs his friend to make peace, it looks as though he were a weakling.)

21. If a person goes and gets one [whole] measure of oil to eat [only] one yam, [does he think] the yam farmer who owns the land would put aside a whole mortar of palm fruit [for oil]?   (If the child who is just learning his A B C's tells his father to buy him a fountain pen, what will the one who is in Standard VI use to write with?)

22. If one invited to eat bread runs, does he think that it is very tasty to the one who eats it?  [He might be eating it solely for nutrition and not for taste.]   (James calls John to go on an errand for their mother and John runs away, thinking that the errand is pleasing to James.)  ["Let George do it."]

23. When all vulture-eaters are gathered together, the big woven basket is gotten down.  (You should find out what kind of people are in the house before you tell secrets.)

24. When one sees great thunder (?) one knows that the arrow (?) will fly.  (If one sees darkness covering the sky one knows that rain will fall.)

25. One who uses a gun to shoot (ojoko?--something worthless) should remember that famine will come.   (The child who throws away the food his mother gave him should remember that he will be hungry.)

26. I follow a well-known person to eat a cow's eye [probably a delicacy reserved for special people].  (Nwafo brought his father's bag, then went with him to a meeting where children are not supposed to go.)

27. The cassava fruit is good in that it reaches the house--even if it is only the bare [bony] root head.  (George has a head for learning, but his clothes are never clean.)  [He ought to wash his clothes.]

28. Lizard told his in-law that if he continued to pay him a special visit each time he fell, he would be constantly traveling (Idiom: leg would remain outside).  (If one flogs a child for every offense, he will flog him to death.)

29. One who has never had anything happen to his throat [so that he cannot swallow even saliva] does not know that saliva is food.

30. If one is looking for an animal's eye, he should go to his head.

31. If the farm work is not finished, the hoe will not rest.

32. If one sees roasted yam [small ones used for roasting] and talks a lot about it, when he sees boiled yam [larger ones] what will he say about it?  (When a child talks about every little thing he has seen, when something big happens he will give names.)

33. You will not, because a yam-eater starts to cook breadfruit [inferior to yam], then call him an Eleele eater [probably a degrading name].  (Some friends soften their tongues [speak softly] toward their friends so that they [the friends] can give them something to eat.)

34. Two events are in the sky:  if rain does not fall, sun will shine.  (One who wants to accomplish two things must do one of them at that time, before he does the other.)

35. If one arrives at a land where people cut off ears, he cuts off his own and contributes it.  (Cf. When at Rome, do like the Romans.)

36.  The toad does not run in the afternoon for no good reason.

37. When the wise teacher is absent, will not someone dig out a folk tale to tell?  (The guard who boasts that he chases away thieves, when he is dead, will they start to put the cap [of boasting] on your head?

38. The more the stomach rumbles, the more one sniffles in discomfort.  (As a child grows he understands things better.)

39. ÈIkü [something like "rascals" or "ne'er-do-wells"] were told to count the Nza people; they [ÈIkü] began to stand in groups of three.

40. A chicken-chaser must take a fall, and a chicken must waddle.

41. All I did was cry Olololoo!  Did I tell the rain to fall? [ask something excessive] (I told Joel to hunt the dog-- did I tell him to kill it?  [I don't require him to go to extremes.]

42. Rather than bite off [the food] and injure the gums, let it stay on the fire-stand until it cools off.

43. If something takes me too long a time, it could be as long as three years.  (The longest time I could stay in this school would be two years.)  [refers to the outside limit]

44. It is said that a rat bites a human being to death, then a lizard collects money to go and make teeth for himself.  [the latter is an unusual happening -- double trouble -- one bad thing after another -- never rains but it pours]

45. If the hen fails to cluck, how will she train her children?

46. When one tries to save a chicken's life, it says that death is better for it.  [contrariness]

47. Since all lizards lie down flat on their bellies, one does not know which one has a belly-ache.  [Lying flat on stomach is thought to relieve stomach pains.]

48. Preparation of cocoyams [for planting] does not mean that they are already planted.  (Buying books does not mean that a person knows what is in them.)

49. Thoughts are like shoulder-bags--each person slings his own [over his shoulder].  (Each person behaves in his own way.)

50. On hunting day, let us hunt the bushrat on its route!  Let us start to work--when we finish, let us find a way to tell stories.

51. If one has access to a professional wine-tapper, one should not use water as breakfast.

52. When a wealthy man is given advice, the slave learns things.

53. If one sees a flock ofigurube  birds without calling his brothers, those  [birds] who fly home, for whom will they return?  [Edible birds that always fly in large flocks.  Proverb concerns sharing, unselfishness, doing things at the right time.]

54. A chief's son is never found guilty when his father is among the gathering of judges.  [îma ikpe=to be guilty, e.g. ikpe mara gî]

55. One does not use a basket to collect water.

56. The crab becomes king in a small pool of water.

57. It is the house-rat that tells the bush-rat that there is fish in the basket.  [An insider reveals secrets.]

58. Who will question it if he is told that a man is pregnant in Olu?  [Distant riverain community.  Inlanders do not go there often, and tend to look down on the Olu.]

59. The thing that distracts [beats the drum for] the ngwesi  [perhaps means a stubborn, uncooperative person] is in the land [of the spirits].

60. One who does not know how to sell gunpowder, let him take the measuring receptacle of his companions that they use for selling.

