Swahili proverbs

From Quotes
The Impossible Generalized Man today is the critic who believes in loving those unworthy of love as well as those worthy—yet believes this only insofar as no personal risk is entailed. Meaning he loves no one, worthy or no. This is what makes him impossible.
Nelson Algren
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Methali za Kiswahili

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - R - S - T - U - V - W - Y - Z

A

  • Achekaye kovu hajaona jeraha.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who laughs at a scar hasn't seen a wound.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't insult what someone does if you don't fully understand the root of their actions.
  • Adhabu ya kaburi aijua maiti.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The torment of the grave is known only by the corpse.
    • Literal Meaning: Only the one in trouble knows the full measure of his situation.
  • Adui aangukapo mnyanyue.
    • Idiomatic Translation: When your enemy falls down, pick him up.
    • Literal Meaning: By our shared humanity we are compelled to help those in trouble, be they friend or enemy.
  • Adui ya mtu ni mtu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The enemy of a person is a person.
    • Literal Meaning: Most of our problems are caused by other people. Such is the nature of society.
  • Afadhali mchawi kuliko mfitini.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Better a witch doctor than a troublemaker.
    • Literal Meaning: A witch doctor is easy to spot quickly but a troublemaker works through underhandedness and deception and can cause more trouble than a witch doctor before he is detected. (?)
    • See Also: Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.
  • Afya ni bora kuliko mali.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Health is better than wealth.
    • Literal Meaning: All the possessions in the world can not compare to the blessing of a healty body.
  • Ajabu ya shingo kukataa kulala kitandani.
    • Idiomatic Translation: It is astonishing for the neck to refuse to lie down on the bed.
    • Literal Meaning: Something odd is happening when someone who normally loves something denies any interest in it.
  • Akili ni nywele, kila mtu ana zake.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Intelligence is like hair, everyone has their own type.
    • Literal Meaning: The types of intelligence amongst the minds of humanity are as varied as the types of hair.
  • Aliyekutweka ndiye atakayekutua.
    • Idiomatic Translations: One who lifts the load onto your head is indeed the one who will lift it off.
    • Literal Meaning: One who plants the tree will water it or God created you and will look after you.
  • Anayekueleza ya wengine atawaeleza mengine ya kwako.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who tells you about someone else's business will tell someone else about your's.
    • Literal Meaning: A gossip isn't a good friend.
  • Aninyimaye mbazi kanipunguzia mashuzi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: He who denies me beans rids me of farts.
    • Literal Meaning: One who refuses your request for help prevents you from accumulating debt.
  • Asiyefunzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: He who is not taught by his mother will be taught by the world.
    • Literal Meaning: If you don't heed the lessons your parents teach you, you will suffer the lessons under the cruel tutelage of life.
  • Asiyekunywa kwenye chemchemi hunywa kwenye mto.
    • Idiomatic Translation: He who doesn't drink from the spring will drink from the river.
    • Literal Meaning: If you can't get what you want you'll take whatever you can get.
  • Asiyekuwepo machoni na moyoni hayupo.
    • Translation: One who is not in your eyes is not in your heart.
    • Meaning: You forget about the people you don't see on a regular basis. The opposite of "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."
  • Asiyeona aibu zake asione za mwenziwe.
    • Translation: He who doesn't see his own failings should not see those of his fellow man.
    • Meaning: Don't criticize someone else's faults when you have them too.
    • See Also: Matthew 7:5
  • Atekaye maji mtoni asitukane mamba.
    • Translation: One who draws water at the river shouldn't curse the crocodile.
    • Meaning: Don't insult the people whose help you will need later (or at least the people that you want to not destroy you).
  • Avumaye baharini papa kumbe wengine wapo.
    • Translation: The most famous creature in the ocean is the shark, but it is not the only fierce creature there.
    • Meaning: Don't blame one evil person for your troubles, there are lots of bad people in the world. Or, don't be afraid of doing something just because someone else might do it better.

