55 Zulu Proverbs, Words and Meanings

Proverbs are used to teach wisdom and convey moral lessons. Zulu is one of the South African tribes known for using proverbs to illustrate ideas, deliver messages of inspiration, teach morals, send warnings to people, and reinforce arguments. Zulu proverbs play an important part in the South African culture and help gain an insight into the traditions and beliefs of the region.

It is worthy to note that these Zulu proverbs are passed down from generation to generation. They are very profound and are generally regarded as small packages of truth about Zulu people’s values and beliefs.

Proverbs And Wise Sayings Are Common In The Zulu Language

Zulu proverbs and wise sayings are unique, full of wisdom, and clearly show how shrewd their thoughts are. They are generally very common in the Zulu language for so many reasons, some of which are that they are an embodiment of truth and are also an effective instrument of education in the Zulu society.

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Another reason Zulu proverbs and wise sayings are common in the Zulu language is that values like generosity, hard work, ambition, peace, virtue, and patience, and vices such as wickedness, laziness, and greed are all addressed in these sayings.

Through Zulu proverbs, people are inspired and uplifted. Zulu speech is marked by proverbs and wise sayings; that is why they have a high frequency of usage among other oral forms of speech. Both have exceptional philosophical contents and are generally explicit in every sense.

Zulu Proverbs And Their Meanings

Here are some top Zulu proverbs, their translations, and their meanings.

1. Ishwa lomhluzi wamanqina

Translation: Misfortune of soup made of shanks and feet.

The situation applied: This saying is used on anyone who never does well but is always getting into scrapes (a fight).

2. Udhle incholo

Translation: He has drunk the juice of the flower of the wild aloe.

The situation applied: This is used to refer to a dull, sleepy person. When drunk, wild aloe juice has a stupefying effect and benumbs the limbs to make the person who takes it powerless for a time.

3. Indonga ziwelene

Translation: The walls have come into collision.

The situation applied: This is used when there is a dispute between two important persons.

4. Yimbabala yolwantunge

Translation: He is a buck of an endless forest.

The situation applied: This saying is used on a shiftless person who never continues long in any occupation.

5. Qabu Unoqolomba efile

Translation: I rejoice that Kolomba’s mother is dead.

The situation applied: According to tradition, the mother of Kolomba was a very disagreeable person. This saying is used when anything that one dreads or dislikes passes away.

6. Uvutelwe pakati nje nge vatala

Translation: He is ripe inside, like a watermelon.

The situation applied: When someone comes to a resolution (makes a decision) without expressing it. From its appearance, it cannot be said with certainty whether a watermelon is ripe.

7. Uyakulila ngasonye uxele inkawu

Translation: You will shed tears with one eye like a monkey.

The situation applied: This is a warning used to deter anyone from being led into a snare of any kind. It is said that when a monkey is caught in a trap, he cries, but that tears come out of one eye only.

8. Lukozo lomya

Translation: It is the seed of the umya.

The situation applied: This saying is applied to anything or person considered very beautiful. The seed of Umya is like a small jet black bead.

9. Kude e-Bakuba, akuyiwanga mntu

Translation: Bakuba is far away; no person ever reached it.

The situation applied: Bakuba is an ideal country. This proverb is used as a warning against the undue ambition or as advice to be content with that which is within reach. It is the same as the English saying, “It is no use building castles in the sky.”

55 Zulu Proverbs, Words and Meanings
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10. Akuko mpukane inqakulela enye

Translation: One fly does not provide for another.

The situation applied: A saying of the industrious to the idle, meaning that each should work for himself as the flies do.

11. Isikuni sinyuka nomkwezeli

Translation: A brand burns him who stirs it up.

The situation applied: This proverb is equivalent to the English one, Let sleeping dogs lie. It is used to deter someone to desist from causing troubles that may end up harming them.

12. Njengo mdudo ka Mapassa

Translation: Like the marriage feast of Mapassa

The situation applied: It is said that the marriage festivities of one of the ancestors, Mapassa, were carried on for a whole year. This saying is used to denote anything that is unusually grand.

13. Kuhlonishwa kabili

Translation: Respect is two ways.

Meaning: This saying simply means that you must respect others if you earn respect.

14. Ikhiwane elihle ligcwala izibungu

Translation: The nice fig is often full of worms.

Meaning: This saying is usually used to tell people not to focus on the good part of something only, forgetting on the negative side of it because things do not always appear as beautiful as they seem.

15. Udla indlu yakho njengentwala

Translation: You eat your hut (hair) like lice.

Meaning: This is used to tell someone not to despise someone or something that was once beneficial to them.

16. Inkunzi isematholeni

Translation: The bull is among the calves.

Meaning: This is a way of saying that a great leader was once an ordinary man; the same way, the leaders of tomorrow are the youths of today.

