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  • Writer's pictureChuka Momah

Igbo Proverbs & Meanings

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

An Igbo proverb, opines one of the Igbo prominent sons, Chinua Achebe, "is the palm oil with which words are eaten." Igbo proverbs are not only central to the propagation of Igbo culture, they are in fact the foremost factor in formal and familiar speeches and in other forms of popular communication. [1]

A good Igbo idiomatic expression, either proverb or parable, is devised to enliven and enchant. The listeners not only smile or laugh and show appreciation, they are also compelled to think. Rarely do the Igbo bother to explain proverbs, except of course to kids and social nymphets who ask. Listeners are expected to figure out proverbs for themselves, draw their own conclusions, and follow the gist of the talk. [1]

Note: There are many dialectical differences and various versions of these idiomatic expressions, and they can be changed as a speaker deems appropriate

The following are sourced from (see [1])

Eze mbe si na nsogbu bu nke ya, ya jiri kworo ya n'azu Lit: The tortoise said that trouble is its own; that's why it carries trouble on its back Exp: One should try and shoulder one's own burden

Nwaanyi muta ite ofe mmiri mmiri, di ya amuta ipi utara aka were suru ofe. Li: If a woman decides to make the soup watery, the husband will learn to dent the foofoo before dipping it into the soup. Exp: one should learn to change tactics to suit a situation.

O na-abu a si nwata wuba ahu, o saba afo ya. Lit: Tell a child to wash his body, he washes his stomach. Exp: This is a sign of immaturity.

Agwo emeghi nke o jiri buru agwo, umuaka achiri ya hie nku. Lit: If a snake fails to show its venom, little kids will use it in tying firewood. Exp: There are times when one defends ones capability.

Onwu egbuchughi ji e jiri chu aja, e mesie o pue ome. Lit: If the yam used in sacrifice does not die prematurely, it will eventually germinate. Exp: Things will eventually improve despite the present difficulties.

Azu na-eloghi ibe ya adighi ebu. Lit: A fish that does not swallow other fishes does not grow bigger. Exp: There are occasions where one acts without qualms.

Isi kotara ebu ka ebu na-agba. Lit: It is the head that disturbs the wasp that the wasp stings. Exp: Used in warning trouble makers about serious consequences.

E tie dike n'ala, a nu uzu ya. Lit: Knock a valiant man to the ground and the shouts will be tremendous. Exp: The downfall of a famous man attracts public attention.

O bu mmuo ndi na-efe na-egbu ha. Lit: It is the deity that people worship that kills them. Exp: A reference to the efficacy of people's belief.

O na-abu akota ihe ka ubi, e lee oba. Lit: Whilst farming, if one encounters what is bigger than the farm, one sells the barn. Exp: One who incurs what is beyond one's ability may have to look for a solution from a source of greater capability than himself. (or, there are things we encounter in life that overwhelm our ability to handle them)

E gbuo dike n'ogu uno, e ruo n'ogu agu e lote ya. Lit: Kill a warrior during skirmishes at home, you will remember him when fighting enemies. Exp: Don't destroy your leaders.

Ewu nwuru n'oba ji abughi agu gburu ya. Lit: A goat that dies in a barn was not killed by hunger. Exp: He has the means but his undoing is laziness.

A ma ka mmiri si were baa n'opi ugboguru? Lit: Who knows how water entered into the stalk of the pumpkin? Exp: Who can explain this puzzle?

A chuo aja ma a hughi udele, a mara na ihe mere be ndi mmuo. Lit: If the vulture fails to hover at the end of a sacrifice, then you know that something happened in the land of spirits. Exp: The regulars must be around otherwise something is amiss.

Si kele onye nti chiri; enu anughi, ala anu. Lit: Salute the deaf; if the heavens don't hear, the earth will hear. Exp: Let us do the correct thing, there are those who will understand.

Nwunye awo si na di atoka uto, ya jiri nuta nke ya kworo ya n'azu. Lit: The female toad said that husband is so sweet that when she got married, she carried her husband permanently on the back. Exp: A humorous proverb used in cajoling women into loving their husbands.

