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Jamaican Proverbs

...proverbs along with their translations into standard English, with explanations.

Proverb 1.

Finger neber say "look here," him say "look yonder."

Translation: Finger never says “look here,” he says “look yonder”.

Explanation: People do not usually point out their own faults

Proverb 2.

If you get your han' in a debil mout' tek it out.."

Translation: If you put your hand in the devil’s mouth, take it out carefully.

Explanation: Act cautiously in getting out of difficulty.

Proverb 3.

Peacock hide him foot when him hear 'bout him tail.

Translation: The peacock hides his foot when he hears about his tail.

Explanation: A proud person does not like his little weaknesses exposed.

Proverb 4.

No wait till drum beat before you grine you axe

Translation: Do not wait until the drum beats before you grind your axe.

Explanation: Be prepared for all eventualities.

Proverb 5.

You ‘fraid fe yeye, you neber nyam head

Translation: If you are afraid of the eye, you will never eat the head.

Explanation: If you regard too much the good opinion of any one you will never prosper.

Proverb 6.

A no want a fat mek nightingale foot ‘tan’ sol.

Translation: It is not for the want of fat that the nightingale’s legs stand so.

Explanation: Do not judge by appearances.

Proverb 7.

Ebry dyay debble help teef; wan dyah Gad wi help watchman.

Translation: Every day the devil helps the theif; one day God will help the watchman.

Explanation: We should not despair when it appears to us that unscrupulous persons continue to take advantage of us with no apparent deterrent. God never sleeps, and is fully aware of everything that occurs. He will one day reward the efforts of the faithful.

Proverb 8.

Cowad man kip soun’ bone

Translation: A cowardly man keeps sound bones.

Explanation: It is better to be thought of as a coward than to give away one’s life through impetuous behaviour. It is certain that, as in the old Chinese proverb, “The man who fights and runs away, will live to fight another day”.

Proverb 9.

Cack mowt kill cack

Translation: The rooster was killed by his own mouth. (The butcher would not have known where to find him if he had not opened his mouth to crow.)

Explanation: One should never boast, nor should one speak out of turn. We should choose our words with care, lest we by our own tactlessness, cause ourselves unhappiness.

Proverb 10.

Dawg no hol ef im ha bone.

Translation: The dog does not howl if he has a bone.

Explanation: The dog is an animal which is very fond of bones, and is not likely to appear miserable if it has bones to gnaw on. Similarly, people do not become upset or agitated if they are comfortable. It is also difficult for some persons to lobby against issues which do not directly concern them.

Proverb 11.

If yu noh mash ants, yu noh fine him guts

Translation:If you do not smash an ant, it is impossible for you to find its guts.

Explanation: It is only when you are closely involved with some persons that you are able to really know them. If one is not provoked, it is impossible to know the extent of his/her fury.

Proverb 12.

Ole fiyah tick easy fe ketch

Translation: Old fire sticks are easily re-kindled.

Explanation:It is much easier to light coals which have been burnt before, than to get a fire going with fresh logs. Similarly if a relationship has previously existed between two people, it is easier to rekindle the flames of love than to start a new relationship with someone else.

Proverb 13.

Chicken merry, hawk deh near

Translation: The chicken, unaware of the danger posed by the hovering hawk, makes merry.

Explanation: Danger can lurk in some of the most unexpected places. We should temper, therefore, our most light-hearted moments with a little sobriety.

Proverb 14.

Yu cyaan sidung pahn cow bak cuss cow kin

Translation: You cannot sit on the back of the cow and curse the skin of the cow.

Explanation:We should not disparage others. Worse yet, we should never be ungrateful to, or disdainful of, those who help us.

Proverb 15.

Yu shake man han, but yu noh shake im hawt

Translation: You can shake a man’s head, but you cannot shake his heart.

Explanation: It is impossible to detect what a person has in his mind toward you through mere physical contact. Do not, therefore, take people, their opinions, or their feelings for granted.

Proverb 16.

Fiyah deh a muss-muss (moos-moos) tail, in tink a cool breeze

Translation: There is a fire blowing at the tail of the mouse, but he believes he is feeling the effects of a cooling breeze.

Explanation: Many times, in our naiveté, we remain unaware of impending danger until it actually overtakes us. Also, the foolhardy blithely interpret the signs of danger to mean that all is well.

Proverb 17.

When chubble tek yu, pikney shut fit yu

Translation: When you find yourself in trouble, a child’s shirt fits you.

