A Language Rich in Colour!

In a celebration of isiZulu and an attempt to keep the history of the language, and all that it entails alive, artist and author Soka Mthembu has compiled the following wonderful list of proverbs and idioms for his blog, the Zulu Kingdom. If you have any other sayings that you would like to contribute, please feel free to do so in the comments section below

Uthanda ukubukwa njengesiyephu
Translation: He likes to be looked at like a long-hairy goat
Meaning: He likes all the attention unto himself

Ikhiwane elihle ligcwala izibungu
Translation: The nice fig is often full of worms
Meaning / English equivalent: All that glitters is not gold

Enethunga ayisengeli phansi
Translation: He who has a milking-pail should not be obliged to milk on the ground
Meaning: He who has own resources should not have to suffer because he has lent his resources to another

Isitsha esihle asidleli
Translation: A nice plate is not long eaten off from
Meaning: Proverb used to lament the damage done to any nice thing or death of a dear child. A fitting phrase when referring to death of a good person could be “Gone too soon”

Akukho qili lazikhotha emhlane
Translation: There is no cunning person whoever licked himself on the back. Said of someone who has tried some trickery beyond his cunning and been caught
Meaning / English equivalent: There is no paragon of excellence

Uphakathi komhlane nembeleko
Translation: He is between the back and the sack (that carries a child on the back)
Meaning: He/she is between the comfortable circumstances

Akulahlwa mbeleko ngakufelwa
Translation: The child’s sack is not thrown away after the death of one child (because there might be another child forth-coming and sack required carrying him/her)
Meaning: Never despair in adversities

Kuhlonishwa kabili
Translation: Respect is two way
Meaning: if you want respect, you’ve got to give it

Libunjwa liseva
Translation: The day is worked while it is still fresh
Meaning / English equivalent: Make hay while the sun shines

Ikhotha eyikhothayo engayikhothi iyayikhahlela
Translation: The cow licks one that licks her
Meaning: People help those who return the favour

Iso liwela umfula ugcwele
Translation: The eye crosses the full river
Meaning: A desire goes beyond the possible

Iqaqa alizizwa ukunuka
Translation: No polecat ever smells its own stink
Meaning: Nobody recognises his own fault

Akukho mango ongenaliba
Translation: There is no hillside without a grave
Meaning: Death is unavoidable, and therefore will find you wherever you go

Isikhuni sibuya nomkhwezeli
Translation: The lit fire-brand has returned with one tending fire
Meaning: If you play with fire, you could get (your fingers) burnt / He (trouble-maker) got what he deserves

Ukhuni luzal’umlotha
Translation: The fire-log brings about ashes
Meaning: He brings forth a worthless thing or child

Amaqili kathengani
Translation: The cunning men do not deal with each other
Meaning: People that know each other’s cunning practices / shrewdness avoid each other

Uchakide uhlolile imamba yalukile
Translation: The weasel is at ease because the mamba has gone out
Meaning: When the cat’s away the mice will play

Ukubona kanye ukubona kabili
Meaning: Once beaten twice shy

Amanxiwa Kamili Mbuya
Meaning: A rolling stone gathers no moss. Could be used to refer to / warn someone who changes jobs a lot

Uphembela emoyeni
Translation: He lights fire in the wind
Meaning: He favours strangers (whom he might never see) than his own people

Udla indlu yakho njengentwala
Translation: You eat your hut (hair) like lice
Meaning: One who destroys the same thing he benefits from just as the lice eats the hair it accommodates. One who bites the hand that feeds him

Akukho nkwali yaphendela enye
Translation: There is no partridge that scratches for another
Meaning: Each one must look out for himself / do things for himself

Ingwe Idla Ngamabala
Translation: A leopard eats by means of its spots
Meaning: Each person survives off his/her talent

Inkunzi isematholeni
Translation: The bull is among the calves
Meaning: Leaders of tomorrow come from the youth

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