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The following are proverbs from all over Nigeria (not Yoruba-only). I have tried to group them into categories, but of course, some of them may span categories.

Except where obvious, man and woman are interchangeable.

Also, I understand what most (but NOT all) of these proverbs mean, but placing them on this page does not necessarily mean I agree, it is just to illustrate the kinds of proverbs.

CATEGORIES INCLUDED

COMMON SENSE
HARD WORK
NOT GIVING UP
COOPERATION
PATIENCE
KINDNESS
HONESTY
THOUGHTFULNESS
GENEROSITY/SHARING
HUMILITY
GREED
GOOD BEHAVIOR
CONSEQUENCES
PEACE
WISDOM AND AGE
COURAGE
FAMILY
FRIENDS
SURVIVAL
PATRIOTISM
MISCELLANEOUS
OTHER LINKS ON PROVERBS

COMMON-SENSE

A man who is trampled to death by an elephant is a man who is blind and deaf.
A hunter who has only one arrow does not shoot with careless aim.
A mouse that removes the palm-nut that turns out to be the bait of a trap, would already have known that the palm-nut does not ripen on the ground.
When a palm-branch reaches its height, it gives way for a fresh one to grow.
A bottle of oil warmed over the fire has no means of producing oil by itself.
One cannot go back to the farmer from whom one borrowed seed-yams to plant to say that the beetles have eaten up the seed-yams.
If one were to remove every smoking wood from a fire and condemn it as bad, one would be killing the fire itself.
It is wisdom to prevent someone from whom one cannot accept repayment to have access to one’s valuable possessions.
It is the brutally outspoken man that earns enmity.
The elephant and the tiger do not go hunting on the same pasture.
A farmer does not boast that he has had a good harvest until his stock of yams lasts till the following harvest season.
He who pursues an innocent chicken always stumbles.
The fish that can see that its water is getting shallower, cannot be stranded.
Without knowing a way thoroughly at day time, never attempt to pass it at night.
It is only the tortoise that moves and carries its shell about, which it calls its house.
It is not enough to run, one must arrive and know when one has arrived.
It is a lazy man who says “it is only because I have no time that my farm is overgrown with weeds”.
A man who lives on the bank of a river does not use spittle to wash his hands.
We do not use our bare feet to search for hidden thorns which we have seen in day time.
The gods only hear one wish at a time, and nothing more.
When will the goat be strong enough to kill a leopard.
Every river knows where its water would not be soaked up into the earth, and that is where it flows past.
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HARD WORK

A farmer does not conclude by the mere look of it that a corn is unripe; he tears it open for examination.
It is little by little that a bird builds its nest.
To do one’s duty is to eat the prized fruit of honor.
A farmer who would not work inside the rain and would not work under the sun, would have nothing to harvest at the end of the farming year.
The heap of yams you will reap depends upon the number of mounds you have plowed.
It is the work of one’s hands that decides what one eats for dinner – for some it is pounded yam, for others it is pounded plantain or nothing.
An ant-hill that is destined to become a giant ant-hill will definitely become one, no matter how many times it is destroyed by elephants.
He who is afraid of doing too much always does too little.
Sleep and indolence are not cousins of a good harvest.
Success is 10% ability, and 90% sweat.
We live by hope, but a reed never becomes an Iroko tree by dreaming.
Sinews and big muscles do not make a farmer.
When a dying man cries, it is not because of where he is going which he knows nothing about, but because of what he wishes he would have done in the world he is leaving behind.
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NOT GIVING UP

One must row in whichever boat one finds one’s self.
When a person regrets endlessly, he gets to pay more for what he regrets.
It is little by little that a bird builds its nest.
It is not only the fox, even the snail arrives at its destination.
However long the moon disappears, someday it must shine again.
It is the same moon that wanes today that will be the full moon tomorrow.
It is only the toad that gets up from its knees and falls back again on its knees.
The spider that knows what it will gain sits waiting patiently in its web. The praying mantis is never tired waiting all day.
One does not become a master diviner in a day. A forest is not made in a season. The swoop of an eagle has seen many seasons and floods…
Who says the oasis in the desert is happy because of its hidden spring of water?
The cricket is never blinded by the sand of its burrowing.
An oil lamp feels proud to give light even though it wears itself away.
A bird does not change its feathers because the weather is bad.
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COOPERATION