B

  • Badiliko kwa mjukuu uanze na babu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Change in the grandchild begins with the grandfather.
    • Literal Meaning: Change happens slowly. If you desire to truly make a change you must start early.
  • Bahati ikipiga hodi ni lazima ufungue mlango mwenyewe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: When good fortune knocks you have to open the door yourself.
    • Literal Meaning: When you're given an opportunity you must take it without fear or hesitation.
  • Bahari haivukwi kwa kuogolea.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The ocean can't be crossed by swimming.
    • Literal Meaning: Some things just can't be done by relying only on your own efforts.
  • Bahari iliko ndiko mito iendako.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Rivers flow to the sea that is there.
    • Literal Meaning: Wealth flows to the wealthy.
  • Banda likikushinda jenga kibanda.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you can't build a hut, build a lean-to. [Note: kibanda is the diminutive form of banda and both have multiple meanings.]
    • Literal Meaning: If you can't solve the big problems at least work on the little ones.
  • Bata mtaga mayai usimchinje kwa tamaa ya wengi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Don't slaughter a duck that's hatching eggs if you want more ducks.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't destroy the good things that you have if you want more in the future.
    • See Also: ...kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
  • Bila silaha usiingie vitani.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Don't go to war without weapons.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't begin a project without the proper tools.

C

  • Chaka la simba halilali nguruwe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A pig doesn't sleep in the lion's thicket.
    • Literal Meaning: The weak don't hang around in a powerful person's territory.
  • Cha mlevi huliwa na mgema.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The money of the drunkard is eaten by the palm wine tapper.
    • Literal Meaning: Whenever a drunk gets a little money it is soon in the hands of the wine seller. An exhortation to be thrifty and not run after short-lived pleasures.
  • Chombo hakiendi ikiwa kila mtu anapiga makasia yake.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The vessel doesn't go if everyone rows in their own way.
    • Literal Meaning: In order to get anything done a group of people must work together.
  • Chovya chovya humaliza buyu ya asali.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Taste by taste empties the honey jar.
    • Literal Meaning: A small drain on a limited resource will finish it eventually.
  • Chui naye ana mke.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Even a leopard has a wife.
    • Literal Meaning: Everyone, even the worst person, has someone who loves and respects them.
  • Chui hakumbatiwi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A leopard can't be hugged.
    • Literal Meaning: An enemy is an enemy. You shouldn't welcome them or treat them as friends.
  • Chura huweza kumwua tembo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A frog can kill an elephant [by climbing up into its trunk].
    • Literal Meaning: Small things are capable of doing great harm. Don't disregard them out of hand.

D

  • Dalili ya mvua ni mawingo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Clouds are a sign of rain.
    • Literal Meaning: You can predict your success by watching for the right signs.
  • Daraja livuke ulifikiapo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Cross the bridge when you reach it.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't worry about problems that haven't come up yet.
    • See Also: "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."
  • Daraja ukilibomoa ujue kuogolea.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you destroy the bridge you'd better know how to swim.
    • Literal Meaning: If you intend to destroy something that is useful to you (a relationship, quit your job, etc.) you'd best be prepared to get along without it.
  • Dawa kubwa ya hasira ni kuchelea.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The greatest medicine for sadness is patience.
    • Literal Meaning: Being patient and thinking before you act is the best way to prevent sadness.

E

  • Elimu maisha si vitabu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Education is life not books.
    • Literal Meaning: You can't learn everything you need to know from books. Some things you learn from living.
  • Epuka wakusifuo siku zote.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Avoid those who constantly praise you.
    • Literal Meaning: Sycophancy isn't true praise but rather a sign that someone wants something from you.

F

  • Farasi hamuwawezi, tembo mtawalishani?
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you can't feed a horse, how are you going to feed an elephant?
    • Literal Meaning: If you can't succeed at something simple, why would you try to do something more complicated?
  • Fimbo ya mbali haiuwi nyoka.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A distant stick won't kill a snake.
    • Literal Meaning: If you get into trouble don't rely on people who aren't present to help you; solve the problem on your own.

