January 28, 2019

Yoruba Proverbs

Owe lesin oro, oro lesin owe, bi oro ba sonu

owe ni a o fi wa (Proverbs are the prongs of discourse and if a discourse is riddled with

meaning it is proverbs that we use to lose it)


Ile oba t’o jo, ewa lo busi

Translation: When a king’s palace burns down, the re-built palace is more beautiful.

Meaning: Necessity is mother of invention, creativity is often achieved after overcoming many difficulties.


A pę ko to jęun, ki ję ibaję

Translation: The person that eat late, will not eat spoiled food

Meaning: It is more profitable to exercise patience while seeking a durable solution, in difficult situations than to hastily accept an ill-conceived/prepared solution


Asoro aiyan oro lo pa Elenpe isaaju to ni igba wuwo ju awo lo.

(It was failure to be explicit that killed the king Elenpe who said that a calabash is heavier than


The king Elenpe said that calabash is heavier than dish without being explicit that it is the fresh

calabash that is heavier than the dish. Unfortunately for him when they went out to verify the

truthfulness of his claim they saw a dried calabash and found out that the dish was heavier than

the calabash. Thus, the people killed him and not being explicit was responsible for his death.


Ile oba t’o jo, ewa lo busi

Translation: When a king’s palace burns down, the re-built palace is more beautiful.

Meaning: Necessity is mother of invention, creativity is often achieved after overcoming many difficulties.


Ole yo ji kakaki oba, o ku boon ti a fon.

Translation: The thief who steals the king’s trumpet will find it difficult to blow it anywhere without being discovered.

Meaning: Nemesis will always catch up with a wrongdoer


 Apani ki i je ka mu ida koja nipako oun.

A murderer never permits the passage of a sword behind his skull.

The criminal is ever suspicious of other people’s intentions


Kokoro to n jo lebaa ona, onluu re n be ninu igbo.

(The insect that is dancing near the road, its drummer is in the bush)


Gbogbo alangba lo d’anu dele, a ko mo eyi t’inu nrun

Translation: All lizards lie flat on their stomach and it is difficult to determine which has a stomach ache

Meaning: Everyone looks the same on the outside but everyone has problems that are invisible to outsiders.


Bi ko ba ni ‘dii Obinrin ki je kumolu bi obinrin ba je Salawu, yoo sanwo ori

(Without any reason, a woman cannot be called Kumolu, if a woman bears Salawu, then she

will pay tax).


Agbalagba to n sare ninu ekan, bi ko ba le nnkan, nnkan lo n lee.

(An elder that is running in the thatch, if he is not after something, then something is after him)


The above proverbs simply indicate that there is no smoke without fire. They also emphasize

the idea of cause and effect. That for every effect, there is a cause.

Moreover, a number of Yoruba proverbs teach that there is a difference between reality and

appearance, and so counsel circumspection, as is demonstrated in the proverb below:


Fi’ja sinu p’ete erin, pebi mo ‘nu s’oju ayo.

(Hold grudges and smiles in pretence, starve and pretend to be satisfied).


Ile oba t’o jo, ewa lo busi

Translation: When a king’s palace burns down, the re-built palace is more beautiful.

Meaning: Necessity is mother of invention, creativity is often achieved after overcoming many difficulties.



 Gbogbo ohun to n dank o ni wura

(All that glitter is not gold).


Ile la ti n ko eso re ode

Translation: Charity begins at Home

Meaning: A man cannot give what he does not have good or bad behavior is a reflection of one’s background.



Idobale ko ni iwa, tinu n be ninu

(Prostration is not good conduct; one’s intention exists in the mind already).

In spite of the fact that things and events are unique, some Yoruba proverbs show their




A bimo ko gbon, a ni ko ma saa ku; ki ni npa omo bi aigbon?

A child lacks wisdom, and some say that what is important is that the child does not die; what kills more surely than lack of wisdom?

A foolish child is not much better than a dead child



 Bi oni ti ri ola o ri be, lo mu babalawo to fin difa ojojumo.

(As today is, tomorrow may not be, which makes the priest to consult with Ifa everyday)

In the same vein, while some proverbs proclaims that human beings are free, others show that

there is determinism, the first proverb below teaches freedom and the last two teaches





Bo se wu ni la n se imole eni.

(One choose how to carry out one’s affairs).


Díẹ̀ díẹ̀ nimú ẹlẹ́dẹ̀ẹ́ fi ń wọgbà

Translation: Little by little is how the pig’s nose enters the yard

Meaning: Attend to a small problem before it becomes uncontrollable


Omi ti eniyan yoo mu ko ni san ko ja re.