Common proverbs of cooperation are:
A herbalist that refuses to ask laymen what leaves he looks for in the bush, must have difficulties getting what he wants.
It is a pot of water that is already half full that the world would like to help in filling to the brim.
If a drum is not made, it is the fault of the master; but if the drum is made and is not beaten, then that is the fault of the boys.
When an elephant falls, meat is sure to be surplus for those who follow the hunter.
One finger cannot remove lice from the head.
When the teeth fall off, the nose is sure to collapse.
A man can not sit down alone to plan for prosperity.
A man who lives alone is either always overworked, or always overfed.
A single tree can not make a forest.
A single man can not build a house.
If a child shoots and arrow that reaches the top of a tall palm tree, then it must be that an elderly person carved the arrow for him.
A man who walks alone carries a load of palm-fronds.
When the right hand washes the left hand and the left hand washes the right hand, both hands become clean.
A housewife who complains that there is not enough foodstuff in the market should remember that if her husband adds to what is already available, there would be more for everyone.
It is by the strength of their number that the ants in the field are able to carry their prey to the nest.
Two footsteps do not make a path.
Two raindrops do not make a pool.
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PATIENCE

A speedy wrestling and a bad fall go hand in hand.
Patient people are patient to gain longevity.
However long the moon disappears, someday it must shine again.
It is little by little that a bird builds its nest.
The thirsty fig sits waiting patiently, waiting for the arrival of the rains.
One does not become a master diviner in a day. A forest is not made in a season. The swoop of an eagle has seen many seasons and floods…
It is not only the hare, the tortoise arrives also at the destination.
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KINDNESS

Without knowing a person we must not hate him.
He who digs a pit for others must invariably fall into it.
Those who derive fun watching lunatics, out to have one as a child or relation to know the pains of it.
A person on whose head lice are being removed, must be grateful.
By being grateful, a man makes himself deserving of yet another kindness.
When the laborer is praised, his cutlass begins to cut more keenly.
If men were now to turn their hostility towards the cat, it would not be long before the domestic cat becomes a wild animal.
If the owner of a calabash calls it a worthless calabash, others will join him to use it to pack rubbish.
Criticism is easy but it does not create.
If one imitates the upright, one becomes upright; if one imitates the crooked, one becomes crooked.
When a sickle is drawn, it in turn draws the tree to which it is hooked.
If a person who curses another is not better than the person he curses, a request is never made of him to rescind the curse.
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HONESTY

Money does not announce how it is earned but whereas properly earned money appreciates, improperly earned money depreciates.
The bottom of wealth is sometimes a dirty thing to behold.
Rather than tell a lie to help a friend, it is better to assist him in paying the fine for his offense.
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THOUGHTFULNESS

A fowl does not forget where it lays it eggs.
The habit of thinking is the habit of gaining strength.
It is one word of advice that one needs to give to a wise man, and that word keeps multiplying in his mind.
Does a man not know when he has pepper in his eyes? If we forget yesterday, how shall we remember tomorrow.
Thoughts and dreams are the foundation of our being.
We are what our thinking makes us.
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GENEROSITY/SHARING

It is an unthinking man who achieves prosperity, and then finds with time, that his body can no longer pass through the door.
When an only kolanut is presented with love, it carries with it more value than might otherwise be associated with a whole pod of several kolanuts.
The man who remembers others, remembers also his creator.
The bird that remembers its flockmates, never missed the way.
When a dying man cries, it is not because of where he is going which he knows nothing about, but because of what he wishes he would have done in the world he is leaving behind.
The head could not have got to where it is now if it did not give.
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HUMILITY

A performing masquerade who tries too hard to outclass his colleagues may expose his anus.
It is from a small seed that the giant Iroko tree has its beginning.
A family name is not cooked and eaten, one’s life is the thing.
A good name is better than gold.
He who is courteous is not a fool.
The fowl perspires, but the feathers do not allow us to see the perspiration.
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GREED

Those who are carrying elephants home on their heads, need not use their toes to dig up crickets on the way.
One can only try to get what one can from the head of an elephant, no one ever carries it home.
The alcohol that is insufficient for a whole town ought not to intoxicate one man.
The leech that does not let go even when it is filled, dies on the dry land.
A bag that says it will not take more, and a traditional doctor who says he would not leave anything behind are both sure to suffer.
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GOOD BEHAVIOR