G

  • Ganda la muwa la jana chungu kaona kivuno.
    • Idiomatic Translation: In the discarded husk of yesterday's sugar cane the ant sees a harvest.
    • Literal Meaning: What is worthless to one is of great value to another.
    • See Also: One man's trash is another man's treasure.
  • Gome la udi si la mnuka uvundo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The bark of a fragrant incense tree isn't like that of one that stinks.
    • Literal Meaning: If you surround yourself with bad people you will become like them.

H

  • Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Little by little fills the measure.
    • Literal Meaning: Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Hakuna masika yasiyokuwa na mbu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: There isn't a rainy season without mosquitos.
    • Literal Meaning: With anything good comes something that is bad.
    • See Also: Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • Haraka, haraka haina baraka.
    • Translation: Quickly, quickly has no blessing.
    • Meaning: Haste makes waste.
  • Hatua ndefu hufupisha mwendo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A long stride shortens the journey.
    • Literal Meaning: One step at a time will get you to the end of a large task.
  • Heri kufa macho kuliko kufa moyo.
    • Literal Translation: Better the death of the eyes than the death of the heart.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Better to go blind than to lose heart.
    • Literal Meaning: It is better to go blind than to lose your will to do anything.
  • Heri kujikwaa kidole kuliko kujikwaa ulimi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Better to stumble over your toe than to stumble over your tongue.
    • Literal Meaning: It is better to stub your toe than to speak carelessly.
  • Heri nitakula na nini kuliko nitakula nini.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Better "what will I eat with" than "what will I eat".
    • Literal Meaning: It is better to have food and no fork than no food at all. Be grateful for the little you have.
  • Heri ya mrama kuliko kuzama.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Better to be tossed about than to sink.
    • Literal Meaning: It is better to suffer through small problems than to die completely.

I

  • Ila ya kikwapa kunuka pasipo kidonda.
    • Translation: The flaw of the armpit is that it stinks even though it is not a wound.
    • Meaning: If the armpit stunk because it was a bad wound then it could be healed but its stink is an intrinsic fault. We can't help our small character flaws as they are an innate part of us.
  • Iliyopita si ndwele, ganga ijayo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: That which has passed isn't a sickness, heal that which shall come.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't spend your time worrying about what has already happened; pay attention to what is happening now.
  • Imara ya jembe kaingoje shamba.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The power of the hoe stays on the farm.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't believe the hype about something until you've actually seen it working in its element.
  • Ipunguzwayo ni iliyojaa.
    • Idiomatic Translation: That which is reduced is that which is full.
    • Literal Meaning: Those who have much are the ones who are targets.
    • See Also: You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip.
  • Isipokuwasha hujairamba.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If it doesn't burn you, you haven't tasted it (hot pepper).
    • Literal Meaning: Don't listen to someone who objects to something they have no experience of.

J

  • Jambo usilolijua ni kama usiku wa giza.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A matter about which you know nothing is like a dark night.
    • Literal Meaning: You will not be able to easily comprehend things about which you know nothing.
  • Jicho halina pazia.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The eye doesn't have a curtain.
    • Literal Meaning: You can't draw a curtain across peoples' eyes. If you are doing something wrong and someone sees you it's not their fault but yours.
  • Jogoo hulia "uta wangu u kule".
    • Idiomatic Translation: The rooster crows "my bow is just over there" (to the chicken hawk).
    • Literal Meaning: Words without the actions to back them up are worthless.
  • Jogoo wa shamba haiwiki mjini.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The cock from the country doesn't crow in the city.
    • Literal Meaning: When someone who is familiar with one environment move to a different one they are no longer able to do things effectively.