(The water that a person will drink will never flow past him).


Ilé ọba tójó ẹwà ló bùsi

Translation: The king’s palace that got burnt added beauty to it

Meaning: Every cloud has a silver lining



Aja ti yoo sonu koni gbo fere ode.

(The dog that will be lost will never hear the hunter’s whistle).

A ti kekee e ti p’eitan u’oko i, do ba d’agba tan e i du ka ma

Trim the branches of an iroko tree while it is young, if it matures completely it cannot be bent again.

Meaning: Training of a child commences when the child is still very young and impressionable; otherwise his training become s late and an uphill task


 Bi a ba n gun yan ninu odo ti a n se obe ninu epo epa eni ma yo ayo.

(If we pound yam in a leaf and cook the soup in a nutshell, those that will get filled up will certainly

do). This literarily means whatever the circumstances that surrounds human situation, what will be will be


Eewu bę loko Longę, Longę fun ara rę eewu ni

Translation: There is danger at Longę’s farm (Longę is a name of a Yoruba Legend), Longę himself is danger

Meaning: You should be extremely careful of situations that have a past history of danger


Ogbon odun yi were emii ni.

(The wisdom of this year is the madness of the next year).

What this suggests is that wisdom is relative to circumstances


Bi Ēēgun nla ba ni ohùn o ri gontò, gontò na a ni ohùn o ri Ēēgun nla

Translation: If a big masquerade claims it doesn’t see the smaller masquerade, the small masquerade will also claim it doesn’t see the big masquerade.

Meaning: If an important man does not respect those less important than himself, less important men will in turn refuse to give him his due.


Ogbon ologbon kii je ki a pe agba ni were.

(Someone else’s wisdom does not make one call an elderly  mad man).


Owo omode o to pepe, ti agbalagba ko wo akeregbe

(The child’s hand cannot reach the altar, while the elder’s hand cannot entre the gourd)


A ki i fi ona ikun han ifun.

One does not show the throat the way to the stomach.

Do not presume to know better than the expert.

A-gbejo-nkan-dajo, osika eeyan.

He-who-decides-a-case-after-hearing-only-one-side, (is) the dean of wicked persons.

Justice requires considering both sides of a case


Aigbo ‘Fa la n woke ifa kan osi ni para.

(It is not understanding the Ifa message that makes one to look up, since the Ifa is not on the



The literary epistemological interpretation of the above proverb is that “Whatever you don’t

know is difficult to guess.” This underpins the epistemological claim that acquisition of

knowledge goes beyond opinion and belief. The proverb further emphasizes the reality of knowing. The point is you can only be sure of what you know or that it is either you know

something or not. In a nut shell the Yoruba employs such proverb as this to educate one another

on the fact that there is no short cut to knowledge or that knowledge is all inclusive. This is a

fundamental issue in epistemology


Adiye irana kii se oun ajegbe

(The funeral fowl cannot be eaten and forgotten).

The simple interpretation of this proverb is

that whatever you sow you will reap. Also, through proverbs human conducts are assessed

A ki le lku meji ka ma pofo.

One does not chase two rats and avoid coming up with nothing.

Never try to go in two directions at once.

Bi oju ko bat i ole, oju n ti ara ilee re.

(If the thief is not ashamed, his mates are).


Kò sí ęni tí ó ma gùn ęşin tí kò ní ju ìpàkó. Bí kò fę ju ìpàkó, ęşin tí ó ngùn á ję kojū.

Translation: No one rides a horse without moving his head, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Meaning: Your status in life dictates your attitude towards your peers


 Eni a ba feyin ti ka mu didun osan, kikan lo nka fun ni.

(He who one would have relied on for sweet orange, alas, gave out sour ones)


 Abulera ofon-on; o ni ojo ti ologbo-o ti bi oun o iti-i da a ni barika.

Mouse-that-does-not-know-its-place; it says that since the day the cat delivered (a baby) it has not gone to offer congratulations.

Never forget your vulnerabilities and limitations


Eni ti a ni ko kin ni leyin, o f’egun s’owo, eni a ni ko feni loju, ata lo fi senu

(He who we ask to sponge one’s back wear thorns, he who we ask to blow away

the speck in the eye puts pepper in the mouth)


Afikokojale, bi oba aye o ri o, torun ri o .

You-who-steal-in-secret, if an earthly king does not see you, the heavenly king sees you.
Nothing is hidden from God.


Afoju ajanaku, ko mo igi, ko mo eeyan.

A blind elephant does not know a man from a tree.

Fate is no respecter of persons.



 Eni to ya egbefa ti ko san, o dina egbeje.

