I wrote an article titled 'Popular Jamaican Proverbs and Their Meanings' sometime last year. To date, this post is the second most-read article on my website, so I decided to curate another list of Jamaican proverbs, a sequel if you please. Proverbs played an integral part in my upbringing. They were used as guides, warnings, or a source of motivation through our daily experiences. Jamaican Proverbs
The Cassidy Writing System
In the previous article, I used the Cassidy Le Page writing system to write the proverbs in their original format. I'll be using it again this time, so here's some information about that system. In 1961, Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy introduced a writing method for the Jamaican language that prioritizes an accurate representation of its sounds, independent of English spelling conventions. This method treats Jamaican Creole (Patwa) as a distinct language rather than a variant of English. Cassidy's system avoids silent letters and ensures consistent pronunciation for each letter or letter combination, making it a straightforward and user-friendly approach to capturing the Jamaican language on paper.
Proverbs and Their Meanings
'Nyuu bruum swiip kliin, bot ol bruum nuo kaana'
Translation: The new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners.
Meaning: Novelty doesn't always outweigh the benefits of familiarity or experience.
This Jamaican proverb suggests that while novelty can be exciting and have its merits, it's essential to recognize the value of experience, which often provides a more stable and reliable foundation for decision-making and problem-solving. We should aim to achieve a harmonious fusion of the old and new.
'Sailent riva ron diip'
Translation: Silent rivers run deeply
Meaning: Never underestimate a quiet person.
As humans, we tend to make assumptions about people based on our initial interactions with them. If someone is quiet or reserved we perceive them to be weak or incapable. If someone is loud and outspoken we take that to mean they are strong and assertive. This proverb teaches us that quietness does not equate to weakness as it can often conceal hidden strengths. It reminds us that judging people solely by their outward demeanour is unwise.
'Biit Quaco, bot gi im im kwati'
Translation: Beat Quaco but give him his Quattie (old Jamaican coin).
Meaning: Give credit where credit is due without prejudice.
It's pretty easy to spot and call out someone's mistakes or imperfections, but it should be just as natural to give credit where it's due and highlight their strengths. This phrase is a little nudge, reminding us that just as we're quick to criticize, we should also be quick to applaud.
'Kouwad man kip soun buon'
Translation: A cowardly man keeps sound bones.
Meaning: Avoiding risky or dangerous situations can help one maintain good health and physical well-being.
Upon first encounter, this Jamaican proverb may seem to encourage cowardice. This, however, is not the intention. It emphasizes how playing it safe or being extremely cautious can benefit our well-being, even if it means being seen as 'cowardly'. We live in a world where taking uncalculated risks is glorified and as such this reminder to err on the side of caution is quite necessary.
Siem naif tik di shiip tik di guot
Translation: The same knife that sticks the sheep, also sticks the goat.
Meaning: The same thing that happened to someone can happen to you.
This is essentially the Jamaican equivalent to the popular phrase 'What goes around, comes around'. It acts as a warning of sorts, encouraging us to be careful how we treat people. It further encourages us to be mindful of how we react to the misfortunes that befall others.
'Ombl kyaaf sok di muos milk'
Translation: A humble calf sucks the most milk.
Meaning: Those who practice humility receive the most significant benefits.
Humility is something we should all practice. This proverb highlights how important humility is in our lives. When we approach certain situations with an open mind and a willingness to learn, we tend to get the most out of them. So essentially having a humble attitude can open doors to more opportunities and personal growth in our journey through life.
'Gud fren beta dan pakit moni'
Translation: Good friends are better than pocket money
Meaning: Genuine friendships are more valuable than money.
While growing up, there was a gem we recited daily in school about true friends being as precious and rare as diamonds. As I got older I began to appreciate the value of having good friends. This is a shared sentiment on social media as I often see people talk about the importance of having a small, close-knit group of friends. This Jamaican proverb doesn't intend to diminish the importance of money; instead, it serves as a reminder that certain things in life hold greater value.
'Wilful wies bring wuoful waahn'
Translation: Willful wastes bring woeful wants.
Meaning: You shouldn’t willfully waste what you have or you may regret it later.
Whether it is your time, money, food, or talent; do not let it go to waste. This proverb serves as a cautionary reminder to be mindful of how we manage and utilize our resources, it stresses how crucial it is to be careful and responsible to avoid ending up in tough situations later on. Jamaican Proverbs
'Wan finga kyaahn kil lous'
Translation: One finger cannot kill a louse.
Meaning: Sometimes it is necessary to cooperate in order to achieve a goal. Jamaican Proverbs
We are often so focused on being independent that we sometimes forget that it is okay to ask for help. Some things in life require teamwork and here is a proverb that encourages that. Working with other people is not a sign of weakness. It is often said that 'there is strength in numbers' and sometimes we need this little reminder.
'Mi kom ya fi jink milk, mi no kom ya fi kount kou'
Translation: I came here to drink milk, I did not come here to count cows.
Meaning: Don't stress over details that don't affect you.
The Jamaican proverb tells us that when we enter a situation or engage in a task, our primary goal should be to enjoy the benefits or results rather than getting bogged down in unnecessary details or complexities. It encourages a focus on the end result or the experience rather than getting caught up in the intricacies. It advises a more practical and straightforward approach, reminding us not to lose sight of the main objective while getting distracted by minor details or unnecessary concerns.
Jamaica's heritage is rich with African influence. One place where this is seen most prevalently is in the proverbs and stories we use to pass on important life lessons and wisdom. The flavourful patwa language that we speak adds an extra punch to the proverbs increasing their impact. As you might have noticed from the list above, many Jamaican proverbs serve as warnings while others serve to remind us of the things that are truly important in life.
What other proverbs do you know? Tell me in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this article, feel free to check out these other posts;
- Jamaican Proverbs and Their Meanings
- Superstitions Jamaicans Still Believe
- Jamaican Foods You Need to Try
See you next post!
Pin for later!
Let’s Get Social: