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10 Popular Jamaican Proverbs
by Deon Clarke |Associate Writer
As a child, I often heard my grandmother and mother say to me “Fyah deh a muss-muss tail, yu tink a cool breeze”. To be honest, I found this quite amusing and intriguing. With a vivid imagination, I would picture the scene with a mouse and fire at its tail and there is a breeze too, maybe to cool the mouse if it got burnt. I was always trying to figure out this strange saying but it wasn't until I became older and that the meaning dawned on me.
Looking back, I realised this was usually said after I did something wrong and was soon to be offered the rod of correction :-).
“Chicken merry, hawk de near”, I heard this one ever so often too. I was very much aware of chickens and hawks as we raised chickens and hawks were usually nearby in the top of the very tall coconut trees. Now, I know I was the chicken and my mom was the hawk :-).
These were all Jamaican proverbs in action.
But, what are proverbs really? This comes from the Latin word proverbium
and is a simple yet insightful, traditional saying which expresses a perceived truth based on lived experiences or common sense. They are usually metaphorical and in Jamaica, they are most times said in Patois (Patwah).
Proverbs are a great way of self-expression without directly saying something. I have always found them fascinating because it usually takes some thinking to decipher what is actually being said. Believe me, when I tell you, there is no shortage of them here in Jamaica! If you think you have problem understanding patois, you should check out the proverbs in patois!
Today I will share 10 popular ones with you that you are most likely to hear in Jamaica with their translations and their meanings.
Chicken merry, hawk deh near
Translation: The chicken is merry or happy while the hawk is nearby.
Meaning: As we know, hawks prey on chickens, especially young ones. The chicken is merry or happy and quite vulnerable, completely unaware of the pending danger that exists with the hovering hawk waiting to attack if it steps out of line or becomes careless. It teaches us that danger can be found in some of the most unexpected places so we should be mindful of our environment especially when we are having fun and even if we feel safe.
Fyah deh a muss-muss tail, him tink a cool breeze
Translation: There is a fire blowing at the tail of the mouse, but he just thinks he is feeling a cool breeze passing.
Meaning: Sometimes we are naive to our situation or people around us as we believe all is well and completely unaware of the impending danger until it overtakes us unexpectedly.
Yu Nebba si smoke widout fyah
Translation: You never see smoke without a fire.
Meaning:Sometimes the way people act or the things they say on the surface may not appear as anything abnormal or out of the ordinary at first and then something happens and you realize at that time, that those behaviours were actually warning signs for unforeseen deep-rooted resentment to present itself in the future. The lack of discernment now becomes clear.
Cock mout kill cock
Translation: The cock or rooster was killed by its own mouth.
Meaning: When the rooster opened its mouth, it became exposed and so the butcher was able to locate it and kill it. Likewise, in life when people boast, lie or speak out of turn, the very words can be used against them in the future causing embarrassment and unhappiness. Persons should be careful what they say so that their words do not come back to haunt them.
When trouble tek yu, pikney shut fit yu
Translation: When trouble takes you, a child’s shirt fits you.
Meaning: It’s funny trying to imagine an adult in a child’s shirt. This could even be a literal situation, however. Sometimes we may find ourselves in some situations where we have to accept help from the least likely sources to extricate ourselves. Though under normal circumstances, these may have proven to be woefully inadequate, they now have to be greatly appreciated.
Pit inna di sky, it fall inna yu eye
Translation: If you spit in the sky, it falls in your eye.
Meaning: We should be careful of how we treat others as what we do now can affect us in the future.
Nuh buy puss inna bag
Translation: Do not buy a cat in a bag.
Meaning: Be careful to examine whatever you purchase or whatever you accept from others. Don’t always make assumptions or take someone at their word but conduct your own investigation as things may not always be the way they appear, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.
Feed mawga dog, im tun roun’ bite you.
Translation: Feed a skinny dog, he will turn around a bite you
Meaning: Sometimes you will help someone whether emotionally, financially or otherwise and that very person will still be disrespectful and cause you to be humiliated.
Tu much rat nebba dig a gud hole
Translation: Too many rats never dig a good hole.
Meaning: It’s always said that teamwork makes the dream work but sometimes having many persons working on a particular project might be counterproductive as some person’s waste time, have conflicting opinions or the group’s synergy might just be off. Without taking adequate care to properly oversee and delegate, the whole project could be compromised. Also in personal situations, when there are too many persons involved in a matter, it can create a lot of complications.
Good fren betta dan packet money
Translation: A good friend is better than money in your pocket.
Meaning: Regardless of how wealthy you are or how many material possessions you have acquired, it cannot compare to a good friend. In times of trouble, to have someone who you can depend on to offer their support and advice is paramount. We should always value, treasure and appreciate our friends and not only at the times when we need them.
This was so much fun! Now that you have learnt 10 more Jamaican proverbs, try them out. You can use them as often as you like when the situation applies. You might even come across a few of them on your trip here!
I also recommend you read 30 Classic Jamaican Quotes & Proverbs Timeless Words To Live By!
- “Proverb”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proverb
- “Jamaican Proverbs”, National Library Jamaica, https://nlj.gov.jm/jamaican-proverbs-2/
- “30 Classic Jamaican Quotes & Proverbs Timeless Words To Live By!”, My-Island-Jamaica, https://www.my-island-jamaica.com/jamaican_quotes.html
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