17. Amanxiwa Kamili Mbuya

Translation: A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Meaning: If you keep moving from one place to another and fail to settle in one place doing something, you will not be able to accumulate any wealth.

18. Izinto azimntaka Ngqika zonke

Translation: It is not everyone who is the son of Gaika.

Meaning: This saying denotes that everyone is different and can never be equally fortunate. Gaika was a mighty chief of the Kei.

19. Inhlwa aibanjwa ngekanda isavela

Translation: The winged termite is not caught by its head as soon as it appears.

Meaning: Do not jump to make a judgment before you hear the whole story.

20. Ubude abupangwa

Translation: Height is not reached in a hurry

Meaning: It takes time for things to fall into place gradually. Life is a gradual process.

21. Isihlala ‘ndawonye sidhla amajwabu

Translation: The sitter-in-one-place eats the skin-scrapings.

Situation applied: This proverb refers to a lazy person who lacks the insight of his laziness.

22. Upakati kwomhlana nembeleko

Translation: He is between the back and the sack (A mother carrying her baby on the back)

Meaning: This simply means someone who has a protector to help him.

23. Amaqili katengani

Translation: Cunning men do not deal with each other

Meaning: This is applied in a case when two people know each other too well and keep at a distance of each other.

24. Induka aina ‘muzi

Translation: The stick has no kraal

Meaning: A family where there is much fighting and quarreling does not flourish.

25. Ulind’ amathons’ abanzi

Translation: He is waiting for the larger raindrops.

Situation applied: When the rain begins to fall, the first few drops are generally small, but they increase in size as the rain becomes heavier. Therefore one is advised to take shelter while only the light small drops fall and not wait for larger ones. In other words, you need to get out of trouble while you still can.

26. Zawadl’ ebhekile

Translation: Birds ate corn in the watchman’s presence.

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Meaning: This expression is used to describe a person who is easily fooled.

27. Kayihlabi Ngakumisa 

Translation: It (bull) does not fight according to the shape of its horns.

Meaning: A bull that looks like a champion fighter may be defeated by an unimpressive-looking one.

28. Ul’ iqili eli ‘ntete zosiwa emuva

Translation: He is cunning, whose locusts are roasted last

Situation: This saying is applied when one manages to get more than the rest of the people.

29. Aku ‘qaqa lazizwa ukunuka

Translation: No polecat ever smelt its own stink

Meaning: Nobody recognizes his own faults.

30. Impungushe kayivalelwq nezmvu

Translation: The jackal is not kept on the same kraal as the sheep.

Meaning: This saying warns an individual from bringing together things or people that do not mesh.

31. Aku’qili lazikota emhlana

Translation: There is no cunning person who licked himself on the back.

Meaning: The saying is used to describe an individual who tried to use trickery of some sort but was discovered.

32. Iso liwela umfula ugcwele

Translation: The eye crosses the full river.

Meaning: If you have a desire to do something, you cannot be stopped by anything.

33. Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu

Translation: A person is only a person because of other people

Meaning: A person is not to take pride to be self-made because there are always people who have contributed to their success in one way or another. This saying is simply used to emphasize teamwork.

34. Enethuga ayisengeli phansi

Translation: He who has a milking pail should not be obliged to milk on the ground

Meaning: Use your opportunity wisely. This will save you a lot of inconveniences.

35. Isitsha esihle asidleli

Translation: A nice plate is not long eaten from

Meaning: This saying means that even good things don’t last. With time, everything begins to fade away.

36. Uchakide uhlolile imamba yalukile

Translation: The weasel is at ease because the mamba has gone out.

Meaning: When the leader is away, staff/servants get the chance to do things how they want.

37. Upanga umúoka, line-pi?

Translation: You are in a hurry to plant; where has it been raining?

Meaning: Said of people, who are married too young

38. Indlela ibuza kwabaphambili

Translation: The way forward is to ask from those who have been before

Meaning: This saying tells one to seek advice for a situation from people who have been there before. This helps to avoid unforeseen circumstances by providing the best ways to handle the situation.

39. Ukuhamba kuzal’ induna, kazal’ insikazi.

Translation: Life brings forth sometimes a male, sometimes a female

Meaning: Learn to take things as they come

40. Ingwe ikhontha amabala ayo amlhlope namnyama

Translation: The Leopard licks both its black and white spots

Meaning: This proverb indicates that political leaders should exercise justice to all regardless of age, wealth, or gender difference.

41. Intendele iwe enkudhleni

Translation: A partridge has dropped in the yard

Meaning: Said of (or to) a person who has had good luck

42. Ukapa kuzibekela

Translation: To give is to provide for oneself

Meaning: No one becomes poor by giving

43. Akukho mango ongenaliba

Translation: There is no hillside without a grave

Meaning: This saying emphasizes that death is always inevitable.

