While growing up in Jamaica, proverbs were common occurrences. My mother, grandmother and other adults I interacted with used them. Jamaicans seem to have a saying or proverb for every situation. Proverbs are frequently used by Jamaicans as road maps for life. When said, Jamaican proverbs might be amusing, but there is always some lesson or another to be learnt or some piece of knowledge to be imparted. In today's post, I will be sharing some popular Jamaican proverbs and their meanings. I'll also provide the translations since the majority of these are quoted in Jamaican Creole (Patois). *Using the Cassidy Le Page writing system*
1. 'If yu waahn gud yu nuoz afi ron'
Translation: If you want good, your nose has to run.
Meaning: In order to achieve your goals, you will need to work hard.
This Jamaican proverb is frequently used to motivate people who may become demotivated when they understand how much effort or sacrifice may be needed to reach their goals. Wanting 'something good', is our way of saying you are seeking to better yourself in some way.
2. 'Wa swiit Nanny guot ago ron im beli'
Translation: What sweet Nanny goat will run his belly
Meaning: Something that may seem positive at first can end up being harmful.
Often used as a warning this Jamaican proverb is spoken when the speaker encourages the listener to use caution or reconsider a choice they may have made in the past. This choice could seem wise at the time, but it might turn out to be a mistake.
3. 'A no siem die liif jrap a riva batam it ratn'
Translation: It's not the same day a leaf falls to the bottom of a river it rots.
Meaning: Things can slowly deteriorate.
This proverb encourages us to be careful with our life choices because the effects of our choices will eventually be felt, even if they are not felt for years.
4. 'Rok stuon a riva batam no knuo son hat'
Translation: A rock at the bottom of a river does not know the heat of the sun.
Meaning: Those who enjoy privileged lives are unaware of actual struggles.
It can sometimes be difficult for those who benefit from certain privileges to relate to those less fortunate. We may even judge certain individuals for their choices until we walk a mile in their shoes. Here is a Jamaican proverb to serve as a reminder that if our circumstances are not similar to those of another person, we cannot exactly relate to their experience.
5. 'No mog no brok, no kafi no dash we'
Translation: No mug broken, no coffee spilled.
Meaning: Do not exaggerate small issues.
Humans tend to exaggerate things. This Jamaican proverb tells us not to worry about the little things because, no matter how awful they may seem now, they might get worse.
6. 'Ebri daag av im die, an ebri pus im 4 o’clock'
Translation: Every dog has its day and every cat has its 4 o'clock
Meaning: Everybody's good fortune arrives at a different time.
This Jamaican proverb reminds us that we shouldn't act as though we are better than other people or allow our position to blind us to the fact that even those who we least expect might be given tremendous opportunities.
7. 'Tek kin tiit kiba haat bon'
Translation: Take laughter to cover heartburn
Meaning: A little humour can help you feel better about the difficulties you're facing.
If there is one thing that Jamaicans are good at, it's finding humour in challenging circumstances. Although everything has its proper place and time, laughter is a terrific stress reliever, and this adage serves as a reminder that even in the worst of situations, it's crucial to find something to be happy about.
8. 'Choble no set laik rien'
Translation: Trouble does not set up like rain.
Meaning: Problems can show up without warning.
I frequently heard this saying when I was growing up. When we were engaged in activities that she believed would endanger our safety, my mother would frequently quote this proverb. She used this as a warning and in doing so she was keeping us safe. Unlike the rain, we are unable to predict when something bad is about to happen.
9. 'Tek sliip maak ded'
Translation: Take sleep to mark death.
Meaning: Avoid being caught off guard by people or events by paying attention to the signs around you.
This Jamaican proverb is another that is usually used as a warning. You will be ready for any outcome if you heed this warning.
10. 'Wan wan kuoko ful baaskit'
Translation: One coco at a time fills baskets
Meaning: The road to success requires us to take things one step at a time.
It's unrealistic to expect success overnight. This proverb teaches us the value of endurance and patience. It implies that if we progress steadily, we will eventually get where we want to be.
11. 'Bak a daag, a daag; in front a daag, a Misa Daag'
Translation: Behind the dog's back it's dog; in front dog's face it's Mister Dog.
Meaning: People will treat you with respect when you're around and disrespect you when you're not.
Some people present two faces. They will show you one when you are around them and the other is reserved for your absence. They might show you respect, adoration or praise to your face but behind you, they might criticize, judge or outright slander your name. This proverb encourages us not to be naive to the fact that some people are pretentious. We must therefore exercise caution when interacting with others.
12. 'A no ebriting gud fi nyam, gud fi taak'
Translation: Not everything good to be eaten, should be spoken about
Meaning: Do not repeat everything you hear.
I distinctly recall seeing wall scrolls with the words "What you see here, what you hear here...let it stay here" hanging in people's homes when I was a child. These phrases initially struck me as amusing, but later I realized they were quietly warning guests not to discuss the hosts' business outside of the house to respect their privacy. This proverb stresses how much privacy and discretion matter to Jamaicans. It also serves as a reminder that some matters are best kept private.
13. 'Ebri huo av dem tik a bush'
Translation: Every hoe has a stick in the bushes.
Meaning: There is someone out there for everyone.
This proverb is meant to inspire people who might be on the verge of giving up on their search for true love. Finding it difficult to enter or keep a healthy relationship can be discouraging. These remarks may be spoken to inspire the listener to keep hope alive.
14. 'Hog se di fos doti waata mi ketch, mi wash'
Translation: The hog says the first dirty water I see I will wash in it.
Meaning: Utilize the first opportunities that present themselves.
We often wait for the ideal moment, to act and end up missing out on other opportunities. This proverb serves as a helpful reminder to seize opportunities when they present themselves.
15. 'Poun a fret cyaahn pie owns a det'
Translation: A pound of fretting cannot pay an ounce of debt.
Meaning: Worrying does not solve problems.
Our first instinct in times of distress is often to worry about the problem. Worrying, however, does more harm than good as it takes up time that may be better used to consider potential solutions. This Jamaican proverb serves as the kind of gentle reminder we sometimes need.
These are just a few of the many Jamaican proverbs I have heard throughout my life in Jamaica. Even though they are mostly used by older generations, the reminders are nevertheless helpful to newer generations. For many years to come, Jamaican proverbs will remain a part of the country's culture.
Have you ever heard any of these or similar proverbs? Tell me in the comments below.
If you want to read more of my Jamaican content feel free to check out the posts below;
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