12 beautiful Kiswahili proverbs from Tanzania

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 11.10.2022

Kiswahili is the glue that binds Tanzania together. It’s essentially a Bantu tongue, enriched by thousands of loan words, primarily Persian and Arabic, but also Hindi, Portuguese, German and English.

Kiswahili is pronounced exactly as it’s written, with the stress nearly always on the penultimate syllable. Where an apostrophe precedes a vowel (eg ng’ombe; cattle), the vowel is accentuated, something like a gulp.

The ability to pepper conversation with appropriate proverbs (methali) is also much admired in Tanzania – as elsewhere in Africa. The pithier sayings even find their way onto kangas worn by women, to express sentiments that might be taboo if spoken aloud.

Here are a few of our favourites, taken from the new Rough Guide to Tanzania. For more inspiration, read our run-down of the best things to do in Tanzania.

1. Every bird flies with its own wings

Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake


© GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock

2. Hurry hurry has no blessings

haraka haraka haina baraka

3. He who wanders around by day a lot, learns a lot

Atangaye na jua hujuwa

4. A heart deep in love has no patience

Moyo wa kupenda hauna subira


© Pixeljoy/Shutterstock

5. The gratitude of a donkey is a kick

Fadhila ya punda ni mateke

6. Better to lose your eyes than your heart

Heri kufa macho kuliko kufa moyo

7. He who praises rain has been rained on

Asifuye mvuwa imemnyea

8. Don’t set sail using somebody else’s star

Asisa firie nyota ya mwenzio


© danm12/Shutterstock

9. Put a riddle to a fool, a clever person will solve it

Fumbo mfumbe mjinga mwerevu huligangua

10. Where there’s a will there’s a way

Penye nia ipo njia

11. If you love a pumpkin also love its flower

Ukipenda boga penda na ua lake

12. A hasty person misses the sweet things

Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu



Vadim Petrakov/Shutterstock

13. Better to stumble with toe than tongue

Heri kujikwa kidole kuliko ulimi

14. A good thing sells itself, a bad one advertises itself

Kizuri chajiuza kibaya chajitembeza

Explore more of Tanzania with the Rough Guide to Tanzania. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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