The following Rwandan proverbs are taken from Pierre Crépeau and Simon Bizimana, Proverbes du Rwanda (Tervuren: Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, 1979). All translation from the French are mine. The first translation is a literal rendition of the proverb from Kinyarwanda, the second gives the authors’ interpretation. The first number refers to its place in Crépeau and Bizimana’s book, the second to the page number.
For more proverbs, click on the thumbnails.
Amatégeko arusha amabuye kuremèra – Laws are heavier than stones. Laws require impossible architects – 558, 101.
Ntà ho bucyikêra n’îkuzimú baraganya – There isn’t a place where peace reigns at night. Peace exists nowhere – 2275, 333.
Umuganí ntûvá ku busá – A proverb never comes as if from nowhere. All proverbs have a good reason of existing – 3340, 470.
Ziràra zíshya bwacyá zikazíma – (Homes) might burn all night, they always go off in the morning. All conflicts eventually die down – 4451, 619.
Ijya gucúra indí yìyita nkurú – The (belly) that grabs a larger portion pretends to be the eldest. There is no stopping the exploitation of the other. – 1106, 174.
Inda y’ûndi ítèra indûrú ntibábimenye – The other’s belly cries and no one hears it. The other’s suffering is incomprehensible – 1509, 227.
Izína sí lyó muntu – A name isn’t a man. A name says nothing of a person – 2051, 302.
Ntà bubyîmba bw’înda bupfa úbusá – There is no pregnancy that isn’t useful. Said after a fruitless pregnancy – 2250, 330.
Ntà gise kiba ígisàsa – The pain of giving birth is never mediocre. Children are always useful, even born-dead – 2273, 333.
Nyina w’úmuntu agira aké kèzi – Someone’s mother (always) comes first. A beloved should always be respected – 2667, 381.
Umusonga w’ûndí ntûkubúza gusinzìra – The other’s stitch in the side doesn’t prevent you from sleeping. One never notices the other’s misfortunes – 3634, 510.
Ùrusha nyina w’ûmwâna imbabázi aba ashâka kumúlya – The one who professes more compassion than a mother, tries to eat the child. No one can be more generous than a mother – 3926, 549.
Akarênze impinga karushya ihámagara – What reaches the top of the hill cannot be called back. What is said can sometimes have terrible consequences – 406, 81.
Ifumbire y’úbucuti ni âmagambo – The fertilizer of friendship is made of words. Peace can only take place through the violence of words – 977, 157.
Mvugé ligendé – Speech travels enough. Anti-phrase. To prevent oneself from speaking too much (which cause harm) – 2192, 322.
Ntà bisânganwa nk’ámagambo – Nothing else but speech. To have nothing else to offer, but speech – 2247, 330.
Injunga y’úrulími inèsha injunga z’îgitèro – The sharpness of the tongue defeats the sharpness of the warriors. Language is better than weapons – 1602, 239.
Kurárama sí kó kuramukanya – To raise the eyes isn’t to greet (the other). The eyes indicate no effort to welcome the other. Refers to hypocrisy – 2121, 311.
Libèra kurora – The (eye) is for looking. To emphasize the function of the eye – 2140, 314.
Mayènya ímenya isuku ishyize ímbere alíko ntîmenya úmwanda isize ínyuma – The slug is aware of the cleanliness ahead, never the dirt left behind. One cannot preach what one doesn’t do – 2151, 316.
Agacúmu kazâguhòrera ntûmenyá uwagácuze – You never know the name of the one who will make the spade that will avenge you. The future is always uncertain – 82, 38.
Amàziro n’ámacîro birangana – Ends and beginnings are identical. There is no true origin – 574, 103.
Iby ‘ejo bibara ab’ejo – Tomorrow’s things are told by those coming tomorrow. The future belongs to no one – 899, 148.
Imâna iragúha ntímugura íyó muguze íragúhenda – Imana gives, there is no deal; if you deal, he will be expensive. The future is ingrate – 1214, 187.
Ntà muhanùzi mu babo – No prophet amongst ourselves. No one can guess the future – 2324, 339.
Ntà wutînya ijoro atìnya icyó balihùliye mó – No one fears the night; one fears what steps out of it. The unknown isn’t frightening, what lurks inside it is – 2336, 363.
Ntibarufáta – One never holds (death). Death always comes unexpectedly – 2563, 367.
Rusigariye abaséka – (Death) holds itself in readiness for the ones who laugh. Death should not be laughed at – 2730, 390.
Ukize inkuba árayigànìra – To escape thunder is to speak about it. Danger can only be talked about once it is over – 3155, 446.
Ntà wanga ilyà múkurú – No one can discard an elder’s saying. Elders tell the future – 2406, 346.
Abakîranye bakúndana bèrekana imyobo – Wrestlers that love one another show each other where the holes are. Love and hatred never co-exist – 32, 31.
Aho úbuhóro buli úmuhoro urôgosha – Where there is peace, daggers are used for shaving. There is no such thing as absolute peace – 254, 61.
Intobyi y’ámarâso irayítêra – (The destiny) of two fingers is to live together. Co-habitation cannot be evaded – 1795, 267.
Ubushíki ni ûbulîbwa – A sibling’s relation is the one that consumes itself (qui se mange). Fraternity has nothing to do with blood; it has to do with dialogue – 2849, 407.
Umuvândimwé wa kure arutwa n’úmutûranyi – A distant brother is less valuable than a neighbor. The other who is close is more important than a sibling – 3692, 519.
Urugó rutubóye irêmbo ikìje nyirá rwo aràkìra – From within a courtyard, the owner takes all that comes. Hospitality has to be absolute. It cannot be relative – 3880, 543.
Uwabônye ikirago alilira umuràza – The one who finds bedding, aspires for a bed-mate. Once a need is satisfied, another arises – 4220, 588.
Indînde íba kabili – “Wait for me” (always) takes place twice. One is never alone – 1513, 227.
Ingingo y’íjambo iva mu ìjigo – The depth of a speech comes with jaws. There is no escaping the body – 1564, 234.
Umuntu asimbuka imìnsi ntâsimbuka umùnsi – One lives through the day, one never steps beyond the day. There is only the present – 3528, 497.
Umunyurwa áraguma – The grateful is rare. One always violates the other – 3558, 501.
Umushumba w’índa ntâsinzîra – The stomach never lets go. Survival implies violence – 3624, 509.
Umusógongero w’îtsí ni ûmubâno – Savoring the world only takes place when you get along. The world makes no sense without friendship – 3632, 510.
Wanga kwîruka ukagwira ubusá – You refuse to run and there goes your fall. Nothing is gained without risk – 4415, 614.
Hapfa uwavûtse – Dies who is born. Death is already the fate of the one who is born – 791, 133.
Ilibóneye ntílyicá – The straight (arrow) doesn’t (always) kill. Destiny can never be controlled. A crooked arrow can kill – 1180, 183.
Ntà wucîka yênda – No one can stop one’s lineage. Every man seeks to survive through its children. Destination is procreation – 2441, 353.
Üdasize úmwâna asiga umuganí – Whoever doesn’t bare children, leaves behind a proverb. Lineage isn’t all – 2980, 423.
Ujya gupfa ábanziliza ku bugaboo – Whoever dies is first affected in its ability to reproduce. Death is nothing so long as one can survive through one’s children – 3113, 440.
Zimungira ukubíli alíko zigahùliza imbere – Beetles chew from either side, but always end up together inside. There is no point acting alone, when the aim is identical for all – 4446, 618.