Home » Sample Page » What Proverbs are and Their Significance in Ghanaian Languages

What Proverbs are and Their Significance in Ghanaian Languages

A proverb is a short, wise saying. Proverbs play a very important role in the everyday language of the Ghanaian. Our languages have beautiful proverbs which cover all aspects of our life. They are drawn from careful observations of social events, the lives of people and animals. Some are also drawn from experiences in occupations such as farming, fishing, hunting, and weaving. We have proverbs that talk about family and human relations, good and evil, poverty and riches, joy and sorrow.

What Proverbs are and Their Significance in Ghanaian Languages:

A proverb is a short, wise saying. Proverbs play a very important role in the everyday language of the Ghanaian. Our languages have beautiful proverbs which cover all aspects of our life. They are drawn from careful observations of social events, the lives of people and animals. Some are also drawn from experiences in occupations such as farming, fishing, hunting, and weaving. We have proverbs that talk about family and human relations, good and evil, poverty and riches, joy and sorrow.

            The Akan, for example, call them “mme” or “mbe” or “mmebusem/mbebusem,” the Ewe “lookdown,” the Ga “abe,” the Sisala “namaka,” and the Dagbani, “naha.”

            When a speaker uses proverbs well, we say he really knows the language. Instead of a long speech, a good speaker sometimes uses proverbs or wise sayings to express the same ideas.

            Some of the functions of proverbs are the following:

(a) they adorn the speech and make it rich and beautiful,

(b) they bring out the main point of the matter for clear understanding,

(c) they make an otherwise long statement short,

(d) they make listeners pay attention to what is being discussed,

(e) they educate and teach morals.

            There are different proverbs for different situations. The Akan usually say: “Asem ba a, na abebu ba” (important matters or occasions call for their own proverbs). For instance, a proverb that will be used when a lazy child is being advised, will be different from when a hardworking child is being praised. Sometimes two or more proverbs may convey almost the same meaning. So although there are different proverbs for different situations, sometimes one proverb may be used for different situations.

            Most of our Ghanaian ideas about virtues are expressed in our proverbs, therefore, each proverb has a moral teaching. When a proverb is given, the listener tries to find out what lesson it is meant to teach. Most communities have proverbs which say, “We speak to the wise man in proverbs, not in plain language.” This means that the wise man is intelligent enough to understand proverbial language.

            Let us now find out how our proverbs can be grouped.

Classification of Proverbs:

It is not easy to group Ghanaian proverbs under particular headings. However, a careful study of proverbs form various communities may suggest the following classification:

(a) Proverbs that mention God, the gods, mother Earth, rivers, and other spirits of the universe.

(b) Proverbs about animals and men.

(c) Proverbs that deal with historical explanations or stories.

(d) Proverbs in which parts of the body such as ears, hands, eyes, and brain are mentioned.

(e) Proverbs about animals.

(f) Proverbs which deal with objects of nature and art, e.g., domestic or wild animals, plants and minerals.

(g) Proverbs which refer to the general state of man, his fate, and his destiny.

(h) Proverbs that deal with the domestic, social, and political life of the people.

(i) Proverbs which refer to the intellectual conditions of man, e.g., wisdom, foolishness, rudeness, etc.

(j) Proverbs that refer to moral values, e.g., patriotism, love, unity, hard work, patience, justice, truthfulness, loyalty.

(a) Some Akan Proverbs, Their literal Meanings and Teachings:


Meaning and Teaching

1. Oba nyansafo, wobu no be na wonka no asem.

We speak to the wise man in proverbs and not in plain language. (There is no need to talk at length to an intelligent person.)

2. Abofra bo nwaw na ommo akyekyere.

A child breaks the shell of the snail but not that of the tortoise. (Do not attempt what is beyond your strength or do not be overambitious.)

3. Aberewa hwe akoko na akoko hwe aberewa.

The old woman cares for the chicken and the chicken cares for the old woman. (When someone cares for you, you are also expected to care for that person when he is in need.)

4. Obi do wo a na oba wo fi.

It is when someone loves you that he comes to your house. (A person keeps the company of the one he loves.)

5. Oba dueduefo nto ne na funu. Oba kyimakyimafo nto ne na fun.

The wandering child does not see the body of his dead mother before burial. (A person who does not keep in touch with his home usually misses important occasions, e.g., the burial of a close relative.)

6. Obi nnim a, obi kyere.

If one does not know, another man teaches him. (Men depend on one mother for knowledge.)

