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African Proverbs
Submitted by Christine Romeo, Bridgewater-Raritan High School

Time Frame: 1 day

Suggested Grade Level: High School

New Jersey Core Standards: 3-12, 6.2, 6.4, 6.5

Objectives: The students will be able to:

  1. Interpret proverbs from different African communities.
  2. Develop an understanding of the diverse values of African communities.
  3. Create proverbs that reflect values of our community.

Resource Materials:

  1. Teacher background information:
  2. Proverbs of various communities found on the following web sites:
  3. Summary handout of above web sites
  4. Handout: Interpretation Chart

Strategies and Procedures:

  1. Provide students with background concerning the role of proverbs in African culture and religions.
  2. Provide students time to read through and interpret the proverbs independently. Students chart their interpretation. Students should consider: (1) What does the proverb mean, in their own words? (2) What cultural value does the proverb explain or reinforce? (3) How would people use the proverb?
  3. After students have interpreted proverbs independently, create teams of students to discuss (compare and contrast) their interpretations of the proverbs.
  4. As a closure, have a class discussion about their interpretations of the proverbs. Consider similarities and differences between interpretations. Consider similarities and differences between the different groups of Africans.
  5. Extension: compare African proverbs to the proverbs and teachings of Confucius and Taoism or other world religions; independent or cooperative study of communities referred to on the list of proverbs; create posters or cartoons that represent the messages of the proverb.


  • Check studentsí charts
  • Monitor team discussions
  • Closure discussion will provide informal assessment of what students understand to be the relationship between culture and religion

Student Handout

  1. The house-roof fights with the rain, but he who is sheltered ignores it. (Wolof)
  2. To love the king is not bad, but a king who loves you is better. (Wolof)
  3. Allah does not destroy the men whom one hates. (Wolof)
  4. If nothing touches the palm-leaves they do not rustle. (Ashanti)
  5. He is a fool whose sheep runs away twice. (Ashanti)
  6. The man who has bread to eat does not appreciate the severity of a famine. (Yoruba)
  7. Because friendship is pleasant, we partake of our friend's entertainment; not because we have not enough to eat in our own house. (Yoruba)
  8. When your neighbor's horse falls into a pit, you should not rejoice at it, for your own child may fall into it too. (Yoruba)
  9. The pot-lid is always badly off: the pot gets all the sweet, the lid nothing but steam. (Yoruba)
  10. Don't remember the evil things only while forgetting to be thankful for the good deeds. (Swahili)
  11. Hate me, but I won't stop telling you the truth. (Swahili)
  12. He/she who doesn't know you, doesn't value you. (Swahili)
  13. A comb becomes bad when it hurts you. (Swahili)
  14. He/she who relies on his/her relative's property, dies poor. (Swahili)
  15. Don't set sail using someone else's star. (Swahili)
  16. By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed. (Ashanti)
  17. Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle. (Ashanti)
  18. Fire and gunpowder do not sleep together. (Ashanti)
  19. Hunger is felt by a slave and hunger is felt by a king. (Ashanti)
  20. It is the calm and silent water that drowns a man. (Ashanti)
  21. It is the fool's sheep that break loose twice. (Ashanti)
  22. One cannot both feast and become rich. (Ashanti)
  23. One falsehood spoils a thousand truths. (Ashanti)
  24. The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people. (Ashanti)
  25. There is no medicine to cure hatred. (Ashanti)
  26. What is bad luck for one man is good luck for another. (Ashanti)
  27. When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful. (Ashanti)
  28. When the fool is told a proverb, its meaning has to be explained to him. (Ashanti)
  29. It is the fool whose own tomatoes are sold to him. (Akan)
  30. Peace is costly but it is worth the expense. (Kikuyu)
  31. If you want sex while traveling, travel with your wife. (Minyanka)
  32. The way you bring up a child is the way it grows up. (Swahili)
  33. One who damages the character of another damages his own. (Yoruba)
  34. He who loves money must labor. (Mauritania)
  35. Poverty is slavery. (Somalia)
  36. Knowledge is better than riches. (Cameroon)
  37. The rich are always complaining. (Zululand)

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