igbo proverbs and meanings

Igbo Proverbs and Meanings: A Guide to Famous Igbo Parables

by Ikem Emmanuel

Igbo Proverbs and their Meanings hold significant relevance within Igbo culture. The saying ‘Ilu bu mmanu ndi Igbo ji eri okwu,’ which translates to ‘Proverbs are the oil with which the Igbo people eat words,’ underscores the pivotal role proverbs play in communication. Igbo proverbs also enrich the Igbo language and vocabulary, encapsulating the essence of native wisdom and cultural philosophy.


The significance of Igbo Proverbs and their Meanings is evident in the saying, ‘Onye aturu ilu kowara ya, ego eji luo nneya nara n’iyi.’ This proverb emphasizes the detrimental impact of failing to comprehend the meaning of a proverb, likening it to rendering one’s mother’s bride price useless. However, beyond the literal translation, it serves as a powerful symbol of the profound importance and deep appreciation that the Igbo people have for the use of proverbs in their language.


Significance of Igbo Proverbs and Meanings:



Within Igbo culture, the significance of proverbs transcends mere linguistic expression. These insightful sayings hold a profound place, serving as potent instruments for imparting values, sharing wisdom, and deepening the understanding of life’s complexities and moral principles. In the educational fabric of Igbo society, proverbs play a pivotal role, acting as vessels that convey indigenous folk philosophy, enrich the language, and attribute profound significance to human wisdom


Exploring Igbo Proverbs and their Meanings is essential for a comprehensive understanding of Igbo culture. These proverbs serve as a unique mode of expression for the Igbo people, enabling them to communicate profound messages concisely. It’s important to note that interpreting Igbo proverbs literally may lead to misunderstandings, as many require careful decoding. Only those deeply familiar with the Igbo language and culture can truly appreciate the nuanced meanings encapsulated within these linguistic treasures.


This blog seeks to shed light on some famous Igbo proverbs and their meanings, recognizing that it merely scratches the surface. The wealth of Igbo proverbs is vast and cannot be fully explored in a single teaching. For a comprehensive understanding, one may refer to a written dictionary or encyclopedia dedicated to Igbo proverbs.


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List of famous and popular Igbo proverbs and Meanings

1. Ukwa ruo oge ya o daa

Translation: When the breadfruit is completely ripe, it falls off the tree on its own.


Meaning: This proverb reflects on the inevitability of destiny and timing. It teaches us to appreciate the natural flow of life and trust in the inherent order of things. Just as fully ripe breadfruit falls from the tree on its own, certain events in our lives unfold when the time is right.

2. Oria gbuo Ozu, ya na ya awiri nawa

Translation: When a person dies from an illness, the illness goes with them to the grave.

Meaning: A cautionary tale about the consequences of being a nuisance or causing harm to others, emphasizing the interconnectedness of actions and consequences. The image of an illness being dragged along to the grave underscores the lasting impact of negative behavior.


3. O ji akwụ nyetu nchi, na nchi adịghị arị elu.

Translation: He who has palm fruit should share with the grasscutter, for the grasscutter cannot climb to obtain it.

Meaning: Encourages generosity and compassion, urging individuals to extend a helping hand to those who are less fortunate. The imagery of a grasscutter unable to climb to obtain palm fruit emphasizes the idea of helping those who may not have the means to help themselves.

4. Aga ekwe maka mgbagbu ghalu ogu?

Translation: Do we shun war/confrontation because of being shot/conflicts?


Meaning: Challenges the idea of avoiding conflict solely due to the fear of potential harm, encouraging thoughtful engagement in just causes, suggesting that sometimes, facing conflicts or challenges is necessary for the greater good.

5. Anyuko mamiri onu, ogba ufufu

Translation: When multiple people urinate in the same spot, it creates a foaming effect.

Meaning: Ingeniously conveys the value of collective action, emphasizing the strength derived from unity and collaboration. Just as the foaming effect is produced when individuals urinate in the same spot, working together can yield powerful results.

6. Okuko anaghi echefu onye chekwa ya n’udu mmiri

Translation: The chicken remembers the one who provided shelter during the rainy season.

Meaning: Expresses gratitude and enduring connection, highlighting the lasting impression of kindness and the enduring power of compassion. The chicken not forgetting the one who sheltered it during the rainy season underscores the importance of recognizing and appreciating acts of kindness.


7. Ogbu mma anaghi ekwe ka mma ga ya n’azu

Translation: A knife killer does not like the knife to be wielded behind his back.

Meaning: Illustrates the unease felt by those who engage in unethical practices when confronted with similar actions, even unintentionally. 

8. Ejighi akpata etufu aburu ogaranya

Translation: Nobody has ever become wealthy by gathering and spending recklessly at the same time.

Meaning: Advises against haphazardly accumulating and spending wealth simultaneously, promoting financial prudence and strategic planning. It promotes financial prudence and strategic planning and serves as a cautionary reminder about the importance of managing resources wisely.


9. Akpachaho eke, ogafe odudu oke

Translation: If you don’t move the python, it may intrude into your space.