7. Woto wo bo ase gua (dwa) ntetea a, wohu ne nsono.

If you patiently dissect an ant, you see its intestines. (With patience difficulties can be overcome.)

8. Obosom anim woko no mprensa.

The oracle is always consulted three times. (If at your first attempt you do not succeed, try, try, and try again until you succeed.)

9. Ayonkogoro nti na okoto annya ti.

It was because of bad friends that the crab has no head. (One should be careful in making friends.)

10. Onyame nkum wo a, wonwu.

If it is not the will of God, you will not die. (This shows that everything depends on God.)


(b) Some Ewe Proverbs and Their Moral Teachings:


Meaning and Teaching

1. Devi gba abobogo megbaa klogo o.

The child who breaks a snail’s shell cannot break a tortoise’s shell. (People should do things according to their capabilities.)

2. Wometsoa doku eve dea alogo deka me o.

You cannot crack two palm nuts in the mouth at the same time. (Do one thing at a time.)

3. Detsi vivi ye hea zikpui.

Tasty soup draws seats (people) to itself. (It pays to be good and nice to people.)

4. Wo metsoa nku eve kpen ahodiabo me o.

You do not look into a bottle with both eyes, and if you try it, it is only your nose that looks into it. (It does not pay to be greedy. You lose in the long run.)

5. Dze mekafua edokui o.

Salt does not praise itself. (Do not boast of your good qualities. Let people see the goodness in you.)

6. Akuviato fe agbleme da dzia vi do.

A lazy man’s farm is a breeding ground for snakes. (It does not pay to be lazy so try to work hard.)

7. Nyaseto menye abaka o.

The ear that heeds words of advice is not as big as a basket. (A well behaved child does not need much talking to.)

8. Dzigbodi wotso koa anyidi (dide) hafi kpon efe doka.

If you dissect an ant patiently, you will see its entrails. (With patience, you can accomplish the most difficult task.)

9. Ati deka metua xo o.

One pole cannot build a house. (In unity is strength, therefore, one should learn to work together with others.)

10. Atadi bia ha no le eme.

You find a worm even in a ripe pepper. (However, bad a situation is, we should learn to cope with it.)

(c) Some Sisala Proverbs (Namaka) and Their Moral Teachings:


Meaning and Teaching

1. Tel dintel ninga gbele.

When I fall and you fall, it is fair play. (All must help to maintain a healthy relationship.)

2. Keng di mi kong kiase gbanga.

If you hold and I hold too tightly, it will break the calabash. (Learn to exercise patience.)

3. Loriming ni bula jung dong a lo jiming sipang na bi gbele nga.

The cockroach said, “To throw your friend before a hen is no joke.” (Do not expose your friend to danger.)

4. Summo bi nandong kene.

A poor person has no friends. (If you are poor, people do not have any respect for you.)

(d) Some Dagbani Proverbs (naha) and Their Moral Teachings:


Meaning and Teaching

1. Tin yi woga, tin mbe di tooni.

If a town is far, there is another farther away. (You might think you are the only one who has got the most difficult problem. Someone else has a more difficult problem than yours.) It is used to teach perseverance.

2. Nubil yimi ku pii kugli.

One finger cannot pick a stone. (When two or more people do a piece of work together, it is much easier.)

3. Nan barizi ni tin tula.

A person who rides a bicycle or horse does not know that the ground is hot. (If all goes well with you in life, do not think it is the same with everybody.)

4. Nuni nyeri o dini.

Who sees his own? (People do not usually talk about their own problems. They rather talk about those of others.)

5. Kpaai bahi bi vari zaa.

Don’t cry over spilt milk. (Do not worry so much about problems. Rather think of how best you can solve them.)

6. Sunulo vela di malibu nto.

Patience is good, but hard to practice. (Good things are achieved through hard work.)

(e) Some Ga Proverbs (Abe) and Their Moral Teachings:


Meaning and Teaching

1. Kaa foo lofro.

A crab cannot give birth to a bird. (A person shows the character of his parents.)

2. Wuobi ninsweo enyo najiahe le eni enuo aga shuo.

The chicken that plays around the legs of the mother always gets worms to eat. (A child who is always obedient gets what he wants.)

3. Moko enumee tsohe ni eya Nye kooyoo abo.

No-one leaves the tree to embrace the oil. (No-one leaves a good thing for a bad one. Make a good decision.)

4. Keji oke Kweinye yeee le oheee eyolo.

If you are not on good terms with Kwei’s mother, you do not buy her soup. (It is essential to settle our differences to enable us live peacefully.)

