Diescho’s Dictum: The wisdom of Afrikan proverbs


It is now a universal and undisputed, scientific fact that human life started in Afrika. This truth then confirms and affirms that anything human – the good, the bad and the ugly – had its origins in Afrika. Yes this means that wisdom, that brain faculty that is associated only with humans in the family of creations, must have come out of Afrika. This means that human learning and imparting of information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom came with human life which commenced in Afrika. This sacred truth disputes and annihilates the myth that education came to Afrika with missionaries. What was strengthened by missionary education is the formal methodology of teaching. Teaching is but one aspect of the enterprise of education, meaning that certain people are trained for years to stand in front of others, especially young ones, to give instruction in and of what they have been taught in their training. Education is more than the few hours of immobile sitting in a classroom. Afrika taught through other methods. The elders taught through stories, through songs, through dance and even through weeping. Afrikans taught as a moral duty to prepare the young to be ready to function properly and appropriately in society and they did this without being paid by some authority. If there was payment, it was in other forms of life reward—by recognizing certain individuals as chroniclers and repositories of knowledge and skills. Most of what we can find for teaching and training came through the mode of proverbs. These proverbs were brief statements in a few words articulating a whole beginning, middle and ending of a moral lesson or instruction.

Following are a few of the Afrikan proverbs on leadership that stand the test of time and when one reads them, one ponders their meaning and appreciates how they apply without time limits. In Afrika, wisdom was considered wealth.

Nobody is born wise.
An old man sitting down sees much farther than a young man standing up.
You can tell a blind man about oil in his food but not about salt in his food.
When a king has good counsellors, his reign is peaceful.

Peace does not make a good ruler.
Milk and honey have different colours, but they share the same cup peacefully.
If you cannot resolve your problems in peace, you cannot solve them with war.
When there is peace in the country, the chief does not carry a shield.
He who thinks he is leading and has no one following him is only taking a walk.
An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
He who refuses to obey cannot command.

A large chair does not make a king.
A leader who does not take advice is not a leader. If the cockroach wants to rule over the chicken, the cockroach hires a fox as a bodyguard.
Judge not your leadership by the number of people who look at you, but rather by the number of people who smile at you.

The most beautiful fruit may contain a worm.
There is always a winner even in a monkey’s beauty contest.
An ugly child of your own is more to you than a beautiful child of your neighbour.
Unity is strength, division is weakness.
Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.
It takes a village to raise a child.
Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you.
Two ants can pull one big grasshopper.
A single bracelet does not jingle.
If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it.
The fool always speaks, the wise man listens.
Knowledge without wisdom is like water in the sand.
If you are filled with pride, then you will have no room for wisdom.
A man who uses force is afraid of reasoning.
Learning expands great souls.
To get lost is to learn the way.
By crawling a child learns to stand.
If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn only through accidents.
You always learn a lot more when you lose than when you win.
You learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down.
What you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him to learn.
By the time the fool has learned the game, the players have already dispersed.
One who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom.
Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head that may as well be chopped off.

Advice is a stranger; if it is welcome it stays for the night; if not, it leaves the same day.
A united family eats from the same plate.
The old woman looks after the child to grow its teeth and the young one in turn looks after the old woman when she loses her teeth.

When brothers fight each other to the death, a stranger inherits their father’s estate.
The friends of our friends are our friends.
Show me your friend and I will show you your character.
Between true friends even water drunk together is sweet enough.
A small house will hold a hundred friends.
Bad friends will prevent you from having good friends.
Make some money but don’t let money make you.

Poverty is slavery.
One cannot both feast and become rich.
Dogs do not actually prefer bones to meat; it is just that no one ever gives them meat.
Having a good discussion is like having riches.
If you marry a monkey for his wealth, the money goes and the monkey remains as is.
Patience is the key which solves all problems.

To run is not necessarily to arrive.
Patience attracts happiness; it brings near that which is far.
Always being in a hurry does not prevent death; neither does going slowly prevent living.
However long the night, the dawn will break.
Don’t take another mouthful before you have swallowed what is in your mouth.
A healthy person who begs for food is an insult to a generous farmer.
A dog knows the places he is thrown food from.
One who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others.
No one gets a mouthful of food by picking between another person’s teeth.
If you watch your pot, your food will not burn.
You cannot tell a hungry child that you gave him food yesterday.
Good words are food, bad words poison.
A lion never loses sleep over the opinions of sheep.
A wise man does not test the depth of the water with both feet.
A wise man does not enter a snake pit with both eyes open.
A shepherd does not strike his sheep.
The foolish cannot be leaders.
The words of the elders become sweet someday.
The elders of the village are the boundaries.
A leader does not wish for war.
A community without elders does not prosper.
An elder can be advised but never insulted.
If the owner of the land leads you, you cannot get lost.
Madness does not govern a country; discussion does.
Do not be a leader and use it to your own advantage.
Patience puts a crown on the head.
Prefer the leader who comes to you.
Without a leader, black ants are confused.
He who is destined for power does not have to fight for it.
The fate that befalls the lowly will befall the leader.
Being a leader is like a borrowed garment.
If you are a leader, be like the moon, not like the sun.
A great leader is an ordinary person with extraordinary wisdom.
Much talking does not make you a leader.
A leader does not listen to rumours.
A wrong step by a leader is a warning to the followers.
Those exercising good habits and truth are leaders.
If a leader limps, all the others start limping, too.
Threats and insults never rule a country.
The worlds of the elders do not lock all the doors; they leave the right door open.
A leader goes to war when he is insulted.
Other people’s wisdom prevents the king from being called a fool.
Elders choose their words.
If you overtake a leader, you break your neck.
A people without a leader ruin the town.
Leadership is best taught by a leader.
To lead is not to run roughshod over people.
Even the fiercest leader in the world is overcome by sleep.
A leader who understands proverbs reconciles difficulties!


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