No one captures the essence of proverbs better than Africa’s highly celebrated writer Chinua Achebe, when he wrote,”  proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”

Vanguard presents few of Achebe’s words of wisdom collected from his written works. Which is your favourite? If we have omitted your most preffered , you can add it as well.

“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” 

“You cannot plant greatness as you plant yams or maize. Who ever planted an Iroko tree – the greatest in the forest? You may collect all the Iroko seeds in the world, open the soil and put them there. it will be in vain. The great tree chooses where to grow and we find it there…so it is with greatness in men.”

“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practically put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.”

“If you want to eat a toad you look for a fat and juicy one.”

“An only palm fruit does not get lost in the fire.”

“A man who lives on the banks of the Niger (river) should not wash his hands in spittle.”

“A man does not challenge his Chi to a wrestling match.”

“When a new saying gets to the land of empty men, they lose their heads over it.”

Chinualumogu  Achebe, Professor of English, father of modern African literature
Chinualumogu Achebe, Professor of English, father of modern African literature

“The eye is not harmed by sleep.”

“We do not want to be like the unfortunate child who grows his first tooth and grows a damaged one.”

“Shall we kill a snake and carry it in our hand when we have a bag for putting things in ?”

“If a man returns from a long journey and no one says nno (welcome) to him, he feels like one who has not arrived.”

“A debt may get moldy but it never rots.”

“The most horrible sight in the world cannot put out the eye.”

“The sun will shine on those who stand, before it shines on those who kneel under them.”

“If a child washed his hands, he could eat with kings.”

“When the moon is shining, the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.”

“Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too – If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”

“An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.”

“The lizard that jumped from a high Iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no-one else did.”

“Eneke the bird says that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching.”

“Those whose palm kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.”

“When a person says yes, his Chi (personal god) says yes also.”

“A man that makes trouble for others also makes trouble for himself.”

“If one finger brings oil, it soils all the others.”

“When a man blasphemes what do we do? Do we go and stop his mouth? No. We put our fingers into our ears to stop us hearing.”

“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving.”

“As a man danced so the drums were beaten for him.”

“Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.”

“When a handshake goes below the elbow, then know that it has turned into something else.”

“It is praiseworthy to be brave and fearless, but sometimes it is better to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of a coward to point at the ruins where a brave man used to live.”

“Wisdom is like a goatskin bag; every man carries his own.”

“ If the lizard of the homestead should neglect to do the things for which its kind is known, it will be mistaken for the lizard of the farmland.”

“A boy sent by his father to steal does not go stealthily but breaks the door with his feet.”

“When an old woman hears the dance she knows her old age deserts her.”

“It is only when you are close to a man that you can begin to smell his breath.”

“If a blind man does not know his own stick, tell me what else would he know ? “

“If you fail to take away a strong man’s sword when he is on the ground, will you do it when he gets up? “

“When a mad man walks naked, it is his kinsmen who feel shame, not himself.”

“A madman may sometimes speak a true word, but you watch him, he will soon add something to it that will tell you his mind is spoilt.”

“A goat does not eat into a hen’s stomach no matter how friendly the two may be.”

“A man of worth never gets up to unsay what he said yesterday.”

“The inquisitive eye will only blind its own sight.”

“A man who does not lick his lips, can he blame the harmattan for drying them ? “

“If we fall back, can we complain that others are rushing forward ?”

“When suffering knocks on your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.”

“What a man does not know is greater than he.”

“Only a foolish man can go after a leopard with his bare hands.”

“In dealing with a man who thinks you are a fool, it is good sometimes to remind him that you know what he knows but have chosen to appear foolish for the sake of peace.”

“When we hear a house has fallen do we ask if the ceiling fell with it ?”

“The death that will kill a man begins as an appetite.”

“If a man sought for a companion who acted entirely like himself, he would live in solitude.”

“He is a fool who treats his brother worse than a stranger.”

“The greatest liar among men still speaks the truth to his own son.”

“A boy who tries to wrestle with his father gets blinded by the old man’s loin cloth.”

“When we see an old woman stop her dance to point again and again in the same direction, we can be sure that somewhere there something happened long ago which touched the roots of her life.”

“When brothers fight to death a stranger inherits their father’s estate.”

“The man that brings ant-infested faggots into his hut should not grumble when lizards begin to pay him a visit.”

“A disease that has never been seen before cannot be cured with every-day herbs.”

“No matter how many spirits plot a man’s death, it comes to nothing unless his Chi (personal god), has a hand in the deliberation.”

“A man who means to buy palm wine does not hang about at home until all the palm wine in the market is sold.”

“The language of young men is pull down and destroy; but an old man speaks of conciliation.”

“It is the fear of offence that makes men swallow poison.”

“A man of sense does not go hunting little bush rodents when his agemates are after big game”

“No man however great is greater than his people”

“Every lizard lies on its belly, so we cannot tell which has a belly-ache”


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