To say that proverbs were once a vital part of Africa’s traditional culture is truly an understatement. Our ancestors would pass down knowledge, wisdom, and philosophies regarding our way of life through common sayings that carry a deeper meaning. Due to the language diversity in Africa, proverbs still come in a variety of languages such as Igbo, Zulu, Amharic, and Swahili. After all, our ancestors did not all speak the same language.
Below is a few proverbs in Swahili that are known as “methalis.” The following methalis are still relevant in modern day society, especially in the continent’s political scene. The following proverbs sum up the current political matters in most African countries. It seems as though our ancestors knew what they were talking about.
Kikulacho Ki Nguoni Mwako
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Translation: That which eats at you, is within you.
Example: As much as we would like to blame the incessant foreign interference of other countries, we also have to take ownership that it all starts with the elected local and national politicians.
Tamaa mbele, mauti Nyuma
Translation: Desire first, death afterwards.
Example: This is all too familiar. First comes the hunger for wealth and riches, and then comes humanity. This misplacement of priorities leads to the lives of innocent civilians being exchanged for status and fortune.
Ndovu Wawili Wakigombana Ziumiazo Ni Nyasi
Translation: When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
Example: When there is a conflict between politicians, it is usually the civilians that suffer the consequences. For instance, the 2007 Kenyan post-election crisis.
Kwenda Mbele Siyo Kufika
Translation: To go forward is not to arrive.
Example: There’s no doubt in my mind that development with intent is taking place in most countries in Africa, but it still doesn’t equate to reaching to the ultimate goal, which is becoming financially self-sufficient.
Kidole Kimoja Hakivunju Chawa
Translation: One finger does not kill a louse.
Example: For Africa to flourish as a continent that doesn’t need the interference of foreign outsiders, it will take the unity of ALL countries.