Proverbs from Various Indigenous Cultures

less thunder more lightningToday is Friday, November 22, 2013.

My friends on Facebook love to post quotes, sayings, proverbs, and other bits of wisdom, often accompanied by a beautiful photo, a thought-provoking cartoon, or other eye-catching image.  It occurred to me to look around to see if anybody had collected Native American proverbs, and it appears someone has.  I didn’t have to look very far to find a large collection.  I have chosen the ones I liked best, and have re-arranged them into categories.  The tribe from which each proverb comes is given.

Respect for the Natural World

Indigenous people all over the world are known for their world-view in which humans are seen as only one part of God’s creation, but not necessarily the most important part.  All life forms are seen as equals, and humans are urged to respect all other aspects of creation, animal, plant, and mineral.

Before eating, always take time to thank the food. – Arapaho

When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us. – Arapaho

All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them. – Arapaho

Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it. – Arapaho

Walk lightly in the spring; Mother Earth is pregnant. – Kiowa

When a man moves away from nature his heart becomes hard. – Lakota

There is nothing as eloquent as a rattlesnake’s tail. – Navajo

Every animal knows more than you do. – Nez Perce

To touch the earth is to have harmony with nature. – Oglala Lakota

 Knowledge and Wisdom

Native people look to the heart, rather than to the mind, for wisdom.  They realize that wisdom comes from experience.  They know that their dreams are also an important source of wisdom.

If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come. – Arapaho

Our first teacher is our own heart. – Cheyenne

All dreams spin out from the same web. – Hopi

Wisdom comes only when you stop looking for it and start living the life the Creator intended for you. – Hopi

Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, Wisdom is of the future. – Lumbee

Everyone who is successful must have dreamed of something. – Maricopa

Ask questions from your heart and you will be answered from the heart. – Omaha

Human Nature

Indigenous people are keen observers of human nature, our uniqueness, our vanity, our fears, our faults, and our tendencies. 

Most of us do not look as handsome to others as we do to ourselves. – Assiniboine

Those that lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. – Blackfoot

If a man is as wise as a serpent, he can afford to be as harmless as a dove. – Cheyenne

In age, talk; in childhood, tears. – Hopi

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself. – Minquass

It is easy to be brave from a distance. – Omaha

After dark all cats are leopards. – Zuni

Life, Death, and God

For Natives, human life is part of a natural cycle.  Each of us is unique, born with certain talents or abilities that we are charged to make the most of.  Each of us has a place in the web of life.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.  – Blackfoot

Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way. – Blackfoot

There is no death, only a change of worlds. – Duwamish

The rain falls on the just and the unjust. – Hopi

The rainbow is a sign from Him who is in all things. – Hopi

Everything the power does, it does in a circle. – Lakota

Sharing and giving are the ways of God. – Sauk (Sac)

We are made from Mother Earth and we go back to Mother Earth. – Shenandoah

God gives us each a song. – Ute

When you die, you will be spoken of as those in the sky, like the stars. – Yurok

Observations on the Human Condition

Some of these are heartbreaking to read, because it is obvious that these bits of wisdom have been gleaned in the School of Hard Knocks.  Several of them seem more recent additions, learned the hard way after contact with Europeans.

It is less of a problem to be poor, than to be dishonest. – Anishinabe

Old age is not as honorable as death, but most people want it. – Crow

Man’s law changes with his understanding of man. Only the laws of the spirit remain always the same. – Crow

The one who tells the stories rules the world. – Hopi

Poverty is a noose that strangles humility and breeds disrespect for God and man. – Lakota

Force, no matter how concealed, begets resistance. – Lakota

Many have fallen with the bottle in their hand. – Lakota

A man or woman with many children has many homes. – Lakota

A people without a history is like the wind over buffalo grass. – Lakota

White men have too many chiefs. – Nez Perce

Man has responsibility, not power. – Tuscarora

General Advice for Living

Some of these have to do with protecting ourselves from danger, some remind us of the need to take action and to work together to accomplish things.  Others have to do with our relationships with people around us. 

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. – Apache

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. – Cherokee

Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today. – Cherokee

Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins. – Cheyenne

Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark. – Cheyenne

A danger foreseen is half-avoided. – Cheyenne

One rain does not make a crop. – Creole

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave. – Dakota

Don’t be afraid to cry. It will free your mind of sorrowful thoughts. – Hopi

One finger cannot lift a pebble. – Hopi

There are many good moccasin tracks along the trail of a straight arrow. – Lakota

With all things and in all things, we are relatives. – Lakota 

Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the Creator.  – Mohawk

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep. – Navajo

A rocky vineyard does not need a prayer, but a pick ax. – Navajo

Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry. – Navajo

Do not wrong or hate your neighbor for it is not he that you wrong but yourself. – Pima

Cherish youth, but trust old age. – Pueblo

He who would do great things should not attempt them all alone. – Seneca

It is no longer good enough to cry peace, we must act peace, live peace and live in peace. – Shenandoah

Those who have one foot in the canoe, and one foot in the boat, are going to fall into the river. – Tuscarora 

A man must make his own arrows. – Winnebago

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I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I did.   🙂


1 Comment

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One response to “Proverbs from Various Indigenous Cultures

  1. what the world needs now in addition to love iswisdom

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