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Proverbs on land and soil

Proverbs

In each country, proverbs and sayings provide insights into beliefs and simple truths. Those beliefs were passed down from generation to generation, altered by the wisdom of the times and finally becoming part of culture and education.

Humanity has lived and depended on land since ancient times. Wise men and women from different places and cultures have offered words of wisdom on how precious land and soil are to our fundamental being. They had different ways of saying so. A sample of such proverbs provided by staff at the UNCCD secretariat show how deeply the land and soil are rooted in our well-being.

Do YOU have such proverbs or sayings in your language? Tell us, and we will share them with others on this page.

Send an e-mail to newsbox [at] unccd.int including the following:

  • Name
  • Country
  • Your language
  • Proverb you know in your language
  • English translation
  • Comment

 

Proverb collection

Browse our collection of worldwide proverbs on land and soil classified by country of origin.

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-Z

 

A

 Albania

  • "The gardener's hands are black with earth but his loaves are white". -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany  

B

Benin

  • Aîkoungban non wa hè a / "The land (soil) never lies". -Submitted by Armande Zanou, Benin

Bulgaria

  • Каквото посадиш, такова ще пожънеш. Ако не посееш нещо, няма да ожънеш нищо. / "Whatever you plant is what you will reap. If you do not plant /sow something you  would not get anything".  -Submitted by Katya Arapnakova, Bulgaria 
  • Лозето не ще молитва, ами мотика. Където не копае мотика, грозде не се ражда/ "The vineyard does not need a prayer, but a hoe. Where there is not  a hoe, there isn't any grape".  -Submitted by Katya Arapnakova, Bulgaria 
  • Земята да роди, иска хиляда пъти метан / поклон/ да и сториш!/ когато човек работи с примитивни оръдия, земята, работи приведен или кланяйки се/ "The land wants thousands bows to give birth ( When a man works with primitive tools to dig or cultivate the land always bends or worships)". -Submitted by Katya Arapnakova, Bulgaria 

C

China

  • 地尽其利  / "The Soil is put to the best use".  -Submitted by  Yang Youlin, China
  • 深耕细作 / "Deep Ploughing, Careful (intensive) cultivation/deep ploughing and meticulous cultivation". -Submitted by  Yang Youlin, China
  • "The way of cultivation is not easy. He who plants a garden plants happiness". -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany

D

Denmark

  • "It is good to lend to God and to the soil--they pay good interest". -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany

E

Eritrea

  • Ansti ywagaala nrsti.

This is one of the most famous and historical Eritrean proverb. 
The approximate English translation is that women protect and defend their mother land and soil and fight for their rights, heritage, etc. The folklore for this proverb is as follows:

"Once upon a time a lion was approaching a village. Before it entered into village it roared heavily and all the villagers were afraid and started to run away to save their lives. Some of the wise members of the village stopped those who were running away and told them to prey. They agreed and one old man prayed like this ‘Oh God let this incidence and destruction be limited to the destruction of our livestock and our children and it should not go beyond that.’ A bride was listening to what the old man was saying and became very angry at the old man and asked him why he said like this. She said that if the lion killed our livestock and our children what will be left for us. The old man replied ’A lion is very strong and he can kill and eat all of our livestock and our children. We can have other livestock and children after some years but I told you the lion is very strong it could lift and take our land away to other faraway place. It can take our land  into another far place which may be difficult to regain it. What will we do if it does take our land away? The bride said you said land (rsti) then you are right. Take your spear and shield and I will take my hatchets and adze/axe and protect our land from the intruder, the lion".

This signifies that men and women whether they are weak or strong, boy or girl, men or women love their land/soil and everybody protects it from any external intruder. This proverb depicts that Eritrean women are courageous and they have equal rights and obligations to defend their mother land/soils. It also signifies gender equity. -Submitted by Hadgu Ghebrendrias, Eritrea

  • Ngual te Hatsiki bela nmeshela tetsahiki bela. / "Tell a female that she is engaged and tell a field of  sorghum that it is weeded and they will all be happy and thrive well".

This proverb explains the need for and the importance of cultural practices for good harvest of cereal crops like sorghum. Unless cereal crops are weeded on time yield will be poor. To get good yield we need to carry out weeding. -Submitted by Hadgu Ghebrendrias, Eritrea

  • tehawikom yeharsu nab Tsahyay yemlesu

The approximate English translation is:

‘If one ploughs/cultivates ones crop field carelessly in a hurry ro in rush one will return to the field for weeding frequently".

This is a warning given to farmers who plough cultivate their crop fields in a rush or in a hurry that they should cultivate/plough their crop field very carefully otherwise they will come back for weeding very often and they will spend resources (time, energy, money, labour, etc)  and crop yields will be poor. -Submitted by Hadgu Ghebrendrias, Eritrea

  • Taffsi kab ab negfi mzraesi ab Tsegi mzrae ybeltse’

‘Taff’ is one of the cereal crops grown in Eritrea and its scientific name is Eragrostis taff)  ‘kab ab negfi’ ‘mzraesi’  means to sow,  Tsegi is a type of land preparation where crop fields are first cultivated/ploughed one year earlier which is done during the rainy season in order to make the soil soft and more permeable to water. This practice increases soil water-holding capacity and permeability. The farmer also puts organic fertiliser such as cow dung to make the soil rich. In the coming year farmers re-cultivate/plough their crop fields and sow the fields with taff or with other type of cereal crops.  In such practices crop production per unit area is high. While in the other type of cultivation called ‘negfi’ crop land is cultivated/ploughed without any rest period (fallow period) and sown with crops. In this type of cultivation crop yield per unit area is poor as compared to Tsegi. This proverb puts emphasis on the need for and importance of a fallow periods,organic manure and softening of the soil to get good crop yield per unit area. -Submitted by Hadgu Ghebrendrias, Eritrea

