If there’s one thing the Igbo people of Nigeria are good at, it is the art of telling ilu (proverbs), a treasure of wisdom handed down by their ancestors.

While some people may have forgotten them, the rest of us don’t need to.

From prudent sayings on wisdom, encouragement, warnings, learning, patience, unity, and family, these Igbo proverbs will inspire you to be the best you can possibly be.

15 Igbo Proverbs and Their Meaning

1. Bad Habit

A bad habit that lasts more than a year may turn into a custom.

Meaning: It is self-explanatory

2. Advice

Knowing but not telling, it is what kills old men. Hearing but not heeding, it is what kills young men.

Meaning: An old man will be plagued by his conscience if something bad happens to a young man because he failed to advise him.

And a young man who refuses to heed the advice of old men. Will suffer the consequences.

3. Patience

The big game often appears when the hunter has given up the hunt for the day.

Meaning: Never give up, a patient Dog eats the fattest bone.

4. Laughter

Laughter does not show friendship or love.

Meaning: The behaviour of a person can conceal what is in his heart.

5. Repaying Debts

It is not the same mouth used to borrow palm kernels that is used to repay them.

Meaning: People are humble when they are in difficulties. When a person needs something, he uses soft words, but when he gets what he is seeking, he speaks harshly.

6. Nothing good comes easy

The world is like a goat’s udder. It does not yield any milk unless you punch and squeeze at it.

Meaning: Nothing good comes easy. To eat, you have to work hard.

7. Forgetfulness

When sickness is cured, the foolish man forgets the doctor who cured him. Forgetting things quickly.

Meaning: We are often quick to forget those who helped us during our time of need.

8. The Coward

We often stand in the house of a coward to point at where a brave man once lived.

Meaning: Because of his nature, cowards tend to live longer than brave men.

9. Exaggeration

A snake seen by one man can easily turn to a python.

Meaning: People tend to exaggerate an event when they know there were no other witnesses.

10. Patience

Don’t be a tortoise in a heap of shit and when it was time to bring him out, he yelled he couldn’t stand the smell of the shit.

Meaning: You should know when to complain and at the right time.

11. Make hay

He who starts gathering in the morning, before sunset will have their bags filled up.

Meaning: Make hay while the sun shines.

12. Experience is the best teacher

The old woman who provokes a fight and is not pushed to the ground, another day will provoke again.

Meaning: Until you experience something for yourself, you will never learn.

13. Beauty

When a once beautiful piece of cloth has turned into rags, no one remembers that it was woven by a master weaver.

Meaning: You are only as good as your handwork.

14. Unity

When people urinate together at a spot, it produces great bubbles.

Meaning: There is strength in numbers.

15. Secrets

It’s good for the wind to blow so it can expose the unclothedness of the chicken.

Meaning: Anything hidden will be revealed sooner or later.

Written by Steven Zimmerman

Artist, writer, poet and more.

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