(He who borrows one thousand, two hundred and refuses to pay has blocked one thousand,

four hundred)

This proverb clearly emphasis, that when we borrow anything from somebody, we are morally

obliged to return or repay it. But, this proverb is saying more than this, although it is making

the whole issues of duty and obligation the primary concern of its inquiry. The consequence of

the investigation is that one cannot regret having settled one’s debt even though doing so is a

big sacrifice. It also emphasizes the need for honesty.





A nfotun teni, a nfosi tu sokoto, obinrin ni a ko ba oun gbo t-omo.

One spreads a mat with the right hand while removing one’s pants with the left hand; yet the woman complains that one is not helping her quest for a child.

Some people are incapable of recognizing and acknowledging favors



Eefin ni iwa, bi a ba boo mole,yoo ru jade.

(Behaviour is like a smoke, if you cover it up it will rise up).



A pe e lomo erin-magbon o nyo; iwo paapa lo mi i?

You are described as the child of the elephant that swallows coconuts, and you rejoice; are you the one who swallows coconuts?

The description honors the father, not the person being addressed.


Kos i bi ao ti se ifa ti ko ni hu wa ekuro.

(There is no way we can prevent the Ifa from showing the conduct of palm kernel).



Ajo aiwuniiyun la ndifa si.

It is a journey one does not want to make that one consults the oracle about.

Where there is no desire, excuses are easy to find.


A-bi-i-ko; a-ko-i-gba; ode lo ti nkogbon wale.

A-child-that-was-never-taught-how-to-behave; a-child-that-was-taught-but-that-refused-to-heed-instruction; it is from outside the home that he will learn wisdom.

Look well to your child’s upbringing




 Kos i bi ao ti se Ebolo ti ko ni run igbe

(There is nothing that we can do to the Ebolo vegetable that it will not smell like faeces


Bí abá so òkò sójà ará ilé eni ní bá;

Translation: He who throws a stone in the market will hit his relative

Meaning: Be careful what you do unto others it may return towards you or someone close to you



Bi a ba ri oku ika nile, ti a fi ese ta; ika-a di meji.

If one sees the corpse of a wicked person on the ground and one kicks it, there are then two wicked people.

If one returns evil for evil, one joins the ranks of the evil



Akeyinje o mo pe idi nro adie.

The person who gathers eggs to eat does not know that the chicken’s orifice hurts.

One should never be so preoccupied with one’s own pleasures that one does not care what they cost others.




Bi isu eni bata, a n fowo boo je ni.

(If one’s yam grows well, one always covers it with one’s hands while eating).




Eni ti ko se bi alaaru l’Oyingbo, ko le dabi Adegboro l’Oja Oba

(He who does not behave like a porter in Oyingbo cannot be like Adegboro at the kings market)




A nsoro ole, aboyun ndahun; odiidi eyan lo gbe pamo.

We speak of stealing and a pregnant woman intervenes; she herself is concealing a whole person.

Her condition makes her guilty of concealment




 Igi kan kii da igbo se

(A tree cannot make a forest)



A ki i bo orisa loju ofon-on; bo ba dale a maa tu pepe.

One does not sacrifice to a god in the presence of a house rat; otherwise, when night falls it invades the rafter shelves.

Do not do things that might constitute temptation to others



 ka f’owo we owo ni owo fin mo

(Washing hands together makes the hands clean)


Agba ki wa loja, ki ori omo titun o wo.

Translation: Do not go crazy, do not let the new baby look.

Meaning: Behave in a mature manner so avoid bad reputation



Agbajo owo la fi n so ‘ya,

(It is with a gathered hand that one beats his chest)..

From the above proverbs, emphasizes the relevance of socialization and need for peaceful coexistence

among people. This was also an important philosophical idea in Aristotle’s politics

when he points out that no one is self-sufficient.



Eni ti a fe iya re lomo re n wu ni

(It is one who we love his mother that his child is also pleasing).

This can be re-phrased as “To love a wife implies loving her children.” This is not a complete

syllogism, but a truncated



A ki binu ori ka fi fila de ibadi.

One does not get angry with one’s head and therefore use one’s cap to cover one’s buttocks.

Do not cut your nose to spite your face.



Obinri- in so iwa nu o ni oun ko mori oko wale,

(A woman lost

her manners, she said she did not have good luck in choosing a husband), simply expresses that

good manners (iwa) is fundamental for a woman to sustain her marriage. This, and other


Adìẹ funfun kò mọ ara rẹ̀lágbà

Translation: The white chicken does not realize its age

Meaning: Respect yourself



Agba kii wa loja, ki ori omo tuntun wo

(An adult cannot stay in the market, and allow the new born baby’s head

be bent); and




A fi o joba o nsawure o fe je Olorun ni?