K

  • Kazi mbaya siyo mchezo mzuri.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Bad work isn't good play.
    • Literal Meaning: Any work, even of the lowest kind, is more valuable than the best kind of playing.
  • Kelele za chura hazimkatazi ng'ombe kunywa maji.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The noise of a frog doesn't stop the cow from drinking water.
    • Literal Meaning: See Kelele za mwenye nyumba hazimkatazi mgeni kulala.
  • Kelele za mwenye nyumba hazimkatazi mgeni kulala.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The noise of the landlord doesn't prevent the renter from sleeping.
    • Literal Meaning: A person who wants help will ignore all the distractions and insults coming from the one they need the help from.
  • Kibuzi na kibuzi hununua jahazi.
    • Translation: Small goat by small goat buys a ship.
    • Meaning: By working for a small gain (e.g. selling a small goat) you only get a little way to your goal but eventually you will make it.
    • See Also: Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.
  • Kilio huanza mfiwa ndipo wa mbali wakaingia.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The bereaved begins the wailing so that those from afar can come and join in.
    • Literal Meaning: If you want others to help you you must begin by helping yourself.
  • Kinyozi hajinyoi na akijinyoa hujikata.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The barber doesn't cut his own hair and if he does he cuts himself.
    • Literal Meaning: No one is completely self sufficient; we all rely on each other.
  • Kivuli cha fimbo hakimfichi mtu jua.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The shade of a stick doesn't hide a person from the sun.
    • Literal Meaning: Someone with limited abilities (weak, poor, etc.) can't be depended on to protect others.
  • Konzi ya maji haifumbatiki.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A palm full of water can't be grasped.
    • Literal Meaning: Do not waste time trying to do that which is impossible.
  • Kosa moja haliachi mke.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One mistake isn't reason enough to leave your wife.
    • Literal Meaning: A single mistake should be met with forgiveness, not condemnation.
  • Kucha Mungu si kilemba cheupe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Reverence for God isn't a white turban.
    • Literal Meaning: Worship should not be boastful.
  • Kufa kikondoo ndiko kufa kiungwana.
    • Translation: To die like a sheep is indeed a civilized death.
    • Meaning: When goats are slaughtered they bleat and thrash around but when sheep are slaughtered they die stoicly and without fuss. For a man to die like a sheep shows good breeding.
  • Kufa kwa mdomo mata hutawanyika.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The death of the mouth scatters spit.
    • Literal Meaning: When the head of a family or clan leaves or dies the clan scatters from lack of leadership to hold them together.
    • Related: Kufa kwa mkundu mavi hutawanyika
    • Idiomatic Translation: The death of the anus scatters shit.
  • Kuku hawekwi shahidi wala hajui sheria.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A chicken isn't called to testify nor does it know the law. (?)
    • Literal Meaning: One who knows nothing about a subject should stay out of any matters relating to that subject. Don't let an idiot weigh in on matters about which he knows nothing.
  • Kumwashia taa kipofu ni kuharibu mafuta.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Lighting a lantern for a blind person is a waste of kerosene.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't waste your time advising someone who doesn't have the wisdom to listen to your advice.
  • Kuni ya juu uchaga hucheka iliyo motoni.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Wood that is on top of the woodpile laughs at the wood in the fire.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't laugh at those in trouble because you never know when trouble will come your way.
  • Kupata si kwa warevu na kukosa si ujinga.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Bounty doesn't come from cleverness nor lack from stupidity.
    • Literal Meaning: God is the provider and everything comes from him, not from the efforts of man.
  • Kusikia si kuona.
    • Translation: Hearing isn't seeing.
    • Meaning: Seeing is believing.
  • Kutaataa siyo dawa ya kufa.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Running about madly won't prevent death.
    • Literal Meaning: Acting busy and concerned won't fix a hopeless situation.

L

  • La kuvunda halina ubani.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The stench of something rotting can't be hidden with incense.
    • Literal Meaning: When something or someone is truly bad there is nothing that can hide that fact.
  • Lililo moyoni ulimi huiba.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The tongue steals what is in the heart.
    • Literal Meaning: A person can't help but to speak what they feel.
  • Leo kwako, kesho kwa mwenzio.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Today is yours, tomorrow is your friend's.
    • Literal Meaning: What ever you get today, blessing or curse, don't boast or complain too much because if you do, tomorrow you'll just have to listen to your friend doing the same.
    • See Also: Every dog has his day.

