The Best Swahili Proverbs: The Wisdom in Words

November 21, 2020 1 Comment

Jambo (Hello)! 

Language and culture are inherently connected and forever entwined. To study a language is to study the culture as well. To teach about a group’s culture, Swahili proverbs are always a great way to start because they show up in everyday conversation, literature, music, and more!


Swahili Proverbs

Proverbs are simple phrases that convey or express an idea or a culture’s shared virtue in a unique and layered way. Relying on a figurative (non-literal) means of expression, proverbs can effectively convey just what a culture values using metaphors, idioms, and other figures of speech. Aside from that, proverbs are a great way to teach figurative language in any language!

If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll remember that the Kiswahili language is relatively easy to learn as the words are pronounced as they appear, phonetically.

Kiswahili to English

Below is a short list of Swahili proverbs (and their English translations) that are rather unique to Kiswahili.

Kiswahili-English translation

Samaki mkunje angali mbichi. “Bend a fish while it is still wet.”

Mtaka cha uvunguni sharti ainame. “You have to do whatever is necessary in order to 

achieve a goal.”

Mpende akupandaye “Love only those who love you.”

Subira huleta heri. “Patience brings happiness.”

Nija ya mwongo ni fupi. “The path of the liar is short.”

These are literal translations. Take a moment to think about what each one could mean. How do each of those proverbs fit into your life?

English to Kiswahili

Below is a short list of English-language proverbs that have close parallels in Swahili. 

English-Kiswahili translation

Actions speak louder than words. Ada ya mja hunena, mwungwana ni kitendo.

Clothes don’t make the man. Nguo hazifanyi mtu huyo

Many hands make light work. Umoja ni nguvu, utengano ni udhaifu

Never judge a book by its cover. Usihukumu kitabu kwa kifuniko chake.

Charity begins at home. Kutoa ni moyo, si utajiri.


Why do I use Kiswahili instead of Swahili? I’m glad you asked! Kiswahili is actually the more accurate term when describing the language. Swahili is what is most often used; however, Kiswahili is preferred. People who speak Kiswahili as their mother tongue refer to themselves as Waswahilis. 

Learning a language isn’t just about learning the sounds and words. It’s also about learning the origins. Knowing where it comes from helps develop a love for the language! 

The Kiswahili language has diverse derivations, including Arabic, English, German, and Portuguese, which are the result of colonization and increased trade with these countries. Not only is Kiswahili the most widely used language in the sub-Saharan region of Africa, but it is also the official language (alongside English) of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It is also spoken in Burundi, Rwanda, Mayotte, South Africa, Somalia, Congo, Mozambique, and Zaire!


It is a joy to teach Kiswahili to my students, especially the language and culture! If you’d like to check out my resources on the Swahili language, please visit my TPT store! There are many resources, including:

Want It All?

Check out The Great Ultimate Bundle, which has 34 products for teaching Kiswahili!

I hope you have found this helpful! If you have questions or are looking for something in particular, please comment or reach out to me!

Tutaonana baadaye! (See you later!) 

Swahili Magic

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  • Travel to Kenya - Swahili Magic June 16, 2023 at 12:17 pm

    […] While traveling to Kenya, whether to these two sites or others, try out some of the easiest beginner Kiswahili phrases such as Jambo! (Hello!) and Habari gani (How are you?) For a more extensive list of phrases, visit my post on Key Phrases in Swahili and even Swahili Proverbs! […]

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    I'm an elementary school teacher who loves what she does! I enjoy creating resources in my Native language "kiswahili". My goal is to spread the beautiful language of "Kiswahili" inside and outside the classroom. Thanks for stopping by! Read More

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