Meaning: You have been crowned a king, and yet you make good-luck charms; would you be crowned God?

Being crowned a king is about the best fortune a mortal could hope for




Agba ko si ilu baje, bale ile ku ile d’ahoro

 (The elder is absent and the city is defiled, the householder is absent the house become a desolate) simply expresses the

responsibility of elders in the society in ensuring good life and peace in the society. Also, while

such proverb as pele la n fi pamukuru pele (meaning soft words begat soft words) and Agba ti

ko binu ni omo re n po (It is the elder that is not vexed that has a lot of children). Meaning an

elder must be accommodating and tolerate the younger ones). And, bi a ba ni ka ro didun ifon,

a hora de egungun (If one thinks of how painful an itch is, one will scratch one’s body to the

bone) remain very essential in conflict resolution. Such proverbs help in guiding against






Ati gbeyawo o ja, owo obe losoro,


(To get married is not a problem, but to drop soup money is the problem)


aims at expounding the human mind to the need to uphold their social responsibility.

Marriage as we know is a tradition that cannot be overemphasized in virtually all tradition and

culture and these proverbs warn intending bachelors to be sure that its financial implication is much



À ń pe gbẹ́nàgbẹ́nà ẹyẹ àkókó ń yọjú

Translation: A sculptor is summoned and the woodpecker shows up

Meaning: Never think too highly of yourself



Adigbonrankun nfiku sere.

Death-feigning-beetle flirts with death.

If one persists in flirting with disaster, disaster is liable to befall one.


Afopina to fe pan-a suya: eran po si i.

The moth (that) tries to put out the barbecue fire: the meat becomes more plentiful.

A person who foolishly attempts dangerous tasks courts destruction



Ahun nre ajo, o gbe ile-e re dani.

Tortoise embarks on a journey and takes his house with it.

One’s dearest possessions deserve one’s closest attention




Adie njeka, o mmumi,o ngbe okuta pe-pe-pe mi, o ni oun o lehin; ideregbe to lehin ngbe irin mi bi?

The chicken eats corn, drinks water, even swallows small pebbles, and yet complains that it lacks teeth; does the goat that has teeth swallow steel?

One should be content with one’s lot



Oku ajanaku la nyo ogbo si; ta ni je yo agada seerin?

It is a dead elephant one approaches with a cutlass; who would dare draw a machete to attack an elephant that is alive?

One dares taunt a powerful adversary when he has been neutralized

Ogbon odunnii, were emii.

Today’s wisdom, next year’s madness.

What seems wise now may appear like lunacy in hindsight



Bi maluu-u to maluu, opa kan ni Fulani fi nda won.

However numerous the cattle might be, it is with only one staff that the Fulani man herds them.

The good worksperson needs no elaborate tools.


Bi o pe titi, akololo a pe baba.

However long it may take, the stammarer will eventually say, Father.

With perseverance, the most difficult task will eventually be accomplished.



Arugbo ondagbese, o ni melo ni oun o duuro san nibe?

The old person who incurs debt, he says how much of it will he be around to repay?

A person whose days are numbered can afford to freely take on long-term obligations.



Ara ibadan ki i sagun; a o rin sehin ni won nwi.

Ibadan people do not run from war; what they say is, We will fall back a little.

There are ways of avoiding battle without seeming to do so.


Bi a ba ka oko mo obinrin nidii a ni kuku ni

If one catches a joystick in a woman’s vagina she

will argue that it is only corn-cob.

Trust a woman to deny even the obvious



E tan ki i se ogbon.

Deceit is no wisdom.

Deceit is not a reliable strategy to count on.

Akuko-o ko, ole-e pose.

The rooster crows, and the lazy person hisses.

The coming of the morning is an annoyance to the lazy person.


Ko si ohun ti nti oke bo ti ile ogba.

There is nothing dropping from above that the earth cannot withstand.

There is no eventuality that one cannot cope with.


A bimo ko gbon, a ni ko ma saa ku; ki ni npa omo bi aigbon?

A child lacks wisdom, and some say that what is important is that the child does not die; what kills more surely than lack of wisdom?



Ebo jije ki i pa igun.

The consumption of sacrificial offerings will not kill the vulture.

One’s natural calling will not hurt one.



Ajanaku oseeru
The elephant is impossible to carry.
(Some tasks are impossible to accomplish.)

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yoruba proverbs is interesting, it has in-depth of meaning for communication. thanks yorubawiki