M

  • Maji ukiyavulia nguo huna budi kuyaoga.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you strip off your clothes by the water you have no choice but to bathe.
    • Literal Meaning: If you have been heading towards a goal, have prepared and finally arrived at the end, don't stop now. Finish what you have begun.
  • Maji ya kifuu bahari ya chungu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The water in a coconut is an ocean to an ant.
    • Literal Meaning: What appears minor to you might seem enormous to someone else.
  • Mapenzi ni kikohozi, hayawezi kufichika.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Love is like a cough, it can't be hidden.
    • Literal Meaning: No matter how hard you try to hide it, your affection for another will be apparent to everyone.
  • Mchezea mavi hayaachi kumnuka.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who plays with shit will stink like it.
    • Literal Meaning: If you stir up trouble you can't help getting involved in and damaged by it.
  • Mchonga mwiko hukimbiza mkono wake.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who carves a spoon saves his hand (from a burn).
    • Literal Meaning: A man works towards his own profit.
  • Mchuma juani hula kivulini.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who harvests in the sun eats in the shade.
    • Literal Meaning: Hard work now will pay off later.
  • Meno ya mbwa hayaumani.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A dog's teeth don't bite each other.
    • Literal Meaning: People of one tribe might quarrel but they will always come back together.
  • Mfa maji haishi kutapatapa.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who is drowning doesn't stop struggling.
    • Literal Meaning: One who has a big problem won't rest until it is solved.
  • Mficha uchi hazai.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who hides their nakedness can't give birth.
    • Literal Meaning: We should let our friends know our troubles so they can help us, even if that involves revealing something shameful.
  • Mgema akisifiwa, tembo hulitia maji.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you praise the palm wine tapper he will water down the palm wine.
    • Literal Meaning: For some people, if you praise them they will begin to brag and boast, thus removing the cause of the praise.
  • Mgomba haushindwi na mkunguwe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A banana tree isn't broken by it's stalk of bananas.
    • Literal Meaning: No one is given a burden that is too big for them to carry.
  • Mjinga mpe kilemba utamwona mwendowe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Flatter a fool and you'll see how he goes.
    • Literal Meaning: A fool will seek to use flatery to deride his fellows while a wise man will accept it humbly.
  • Mkono mmoja haulei mwana.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One hand can't raise a child.
    • Literal Meaning: Two parents are necessary in order to raise a child well.
  • Mkono mtupu haulambwi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The empty hand isn't licked.
    • Literal Meaning: You don't get help without providing something in return.
  • Mkono usioweza kuukata, ubusu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Kiss the hand you can not cut.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't struggle against an opponant you can't hope to beat. Better to join with them and combine your abilities towards a common goal.
    • See Also: If you can't beat them, join them.
  • Mla mbuzi hulipa ng'ombe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who eats a goat will repay a cow.
    • Literal Meaning: If someone does a small favor for you, you will repay it with a larger favor.
  • Mlinzi hulinda ndege, mke mzuri halindwi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A guard guards birds (i.e. a wayward wife), a good wife doesn't need to be guarded.
    • Literal Meaning: A trustworthy person doesn't need to be watched over closely. (?)
  • Mnywa maji kwa mkono mmoja, kiu yake i pale pale.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who drinks water with one hand remains thirsty.
    • Literal Meaning: If you focus your entire attention on the task at hand you will be more likely to complete it sucessfully, i.e. don't multitask!
  • Moto hauzai moto, huzaa jivu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Fire doesn't beget fire, it begets ashes.
    • Literal Meaning: Parents don't raise children exactly like themselves.
  • Mpanda ngazi hushuka.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who climbs up a ladder climbs back down.
    • Literal Meaning: Whoever is on top will surely come down.
  • Mpiga ngumi ukuta huumiza mkonowe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who boxes with a wall hurts his hand.
    • Literal Meaning: One who goes looking for trouble shouldn't expect sympathy when he finds it.
  • Mpofu hasahau mkongojo wake.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A blind person doesn't forget his cane.
    • Literal Meaning: The truly important can't be forgotten / aren't forgotten.
  • Msema kweli hukimbiwa na rafiki zake.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who always tells the truth is avoided by his friends.
    • Literal Meaning: Too much honesty can be bad.
  • Mtafunwa na nyoka akiona unyasi hushtuka.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who has been bitten by a snake startles at a reed.
    • Literal Meaning: Someone who has been harmed once is forever cautious.
    • See Also: Once bitten twice shy.
  • Mtegemea nundu haachi kunona.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who lives on rich food gets fat.
    • Literal Translation: One who supports himself on the fatty hump from a cow's back doesn't stop getting fat.
    • Literal Meaning: He will prosper who has as his benefactors the rich and the wise.
  • Mtego bila chambo hanasi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A trap without bait won't catch anything.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't expect to succeed at a task unless you have the expertise needed, Don't expect success without outlay.
  • Mtembezi hula miguu yake.
    • Translation: An idle wanderer consumes his legs.
    • Meaning: One who wanders aimlessly just tires out his legs without gaining any profit.
  • Mtoto akililia wembe, mpe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If a child cries for a razor blade, give it to him.
    • Literal Meaning: If someone doesn't know the dangerousness of something, let him go ahead and be hurt by it if he wants so he will understand.
  • Mtumi wa kunga haambiwi maana.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The one sent with the secret message isn't told its meaning.
    • Literal Meaning: If you send someone on an important errand, don't tell them what its importance is.
  • Mvumilivu hula mbivu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The patient person eats the ripe fruit.
    • Literal Meaning: Patience will get you to your goal.
  • Mvuvi ndiye ajuaye pweza alipo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The fisherman knows where the octopuses are.
    • Literal Meaning: Octopuses are hard to find so only those used to hunting them know where they are. If you are trying to do something difficult or find something or someone ask a specialist or someone with with wisdom specific to that thing.
  • Mwenda pole hajikwai.
    • Idiomatic Translation: One who goes slowly/carefully doesn't stumble.
    • Literal Meaning: Rushing through a task results in a shoddy product.
    • See Also: A stitch in time saves nine.
  • Mwenye haja ndiye aendaye chooni.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The one with the need is indeed the one who goes to the bathroom.
    • Literal Meaning: If you want to reap the reward you must put in the work yourself.

