Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 13, 2015

Swahili Sayings

Every culture has their own sayings or proverbs — practical nuggets of wisdom passed down from generation to generation. Swahili, one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa, is rich in proverbs. While in Africa last month, I came across some interesting, enlightening, and entertaining Swahili proverbs. These thought-provoking proverbs are rich in wisdom. Here are a few of my favorites.

Terry and Kids in DRC
Swahili Saying: Mwenye njaa hana miiko.
Translation: A hungry man observes no dietary restrictions.

Proverbs 27:7 expresses a similar sentiment: “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.”

Swahili Saying: Siku utakaya kwenda uchi, ndiyo utakayokutana na mkweo.

Translation: The day you decide to go out naked is the day you will run into your in-laws.
Or into your preacher!

Swahili Saying: Manahodha wengi chombo huenda mrama.
Translation: With too many captains, the ship does not sail properly.
It is indeed true that “too many cooks spoil the broth.”

Swahili Saying: Mcheza na tope humrukia.
Translation: He who plays with mud will get splashed.
One popular expression warns, “If you play with fire, you get burned.”

Studious Kids
Swahili Saying: Mwana umleavyondivyo akuavyo.
Translation: As you bring up a child, so he will be.
This saying sounds like Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Swahili Saying: Fadhila ya punda ni mateke.
Translation: The gratitude of a donkey is a kick.
We often caution against ingratitude by saying, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Swahili Saying: Kuupanda mchongoma kuushuka ndio ngoma.
Translation: One who climbs a thorn tree may not be able to come down.
Cowboy wisdom warns against getting trapped in a box canyon.

Swahili Saying: Wawili sio mmoja.
Translation: Two is better than one.
The wise King Solomon would agree. He noted,“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

Swahili Saying: Anayefikiri amesimama, aangalie asianguke.
Translation: He who thinks he is standing should be on his guard not to fall down.
The Apostle Paul warned, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Edwardi Lake Tanganyika
Swahili Saying: Maji ya kifuu ni bahari ya chungu.
Translation: Water in a coconut shell is like an ocean to an ant.
We should always try to consider what things look like from the perspective of others.

Swahili Saying: Kila mlango na ufunguwo wake.
Translation: Every door has its own key.
A teacher might think of this saying in terms of how students learn.

Swahili Saying: Heri kujikwa kidole kuliko ulimi.
Translation: Better to stumble with a toe than a tongue.
Proverbs 18:21 warns that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”

Swahili Saying: Kulea mimba si kazi kazi kulea mwana.
Translation: It’s not hard to nurse a pregnancy, but it is hard to bring up a child.
The really hard work begins after a child comes into this world.

Swahili Saying: Mwenye kovu usidhani kapowa.
Translation: One with a scar, do not think him as healed.
Proverbs 14:13 shares a similar thought: “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.”

Swahili Saying: Methali kulenga si kufuma.
Translation: To aim is to not necessarily hit.
Anybody can aim. However, there is no Olympic medal for aiming!

Swahili Saying: Nyumba usiyolala ndani huijui ila yake.
Translation: You cannot know the defects of a house you have not slept in.
This saying is similar to the Native American proverb, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”


For more on wise sayings, check out my posts on Cowboy Proverbs and Dichos Sabios.

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