Knowing the proverbs of a people can help you better understand their shared values and beliefs.
In Haiti, some proverbs permeate the country’s popular culture and are even part of the country’s heritage.
Here is a list of proverbs that originate directly from Haitian culture :
Se rat kay k ap manje kay
Translation : It’s the house’s rat that eats the house
Meaning : When looking for a culprit, he is often around us or near us.
Twou manti pa fon
Translation : The hole of lies isn’t deep
Meaning : You don’t have to look far for the truth to be revealed.
Sa ou fè se li ou wè
Translation : What you do is what you see
Meaning : What we see in our life is the result of our actions.
Moun ki ba ou konsèy achte kabrit nan lapli, se pa li ki ede w pran swen li nan lesèk
Translation : People who advise you to buy goats during the rain are not the ones who will help you feed them during the drought
Meaning : People around you may give you advice, but you are still solely responsible for your actions.
Fòse moun fè sa yo pa vle fè se tankou esye plen lanmè ak wòch
Translation : Forcing people to do what they do not want to do is like trying to fill the ocean with rocks.
Meaning : You can not force people to act against their will.
Kay koule twonpe solèy, men li pa twonpe lapli
Translation : A leaky roof tricks the sun, but it does not deceive the rain.
Meaning : A person’s mistakes will be exposed sooner or later. p>
Kouri lapli, tonbe larivyè
Translation : Running in the rain, falling in the river.
Meaning : By avoiding a certain outcome, sometimes we fall into a worse situation.
Pitit se richès malere
Translation : Children are the wealth of the poor
Meaning : Children bring happiness and comfort to the less fortunate. They are also the future of their families.
Tanbou bat nan raje, men se lakay li vin danse
Translation : The drum is beaten in the grass, but it is at home that it comes to dance
Meaning : Acts that are done outside the home end up having repercussions in the family.
Manman chen pa janm mòde pitit li jous nan zo
Translation : A dog’s mother will never bite her little ones to the bones
Meaning : Even though a mother may sometimes seem strict with her own children, the intention is never to truly hurt them.
Dwèt ou santi ou pa ka koupe l jete
Translation : Even if your fingers stink, you can not cut them to throw them
Meaning : A family member may commit shameful or reprehensible acts. Despite this, we can not get rid of them because the family ties are too strong.
Tete pa janm twò lou pou mèt li
Translation : Breasts are never too heavy for those who have them
Meaning : You must always assume your responsibilities, even if it is difficult.
Konn li pa di lespri pou sa
Translation : Knowing how to read does not mean you have wisdom
Meaning : The level of education of a person is not a proof of intelligence.
Rayi chen, men pa di l fimen tabak
Translation : We can hate the dog, but we can not say that he smokes
Meaning : Even if we may not like someone, we can not accuse him or her of things that he or she wouldn’t be able to do.
Bwa pi wo di li wè lwen, men grenn pwomennen di li wè pi lwen pase l
Translation : The tallest tree says that it sees far, but the seed that travels says that it sees even further
Meaning : Exploring the world gives us more possibilities than staying where we are.
Pa janm koupe dwèt moun k ap ba ou manje
Translation : Never cut off the finger of the one who gives you food
Meaning : We must be grateful to the people who help us.
Bat chen an tann mèt li
Translation : Beat the dog, wait for its master
Meaning : When we harm a defenseless person, we must expect reprisals.
Avan ou monte bwa, gade si ou ka desann li
Translation : Before climbing up a tree, see if you can climb it down.
Meaning : Make sure you know the details before committing to a new project.
Manje kwit pa gen mèt
Translation : Cooked food has no master
Meaning : Food is free to be shared at mealtime.
Bay piti pa chich
Translation : To give little is not that we are stingy
Meaning : It’s not because we give little that we are necessarily stingy or that we have bad intentions.
Sa pòv genyen se li l pote nan mache
Translation : What the poor have is what he brings to the market
Meaning : This saying implies that you should offer what you have to others and also that you should be content with what you have.
Se anvi bay ki bay
Translation : It’s the desire to give that gives
Meaning : We give to others because we want to give and to be generous.
Sa nou bay pòv se Bondye nou prete l
Translation : What we give to the poor, we lend to God
Meaning : A good action will always be rewarded.