N

  • Nadhari njia ya peponi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Good judgment is the road to paradise.
    • Literal Meaning: Wisdom in judgment is the secret of happiness.
  • Nazi haishindani na jiwe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A ripe coconut can't compete with a stone.
    • Literal Meaning: A coconut is hard but not compared with the hardness of a stone. Don't compete out of your league.
  • Ndege mjanja hunaswa kwa tundu bovu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A clever bird gets caught by a worthless trap.
    • Literal Meaning: A clever person can be tripped up by an idiot. It is possible to be "too smart" and forget or overlook what is blatantly obvious to everyone else.
  • Ndoto haihadithiwi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A dream can't be told.
    • Literal Meaning: If you go around telling everyone of the great things you plan to do you will just be beset by naysayers and detractors.
  • Ng'ombe wa maskini hazai mapacha.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A poor man's cow doesn't give birth to twins.
    • Literal Meaning: Wealth begets wealth. The poor are doomed to remain poor.
  • Nguo ya kuazima haisitiri matako.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Borrowed clothes don't cover your rear.
    • Literal Meaning: Borrowed goods can be demanded back by the lender at any time. Get your own damn things.
  • Njia ya mwongo fupi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The path of a liar is short.
    • Literal Meaning: The deceptions of a liar are uncovered quickly.
  • Nyumba kubwa husitiri mambo makubwa.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A large house hides large matters.
    • Literal Meaning: Where there are lots of people in one place there will be lots of things going on, both good and bad.