Ugo chara acha adighi echu echu Lit: A mature eagle feather will ever remain pure. Exp: One well trained will stand the test of time.

Anaghi a no n'otu ebe e kili mmonwu Lit: You don't have to stand in only one place, watching a masquerade. Exp: There are multiple options one can employ to accomplish an objective.

More Proverbs

· Ihe di be evu di be añu [What is in the hornet's nest is in the bee's hive.]

· Akpataghi aku na-akpata ntukwuba onu. [Destitution breeds disdain.]

· Udene na egbe anaghi azo nri: udene na-eri ozu; egbe na-ebu na nkike. [The vulture and the kite do not scramble for food: the vulture is a scavenger; the kite, a predator.]

· Kama mmanya ga-esere ogo na ogo okwu, ya waa n'uzo [Instead a pot of wine will breed animosity among in-laws, let it break on the way.]

· Onye riri osisi oji kpaa ya nku ka o nwere ike: anaghi ari enu oke oji kwa daa. [While on top of iroko tree, gather all the firewood you can: it is not every day that one scales the great iroko.]

· Anaghi eje akwa onye kwulu udo [No one attends the funeral of one that commits suicide]

· Atulu na-acho ipu mpi jee jua ebune ka ekwo di ya. [A sheep that will grow horns should ask the ram how its neck feels.]

· Anaghi eji na aguu na-agu noo ukwara. [No one swallows phlegm to appease the pangs of hunger]

· Akpara akwu bu akpara-akwu; ibulu ishi akwu bu ohi. [To extract a palm nut is exactly that --to extract a palm nut; to take the entire head of palm nut is stealing]

· Ishi kote evu: evu agbaa ya. [It is the head that disturbs the hornet's nest that pays.]

· Ekwughiekwu mere onu; anughianu mere nti. [Unspoken, blame the mouth; unheard, blame the ear.]

· Obu onye ga-aka nwaanyi ajo mmuo gburu nwa mara maka amuosu. [Who will know better the evils of witchcraft than the woman who lost a child to evil spirits.]

· Onye vu ozu enyi anaghi eji ukwu akpa mpuzu. [He who carries the carcass of an elephant does not search for crickets with his legs.]

· Ura ga-eju onye nwuru anwu afo. [A dead person shall have all the sleep necessary.]

· Onye ite abughi onye ahia [A clay-pot retailer is not really in business.]

· Okuko na-aboputa mma na-egbu ya. [The fowl digs out the blade that kills it.]

· Ukpala gbabara n'ikpo okuko na-ala ala mmuo. [The grasshopper that runs into the mist of fowls ends up in the land of spirits.]

· Ndi na-eje mposi abali na-ahu ukpana ndi mmuo. [Those who defecate at night see the ghost grasshopper.]

· Onye hapu onu ya, uguru arachaa ya. [If one fails to lick his lips, the harmattan will do it.]

· Okuko si na ihe ya ji-ele anya n'enu ma ya na añu mmiri bu na ihe na-egbu si n'igwe abia. [The chicken says it looks up when drinking water because what kills it comes from the sky.]

· Ijiji na-enweghi onye ndumodu na-eso ozu ala n'inyi. [A fly that has no counselor follows the corpse to the grave.]

· "Nwunye anyi, nwunye anyi": ka ndeli bia ka anyi mara onye o bu nwunye ya. ["Our wife, our wife": come midnight and we will know whose wife she really is.]

· Ula towa uto, ekwowe ya ekwowe. [When sleep becomes enjoyable, we snore.]

· "Nwa anwuna, nwa anwuna": nwa nwuo ka anyi mara ma chi agaghi efo. ["May the child not die, may the child not die": Let it die, and let's see if the day will not break.]

· O bialu be onye abiagbuna ya, mgbe o ga-ala mkpumkpu apukwana ya n'azu. [May one's visitor not constitute a problem, so that on his departure he will not leave with a hunchback.]

· Nwa ovu na-eto, o di ka o ga-aka nne ya. [When the baby wren is growing, it looks like it would be bigger than its mother.]

· Okuko na-arogoro ite onu, chetekwe mma gburu ya. [The chicken frowns at the cooking pot, ignoring the knife that killed it.]

