A Look at African Wisdom


Africans have rich knowledge systems that have stayed for centuries and is, in most cases, passed on to the next generations through word of mouth. Recently on a South African Airways flight from Harare to OR Tambo I had the fortune of coming into contact with the wisdom of our African people. Written on the coffee mug was the proverb “ukuhumba ukubona”. My native Shonas have a similar one saying which says, “chitsva chiri murutsoka”. In essence the philosophy be-hind both these statements is that travelling opens eyes and is a cure for prejudice. How wise for a people that travelled on foot centuries ago! The Chinese have their stratagems and Sun Tzu which shapes most of their philosophies. In this article I felt the need to celebrate African wisdom in general and Zimbabwean wisdom in particular. It is a legacy that is worth passing on to our children.

Gems of Proverbs.

If two wise men always agree then there is no use for one of them.

This proverb teaches us to celebrate our uniqueness. It shows us that difference in opinion are healthy and can be used as learning moments that can benefit many in life.

If you sleep with an itching anus you will definitely wake up with your hands smelling.

It teaches us that certain things cannot be hidden for the results will be there for all to see embarrassing us in the process. Some challenges need to be tackled head on and cannot be wished away.

When a hyena wants to eat its children it first accuses them of smelling like goats.

It shows that people hell bent on doing evil will find excuses to do so.

Do not tell the man that is carrying you that he stinks.

This proverb teaches us about limits that we should observe when we are dealing with our benefactors. It is sound advise that people can carry into boardrooms that it is wise to discuss issues versus personalities.

Proverbs on Hard Work

Those that sets traps in a burnt field should not fear finding their buttocks blackened.

It teaches men to hustle hard and not let obstacles hinder them. They should remain resolute and focused.

Rising early makes the road short.

Planning and rising early makes the achievement of goals a lot easier. We are encouraged to start on tasks early and not to procrastinate.

The death of a man is only when intestines are out.

Teaches us to work hard and pursue our goals despite challenges. The only thing that can stop us is death. Hunger nor tiredness cannot stop us.

Proverbs on Never Giving Up.

If life has beaten you severely and your face is swollen, smile and act like a fat man.

It teaches us to never give up. It encourages a mindset that sees opportunity in adversity and that “never die” attitude.

An elephant will never feel the burden of its own tusks.

It teaches parents to hustle hard for their children and not sheik their duties of taking care of them.

The sun that melts ice is also capable of hardening clay.

Teaches us to make the best of any situation for the response to adversity is in our mindsets.

A forest yields to a hunter when he is tired.

Success comes when you are about to give up so press on.

On Humility.

It is the duty of children to wait on elders and not the elders on children. – It teaches young people to have the respect and honour for elders.

A person is a person because of others. – It teaches that we are human through considering the welfare of others. Our welfare is intertwined with that of others.

Horses have four legs though they often fall. – It teaches us to realise that failing is normal and it will happen to the best of us but we should persevere.

Proverbs on Being Pragmatic.

A weaning baby that does not cry aloud will die on its mother’s back. – It teaches us to air our grievances be-cause systems react to honest feedback.

You cannot silence a crying child by telling him that you gave him food yesterday. – Action that yields results has to be based on current conditions prevailing and not on what obtained in the past.

No matter how well crafted a coffin might look, it will never make anyone to wish for death. – It teaches us that certain realities are bad and cannot be camouflaged by niceties.

When milking a cow that is not yours always check the road. – We learn that a person cannot base their life on borrowed things. One should strive to own things that perpetuate their lives.

There you are folks. Africa is full of wisdom that needs to be passed onto future generations.It is our role to do so. I will leave you with nuggets of wisdom from Chinua Achebe’s wisdom book Things Fall Apart. The words remind us of the value of keeping our communities of kindreds intact no matter where we find our-selves. Our mental well being relies on it. It reads thus,

“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”


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