Guest Post: African Proverbs That Will Make You Think

Trying something new today, we have got a guest post from Vanessa, the author of Olivia’s New Life. She discusses some interesting and thought-provoking African proverbs. Check it out below:


After a long week of working and secretly studying in the hope of applying to medical schools, I met up with my girlfriends Lewa and Christina on a Friday evening. I knew them since our undergraduate studies at LSE. Lewa is a high flying hedge fund manager; Christina is a high flying stay-at-home mom. And today was one of these evenings, during which we debated around a nice meal, while the kids were playing in another room.

“Ladies, I came across a couple of African proverbs, I just cannot explain”. I started. This morning as I was in my office, wasting time on the internet, I discovered some proverbs coming from various African countries, but for a bunch of them, I just could not grasp the underlying life lessons. So I thought I would expose them to an audience of smart women (rest assured, I am not discounting male readers).

“Give us an example”. Lewa probed. In anticipation of this get together, I have listed four African proverbs that will make you think twice:

A big heart does not eat hot rice (Ivory Coast) Lewa and Christina looked at me incredulous.

Bravely, Christina was the first to have a go. “OK does it mean that a big heart can eat cold rice? Or does a tiny heart eat hot rice?”

“That makes no sense, Christina. We need to figure out what “hot rice” mean in the African context.” Lewa interrupted.

We sat in silence… thinking.

“I guess it’s a matter of patience, a big heart would wait for the others to have the rice first, leading to a less “hot rice”.”

What do you think?

The one who gets up early does not see the lizard brushing its teeth (Ivory Coast again) “They are very creative in Ivory Coast.” Lewa glossed.

“Lizards don’t have teeth, so I’m perplexed regarding the toothbrush’s purpose.” Christina brought up.

“Perhaps they do.” I questioned. “There is only one way to find out.”


We all agreed with a nod.

“Oh my God, lizards have teeth” Lewa exclaimed after the search. “It’s official I have spent too much time in London and not enough in Africa.”

Despite this information, we just could not decide whether waking up early was a positive or a negative action.

“If you wake up early, then you are too busy to see things of no significance.” I tried. “Because, at the end of the day, who cares if the lizard brushes its mini teeth? They don’t need brushing… O!”

What do you think?

A soft behind gets the thorns (Benin) “First of all, no one in Africa has a soft behind” Lewa stated, as if we all had her perfect and firm butt.

“Speak for yourself” I interjected.

“This proverb means go and work out if you want to avoid thorns in your behind” Lewa joked.

I am not saying we don’t work out in Africa, but I do not see working out being the main subject of a proverb.

“It has more to do with having a thick skin” Christina proposed. Despite not being an African descendant, she always liked exploring African culture with us.

“If you have a thick skin, then thorns will not penetrate.” She continued. “Grow a thicker skin”.

What do you think?

Try to convince a donkey there is a carrot in its behind and it will laugh at you (Rwanda) “So where is the carrot in the end?” I asked, confused.

“Nowhere, the proverb could also work with plantains instead of carrots. But do they grow plantains in Rwanda?”

You are familiar with the way to find out now…

Google again

And they do cultivate plantain. So let’s rephrase this proverb:

-Try to convince a donkey there is a plantain in its behind and it will laugh at you

It still did not make sense.

“This proverb is trying to be too clever” Christina complaints.

“But we are clever women,” Lewa defended, not a 100% sure anymore after this “proverb’s session”. “It’s all about attempting to convince someone of something ridiculous and the only response you will get is a laugh.”

What do you think?

Do you have a better explanation for these proverbs? We would love to hear them, because we were stuck.


Guest post written by Vanessa, author of Olivia’s New Life (, a blog about Olivia, a 31 year old mother, who turned her life around to become a doctor.


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