Meaning: Encourages individuals to be proactive in setting and reinforcing boundaries, maintaining order, harmony, and security. The image of a python exceeding its boundary serves as a metaphor for the potential consequences of not establishing and defending personal or societal boundaries.

10. Nwata apuru juo ife gbulu Nnaya, ife gbulu Nnaya egbuo ya

Translation: If a child does not seek to know the cause of his father’s death, what killed his father might kill him.


Meaning: Imparts a profound lesson about understanding the challenges faced by one’s predecessors, emphasizing the importance of learning from the past.


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11. Nwata ma ndi nna ya amalugo ndi ichie

Translation: When a child honors their fathers, they honor their ancestors and ultimately God.

Meaning: Emphasizes the interconnectedness of familial respect, ancestral veneration, and divine acknowledgment. It suggests that honoring one’s parents extends to honoring one’s ancestors and, ultimately, a higher power.

12. Ome ife jide ofo

Translation: In all your dealings let justice and truth prevail.

Meaning: Encourages individuals to conduct themselves with integrity and a commitment to what is right, establishing a foundation for positive outcomes. It establishes a foundation for positive outcomes, emphasizing the importance of justice and truth in all dealings.

13. Oji ofo ga ana

Translation: Those who adhere to truth and justice will always emerge victorious.

Meaning: Emphasizes the triumph of individuals who adhere to principles of truth and justice, suggesting that sustained success follows ethical actions. It suggests that sustained success follows ethical actions, and those who stand by truth will ultimately prevail.

14. Ajughi aju eri na akpata ariaghi aria anwu

Translation: If certain things are eaten or certain actions are taken without asking questions, it could lead to fatal death without any warning signs.

Meaning: Serves as a cautionary reminder about the potential dangers in seemingly harmless actions or choices, emphasizing the importance of thorough scrutiny. It emphasizes the importance of thorough scrutiny before making decisions, highlighting the potentially fatal consequences of negligence.


15. Onye ajuju anaghi efu uzo

Translation: A person who asks enthusiastic questions is less likely to lose their way.

Meaning: Celebrates the positive outcomes of a curious and questioning mind, promoting continuous learning and curiosity in decision-making. It promotes continuous learning and curiosity in decision-making, suggesting that those who ask questions are less likely to go astray.

16. Onye ji igu ka ewu na eso

Translation: A goat will only follow the person holding the palm fronds (igu).

Meaning: Portrays a pragmatic view of human and animal behavior, highlighting the tendency for individuals to follow those who possess resources or qualities essential to their well-being. The image of a goat following one with palm fronds emphasizes the natural inclination to align with those who can provide essential support.

17. Obere onye kpata obere nku, nnukwu onye kpata nnukwu nku.

Translation: Let the child gather small firewood and the adult gather larger pieces.

Meaning: Encourages equity and fairness in the distribution of responsibilities, emphasizing age-appropriate tasks and proportional contribution. The metaphor of the infant fetching little firewood and the adult fetching plenty of firewood underscores the idea of fair distribution based on capability.

18. Ife afuro na ikpu nne ewu, afu ya na nke nwa ya oburu aru

Translation: What’s not seen in the anus of the she-goat is considered an abomination if seen in that of its child.

Meaning: Any undesirable trait or action witnessed in the offspring is deemed unacceptable, especially if it contrasts with the virtuous nature of the parent. It imparts wisdom about preserving family virtues and identity, cautioning against actions that may compromise the values and reputation of the family. The comparison of what’s seen in the anus of the she-goat to the child’s underscores the need to uphold family honor and values.

19. Nkwuto nwa ogaranya kariri ogbugbu ya

Translation: Destroying the image of a famed/rich/good person is worse than killing them.

Meaning: Highlights the significance of one’s reputation and the potential consequences of besmirching it, emphasizing the value of ethical behavior. It emphasizes the value of ethical behavior and the importance of maintaining a positive image. The comparison of destroying the image of a famed person to killing them underscores the severity of damaging one’s reputation.

20. Onye idedu anaghi ere ogwu, onye ujo anaghi eti mmanwu

Translation: A lazy person destroys the potency of a charm, and a fearful person cannot be initiated into the masquerade society.

Meaning: Encourages industriousness and emphasizes the importance of courage in delicate matters. The lazy person destroying the potency of a charm underscores the idea that dedication and effort are essential for spiritual or personal growth. The fearful person being unable to join the masquerade society highlights the necessity of courage in embracing tough responsibilities.

In exploring these twenty captivating Igbo proverbs and meanings, we’ve delved into a world rich with cultural nuances and timeless wisdom. Each proverb has unveiled layers of meaning, offering insights into life, relationships, and societal values. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey into the heart of Igbo philosophy as much as I have. But fear not, our exploration doesn’t end here. There’s so much more wisdom to unravel! Stay tuned for the next installment, where we’ll continue our exploration of Igbo proverbs in part two. Until then, thank you for joining me on this cultural odyssey, and I look forward to sharing more gems of wisdom with you in the future.


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