Haiti up close
Hear the Echoes of Wisdom in 12 Haitian Proverbs
Landscape in Marchand Dessalines, Artibonite
Photo: Jean Oscar Augustin
Ever wondered what ancient wisdom sounds like in Haiti? Discover 12 insightful Haitian proverbs revealing profound life lessons and cultural truths
Here in Haiti, the richness of the Creole language is displayed through its captivating proverbs. Rooted in everyday life, these Haitian proverbs provide a glimpse into a world where wisdom is passed down through generations in memorable and impactful sayings.
Imagine being able to understand and even share these pearls of wisdom. From offering advice to interpreting life's complexities, these proverbs are practical, profound, and applicable in a variety of situations.
Here's your chance to delve into some of the most commonly used proverbs in Haiti. Perfect for enriching your conversations and experiences during your next trip to Haiti, these sayings are not just words but gateways to deeper understanding and connections.
"Twò prese pa fè jou louvri"
“There's no need to be too hasty as it won't make the day arrive any sooner.” This Haitian proverb is for those who struggle with impatience. It can be interpreted in several ways. Either it suggests not to rush through your tasks to finish faster - which is never a good idea - or that regardless of the situation, one must be patient because eventually, the day will dawn and the situation will improve.
"Baton ki bat chen nwa se li ki bat chen blan"
Meaning “The stick used to beat the black dog will also be used to beat the white dog.” Hold on, rest assured, we do not promote violence against animals in Haiti. If this proverb mentions these furry creatures, it's only metaphorically to illustrate the famous biblical parable: those who live by the sword, will die by the sword. Therefore, avoid harming yourself or engaging in any form of action that might affect others because it can backfire on you…
"Kabrit ki gen twop mèt mouri nan solèy"
Have you ever experienced a delay in a group project because you were relying on other group members to make progress, and in the end, nobody did anything? This Haitian proverb which translates to “a goat with too many owners dies in the sun” is the perfect example and warns against laxity and relying on others to take care of what is our personal responsibility.
"Avan w te pikliz sonje w te chou nan mache kwabosal"
“Before you were pikliz, remember you were cabbage at the Kwabosal market”. Pikliz, being a spicy relish that mixes cabbage, carrots, hot peppers, and onions, which is an essential part of many Haitian dishes. But this proverb isn't just free advertising for pikliz; indeed, it warns against the conceit and arrogance that sometimes make us forget where we come from. Therefore, let's be humble and never forget our origins.
"Lavi koute chè men li pa vann mache"
“Life is expensive, but it is not sold at the market”. Do we need to explain this famous Haitian proverb? It serves as a reminder of the importance and brevity of life, so if you have something to do, don't wait until tomorrow.
"Sak vid pa kanpe"
A widely used proverb in Haiti, "an empty bag cannot stand upright" illustrates a simple truth: no one can effectively work or function on an empty stomach. This saying not only emphasizes the need for basic nourishment but also serves as a reminder of the value of fair compensation for one’s efforts. Additionally, it underscores the importance of rest and recuperation to maintain productivity and well-being.
"Mache chèche pa janm domi san soupe"
Haitians have a reputation for being hard workers, and this proverb meaning “one who actively seeks never sleeps without supper” aptly summarizes this trait. Indeed, anyone who works hard and with determination, in the Haitian collective imagination, is always rewarded in the end.
"Bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje."
“The one who delivers the blow forgets, the one who bears the mark remembers forever”. Like many other proverbs that encourage restraint, this one reminds us that, unlike the aggressor, the victim carries the offense made against them long after. Therefore, we should be careful with what we say and do, even in anger.
"Bat Chen tann met Li"
The concept of karma exists in all languages, and in Haitian Creole, it is illustrated through this proverb which translates to “hit the dog and wait for the master's reaction”. In summary, it means that for any action taken, especially if it is reprehensible, one must expect consequences.
"Ak pasyans w a wè trip foumi"
“With patience, you will find the ant's intestines”. Impatience is often considered a bad flaw and a poor advisor. Take the advice of Haitians and be patient because even in the most extreme moments, you will eventually find a way out.
"Sèl pa janm vante tèt li di li sale"
This Haitian proverb, meaning "salt never boasts about being salty," elegantly conveys the value of letting one's work speak for itself. It holds a dual interpretation. On one hand, it suggests that sincerity and professionalism naturally promote themselves. On the other, it hints that excessive self-promotion may actually be compensating for shortcomings.
"Mezi lajan w, mezi wanga w."
“Your service will match what you pay for it”. Essentially, this proverb means that you shouldn't seek to have more than what you can afford; otherwise, it's vanity, and it never ends well. So it's better to ensure you have the means to afford more or be content with the little you can afford with dignity.
If you liked this list of Haitian proverbs, why not explore the essential Haitian Creole slang words and phrases that’ll make you sound like a local?
Written by Melissa Beralus.
Published December 2023.
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