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37 African Proverbs on Death

Death has long been viewed as a natural part of life within African society. Consequently, it is approached and rationalized through various means. Proverbs serve as one such method, offering a window into the wisdom and perspectives of African societies on the subject of death.

Here are a few examples.

1: When the roots of a tree begin to decay, it spreads to the branches.  

This is an Igbo proverb that simply means that death is inevitable—whenits time comes, it must happen.

2: Where the fire goes out is where one throws away the torches.

This is another complex Igbo proverb that is associated with death. The proverb can be interpreted to mean everything has an end which includes human life.

3: The length of a frog is only known after its death

This is a West African proverb that implies that the full value of some people is only known after their death.

4: An elderly man death is like burning an entire library

This is an Ivorian proverb that is used to signify the importance of the elderly in society. The proverb likens their knowledge and wisdom to a library that burns immediately they die.

5: No matter how beautiful and well-crafted a coffin might look, it will never make anyone wish for death.

This proverb simply means that there are many things that an individual might covet in this world but death is not one of them.

6: Death does not knock the door

This proverb is universally acknowledged across all African societies. It simply means when the time to die comes, nothing can avert that.

7: The only true dead are those that have been forgotten

This African proverb talks about moving on after death.  It means a person is only certified to be dead if his or her own people move on from his death.

8: Good men must die but death cannot kill their names

This African proverb means that the names of good people will live on long after their death.

9: If you are a good person, even after death your grave is loved

This is an African proverb that symbolizes a great connection between people and their loved one even in death.

10: As long as a man lives, the entire world is too small for him, after death, the grave is big enough.

This is a Nigerian proverb that means a person can travel all over when he is still enough but in death, he finds a big room in a small grave that he doesn’t leave forever.

11. Death does not sound a trumpet

A Kenyan proverb that means that death comes suddenly and without warning.

12: If the rich could hire someone to die for them, the poor would make a wonderful living

This African proverb means that if the rich could avoid death, they could have done so long time ago even if that meant using other people which are the poor in this case.

13: Death is like a robe everyone has to wear

This West African proverb means that everyone who is born will at some point experience death—there are no exceptions.

14: There is no Rich person in grave

This African proverb means that death is the social equalizing factor. The rich and the poor all face the same fate.

15. The dead man doesn’t know the value of his coffin

A West African proverb that means that death renders a person unaware of the material possessions and preparations made for their funeral.

16: No one can jump so high to escape death

This is yet another Nigerian proverb that symbolizes just how inevitable death is.  There are no known ways to avoid death in the world.

17: There is only certain thing in life which is death

This African proverb conveys the message that death is the only guarantee in life and could happen to anyone at any given time.

18: The ugliest life is better than the nicest death

This proverb emanates from West Africa and it simply means no matter how terrible one’s life might be, they can never wish for death.

19: There is cure for everything except death

This African proverb means that a lot of things can be treated and averted except death.

20: Death is always news

This proverb is common in central Africa and it means that any death no matter how excepted it was, is always treated as a big event.

21. If you hide a sick person, your lamentation alarm will only announce his death

This is a Nigerian proverb which simply implies that concealing someone’s illness won’t prevent their eventual death; silence won’t change the outcome.

22: Death is not the opposite of life but part of it

This proverb gives some impetus into how some African societies perceive life. They perceive life as something that goes on even in death making death part of life.

23: Death with all its power cannot carry water from a river with a sieve

This Ghanaian proverb means that even though death can take away the body, it can never take the soul with it.

24: Death is a continuous process

This Shona and Ndebele proverb classifies death as a continuous event that goes on and on.

25. Pretend you are dead and you will see who really loves you

This Igbo proverb simply implies that testing people’s loyalty may only become apparent when one faces a metaphorical or symbolic death, like pretending to be dead.

26: There are two kinds of perfect people, the dead and the unborn

This proverb is often used in West Africa and parts of central Africa to mean that only the dead are free of any blemish and the unborn too.

27: If you start thinking about death, you are no longer sure of life.

This Nigerian proverb means there are only two things in the world—death or life—and people have to choose which one they go with.

28: Life is always the beginning of death

This South African proverb means that death is always at the end of life

29: Who dies dies and who lives lives

This Igbo proverb has long been used to mean that life must go on even after death

30: Live your own life for you will die your death

This central African proverb means that everyone living must make the most of every opportunity for when death will come, they will have to face it.

31: To the wise with well-organized mind, death is just an adventure

This West African proverb means that for people who prepare adequately in life, death at the right time is never a big issue.

32: You will not leave forever so leave a legacy

This African proverb reminds everyone that their lives will come to an end someday, so they have to live a life that they will be remembered positively for.

33. It’s only a dead man who has everybody on his side

This African proverb means that people may show support or unity only after someone has passed away.

34. He who doesn’t know a grave’s coldness, doesn’t give the dead their respect

This African proverb means that only those who have experienced loss can truly appreciate and understand the significance of death.

35. A dead body cannot urge over how it should be placed in the grave

This West African Proverb means that once someone has passed away, they have no say or control over their burial arrangements.

36: Death is a Thief

This African proverb is normally used in many societies to mean that death takes away loved ones without seeking any permission.

37: There is no good death

This proverb is very common in Africa and it simply means that death no matter its nature can never be regarded as a good thing.

Other African proverbs you may want to check:

33 African Proverbs about Strength (with Explanations)

Kenyalogue Contributor


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