If a man is not clean and smooth, there is nothing he can really do about pride.
Even an old woman may run when a goat carries her snuff-box.
A man who is advised and he takes it, is still a man who acts from his own free will.
When a ripe fruit sees an honest man, it drops.
It is one person in a street that kills a dog and the street is named a street of dog killers.
When a fowl gets to a new town, it stands on one leg until it knows that it is a town where people stand on their two legs.
When a face is sullen it remains there to be seen on its owner.
When a woman cannot have good palm-nuts to give her rich oil, she still has to maintain decency in order to remain one of those that sell good quality oil.
A man who has one finger pointing at another has three pointing towards himself.
A man who eases himself in public, gives cause to others to despise him.
The man who is honored, has first honored himself.
Greatness and beauty do not belong to the gods alone.
Anyone who urinates in a stream should be warned because any of his relatives may drink from the water.
A person who does not bathe, must know it of himself that he is dirty.
Antagonism is not good for fowls, and it is not good for goats; worse still, it is not good for human beings.
Our examples are like seeds on a windy day, they spread far and wide.
A clay pot of water is never hot-tempered.
A person who picks something and decides to make it his own, ought to think how he would feel if he was the person who lost the property he picked.
He who is called a man must behave like a man.
If one would not eat pounded yam for its own sake, one can still eat it for the sake of the soup that goes with it.
One must have to wait till the evening of one’s life time to know what gratitude to pay to one’s guardian spirit.
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CONSEQUENCES

A man who is advised and he takes it, is still a man who acts from his own free will.
If hunger forces a farmer in a particular year to eat both his yam tubers and the seed-yams, the succeeding years would still be worse because he would have no yams to eat and none to plant.
Sometimes the rain might force a man more than once to seek shelter under the same tree.
When the roots of a tree begin to decay, it spreads death to the branches.
It is the fear of what tomorrow may bring that makes the tortoise to carry his house along with him wherever he goes.
He who digs a pit for others must invariably fall into it.
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PEACE

Let’s fight, let’s fight, no one knows whom fighting would favor.
Two men quarreling do not share the same seat on a canoe.
To have no enemies is equivalent to wealth.
If the owner of two adjacent farms cannot be friends, then they must wait till their next reincarnation to be able to make friends.
Whoever says “let’s fight” does not know who will be victorious.
When a man finds that he was wrong to have refused to eat, he should leave his anger and play a harp to call for harmony.
Without retaliation evils would one day become extinct from the world.
A spacious ground is the right place to demonstrate one’s skill in wrestling.
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WISDOM AND AGE

An old banana leaf was once young and green.
Old age does not come in just one day.
When a dying man cries, it is not because of where he is going which he knows nothing about, but because of what he wishes he would have done in the world he is leaving behind.
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COURAGE

He who does not look ahead always remains behind.
Courage is the father of success.
Charms do not perform miracles on the shelf; they perform for those who are brave.
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FAMILY

A family name is not cooked and eaten, one’s life is the thing.
A person who has children does not die.
We can not choose who our relatives should be, even though we may come to like some better than others.
A woman who is not successful in her own marriage has no advice to give to her younger generations.
When a man loses his prestige, he does not regain it by going to where he is not known.
A good name is better than gold.
A man that begets a barren cannot have a grand child.
A piece of iron can only become what the blacksmith says it should become.
A child who fears beating, would never admit that he played with a missing knife.
A child’s face is his mirror.
It is the habit that a child forms at home, that follows them to their marriage.
It is an irresponsible adult that creates enmity because of a disagreement that arises between two children.
A child is what you put into him.
“Flog my erring child” comes from the lips, “don’t hurt him/her” comes from the bottom of the heart.
Talks that are considered to be important must be made to drag on for so long as to make even the deaf begin to hear it.
Criticism is easy but it does not create.
Love is better than a whip.
A child who has no mother will not have scars to show on his back.
Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands.
When a dying man cries, it is not because of where he is going which he knows nothing about, but because of what he wishes he would have done in the world he is leaving behind.
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FRIENDS

