Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Proverbs to inspire, help, and educate

Proverbs to inspire, help, and educate

A. From Haiti

B. From Jamaica

C. About Food

D. About Leadership


Haiti has a rich store of proverbs. I collected the proverbs below to try and keep hope alive in the aftermath of the January 2010 devastating earthquake in Port-an-Prince, Haiti.  



You know what you've got, but you don't know what's coming.
Misfortune has no horn.
Where there is hunger, goats do not die tied to their ropes.
The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.
What happens to the turkey can happen to the rooster too.
The giver of the blow forgets, the bearer of the scar remembers.
Every human being is a human being. 
Only the knife knows what is at the heart of the yam. 
Beyond the mountain is another mountain. 
A stumble is not a fall.
Hope makes one live.

Jamaican proverbs, like Haitian proverbs, owe a great deal to African roots. In just a few words, the proverbs tell stories, provide graphic images, and convey values that have been passed on from generation to generation for hundreds of years. 

·  Beautiful woman, beautiful trouble.
·  When man have raw meat, him look fi fire. 
·  If yuh throw rockstone into pig sty, de one that bawl out is de one get hit.
·  Those who kyaan dance blame it on de music.
·  Yuh kyaan prevent bird from fly over yuh head, but yuh kyan prevent him from making nest in yuh head.
·  If yuh talk with hog, yuh kyaan expect anything but grunt.
·  Before yuh marry keep both eyes open; after marriage shut one.
·  De nearer de bone, de sweeter de meat.
·  If fool never go market, bad things wouldn't sell.
·  If yuh dig a hole, take care yuh doan fall in it.
·  Little crab hole spoil big race horse
·  De same knife stick goat stick sheep.
·  Catch a bull by him horn and a man by him words.
·  If fish learn to keep him mouth shut, fisherman wouldn't catch him.
·  Save money, and money will save yuh.


Food binds people of African ancestry to their roots. For example, we can find in parts 

of Africa dishes that are the origins of gumbo of the US South, and duckanoo of  

Jamaica. Traditions of  sharing food with strangers are very strong in Africa and the 

African Diaspora. Soups and stews therefore provide the opportunity to “stretch” the 

food and feed far more than seems possible.

Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food. -Ibo

Fine words do not produce food. ~Nigeria

Good words are food; bad words are poison. -Malagasy

Even the best cooking pot will not produce food. -Africa

The grasshopper which is always near its mother eats the best food. -

The chicken that digs for food will not sleep hungry. -Bayombe

When the leg does not walk, the stomach does not eat. -

One spoon of soup in need has more value than a pot of soup when we have an abundance of food. -Angola

If you are looking for a fly in your food it means that you are full.-~South Africa
You cannot tell a hungry child that you gave him food yesterday. –Zimbabwe

Once the food is ready, it should be eaten. -Kenya

Man is like a pepper; till you have chewed it you do not know how hot it is. -Hausa

Pepper burn hot, but it's good for curry. -Jamaica


These proverbs show a philosophy of leadership that today's 

leaders (from Africa and elsewhere) could well emulate.

Two leaders do not fight in one house. ~Ugandan Proverb

Prefer the leader who comes to you. ~Ugandan Proverb

You don't know a good manager till a bad manager come. -Guyana

Without a leader, black ants are confused. ~Ugandan Proverb

A leader who understands proverbs reconciles difficulties. ~Nigerian Proverb

A great leader is an ordinary person with extraordinary wisdom. ~Malawian Proverb

Much talking does not make you a leader. ~Ugandan Proverb

Threats and insults never rule a country. ~Zambian Proverb

If you are kicked from behind, it means you are in front. -Africa

For more African proverbs to inspire, help, and educate please see Lifelines: The African Book of Proverbs

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at