5. Atswere niji Otswere le mra ajeo ni ohereo.

A blow which is yours should be received without delay. (Do not keep on postponing a piece of work or something you have to do. Whatever needs to be done must be done without delay.)

(f) Some Dangme Proverbs (Abe) and Their Moral Teachings:


Meaning and Teaching

1. Mie nyam hisi ne afia etehe.

You do not beat the side of a drum when the vellun (top) is here. (Do not be afraid to tell a person that he is at fault.)

2. Noko new emuo nine kowwe emam.

No-one points his left finger at his hometown. (Be proud of your village, town or country.)

3. Jukweyo le ahua etoso se pi alu.

A child should only attempt to break the shell of a snail but no that of a tortoise. (Do not attempt to do what is beyond your power.)

4. Le ne o nge mioe mi nyo ajeo.

You drain off water from the canoe in which you travel. (Try to better the situation in which you find yourself.)

5. Ke O pia ati wuu oma pia kokwe hu hoo.

If you blame the cat, you must blame the mouse as well. (Do not try to blame others for your mistakes. One must try to accept blame and make corrections.)

6. Ke godotse ke o boo a fiewe ese.

If a mad man snatches your cover cloth from you, you do not follow him naked to retrieve it. (Avoid hasty actions that will show that you are foolish. Be patient in taking decisions.)

(g) Some Nzema Proverbs (Mrelebule)  and Their Moral Teachings:


Meaning and Teaching

1. Baka koye engola engakyi ehoayele.

One tree cannot be a forest. (It takes two or more people to do a piece of work well.)

2. Toonwo engo toonwo.

No condition is permanent. (Do not show off because of your position.)

3. Saa wo akole tunli nu bo a wo edea o.

If the inside of your chicken coop smells, it is yours. (Take good care of whatever is yours.)

4. Nyamenle a kposa akole alee a.

It is God who chews the food for the cock. (God provides for all His creatures.)

5. Nohale le ayile.

Truth is a cure. (Learn to tell the truth. It will make you free.)

6. Menlidoonwo zo Nyamenle a be kome embu.

If a lot of people are carrying God, there is no tiredness. (Unity is strength.)

Riddles, Puzzles, and Their Significance in Ghanaian Languages:

Riddles and puzzles are some of the oral traditions or verbal art forms that have been handed down to us by our forefathers. In Book One, we learned about Ghanaian games and their usefulness. We mentioned riddles and puzzles as some of the games we play.

            Riddles play a very important role in our language. The Akan call riddles ‘aborome’ or ‘ebisaa,’ the Ga, ‘Adzenu loo-Adzenu ba.’ They are also known as ‘Salinloha’ in Dagbani. How do you call them in your local language? Riddles are important because they help children to think very fast and decide what to do. The game is presented in the form of questions and answers. Riddles also help to test the intelligence of children. For example, they help them to know the character and behavior of things around them. Therefore, for a person to be good at riddles, he must have knowledge about the things in his environment. This will help him to give correct answers to riddles.

            Puzzles are questions or problems difficult to understand or answer. They are also problems designed to test a person’s knowledge, skill, patience, or temper. Ghanaian puzzles try to test the patience and endurance of people. Some Ghanaian puzzles teach children that even if someone insults them or asks them insulting questions, they should control their temper and answer them politely. For instance, if in a play the Akuapem child says to a friend, “Megye wo owomma a otweri bamba ho” (I am only demanding a pestle that is resting against a wall), this puzzle implies that it is being rumored that he is fond of eating in other people’s houses, so he should stop and eat in his own house. And if a Fante child says, “Ankye Prukusuw ankye,” it means the friend’s body smells and he should be aware of it. If the other child understands the puzzle well and does not control his temper, he would quarrel with his friend. On the other hand, if the statement is true, he would control his temper and accept the statement in good faith. He will then begin to take good care of his body. Therefore, the most important thing about such puzzles is that children learn to control their temper while playing with their friends. Try to find more examples.

Presentation of Riddles and Puzzles:

Riddles are usually played by two or more children. If the game is between two people, one of them asks the questions and the other gives the answers. Then they change places. In group riddling one of the players must be a leader who should have a good knowledge about riddles. This leader asks the questions or riddles. He asks the first player in the opposing team a riddle. If he answers it correctly, the group claps. If the answer is wrong, the riddle is passed on to the next person till the correct answer is given. This goes on till all the members in the opposing team have had their turn. They change the order. The leader of the opposing group now asks the members of the other group the questions. For example, if the leader asks “Who is cassava’s witness,” the correct answer is fire, because it is after cooking that we can determine whether the cassava is good or not. This can only be done by using fire. Therefore, fire is the witness.