· Ihe ka-nte bata n'onu nte, nte etefu. [When something greater than the pigmy cricket enters its hole, it takes off.]

· A gbara aka na-azo ana, onye nwe ji a na-ako ji. [If you dispute land ownership empty-handed, the person who has yams will be planting them.]

· Onye bulu ihe isi, ijiji esoro ya. [The fly follows the person who is carrying a smelly stuff.]

· Uzu na-amaghi akpu ogene lee egbe anya n'odu. [The blacksmith who does know how to forge a metal gong should look at the tail of a kite.]

· Oke oshimmiri anokataghi rie onye obula nke o na-ahughi ukwu ya anya. [The ocean never swallows a person with whose leg it does not come in contact. ]

· Onye buru chi ya uzo, o gbagbue onwe ya n'oso. [He who walks before his godly guardian does the race of his life]

· Onye na-acho igba oso si na-aroro ya anya · [A person who has plans to flee contends that someone made an evil eye at him.]

· Ulili si na-ejekete ije si tuo nkwa oso maka ihe oso e mee. [The ground squirrel says he who walks should sometimes break into a trot, in case the need to run arises.]

· Okwulu anaghi amiri ote ofe.

[A master chef is not blessed with a good harvest of okra.]

· Mmiri riri enyi ka mbe huru na-awa ogodo: o ga-efe mmiri a efe ka o ga-awu ya awu? [The tortoise gears up besides a river that swallowed an elephant: is it going to fly over this river or just jump over?]

· Ohia woro gi nku, sere gi onu [The forest that denies you firewood has massaged your neck.]

· O bia mgbe Alio Ene gburu atu, ya biakwa ma atu zogbuo Alio Ene. [He who calls whenever Elder Ene kills a deer, let him call if the deer kicks the living daylight out of Elder Ene.]

· A na-asi onye e ji ugwo na agaghi akwu ya ugwo e ji ya, onye e ji ugwo na-asi na e nye ya ewu ojii na ya agaghi ewe. [A creditor is being told he won't be paid, and he is saying he won't accept a black goat!]

Okuko mmanya na-egbu ahubeghi mmanwulu ara na-ayi.

[A drunken fowl has not met a mad fox.]

Bete anu, bete anu, o'u kwa n'ahu ehi?

Cut meat, cut meat, is it not from the body of a cow?

Obele mmanwu na-akpa ike maka na ijele anoghi nso.

[A small masquerade is powerful because a big masquerade is not around.]

Nwaanyi anaghi-eji na nwunyedi ya kwere ya ekene nke oma kpowa ya ogo.

[A woman does not regard her husband's other wife as sister-in-law just because she (her husband's other wife) accepted her greeting gracefully.]

A na-akwa akwa ndi oke tagbulu, ngwere ewere nnu na-eso eze ha.

While we mourn those who died from rat bites, lizards sharpen their teeth with salt.

Onye si na ya anaghi ata anu nkita, ya arakwala mmiri ofe ya.

[He who abhors dog meat should not eat dog-meat soup.]

A tuoro omara, o mara, a tuoro ofeke, o fenye ishi n'ohia. [If you tell a wise one, he understands; tell a dunce, he runs into the bush.]

Ukpana na-ere n'oku si na ya na-asha mmanu. [A grasshopper roasting over fire claims it is emitting fat.]

Were ire guo eze gi onu abughi na o nwere nke na-efu. [Count your teeth with your tongue does not mean you are losing any.]

Nti na-anaghi anu ihe, mgbe a ga-egburu ishi e gburu nti. The ear that won't hear, when the head is cut off, it goes.]

A furu nwata chete nna ya. [A child reminds folks of his father.]


1. Igbo Proverbs. Igbo Community Association of Nigeria, DFW Inc,

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Apr 02

Ndewo nu, Aham bu Nwamaka Nnoaham, Enwetere m admission na Washington university and I need to communicate with the Igbo union committee leaders on certain subjects that involves my migration process. I will be greatful if an Igbo Union representative can contact me for the discussion. thank you so much

Apr 02
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