O

  • Ogopa ni ngao pia.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Fear is also a shield.
    • Literal Meaning: It is sometimes suitable to show fear as when blind bravado will serve no purpose but to get you killed (i.e. don't attack a lion barehanded when you run across one while you are unarmed!).
    • See also: Discretion is the better part of valor.
  • Ombaomba huleta unyonge.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Repeated begging leads to poverty/misery.
    • Literal Meaning: Living by begging off of others will lead to an inability to support yourself.
  • Ondoa dari uezeke paa.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Remove the ceiling and thatch the roof.
    • Literal Meaning: Do what is important first and leave the minor parts until later.

P

  • Paka akiwa hakimu panya hawezi kushinda kesi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If a cat is the judge the rat can't win its case.
    • Literal Meaning: One can't expect the help of an enemy; Don't expect an enemy to be / be able to be impartial.
  • Paka hashibi kwa wali, matilabaye ni panya.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A cat isn't satisfied by rice, its desire is rat.
    • Literal Meaning: A person is only satisfied by their heart's desire.
  • Penye nia, pana njia.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Where there is a goal there is a path.
    • Literal Meaning: If you don't despair you will attain your goal.
    • See Also: Where there is a will there is a way.

R

  • Radhi ni bora kuliko mali.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A blessing is better than property.
    • Literal Meaning: Any one can obtain things but a blessing, as from your parents, must be earned and thus is priceless.
  • Radhi ya wazee ni fimbo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The blessing of parents is a stick.
    • Literal Meaning: A firm hand raises a good child.
    • See Also: Spare the rod, spoil the child.

S

  • Sahau ni dawa ya waja.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Forgetting is humankind's medicine.
    • Literal Meaning: The ability to forget the worst of times allows the heart to heal.
  • Shida haina hodi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Trouble doesn't knock.
    • Literal Meaning: You never know when trouble is going to show up.
  • Shimo la ulimi mkono halifukiki.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The hand can't cover the tongue's hole.
    • Literal Meaning: Actions can't change the damage done by words.
  • Shoka la mgeni haliwezi kuimaliza kazi yako.
    • Translation: A borrowed axe can't finish your work.
    • Meaning: You can't expect to reach your goal by depending on others' possessions.
  • Sikio halilali na njaa.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The ear doesn't go to sleep hungry.
    • Literal Meaning: You can't go a day around people without hearing words, be they good or bad.
  • Siku njema huonekana asubuhi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A good day is apparent in the morning.
    • Literal Meaning: It is clear from early on whether something or someone will turn out good or bad. For example, the character of a man can be seen in his manner as a child.
  • Siku ya kufa nyani miti yote huteleza.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The day a monkey is destined to die all trees become slippery.
    • Literal Meaning: You can't escape your fate.
  • Siku utakayokwenda uchi ndiyo siku utakayokutana na mkweo.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The day you decide to leave your house naked is the day you run into your in-laws.
    • Literal Meaning: One who is not in the habit of breaking the rules will be discovered the one time they do something wrong.
  • Simba mwenda pole ndiye mla nyama
    • Idiomatic Translation: The lion who goes slowly/cautiously eats meat.
    • Literal Meaning: One who goes about his business carefully reaches his goal.
    • See Also: Slow but sure.
  • Sitaacha kula mkate kwa kuogopa kiungulia.
    • Idiomatic Translation: I won't stop eating bread for fear of indigestion.
    • Literal Meaning: It makes no sense to stop a beneficial action on the basis of rumor and hearsay.
  • Sitapiki nyongo harudi haramba.
    • Idiomatic Translation: I don't vomit bile and then return to lick it up.
    • Literal Meaning: You shouldn't return to problems or people you have washed your hands of.

