Wolof Proverbs

A few proverbs to illustrate some facets of the culture here.


Slowly, slowly to catch a monkey in the forest.
 ndank ndank mooy jaap golo ci ñaay.
The first proverb I learned and the one I most often utilize, this guy is kind of our equivalent “Slow and steady wins the race,” substituting our tortoise and hare for a monkey and trapper. I throw this down on a daily basis whether being praised or harassed for my Wolof skills. It’s easier than explaining the plateaus and challenges involving language acquisition. (Side note, I’ve only seen one monkey so far which I’m quite fine with. I was driving by and saw him walking along the dirt road. My time in Costa Rica taught me monkeys are exciting and exotic the first time you see them, and quickly become terrifying shortly after).

I won’t buy a serpent in the hole. duma jend jay ci pax.
Everyone tries to rip everyone off here, and it’s only worse (I hate to say) if you have pale skin. So you never pay for anything until after you have it, and then try to pay with exact change if possible. It’s a lesson everybody has to learn the hard way once, and then you will always remember. You can also use this in jest when telling people you’ll sell your age if they’ll do a certain dance move, which I frequently do.

People are medicine for people. ñit ni lay garabam.
A beautiful (and difficult for us Americans who value privacy and solitude) aspect of Senegalese culture is the importance placed on community, relationships and simply being together. Sitting, shooting the shit and joking with each other are their cure-alls.

A stick that has a long time in the water does not change into a crocodile. bant lu mu yagg yagg ci ndox du sopëliku jesig.
No matter how much I integrate, become fluent in Wolof, tie babies on my back and learn to cook Senegalese dishes, I’ll still be an American. I’ll still be me. And more surprisingly, I’ve found I identify as a Southerner first, and an American second. Who would have thought?

Debt does not have a younger sibling. bor du am rakk.
People ask each to loan them money all the time here, and in the culture it’s not acceptable to ask your friend to pay you back, no matter how big the loan is. So you never loan anyone an amount of money that you can’t bear to part with, even if it’s your sister. But I suppose you can use this for the second time someone asks you for money. I’m really wary of being viewed as another walking NGO-handout by my community, so I never loan anyone money and have never actually said this to anyone.

You are asking a frog about his tail. dangay laaj mbot u genam.
Basically to use when you’re asking a nonsensical question, like something a crazy person would ask. I don’t really ever use this one, but a friend of my family’s taught it to me and I thought it was a little funny, so I included it.

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4 comments

  1. Hey Hannah ! Wow this really gives perspective into some of the culture there. I think you are also learning some about yourself as well it sounds. I know you dont want to hear that old “dad” stuff about how this is building such great character in your life – so I won’t mention that – but I will mention that I love you much !! Hugs

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