Explanation: It is ridiculous to contemplate the sight of a full-grown man fitting comfortably into a child’s shirt. However, one can readily understand that when we are in trouble, we appreciate whatever help we can get to extricate ourselves. This is so, even if under normal circumstances we would have thought such help woefully inadequate.

Proverb 18.

Wha gawn bad a maanin, cyaan kum gud a evelin.

Translation: What went wrong in the morning cannot be remedied in the evening.

Explanation: It is unwise to spend valuable time worrying about those problems we cannot solve. Also, it makes no sense to take precautions after we carelessly allowed a situation to get out of hand.

Proverb 19.

Big blanket mek man sleep late

Translation: A thick blanket causes a man to sleep late.

Explanation: An over-abundance of luxuries causes one to become complacent, and to take life’s blessings for granted.

Proverb 20.

Wha sweet a mout’ hat a belly

Translation: What tastes sweet in the mouth burns the belly.

Explanation: Some things are not good for us, although they appear to be exactly what we want. We should be cautious about what we latch on to, lest we cause ourselves much pain and embarrassment.

Proverb 21.

Me come yah fe drink milk, me noh come yah fe count cow

Translation: I came here to drink milk, not to count cows.

Explanation: Mind your own business. Enjoy what you are entitled to. Don’t worry about details which do not concern you.

Proverb 22.

Pit inna de sky, it fall inna yuh y’eye

Translation: If you spit in the sky, it falls into your eye.

Explanation: What you do to, or wish for others, could eventually be the cause of your own downfall. Be careful of how you treat others.

Proverb 23.

Yu cyaan ketch Quaku (Harry), yu ketch im shut

Translation: If you cannot catch Quaku (Harry), catch his shirt

Explanation:It is not always possible to get everything you want. Be satisfied with what little you have, until you are able to get all you want. Having caught Quako’s shirt, you are all the closer to catching him.

Proverb 24.

Payshent man ride danki

Translation: A patient man rides a donkey.

Explanation: It is customary that travellers in a great hurry are loath to go via the slow but sure donkey. For them, a horse, used to galloping at terrific speeds for sustained periods seems a more logical choice. However, the donkey, although much slower, eventually gets to its journey’s end. SImilarly, we must exercise great patience in order to reach our goals.

Proverb 25.

Waant aal, lose aal

Translation: If you want everything you see, you will eventually lose all.

Explanation: Take just what you can comfortably manage, rather than attempt to grab everything for yourself, lest you destroy all in the process.

Proverb 26.

Chubble deh a bush, Anancy cyah I’kum a yaad

Translation:There is trouble in the business, and Anancy takes it home.

Explanation: Anancy, the folk hero of West African origin, is never satisfied with leaving things in their proper place. He sometimes takes home the spoils of his foraging, many times to the unhappiness of his family. What does not concern us, we should leave strictly alone.

Proverb 27.

Wanti wanti cyaan getti, an’ getti getti noh wanti

Translation: He who wants it desperately cannot get it; he who get it easily does not want it or appreciate it.

Explanation: Be thankful for the blessings that come to you, always realising that many of the things we take for granted are luxuries to others.

Proverb 28.

New broom sweep clean, but owl broom noe dem cahna

Translation: The new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows all the corners.

Explanation: We should strive for a happy blend between the old and the new, combining the freshness of the new with the valuable experience of the old.

Proverb 29.

Mischiff kum by de poun’ an’ go by de ownse

Translation: Mischief comes by the pound and goes by the ounce.

Explanation:Mischief makers can stir up a tremendous amount of trouble with only a few words or maybe one action. The effects of this can be difficult to minimise. Let us not be mischief-makers. We could hurt ourselves and others irreparably.

Proverb 30.

Poun’ ah fret cyaan pay ownse ah dett

Translation: One pound of fretting, cannot repay one ounce of debts.

Explanation: Problems are not solved by worrying. The time spent fretting could be more gainfully spent on considering workable alternatives and solutions.

Proverb 31.

Willful was’e bring woeful waant

Translation: Willful waste brings woeful want.

Explanation: Don’t willfully waste what you have or you could end up bitterly regretting what you wasted when you find yourself in need.

Proverb 32.

Noh buy puss inna bag

Translation: Do not purchase a pussycat in a bag.

Explanation: Examine carefully whatever you purchase or accept from someone else. In matters of the head and heart, do not be quick to accept a person as the “genuine article”, without a thorough investigation.

Proverb 33.

Mek wan jackass bray

Translation: Allow one jackass (donkey) to bray at a time..

Explanation: It is difficult to see the merit in other persons’ ideas if everybody attempts to speak at the same time. Also, if someone is speaking foolishly, avoid adding to the confusion.

Proverb 34.

