Zulu Proverbs

Wisdom and Wit From South Africa

Zulu dancers
Zulu dancers from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Richard I'Anson/Getty Imaegs

Much of Africa's history has been passed on through the generations orally. One consequence of this is that traditional wisdom has been crystallized in the form of proverbs.

Zulu Proverbs

Here is a collection of proverbs attributed to the Zulu of South Africa.

  1. You can learn wisdom at your grandfather's feet, or at the end of a stick. - Meaning: If you pay attention to what your elders are telling you and follow their advice, you won't have to learn things the hard way through experience. If you don't absorb what they have to say, you will have to learn your lessons by making mistakes and accepting the often-painful consequences.
  2. A walking man builds no kraal. - Meaning: A kraal is a homestead. If you keep moving, you won't settle down or be forced to settle down.
  3. You can not know the good within yourself if you can not see it in others. - Meaning: If you want to build self-esteem, you need to practice looking for good qualities in others and appreciating them. This in itself is a virtue, which will build goodness in you.
  4. When you bite indiscriminately, you end up eating your own tail. - Meaning: Think before you act, especially when acting out of anger or fear. Plan your actions carefully so you don't make things worse.
  5. The lion is a beautiful animal when seen at a distance. - Meaning: Things aren't always as they seem at first glance, so be careful what you wish for; it may not be what is best for you.
  6. The bones must be thrown in three different places before the message must be accepted. - Meaning: This refers to a divination ritual; you should consider a question multiple times in multiple ways before reaching a decision.
  7. Guessing breeds suspicion. - Meaning: When you don't have all of the facts, you may come to false conclusions or experience paranoia. It's better to wait for solid evidence.
  8. Even immortals are not immune to fate. - Meaning: Nobody is too big to take a fall. Your wealth, intelligence, and success won't protect you from random negative events.
  9. You cannot fight an evil disease with sweet medicine. - Meaning: Fight fire with fire rather than turning the other cheek. This proverb advises war over diplomacy and not showing mercy to an enemy.
  10. Old age doesn't announce itself at the gate of the kraal. - Meaning: Old age sneaks up on you; it doesn't simply arrive one day when you are expecting it.
  11. Almost doesn't fill a bowl. - Meaning: You don't get partial credit for a failure; you will still suffer the consequences of the failure. You must complete a task and carry through to enjoy success. Don't bother to use the excuse that you tried and you almost succeeded. This is similar to Yoda's, "Do. There is no try." 
  12. Even the most beautiful flower withers in time. - Meaning: Nothing lasts forever, so enjoy it while you have it.
  13. The sun never sets that there has not been fresh news. - Meaning: Change is the one constant.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Zulu Proverbs." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, thoughtco.com/zulu-south-african-proverbs-43389. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2021, September 8). Zulu Proverbs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/zulu-south-african-proverbs-43389 Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Zulu Proverbs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/zulu-south-african-proverbs-43389 (accessed April 2, 2023).