61. One who does not drink palm wine should not tap it.  [ÈItî øoba=puncture top  of palm tree with instrument having sharp flat blade.]

62. When a small person kills a cow,  his exaggerated description of the cow's size spreads over Nkwøo [village square].  (When the poor person does what the general public does, he views his own action differently.)

63. One who mentions every illness that troubles him is avoided by others.

64. The chicken that will become a male starts from the skull.  [Its sex is determined by examining the protrusion at the top of its head.]  (One who is going to be a bad person shows it in his actions.)

65. The houses a madman will enter are many, in addition to dances he will do in the road.  [He is erratic and easily diverted.]  (The things that a person plans to do are numerous.)

66. The head can be tied into a package except for the neck.  [Use the proper thing.]

67. One talks about the cost of something, yet the meat of it [its water] is being wasted.

68. The drunken chicken has not seen the maddened wildcat.  [The latter is far worse than the former.]

69. If a child throws up his father [not showing proper respect], his [the father's] loincloth covers his [the child's] eyes.  [The loincloth is drawn between the legs and the fringes hang down.]  (If a child plays pranks on one who is older than he, he receives a knock on the head.)

70. If a deaf person does not hear the harmattan blowing, will he not feel cold?

71. When the sheep hears that her companion has given birth, she gives birth to a premature child.  (If one does something because his peers have done it, his own [thing] will not go well for him.)

72. If the oilbean scatters its seeds, the green bean tries unsuccessfully to explode in the same way.  [asîkpem --onomatopoeic word]  (One who does not know how to dance, if he danced like an expert no one would look at him.)

73. Whatever a person has seems good to him; a chief uses a yam to obtain the pride of his chieftaincy and enjoys it to the full.

74. The immature anünü [rare small bird] does not live in the bush of prickly grass.  [Such grass causes itching and rashes to tender skin.]

75. One who has yam available to eat says that cocoyam makes him itch.  (One who is wealthy can afford to talk about his food preferences.)

76. When Tortoise buys a new cloth, he goes to the meeting for settling disputes, [although] no one has invited him.  (If a person wanting to be noticed buys a new cloth, he remembers to go out into the path.)

77. The basket says that it is usually not sick except for [outside of] fever. [The basket is always near the fire.]  (It is bad food that gives the vulture a lump in its throat.)

78. When the elephant places his foot on the ground one sees his footprint.

79. Tortoise's wife told him that she was tired of doing her birth ceremony duties for nothing.  [Mother has duty to help daughter during weeks after childbirth.  aføo üfülü =idiom for "for nothing, wasted"]  (I am exhausted from cooking food for children who are ungrateful.)

80. One who reaches the spirit abode and then starts to don his loincloth, will he cover his [spirit's] eyes or will he jump over him [spirit]?  [Refers to futility:  a spirit attacks on sight.]  (If one sees soldiers coming before he carves an arrow, there is nothing he can do.)

81. The boy who has been stung by a bee is afraid of a fly.  [lit., extracts fear from the fly]  (If an ant bites a baby, he will not want to sit on the ground again.)

82. Kîtîkpa  [insect] has killed a lazy person's mother.  (One who feels reluctant about doing "Physical Training" is happy when it rains.)

83. One who is of lower status than a chief says to bury him as a chief is buried.

84. What the husband denies the wife is available in the market.  (What one is hiding comes out into the open.)

85. He-goat says that going out is fine, that he traveled out and learned how to raise up his mouth [to bray].

86. The woman who cooks pumpkin seeds is familiar with the blind fly.  [Soup odor attracts flies--only a blind one would not come around it.]  (A person knows the time that the market he patronizes is held.)

87. If a woman is very ugly, she remains at her mother's house.  (If a child does something bad, he slinks against a wall.)

88. If Nlüøonü commits an abomination, he fears the earth.

89. Those who rush into a fight do not know that fighting means death.

(The child who cries to be given fire does not know that fire burns people.)

90. When the vulture hears that a human being has died, he beats the festival drum for his brothers.  (If a hunter kills a mother antelope, her children cry and the hunter's children hear.) [Joel:  not literal hearing, but more imagination]

91. If the üdara  [African Star Apple] says that the supply of seed pods at its top will not be exhausted, let thunder kill it.  (When one gives his companion the one thing he has left, if that thing is important to him  he continues to grumble about it.)

92. To be first in marrying does not mean being first to have a child.

93. A child is not flogged on the day that he [accidentally] spills oil, but rather on the day that he spills crude oil.  (If you add together a child's deeds you flog him so that he remembers his behavior.)

94. Pig says that what his eye tells him to root in the ground for is what his owner buys a hoe in the market for.

96. When ØOjî sees his in-laws [those important to him], he emerges into the compound.  (When one's friend comes over, he remembers that he bought azü-asa  [good fish with gritty meat] and will give him a bit.)

97. Not seeing those who stand in a small valley, Ezekwuabøo saw those who squatted on the ground.  (One does not talk about the poor when he has not talked about the wealthy.)

98. There are not enough bags for the doctors, yet the rascal wears nine.  (I don't know how Nwankwo will justify sitting on one chair by himself when there were not enough chairs for others to sit three to a chair.)

99. To give birth to a fool is equivalent to suffering the frequent loss of newborns.  (The school child who buys many books but does not read them is the same as one who does not have any.)

100. Not everyone who answers boldly to the name of Chief is the legitimate chief.



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