Tsumo| 20 Shona proverbs inspired by animals

Traditionally, hunting and agriculture have been the primary means of livelihood for the majority of Zimbabweans. It is therefore not surprising that a large number of Shona proverbs relate to animals.

Below are 20 Shona proverbs inspired by animals.

1. Bere zvarakatya, mapapata aro mangani?

mapapata: remains – scattered bones, generally of an animal

Inspiration for proverb
Hyenas are stereotyped as cowardly. They are known to be scared of many species in their ecosystem and will retreat from almost any threat if they don’t see the opportunity for a meal. Hence you will rarely see hyena skeletal remains that suggest attack by predators.

Application
Sometimes it is better to retreat and seem cowardly, than walk right into the face of danger.

2. Mombe yekuronzerwa, kama wakaringa nzira.

ronza: entrust livestock to another’s care

Inspiration for proverb
When entrusted with the care of another’s livestock, one has to remember that the owner can always take back the animals at will.

Application
Holding something in trust or being in possession of something borrowed does not translate to ownership.

3. Dhimba kushaya besu usati inyana.

dhimba: long-billed crombec  – a small nearly tailless bird
nyana: young bird
besu: tail of fish or bird

Inspiration for proverb
The long-billed crombec could be mistaken for a fledgling/ young bird.

Application
Appearances are sometimes misleading.

4. Kudya kakara, kanyama kanopakatira pamazino.

(kakara: small wild animal )

Inspiration for proverb
A successful hunt will provide meat to eat. If, however, a piece of meat gets stuck between the teeth while eating it becomes a nuisance.

Application
Even the victor sometimes walks away scathed.

5. Simba rehove riri mumvura.

Inspiration for proverb
A fish has its strength, and can only survive in water.

Application
One is more comfortable and confident in a familiar environment.

6. Hapana mukuyu unovinga shiri.

mukuyu: tree of the guyu fruit, also known as muonde.

Inspiration for proverb
A number of animal and bird species feed on the guyu fruit.

Application
Things don’t just happen by themselves. It is up to one to make an effort to acquire what they desire. 

7. Mukuru mukuru, hanga haigari pfunde.

pfunde: sorghum plant
hanga: guinea-fowl

Inspiration for proverb
A sorghum stalk cannot support the weight of a bird as large as the guinea-fowl, hence the bird will not perch on it. 

Application
One in a position of authority is expected to act in a dignified manner, in line with the standard of the position. That way, due respect will be given.   

8. Murombo haarovi chine nguo.

nguo: Clothing. Commonly used in reference to animal skins used as clothing.

Inspiration for proverb
A poor man will go hunting and most likely catch only small animals that have no usable skin.

Application
Poverty breeds poverty. The poor have limited resources to enable them to succeed.

9. Bveni kuipa, kuipa zvaro asi haridyi chakafa choga.

bveni: baboon

Inspiration for proverb
A baboon will only eat the meat of a prey animal killed by it or another member of the same troop. It will not eat a carcass it has no prior experience with.  

Application
Even bad people are good at some point. 

10. Chakakodza bere mapfupa.

bere: hyena
kodza: make fat
mapfupa: bones

Inspiration for proverb
Hyenas are known to eat their entire prey – skin, bones, hooves, and horns included. 

Application
What is considered worthless or distasteful by some, might be of value to others. 

11. Chinono chine ingwe, bere rakadya richifamba.

bere: hyena
chinono: slowness
ingwe: leopard

Inspiration for proverb
A leopard will drag its kill up into a tree to keep it safe from scavengers such as hyenas. On the other hand, a hyena will begin to eat an animal that is visibly alive.

Application
One should promptly act on an opportunity before the chance is lost. 

12. Zvaita sei kuti chembere yorasika, bere rorutsa imvi?

bere: hyena
imvi: grey hairs

Inspiration for proverb
While hyenas can eat all parts of their prey, they sometimes vomit balls of hair which they cannot digest.

Application
When trying to understand something puzzling, anything that seems to provide answers, even if only a coincidence, is difficult to disregard.

13. Rwaivhi kupinduka nhando, icho chisingagone kuruma.

rwaivhi: chameleon
nhando: pointlessly

Inspiration for proverb
The chameleon’s ability to change colour is intriguing. Unlike some other reptiles, however, the creature is pretty much harmless.

Application
Some people tend to give the impression that they are good at or prepared for something. However, when it comes to it they fall short considerably.

14. Mukutanda mapfeni, ndimo munowanikwa ndimo.

mapfeni: baboons
ndimo (1): in that
ndimo (2): agricultural land

Inspiration for proverb
Baboons are notorious for crop-raiding, with maize probably being the most frequently eaten crop. Farmers guard the fields and react by shouting and chasing the baboons.

Application
Only through venturing do you expose yourself to new things that sometimes lead to success.

15. Dzvinyu kuzamba zuva, huona bako.

zamba: bask
bako: cave

Inspiration for proverb
Some species of lizards live under rocks, in crevices and caves. Being cold-blooded creatures, they will occasionally leave their habitat to bask in the sun. They do this to warm themselves and raise their internal body temperature.

Application
A wise person will knowingly take a risk, having considered how to deal with the potential downside.

16. Kuramba nyama yechidembo, hunge uine yetsuro.

chidembo: skunk

Inspiration for proverb
Skunks are known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong unpleasant smell. Skunk meat is considered edible but requires expert handling. This is because the meat can easily get spoiled and become totally inedible, due to the glands which produce the spray.

Application
By turning down an offer, one suggests they have better alternatives.

17. Usapedzere tsvimbo kuna vanamakuwe, hanga dzichauya.

kuwe: greylourie. go-away bird
hanga: guineafowl

Inspiration for proverb
A bird hunter stands to benefit more from catching a guinea fowl. The birds are popular for their meat and eggs.

Application
When faced with competing demands, one should consider where they stand to benefit more. Prioritising less important matters could prove costly.

18. Kurava mambudzi ari kumwe, kurava namapapata.

rava: count
mapapata: remains – scattered bones, generally of an animal

Inspiration for proverb
In communities that practise livestock herding, sometimes animals go missing as they are pastured. It is common practice, therefore, to take stock by counting the animals when they return to their enclosures.

Application
By placing reliance on things that are uncertain, you risk disappointment when the outcome turns out unfavorably.

19. Masuka mukanwa, bere harirariri mapapata emhashu.

rarira: eat evening meal
mapapata: skeletal remains, generally of an animal
mhashu: locust

Inspiration for proverb
A locust could not possibly be enough to feed a hyena.

Application
In some instances, giving something that is significantly smaller than the ideal is inappreciable.

20. Yatsika dope, yanwa.

dope: mud

Inspiration for proverb
Watering holes at which animals gather to drink are generally muddy. As a result, it would seem reasonable to assume that an animal with muddy feet has had water to drink.

Application
By being associated with a certain outcome one could rightly or wrongly be considered as having had full involvement in the matter.

When things are taken at face value, certain conclusions, whether right or wrong, seem rational and justifiable.


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