To eat from the same pot with another man, is to take an oath of perpetual friendship with him.
If one imitates the upright, one becomes upright; if one imitates the crooked, one becomes crooked.
Rather than tell a lie to help a friend, it is better to assist him in paying the fine for his offense.
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SURVIVAL

It is the toothless animal that arrives first at the base of the fruit tree, to eat his fill before others arrive.
A child does not die because the mother’s breasts are dry.
If the load is too heavy for someone to carry, one would be better off to give the load to the ground to carry.
The tree that cannot shed its old leaves in the dry season, cannot survive the period of drought.
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PATRIOTISM

When one is taking a chicken from its roost, the hen is bound to attack with at least its claws.
Even when fire has done its very worst, one still has to resort to it.
When a soup is unpalatable, and the paste of the pounded yam that goes with it is not smooth, that is the time to know a man who loves to eat pounded yam.
A pad that breaks a pot of water does not remain on the head.
A bush fowls’ playground is never appreciably spacious.
If the owner of a calabash calls it a worthless calabash, others will join him to use it to pack rubbish.
It is the boast of every juju priest that unless he dies, no thief can ever come to steal his juju away.
What affects the nose must also affect the eyes that must weep for it.
If a greedy eater is near a patient, such a patient can never survive.
There is no elephant that complains about the weight of its trunk. No elephant is burdened by the weight of its tusks.
When the elderly ones in a house travel, the younger ones quickly grow in experience.
It is when there is a stampede, that a person with big buttocks knows that he carries a load.
If a soup is sweet, it is money that cooks it.
If a child is not well-behaved, she is not sent by the mother to go alone to the market to buy things for her.
A glorious past is the work of a glorious man.
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MISC

The goat that cries the loudest is not the one that will eat the most.
It is the self-love of the king parrot that made him become a talkative.
The owl is the wisest of all birds because the more it sees, the less it talks.
If gold rusts, what will iron do?
A masquerade does not perform to an outside audience until he performs well at the home base.
How can man be remembered when the giant trees in the forest are soon forgotten.
Dead though the oil-palm may be, the maggot in it lives on.
When a fire starts from the shrine, no precaution can be possible.
Beetles that roll balls out of human faeces demand to be hidden away from the rich man, because there is nothing he wouldn’t buy.
Our elders quote the cock as saying that “it would not be good if one becomes the only person in the world, and that is why they crow every morning to show their number”.
A strong man is remembered on the day of the fight, and a gluttony on the day pounded yam is surplus.
Beauty is not sold and eaten.
A masquerade is not a spirit only because of its mask.
When a woman prepares a dish which others find unpalatable, she says that she prepared it to suit her own taste.
At a time a cockerel matures, it begins to crow to tell the world the time of day.
They are the gods themselves that white-wash the fruits of the pumpkins.
However much the world degenerates, man shall never find worms in salt.
A diviner cannot accurately divine his own future.
A lizard that fell from the top of a tree wastes its time looking back to where it fell from; if there was anything good the lizard deserved, it could not have missed it while it was there on top of the tree.
It is what the eyes of one man sees that is described as a boa constrictor.
Once a cock begins to crow, it never again becomes dumb.
He whose throat is longer than his arm must pray constantly for gods’ protection.
It is he who has no place to call at that moves fast through life.
No frog is tied by a rope to a pond.
The fly that has no one to advise it follows the corpse into the grave.
Everybody joins to blame or condemn a child who overthrows the pot of soup.
Money has the capability of making people laugh; but when they laugh, the foolish ones sometimes forget to close their mouths.
No one feels the pains that arise from unintended injury.
The glow-works light the nights, but more so the night that their mother prepares porridge.
When it is the turn of a man to become the head of a village, he does not need to diviner to tell him that he is destined to rule.
It is for saying that he has no time that the monkey’s body became over-grown with long hairs.
Our elders say that at sunset, it is one’s cloth that one goes to remove from the village square.
The spirit that keeps one going when one has no choice of what else to do must not be mistaken for valor.
It is the fortunate person that the physician undertakes to help.
The gods may still send a gentle breeze when they want to bless us.
Any wealth that takes only a market week to acquire is sure to contain in it things for which the gods will surely come to make claims.
A crowd is like a smoldering log which can spark into a flame at any time.
It is usual of a person found guilty in a trial to boast that he would press his case further.