            Some riddles may not have a simple answer like the example above. Some begin with explanatory statements. For example, ‘My father sent me to call somebody for him. The person arrived before me. Who was that person? The correct answer is a fruit. But there can be more than one correct answer to this riddle. The person the messenger is sent to call is the fruit that is picked or cut from a tree. Any fruit that falls down from the tree before the climber comes down is the correct answer to the riddle.

            Each community has a way of presenting a riddle. Among the Ga, for example, the leader will begin by saying “Adzenu loo,” then the group will reply “Adzenu ba.” The leader will then ask the first child, “Jimiji” or “Meniji” (What is it…?) This will be followed by the riddle. Some Akan will begin by saying, “Agya reko, ogyaa me ade bi, ade no…” (When my father was leaving, he left me with something, that thing…) This is then followed by the actual riddle. The Ewe, on the other hand, begin by saying, “Mise alobelo loo” (listen to a riddle), and the response is “Alobalo neva” (let the riddle come). These introductions make the children pay attention to the riddle.

(a) Some Dagbani Riddles (Salinloha) and Their Solutions:

1. N Vim (What smells good?)

            Answer: Katin taani (Shea-nut in a distance.)

2. Mani n chani ka di be nteem, ka be n ynanga? (What walks before and behind me?)

            Answer: Seli (The street or the road)

3. Lahizibu lahizibibu? (What thing is wonderful indeed?)

            Answer: Wahu ka naba ka duri tia (A snake is wonderful because it climbs trees although it has no legs)

4. Mani n son n lanifu ti bi lan nya-li (I have dropped a coin but cannot find it)

            Answer: Wintori (Saliva, because when it drops from your mouth you can’t find it any more)

(b) Some Ga Riddles (Adzenu loo) and Their Solutions

1. Mitse matsu ha mi le samfle sonn (My father built me a house full of windows)

            Answer: ‘Yaa.’ (A net).

2. Mitse shi tsu ha mi le samfle be he. (My father left me with a house without a window)

            Answer: Wuo wolo. (An egg)

3. Mitse tsu mi ni mi ya tse moko ke ba le boni mi baa le eba momo (My father sent me to call a friend, by the time I returned, the friend was already there).

            Answer: Akokoshi. (Coconut)

4. Asraafoi pii ke (ameml) nao kome (A battalion of soldiers with one belt)

            Answer: Blo. (Abroom)

5. Nokole ni abole le ewo to nanni (There is something created by God that wears ear-rings).

            Answer: Kropooto. (The coal pot)

(c) Some Fante Riddles (Ebisaa) and Their Solutions

1. Nyimpa a wodzi gua biara nyina woye baahen? (How many people engage in trading?)

            Answer: Woye beenu, nyia oton na nyia oto anaa se odzetomfo na odzetofo. (They are two, the one who is selling and the one who is buying, the buyer and the seller.)

2. Nkyia ne mfaso Nye den? (What is the usefulness of greeting?)

            Answer: W’apow mu e. (“How are you?”, because it follows a greeting.)

3. Eben edziban na Boadze dze ahye daadze no? (What food has God already cooked and kept under the earth?)

            Answer: Atadwe. (Tiger nut)

4.Eben abowa na owo wiadze yi mu a etsiben nnka no da no? (What animal on earth has never had a headache?)

            Answer: Koto. (Crab, because it hasn’t got a head so it can never have a headache.)

5. Ebenadze na se ofi aborokyir reba a onnserew, na se itsia n’ayeradze ara a nna cafee ne se how reserew no? (what comes from Europe which doesn’t laugh, but as soon as you step on its lower abdomen, it starts laughing?)

            Answer: Dadzefir (A trap, because when you step on it, you are caught in it.)

(d) Some Common Riddles

The following are some riddles given in their literal form. Try to find answers to them. The answers you give might depend on what happens in your community.

1. There is something which always wears a hat. What is it?

2. There is something which is always dancing ‘agbadza.’ What is it?

3. Two people were walking in the rain. One got soaked, the other didn’t. Who are they?

4. My father gave me a cloth to fold, but I have not been able to fold it. What is it?

5. There is somebody, when you send him, he will follow you. Who is that?

6. There is somebody, when you send him to fetch water for you to drink, he will never go but if you fetch the water yourself, he will be the first person to drink some of it. Who is he?

7. There is something that is not eaten but as soon as it touches your finger, you lick it. What is it?

/* ]]> */