Some Ewe proverbs and their meanings
1. Ati ɖeka me wɔ na ave o. (A single tree cannot make a forest).
A single tree refers to an influential, prominent, elderly or rich person in society e.g., a King, President or Chief. The forest also refers to an institution, family or community. The proverb therefore depicts that a rich or prominent person alone cannot constitute a family, region, state or nation. There are forest areas in the Ewe land, and during the farming season it calls for communal spirit and team work.
The proverb teaches against over-reliance on individual efforts but advocates cooperation and unity among the people to achieve set goals. It inculcates teamwork and communal spirit among the people.
2. Ne ati aɖe le nya dim ɣesiaɣi le fíá wo ŋuti la, mumu ye le dzrom. (A tree which provokes axes wishes to be cut down).
3. Ge me tu na xɔ na aɖaba o. (The beard cannot tell much to the eyebrow about the past).
4. Afɔ me yi na nugbe eye atagba tsi na aƒe o. (The foot does not go on a mission and leaves the thigh at home).
5. Zego yibɔ me ye akatsa ɣi la do go tso. (The white porridge comes out of the black pot).
6. Ne ŋkugbagbatɔ aɖe be ye le ekpe da ge la, eƒe afɔ le ekpe la dzi xoxo. (When a blind person says that he will throw a stone, he has surely a foot on a stone already).
7. Agaga lolo me ƒle na agaga eve ƒe nu o. (One big cowry cannot be used to pay for two cowries).
8. Du aɖe woƒe gbagba ye nye du aɖe woƒe tutu. (The downfall of some nations enables the raise of other nations). The downfall of a nation refers to the collapse, ruin, or breakdown of a policy, or rule. Therefore upon such collapse, others learn of their mistakes or tragedy to amend their ways.
9. Adeɖitsa kple lãɖitsa ye do na go. (A very experienced hunter will surely meet an experienced wild animal).
10. Tɔmedela ye gba na ze. (Only the one who kindly accepts to fetch water may accidentally break the pot).
11. Nuɣeɖutɔ me nyana be dɔto o. (The food-beggar knows not of famine). It teaches about hard work rather than depending on others. It encourages us to be proactive in life and stop loitering.
12. Afia ɖe kpɔkpɔ nyo wu ya me kpɔkpɔ. (Starring at a less important place is better than starring in the air or into space).
13. Dɔbu me ɖu na nu eye dɔbu de na asi o. (An empty stomach cannot be constipated in place of the one who has received food). This proverb cautions us to be aware of people who speak big words and can do little. And also teaches people to be mindful of the utterances they make in life.
14. Anyigba sese gake agama ɖo na afɔ anyi blewuu. (Though the earth is solid, the chameleon makes cautious steps on it).
The earth being solid indicates that life is complicated and full of challenges, and the chameleon refers to the people on the earth and is for them to move according to the earth formation or life’s situation.
15. Klugã me nye vigã o. (The loved servant of someone does not replace his loved son). There is a saying that blood is thicker than water and that is the reason a servant remains a servant and could not replace a loved son. Servant to master relationship is built upon trust whereas that of the son on love, so for the servant to win the love of the master is beyond the ordinary.
16. Hadzimatso la, akaye wo gba na. (Making music without pause damages the instruments).
17. Zigã me nye fia o. (The possessor of a big stool is not necessarily a king).
A big stool can be possessed but being en-throne is the decision of the people to be ruled. A king is given the mandate by the elders and therefore the possessor should be from a royal household.
18. Ame ŋutɔ ƒe golomehɛ ye si na ame. (A hurt comes usually from one's own knife).
19. Ne lo lolo ʋuu hã la, azimevi ko wonye. (No matter how fat a crocodile is, it is still hatched from an egg). It teaches about gratitude and respectful to parents and elderly in society. It cautions people not to look at their stature to bully others but be humble and help others.
20. Avu ɖuna avutɔ. (A dog can bite its master)
21. Ame ye nɔ na ame ŋuti hafi wo nye na zami. (One needs help to go to the latrine by night). The latrine or place of convenience is situated in rural areas at the outskirts of the village or town, and by so doing if one wants to visit it by night one needs to be accompanied by someone.
The proverb teaches people to be each other’s keeper in life and also cautions people to be mindful of their duty to their neighbours by giving them a supportive hand when the need arises.
22. Ne abɔbɔ yi nu gbe la, klo gbɔ wo dze na. (When the snail travels abroad, it finds shelter with the tortoise).
The snail and the tortoise are two creatures which move slowly. Shelter refers to a place of abode, therefore when the snail lodges with the tortoise; it means there is a cordial relationship for their co-existence.
It teaches about living in harmony. It also encourages people to search diligently for their rightful partners in time of relationship building.
23. Mɔse ƒe ye nye xɔme. (The end of a road is inside a room).
The “road” and “room” refers to life and grave respectively. Therefore the proverb signifies that the end of one’s life is death.