Di m kisa ou renmen, ma di ou ki moun ou ye
Translation : Tell me who you love and I’ll tell you who you are
Meaning : The people who you care about can tell a lot about who you are.
Bel dan pa di zanmi
Translation : Beautiful teeth does not mean friend
Meaning : Only because one person smiles on you, that does not mean that he is your friend.
Ti chen gen fos devan kay met li
Translation : A small dog is brave in front of its master’s house
Meaning : A person without power can feel brave in the presence of his superiors.
Sa ki pa touye ou, li angrese ou
Translation : What does not kill you, fattens you
Meaning : Every failure is an opportunity to become stronger.
Se apre batay ou konte blese
Translation : It is after the battle that we count the wounded
Meaning : You have to fight until the end.
Se gou bouyon ki mete lang deyò
Translation : It is the taste of the broth that makes the tongue stick out.
Meaning : Good food leads to good conversations.
Rad sal lave nan fanmi
Translation : Dirty clothes are washed with the family
Meaning : Family issues must be solved within the family.
Vwazinaj se fanmi
Translation : The neighborhood is the family
Meaning : We must consider our neighbors as family.
Se lè koulèv mouri ou wè longèl
Translation : It is when the snake dies that we can see its length
Meaning : It is only when a person admits defeat that can one see his true nature.
Kreyol pale, kreyol komprann
Translation : Speak Creole, understand Creole
Meaning : Do not try to complicate things, go straight to the point.
Translation : God is good
Meaning : God is good.
Pye chat dous men zong li move
Translation : The paw of a cat is sweet, but its claws are nasty
Meaning : You have to be careful about things that look too good to be true.
Premye so pa so
Translation : The first jump is not a jump
Meaning : A missed first try does not really count, you have to roll up your sleeves and try again.
Pou fe kob la fe mwa a, lave li, bwe dlo li
Translation : To make money last a month, we wash it, then drink its water
Meaning : When we run out of money, we have to find ways to stretch it as best we can.
Lespwa fe viv
Translation : Hope is alive
Meaning : Hope itself gives us hope to continue.
Machandiz ofri pa gen pri
Translation : Offered merchandise has no price
Meaning : Everything is negotiable.
Mande chemen pa di pèdi pou sa
Translation : Asking one’s way does not mean one is lost
Meaning : It is not shameful to ask for advice.
Nen pran kou; je kouri dlo
Translation : The nose takes a hit; the eyes fill with water
Meaning : When a disaster hits a family member, the rest of the family will also suffer.
Pitit tig, se tig
Translation : A baby tiger is a tiger.
Meaning : We can not deny the nature of a person.
Ravet pa janm gen rezon douvan poul
Translation : A cockroach is never right in front of a chicken
Meaning : The strongest side will always win.
Se bon kè krapo ki fe l san tet
Translation : It’s the good heart of the toad that made him foolish
Meaning : If you’re too kind, people will take advantage of you.
Se sou chemiz blanch yo wè tach
Translation : It is on the white shirt that we see the stain
Meaning : Those who are the most seen by the public are often the ones most susceptible to scandals.
Se tè ki bat ki bwe lapli
Translation : It’s the clay that drinks the rain
Meaning : We must prepare ourselves for the opportunities.
Si bèf te konn fòs yo, majoral pa ta lanse yo
Translation : If the cows knew their strength, they would not be butchered
Meaning : Some people are stronger than they think.
Tout kod gen de bout
Translation : Every rope has two ends
Meaning : Each debate has two sides.
Tout sa ki klere pa lò
Translation : All that glitters is not gold
Meaning : Appearances can be deceiving.
Wè sa m fè; pa fè sa m fè
Translation : Look at what I’m doing; don’t do what I’m doing
Meaning : Do what I say, not what I do.
Zwazo pose sou tout branch
Translation : Birds land on all branches
Meaning : Everyone will have his turn.
Devan pòt tounen dèyè kay
Translation : The front door becomes the back of the house
Meaning : Things can change and the situation can be reversed.
Bèf plizye met mouri grangou
Translation : A cow who has several masters will starve
Meaning : If no one takes responsibility, nothing will be done.
Chen grangou pa kouche
Translation : The hungry dog does not go to bed
Meaning : Hunger gives us the energy to continue.
Pito ou travay pase ou mande
Translation : It’s better to work than to beg
Meaning : Doing any job is better than begging.