Quatti buy chubble, hunjed poun’ cyaan pay farri

Translation: A penny-halfpenny (1 1/2d) buys trouble, one hundred pounds (£100) cannot pay for it.

Explanation: Little blunders can cause us to find ourselves in situations so complex that we cannot extricate ourselves.

Proverb 35.

Lang run, shaat ketch

Translation: Long run, short catch.

Explanation: It may take a long while for you to be caught and punished for wrong-doing, but you will be caught one day.

Proverb 36.

Wan han wash de oda

Translation: One hand washes the other.

Explanation: One good turn deserves another.

Proverb 37.

De more yu luk, de less yu si

Translation:The more you look, the less you will see.

Explanation:It is impossible to know every single detail about any matter. Also, the more you find out, the less you know.

Proverb 38.

No matta how kokkuch junk, im noh waak pass fowl yaad

Translation: No matter how drunk the cockroach becomes, he never makes the mistake of walking past the yard of the fowl.

Explanation: The cockroach is considered to be a delicacy for fowls. In the interest of self-preservation, cockroach is reluctant to go past any area where he may be easily caught by a fowl. For humans, he same should apply, self-preservation being the first law of the of the species.

Proverb 39.

Hag nyam wha im myne gi im fah

Translation: The hog/pig eats whatever its mind gives it for [or wants].

Explanation: To each, his own.

Proverb 40.

Bowl go, packy come

Translation:Bowl goes, calabash comes

Explanation: It was a very common occurrence in traditional Jamaican life, to see covered dishes carrying some delicious meal being borne by a child, and bound for some neighbour’s home. It was also customary, although certainly not mandatory, for the bearer to return with something for the sender, perhaps in a packy (calabash scraped and used as a bowl). Also one good turn deserves another.

Proverb 41.

Wan finga cyaan kill louse

Translation:One finger alone cannot kill lice

Explanation: Co-operation is necessary for projects involving more than one person

Proverb 42.

Yuh pred yuh bed haad, yu haffi liddung pan i’haad

Translation:If you spread your bed hard, you must lie on a hard bed.

Explanation: You must accept responsibility for your actions, and whatever you sow, you will surely reap.

Proverb 43.

No mug no bruk, no cawfee no dash weh

Translation:The mug is not broken, therefore the coffee is not thrown away (or wasted).

Explanation: Even in the most difficult of times, if total devastation has not occurred, one should count his/her blessings. Do not blow simple matters out of proportion.

Proverb 44.

Ebry dawg hab him day, an ebry puss him 4 o’clock

Translation:Every dog has his day, and every cat has his 4 o’clock.

Explanation: We should not behave as if we are better than others, or allow our position in life to blind us to the fact that tremendous opportunities can be given to those persons whom we would least expect to reap these benefits. (“Your day will come.”)

Proverb 45.

Wen mawga plantin wan’ fi dead, ‘im shoot

Translation: When a meagre plantain wants to die, it shoots.

Explanation: After a plantain tree shoots and bears a bunch of familiar fruit, it has ended its useful life, and dies thereafter. When we are no longer concerned about the safety of our persons, the preservation of our good character of job or family, then we are to apt to behave stupidly.

Proverb 46.

Wen coco ripe, im mus buss

Translation:When the cocoa (cacao) ripens, it bursts.

Explanation: It is easy to identify the intentions of an individual by his/her actions..

Proverb 47.

Wen man belly full, im bruck pat

Translation:When a man’s belly is filled, he breaks the pot.

Explanation: When man is satisfied, he often forgets what hunger or need is, and will be indifferent to the sources of his repast or succour, until he again finds himself in need.

Proverb 48.

Good frien’ betta dan packet money

Translation:A good friend is better than money in the pocket.

Explanation: No matter how valuable our material possessions may be to us, a good friend, especially in times of trouble, is always proven to be of more more worth. We should treasure our friends, not only recognising them when we are in need.

Proverb 49.

Bifoe gud food pwile, meck belly bus

Translation:Before allowing good food to spoil, allow the belly to burst.

Explanation:Taken literally, this proverb could see the demise of many persons who are unable to control their appetite. The moral behind this old saying, however, is that one should make every good use of life’s opportunities; also, never waste or discard today that which you or someone else may be able to use tomorrow.

Proverb 50.

Tu much ratta nebba dig gud hole

Translation:Too many rats never dug a good hole.

Explanation: A good job/project/activity could be spoilt if there are too many individuals attempting to carry out the same task. Ideally, work should be delegated, and one should avoid frustrating those who can really do the work, by gently re-deploying those who are time-wasters.