The proverb teaches about mortality in life. In other words, death is no respecter of persons. It cautions people to be humble and modest in all aspects of life and that no condition is permanent.
24. Koklotsu eve wo le adzre wɔm, gake wo le wo nɔɛwoƒe ŋkukpɔm. (When two cocks are fighting, they are careful of each other’s eye).
The fowl is referred as a member of the family, a friend or a citizen of a community or society. The eye is a delicate part of the body which needs the maximum protection. The eye serves as a cordial bond and common interest shared by people. Though members of the family, friends and loved ones might disagree on certain issues about life but they are careful not to mar their relationship and common interest.
25. Tre eve nɔ tɔŋgɔ me gbe na gododo o. (Two calabashes floating on the water usually touch each other). The calabash means friendship and family set-up in society or community, whereas water refers to the cordial relationship between family and friends. Therefore the inter-relationship that binds the parties together should solve or address all friction between them with tactfulness.
26. Ame aɖe me de na deku eve alɔme eye lɔ na kui o. (No one can whistle successfully while having two palm nuts in the mouth).The nuts refer to life’s challenges whereas the mouth refers to life’s arena or playing field that has to be exploited and be surmounted.
27. Ame ŋtɔ ƒe aba vuvu me di na nya na ame o. (No one can be in trouble on his
own worn-out bed). The bed depicts the solace or comfort one gets lying down after a hard day’s work. No matter bad or worn-out the bed is, it is manageable to the owner since the person knows how best to utilise it when sleeping.
The proverb teaches people to be content with what they have at hand rather than looking for things not belonging to them. It also preaches modesty which people have to adopt in life.
28. Vivɔɛ me nye na mi le ata dzi eye wo tsɔ na hɛ kpanaɛ o. (A thigh smeared with a child’s feces cannot be wiped by cutting off the thigh with a knife).
The child refers to a loved or cherished person whereas the faeces refer to life’s challenges that should be surmounted or overcome.
The proverb teaches people to appreciate the good and bad things in life and work toward it assiduously
29. Ati gɔglɔ dzi wonɔ na hafi tso dzɔdzɔ ɛtɔ. (One should stand on the crooked
branch in order to be able cut the upright one). The tree is referred to here as life and the crooked and upright branches portray life challenges. Challenges will come but the solution depends upon each and everyone within the society or community.
The proverb teaches about collaboration. There is strength in unity. It cautions people not to rely on their strength alone but to seek for assistance where necessary, because wisdom is not in one man’s head.
30. Lagla xoxo me ƒo na detsi o. (Old bones from former hunting cannot be used to prepare a sauce in the present).
Old bones refer to out-of-date things which are not applicable in today’s situation. There are certain things that have been used in the past but research has revealed that they are harmful to the surroundings; therefore their usage cannot be applicable in the present time. The proverb teaches about knowledge acquisition. People should be abreast with time and not be old-fashioned. It encourages people to explore and be adventurous in life.
31. De wo ta na hafi zɔ na. (One crawls before walking).
Crawling and walking are part of humankind life’s development. A baby will have to pass through the stages of crawling before walking. The stages of life will bring to pass series of challenges, to equip mankind to withstand the dangers of life.
The proverb teaches about steadfastness. It also encourages people to see life challenges as a means of growing and therefore stay focused in life.
32. Safui sese ye vu na gaʋɔ. (It is a strong key which opens the door to riches).
A strong key refers to wisdom, knowledge and understanding which is acquired from above, whereas the doors of riches are treasures bestowed upon the earth. Therefore without the key one cannot open the treasures of this earth. The
The proverb teaches about gratitude. It admonishes people to acknowledge the creator and seek for wisdom to unlock the treasures of the earth.
33. Ne ame aɖe le ʋu tome ƒom la, egbɔ na ʋu la ŋutɔ ƒoge. (If someone starts
beating the edge of a drum, he/she will play it sooner).
The edge of the drum refers to the beginning of life. That is, one has to start at a point and move gradually. In life a thousand miles begins with a step. The proverb encourages people to be determined and zealous in every aspect of life’s situation. It also cautions people to see life as a challenge and not a punishment
34. Devi gba abɔbɔgo megba na klogo o. (The child breaks a snail's shell but not of a tortoise). The snail and the tortoise shell refer to challenges and troubles that confront people in life. The snail shell is soft and delicate and can be broken easily by a child but that of the tortoise is hard and not easily broken. Therefore not all matters are for a child to solve but others need the help of the elders with much experience in life.
35. Devi ka akple gã me ka anya gã o. (A child can swallow a big morsel of akple but cannot swallow big matters).
We all cherish “Akple kple akpa memi” an expensive treat at the restaurants. A child can handle easy matters but cannot handle severe ones because his experience is limited. It admonishes about being prudent in decision making. There are life’s situations that the child needs the assistance of the elderly for advice and this goes for the youth.