 F

Finland

  • "When a man remembers the land, the land remembers him". -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany

G

Ghana

  • "When a yam doesn't grow well, we don't blame it; it is because of the soil". -Tshi proverb (Ghana) submitted by Emily Davila, Germany

Germany

  •  Der Segen der Erde zum Brot uns werde. / "It is the soil, which gives us bread". -Submitted by Barbara Kunz, Germany

H

Honduras

  • "Un pedazo de tierra...es el hijo que nace igual que las
    espigas y los granos de trigo.  Es la novia, la madre y el amigo. A
    demás de pedazo de tierra". / "A piece of land ... is the child born like the ears and grains 
    of wheat. It is the bride, the mother and the friend. 
    Besides (being) a piece of land".  Claudio Barrera. Honduran Poet  (1912-1971) -Submitted by Sergio A. Zelaya-Bonilla, Hunduras

I

J

Japan

  •  飢えに臨みて苗を植える / "There is no use in planting seeds when you are facing hunger"  Meaning: start before it is too late. -Submitted by Yukie Hori,  Japan
  •  治山治水 (Chisan, chisui) / "Managing land resources (chisan) and managing water resources (chisui) become effective only when both are coordinated". -Submitted by Yukie Hori, Japan

K

 Kenya

  • Miye nyumba ya undongo, sihimili vishindo / "I am a mud hut, I cannot stand shocks". -Submitted by Wagaki Wmangi, Kenya
  • Nifae na mvua nikufae na jua / "Do me a favor in the rainy season and I'll payback in the dry season". -Submitted by Wagaki Wmangi, Kenya
  • Udongo uwahi ungali maji / "Work the clay while it's still wet". -Submitted by Wagaki Wmangi, Kenya

 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

  • 참새도 땅이 없으면 못산다 / "Even sparrow cannot survive without land"  Meaning:  "Land is the most essentials for every single life". -Submitted by Kug Bo Shim, Republic of Korea

Republic of Korea

  •  신토불이(身土不二 / "Body and Land are not two but one". -Submitted by Kug Bo Shim, Republic of Korea
  •  농자천하지대본(農者天下之大本) / "Agriculture forms the basis of national existence". -Submitted by Kug Bo Shim, Republic of Korea

L

M

N

New Zealand

  • He kura tangata, e kore e rokohanga; he kura whenua ka rokohanga / "Possessions are temporary things compared to the land. A loved person will not remain, a treasured land is always there". This may be interpreted as comparing the temporary nature of human possessions with the permanence of the land. Maori proverb/ New Zealand. -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany  
  • Manaaki Whenua, Manaaki Tangata, Haere whakamua /  "Care for the land. Care for the people. Go forward". Maori proverb/ New Zealand. -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany  
  • Toitū he whenua, whatungarongaro he tangata? "Land is permanent, man disappears". -Maori proverb/ New Zealand. -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany  

Norway

  • "Black soil produces white bread". -Submitted by Emily Davila, Germany

O

P

Portugal

  • Cada terra com seu uso, cada roca com seu fuso/ "Each land with its use, each distaff with its spindle". -Submitted by Andre Neves, Portugal

Q

R

S

Spain

  • De floja tierra, nunca abundante cosecha/  "From loose soil never comes abundant harvest".  -Submitted by Marcos Montoiro, Spain
  • La tierra es más señora que su mismo amo/ "The land is more owner than its own landlord".  -Submitted by Marcos Montoiro, Spain
  • Dar a la tierra el grano, para que retorne la mazorca/  "Give a maize grain to the land and it will return a cob of corn".  -Submitted by Marcos Montoiro, Spain
  • El cultivo de la tierra goces tranquilos encierra / "Cultivating the soil brings peaceful satisfaction". -Submitted by Marcos Montoiro, Spain

 St. Vincent and the Grenadines

  •  "When you have land, you have the world". -Submitted by Richard Byron-Cox, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 

T

Turkey

  • "Başlıca güç kaynağımız ve dayanağımız topraktır. Onu sele, yele ve ele vermeyelim." / "Land is our foundation, do not let the wind, float, and the others take it". -Submitted by ​Ömer Sebat, Turkey
  • "Toprağı işleyen ekmeği dişler"./ "Tame the land, get the bread". -Submitted by ​Ömer Sebat, Turkey

U

United States of America

  • "This land is my teacher, it is my altar. It is at the heart of my culture". -Submitted by Nayeli Guzman, New Mexico, USA

More information see http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/9401-this-land-is-my-teacher-preserving-native-agriculture-and-traditions

V

W

X

Y

Z

Zimbabwe

  • Ivhu inhaka yedu /"The land (soil) is our inheritance". -Submitted by Emmanuel Chinyamakobvu, Zimbabwe
  • Chinoziva ivhu kuti mwana wembeva anorwara / "It is the land (soil) that knows that the mouse's child is ill". -Submitted by Emmanuel Chinyamakobvu, Zimbabwe
  • Pasi panodya or Pasi rinodya / "The land eats". -Submitted by Emmanuel Chinyamakobvu, Zimbabwe