Nigerian Proverbs and Wisdom: Lessons for Modern Living

by Emmanuel Odebiyi
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Nigeria is a world of diverse and vibrant cultures, traditions, and practices on its own. Proverbs are woven seamlessly into everyday living, spurring into lessons to learn from and words to live by for both old and young. 

This is the case for many Nigerian proverbs, serving as vessels of wisdom passed through generations as most are adequate for modern living and navigating our lives. Some Nigerian proverbs are comical, some are short, memorable, and thought-provoking, and some are emotional, and they all are still Giving pearls of wisdom through everyday living and objects.

In this article, we will explore the world of Nigerian proverbs about life, love, family, and friendship, their meanings, the tribes or groups they are specific to, and the lessons they offer for modern living. So, let’s dive right into it. 

What is a Proverb? 

As quick as an answer may come to your mind upon reading the subtitle above, a proverb is not an idiom or aphorism. A proverb is a simple, short, traditional saying or sentence that is used to give advice.

 It is a rich and tasty wisdom confining a culture or people’s collective perception, values, and practical experiences. It is a traditional, well-known phrase or expression with either a literal or figurative meaning (mostly not to be taken literally). 

The intended meaning of a proverb is more detailed and specific than its literal meaning. This can make it more difficult for non-native speakers to understand them. 

Many Nigerian proverbs and African proverbs at large reference the earth, nature, animals, and things, passing down the generations. 

Nigerian Proverbs & Their Meanings 

Nigerian proverbs are like hidden gems nestled within everyday conversations’ fabric. Here are a number of them;

  1. The one who dines alone cannot discuss the flavour of the dish 

This Nigerian proverb emphasizes the importance of shared experiences and community. It draws on the fact that relations and bonds with others bring about a true appreciation and understanding of all life entails life’s fullness. 

This same Nigerian proverb in pidgin English is expressed as “Na who chop alone, go die alone”. It is synonymous with this proverb as it also means that isolation probably doesn’t birth anything good, especially when it’s for selfish reasons. 

Read Also: 10 Funny Pidgin Proverbs to Spice Up Your Day

  1. Seeing is better than hearing

In situations where evidence is needed, this Nigerian proverb emphasizes the importance of a firsthand experience. It doesn’t dispute the fact that witnesses are important, but it shows that sometimes, it is always better to see things for ourselves. 

  1. Charity Begins at Home 

This explains that good manners, behaviour, character, and ethics are learnt from the home. Therefore, you can trace a man’s behaviour to his background. 

  1. The child of an elephant will not be a dwarf

Originating from Yoruba culture, this proverb means that a child will tend to follow in his parent’s footsteps, Like Father, Like Son for short. For example, if the parent is hardworking, successful, kind, great, or relentless, the child is likely to be the same and Vice versa. This proverb is usually used in the case of a mother and daughter as well and expressed as “Like mother, Like Daughter”. 

  1. All that will endure are the things you have struggled for 

This simply implies that we are more likely to cherish, value and appreciate the things we have worked hard to accomplish. In that case, if we get something by chance or easily, we are likely to take it for granted. 

  1. The Patient dog eats the fattest bone 

This timeless Nigerian proverb emphasizes the value of patience and perseverance, the need to be patient in all situations. It draws upon an understanding that “delayed gratification often leads to greater rewards”. For example, one who hastily makes decisions is at the detriment of its consequences, ready to accept ill-conceived solutions. It is better first to map out at least a plan and be patient to arrive at desirable results. 

  1. He who throws a stone in the market will strike someone he knows 

Translated right from the Yoruba culture, this explains that just as the marketplace is often crowded, so is life, and people’s paths cross easily, so we should be careful of our deeds because they can bounce back on us. 

  1. Shooting a Buffalo comes only once in a lifetime 

Originating from the Igbo culture, this Nigerian proverb often comes up when someone is about to make a decision and is faced with numerous options within a limited time. A buffalo is a vigilant animal that is always on the lookout for danger, and it is difficult or nearly impossible to get hold of it easily. A hunter who is fortunate enough to come across one is particularly cautious when shooting at it and only attempts to hit it once. More likely, individuals can access some privileges just once in a lifetime, hence the need to seize the opportunity well enough. That is, such a decision is to be made cautiously and wisely.  

  1. What an elder sees while sitting down, a young man cannot see, even if he climbs a tree 

This means that the wisdom that the elderly (who are experienced) possess is so powerful that they can see far and wide beyond the literal, even if a younger person were to put in the effort. This proverb reminds us of the priceless wisdom and experience that comes with age. It teaches us to acknowledge the wisdom of the elders and seek guidance from them to an end that fills our paths with light, preventing us from making avoidable errors. 

  1. If you fill your mouth with a razor, you will spit blood 

This is one of the Nigerian proverbs on this list that speaks to the danger and possible harm of irrational speaking. Spitting out blood here is a metaphor representing the hurt and discomfort caused by nasty words or slander. It emphasizes the need to choose our words wisely when dealing with people and situations. 

  1. A broom is strong because its strands are closely interwoven 

This proverb emphasizes the strength ushered in by unity. There is unity in diversity as we embrace differences and work together like the broom’s tightly bound strand to build a rich, healthy, and harmonious society. In this modern day, the proverb also speaks to the workplace, family, friendships, and even relationships. 

  1. The one who speaks more is the one who is wrong more often 

Here is one of many Nigerian proverbs that signal the danger of excessive talking. It reminds us that wisdom lies not in the volume of words but in the ability to reflect, observe, and choose words carefully. In all, it encourages us to practice active listening and that there is wisdom in silence.

  1. Spider webs can tie up a lion when they unite 

As literally impossible as this proverb seems, it emphasizes the strength that comes from collaboration and unity. It encourages the coming together of people for anything, recognizing that joint efforts can achieve incredible outcomes even in the face of supposedly insuperable challenges.


Ultimately, Nigerian proverbs and their meanings offer timeless wisdom, and these sayings serve as guidance, providing valuable lessons on how to live a life that transcends time and place. By embracing this, we tap into the collective knowledge of ages, bettering our modern-day lives and nurturing a more profound understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Hence, we Nigerians need to treasure them and pass them on to future generations. 

About Author

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Emmanuel Odebiyi
Emmanuel Odebiyi is a seasoned content writer who specializes in writing valuable and engaging content in the technology, career, freelancing, finance, and lifestyle niches. He also writes sales copies that turn visitors into returning customers.

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