Sa foumi genyen, se sa l bay pitit li
Translation : What an ant has, it’s what she will give to her child
Meaning : A mother gives what she can to her child.
Sòt pa touye, men li fè ou swe
Translation : Stupidity doesn’t kill, but it makes us sweat
Meaning : If things go wrong the first time, you will have to try again until it works.
Fòk ou bat tanbou a pou tande son l
Translation : You have to beat the drums to hear its sound
Meaning : We have to talk to others to find out who they are.
Byen san swe pa profite
Translation : You won’t benefit from the goods without sweat
Meaning : We appreciate less the things for which we have not made an effort.
Larivyè anpeche ou janbe men li pa anpeche ou tounen
Translation : The river may prevent you from crossing, but nothing prevents you from turning around
Meaning : It is always possible to give up.
Si ou renmen gren andan, ou dwe renmen po a tou
Translation : If you like the nut, you must love its shell too
Meaning : Do not complain when you work to get what you want.
Fok ou mache pou ou wè kote lari a kwen
Translation : You have to walk to see where is the corner of the street
Meaning : You must dare to venture to see what life can bring you.
Bèf pa janm bouke pote kon li
Translation : A cow never grow tired of its horns
Meaning : We can not get tired of what belongs to us.
Se lè ou nan bezwen, ou konn ki moun ki zanmi ou
Translation : When we are in need we know who our friends are /p>
Meaning : A true friend will always be ready to support you in the most difficult times.
Achte, peye; prete, remèt. Men sa ki fè yon nonm
Translation : Buy, pay; lend, give back. That’s what makes a man
Meaning : We must be honest with others.
Ou konn kouri, ou pa konn kache
Translation : You know how to run, but you do not know how to hide
Meaning : A guilty person will be caught sooner or later.
Ane pa touye ou, se pa jou kap touye ou
Translation : A year does not kill you, it’s not a day that will kill you
Meaning : We must remain patient.
« Bonjou » se paspo ou
Translation : “Hello” is your passport
Meaning : This saying talks about the importance of politeness and greeting people we meet.
Met do pa grate do
Translation : The back does not scratch its own back
Meaning : You can not always do everything yourself and you can ask others for help with these things.
Bourik chaje pa kanpe
Translation : A loaded donkey does not stand up and do nothing
Meaning : A busy person is not going to be lazy and do nothing, he will keep himself busy with work!
Byen prè pa lakay
Translation : Nearby is not the house
Meaning : Being “almost there” is not as good as being there for real.
Chita pa bay
Translation : Sitting down brings you nothing
Meaning : Sitting down waiting doesn’t lead to anything productive.
Piti piti zwazo fè nich li
Translation : Little by little, the bird makes its nest
Meaning : With time everything is possible.
Bwè dlo nan vè, respekte vè
Translation : Drink water in a glass, respect the glass
Meaning : We must respect those who helped us.
Moun ki kenbe kiye bwa se li ki konnen si li cho
Translation : Whoever holds the wooden spoon is the one who knows if it is hot
Meaning : The opinion of a person who has experience in the field counts more than the opinion of those who have not experienced similar experiences.
Gason konn bouke, men pa fanm
Translation : Men experience fatigue, but not women
Meaning : Women work hard.
Malere pa dezonè
Translation : Poverty is not shameful
Meaning : Poverty is one thing, but what’s more important is the strength of a person’s actions and willpower.
Santi bon koute chè
Translation : Smelling good is expensive
Meaning : Standing out with a nice style is expensive.
Ou vle tout, ou pèdi tout
Translation : You want everything, you lose everything
Meaning : In trying to have everything, you will have nothing.
Pa janm mete chat veye bè
Translation : Never put the cat responsible for monitoring the butter
Meaning : You shouldn’t ask someone to watch over something they want.
Pal franse pa di lespri pou sa
Translation : To speak French does not mean that you have wisdom
Meaning : In Haiti, speaking French is a sign of education and some Haitians will sometimes judge people whenever they speak french. The proverb evokes that it is not because a person is school educated that he is necessarily intelligent.
Sel pa vante tet li di li sale
Translation : Salt does not boast that it is salty
Meaning : Be humble. If you deserve praises, let others do it for you.
Sonje lapli ki leve mayi ou
Translation : Remember that it’s rain that makes your corn grow
Meaning : We must have gratitude for what took us where we are now.