44. Inkonyana yomdhlandhla yeqa la kweqe unina

Translation: The calf of the wild buck leaps there where its mother has leaped

Meaning: Said of a bad child who has followed the bad example of his parents.

45. Aku ‘ndhlovu esindwa amboko wayo

Translation: There is no elephant that finds its trunk too heavy

Meaning: A self-chosen burden is not always felt

46. Injobo itangelwa ebandhla

Translation: The man’s loin dress-tail is sewn in the company of other men.

Meaning: Do not always do things by yourself; learn to seek others’ advice.

47. Aku ‘langa litshona lingena ‘ndaba zalo

Translation: There is no sun that sets without its affairs

Meaning: Every day has its troubles and events.

48. Aku ‘sibonda sagaga namaxol ‘aso

Translation: There is no stake that grew old with its bark still on

Meaning: Age tells upon everyone

49. Ukubona Kanye Ukubona kabili

Translation: Once beaten twice shy

Meaning: It is used to emphasize learning from your past mistakes and avoiding the same next time

50. Sidakaza oswini Iwenkabi

Translation: We are wandering in the belly of a bullock

Situation applied: This is a way of people saying that they do not know how a particular adventure, journey, or task will end

51. Libunjwa liseva

Translation: The day is worked while it is still fresh.

Meaning: People ought to make use of their time and opportunities while they are still available.

52. Uthanda ukubukwa njegesiyephu

Translation: He likes to be looked at as a long-hairy goat

Meaning: This talks about people who like drawing attention to themselves. The proverb, in other words, means Clout chasing in modern terms.

53. Isala ‘kutshelwa sabona ngomopo

Translation: Who will not be told, will see by the blood-flow

Meaning: Who does not like to listen to warnings must learn by bitter experience.

54. Unebhungan’ ekanda 

Translation: He has a beetle in his head

Meaning: This saying is used to describe a person who is acting strangely.

55. Akunyoka yakhohlwa ngumgodi waya

Translation: No snake forgets its home.

Meaning: The saying means the same as the English proverb – East or west home is best.

Here Are Common Zulu Words Every New Learner Should Know

About 10 million people speak isiZulu (the language of the Zulu people), and most of these people (about 95% of them) live in South Africa. It is also interesting to note that over 50% of the population also speak and understand the Zulu language.

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If you want to learn the Zulu language, there are certain common words to start with. Below are some simple or common Zulu words, their meanings, and their responses.

Some Zulu Words And Their Responses

isiZulu (Zulu language) Meaning Response
Sawubona Hello Unjani? How are you? (singular); Ninjani (plural)
Beukuphi? Where have you been? Lapha (here)
Kade waba njani? How have you been? Kulungile ngiyabonga (Fine, thank you)
kufanele udle Have you eaten? Yebo/Cha (Yes/No)
Ngiyakuthanda I love you Ngiyabonga kakhulu
Ukhuluma isiZulu na? Do you speak Zulu? Yebo, ingcosana (Yes, a little) or Cha (No)
Ubani ongqongqozayo emnyango? Who is knocking at the door? Me (mina)
Uzizwa unjani manje? How are you feeling now? Kangcono (better)
Ngiyambona? Can I see him? Akunakwenzeka (No way!)

Other Common Zulu Words And Their Meaning

  • Hi! Sawubona! (to a person); Sanibona! (to persons)
  • Good morning! Sawubona! (to a person); Sanibona! (to persons)
  • Good evening! Sawubona! (to a person); Sanibona! (to persons)
  • Welcome! (to greet someone) Ngiyakwemukela! (to a person); Ngiyanemukela! (to persons)
  • Unjani? – How are you?
  • Kukhule! – Oh! That’s good!
  • Ngikhona, ngiyabonga! / Ngiyaphila, ngiyabonga! – I’m fine, thanks!
  • Angazi – I don’t know
  • Igama lami ngu…  – My name is
  • Ngikufisela inhlanhla! – Goodluck
  • Ubusuku obuhle namaphupho amamnandi! – Good night and sweet dreams
  • Phephisa! – Sorry (for a mistake)
  • Akunkinga! – No Problem!
  • Lokhu / lokho. Lapha / Lapho – This/ That. Here/There
  • Mina / wena. Yena / yena – Me/ You. Him/ Her
  • Ngiyakuthanda! – I love you
  • Ngiyakuhalalisela! – Congratulations!
  • Bheka! – Look
  • Kunye, isibili, kuthathu – One, Two, Three
  • Okune, isihlanu, isithupha – Four, Five, Six
  • Isikhombisa, isishiyagalombili, isishiyagalolunye, ishumiSeven – Eight, Nine, Ten
  • Ungisize! – Help
  • Ngiyabonga! Thank you
  • Namhlanje / Manje – Today/ Now
  • Kusasa / Izolo – Tomorrow/ Yesterday
  • Ungakhathazeki – Don’t worry
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