T

  • Tabia ni ngozi ya mwili.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Habit is the body's skin.
    • Literal Meaning: It is as impossible for a person to change their habits as it is for them to change their skin.
  • Tamaa mbele, mauti nyuma.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Desire first, death afterwards.
    • Literal Meaning: No one considers their own mortality when concentrating on achieving a particular goal.
  • Tawi kavu kuanguka si ajabu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: It is not surprising for a dry branch to fall.
    • Literal Meaning: The downfall of the weak or corrupt should not be a point of astonishment.
  • Tunda jema halikawii mtini.
    • Idiomatic Translation: A good fruit doesn't ripen on the tree.
    • Literal Meaning: A good person will be rewarded early. i.e. A girl with a good disposition will be married young.

U

  • Ujana ni moshi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Adolescence is smoke.
    • Literal Meaning: Youth is transient, disappearing like smoke. Once dissipated it can never be brought back.
  • Ukimwiga tembo kunya utapasuka mkundu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you imitate an elephant defecating you'll burst your anus.
    • Literal Meaning: If you run with the big boys you're going to get hurt.
  • Uking'wafua mnofu ukumbuke kuguguna mfupa.
    • Idiomatic Translation: When you are snapping at boneless meat, remember gnawing on a bone.
    • Literal Meaning: One who has seen good fortune should not forget hard times.
  • Ukistahi mke ndugu huzai naye.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you respect your wife like a friend you won't have children with her.
    • Literal Meaning: If you fear and respect a person from whom you need help, your fear will prevent you from receiving their help.
  • Ukitaka salama ya dunia zuia ulimi wako.
    • Translation: If you want world peace then hold your tongue.
    • Meaning: If you want the world to be a peaceful place then stop talking trash about other people.
  • Usiache mbachao kwa msala upitao.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Don't give up your old prayer rug.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't toss away old things or friends for new shiny ones.
  • Usimwamshe aliyelala, ukimwamsha utalala wewe.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Don't wake he who is sleeping, if you wake him, you will sleep yourself.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't trust a fool with your private matters, if you do, you will be the fool!
  • Usione simba kapigwa na mvua.
    • Idiomatic Translation: You shouldn't look at a lion as it is being rained on.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't ridicule the powerful when their situation takes a turn for the worse.
  • Usipoziba ufa, utajenga ukuta.
    • Idiomatic Translation: If you don't fill a crack, you will build a wall.
    • Literal Meaning: If you ignore a small problem now it will only turn into a bigger problem later.
    • See Also: A stitch in time saves nine.

V

  • Vita havina macho.
    • Idiomatic Translation: War has no eyes.
    • Literal Meaning: Anything can happen in war; it doesn't discriminate between those who started it and those who just get caught up in it.

W

  • Wapiganapo tembo wawili ziumiazo nyasi.
    • Idiomatic Translation: When two elephants fight it's the grass that gets hurt.
    • Literal Meaning: When the rich and powerful contend with each other it is the weak and powerless who pay the price.
  • Watetea ndizi mgomba si wao.
    • Idiomatic Translation: They argue over the bananas but the banana plant belongs to someone else.
    • Literal Meaning: Don't waste your time arguing over matters that don't pertain to you.

Y

  • Yote yang'aayo si dhahabu.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Everything that shines isn't gold.
    • Literal Meaning: External beauty doesn't mean that a thing has value.
    • See Also: All that glitters isn't gold. Don't judge a book by its cover. Beauty is only skin deep.

Z

  • Zana za vita ni silaha.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The tools of war are weapons.
    • Literal Meaning: You can't succeed at a task without the proper tools.
  • Ziba mwanya usipite panya.
    • Idiomatic Translation: Fill up the crack so the rat can't pass.
    • Literal Meaning: Fix small problems when they arise so they don't turn into large ones.
  • Zunguo la mtukutu ni ufito.
    • Idiomatic Translation: The exorcism for a mischievous child is a cane.
    • Literal Meaning: The cure for mischievous children is to beat them.
    • See Also: Spare the rod, spoil the child.