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East African Proverbs

East African proverbs and sayings, from communities in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda (also classified as Central African) … Feel free to suggest or submit more via the forum, which will then be added to the list.

  1. A bad dancer blames the drummer.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: Kenya/Tanzania
  2. A single bracelet does not jingle.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Somalia
  3. If you are bitten by a snake you fear seeing a rope at night.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Kenya
  4. A sinking vessel needs no navigation.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: Kenya
  5. The tree that cannot shed its old leaves in the dry season cannot survive the period of drought.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Tanzania
  6. The man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows corn by the roadside have the same problem.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  7. You may well have two legs but you still can’t climb two trees at the same time.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  8. Do not take a taste of the honey if it is lying on a thorn.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  9. Empty stomachs create friendships.
    Community/language of origin: Masai
    Country: Kenya
  10. Do not catch a leopard by the tail, but if you do, do not let it go.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  11. The man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows corn by the roadside have the same problem.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  12. A loose tooth will not rest until it’s pulled out.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  13. Do not sweep another person’s house whilst your own is dirty.
    Community/language of origin: Maasai
    Country: Kenya/Tanzania
  14. You cannot know the bedbugs of a bed that you have not lain on.
    In original language: Kitanda usicho kilala hujui kunguni wake.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: Unknown
  15. Little by little fills up the measure.
    English proverb: One by one makes a bundle.
    Similar proverb in Luganda: Kamukamu gwe muganda.
    In original language: Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili / East Africa
    Country: Unknown
  16. Empty vessels make the most noise.
    In original language: Debe tupu haliachi kuvuma.
    Community/language of origin: East African region / Swahili
    Country: Unknown
  17. A fire should be put out fire while it is still small.
    Community/language of origin: Kalenjin
    Country: Kenya
  18. When the cat is away, the mouse plays.
    In original language: Paka akionodoka panya hutawala.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: East Africa
  19. A sinking vessel needs no navigation.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: Unknown
  20. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
    In original language: Fimbo ya mbali haiui nyoka.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili speaking regions of East Africa
    Country: East Africa
  21. One who tells you about someone else’s business will tell someone else about yours.
    Literal Meaning: A gossip isn’t a good friend.
    In original language: Anayekueleza ya wengine atawaeleza mengine ya kwako.
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: East Africa
  22. If it doesn’t burn you, you haven’t tasted it (hot pepper).
    Literal Meaning: Don’t listen to someone who objects to something they have no experience of.
    In original language: Isipokuwasha hujairamba
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: Kenya
  23. Evil enters like a splinter and spreads like an oak tree.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  24. The ears of a wise man hear and filter the wisdom from foolish talk.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Kenya
  25. Only a medicine man gets rich by sleeping.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Kenya
  26. One who bathes willingly with cold water does not feel the cold.
    Community/language of origin: Bukoba area
    Country: Tanzania
  27. Love is wealth
    Community/language of origin: Iringa highlands, Bena(?) community.
    Country: Tanzania
  28. Be grateful for whatever you are given, however little it is.
    Community/language of origin: Kure tribe/northern Tanzania
    Country: Tanzania
  29. If you want to get something under the bed, you have to bend to be able to do so.
    Meaning: You cannot get something precious without working for it or without any effort.
    In original language: Mtaka cha uvunguni shalti (lazima) ainame
    Community/language of origin: Swahili
    Country: Tanzania
  30. He who learns, teaches.
    Community/language of origin: Unknown
    Country: Ethiopia
  31. Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.
    Community/language of origin: Bondei ethnic group
    Country: Tanzania
  32. A hyena cannot smell its own stench.
    Community/language of origin: Kalenjin
    Country: Kenya
  33. Two waterfalls do not hear each other.
    Community/language of origin: Gikuyu
    Country: Kenya

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  • If possible the proverb not only in English but original language as well
  • A short explanation of its meaning
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