Rather for the chickens to pass the night awake than to sleep.  سهر الجداد ولا نومو

Even when someone is facing defeat, he will carry on harassing his opponent by one means or another.

This proverb is based on a story about a cunning fox that repeatedly snatched hens from their coop. Naturally the farmer noticed that his chickens were diminishing in number as each night passed. Determined to resist the rapacious fox, he closed all the gaps in the enclosure. Later that same evening the fox returned and found to his chagrin that a thicker, thornier fence now barred his way. There remained just one narrow hole that the farmer hadn’t bothered in closing. The fox pushed his tail into the gap and started to wag it briskly. In no time at all the chickens were cackling loudly in alarm and fear. Now it happened that another fox came passing by at this moment. Feeling curious, he stopped to ask why his brother was intent on troubling the chickens when there was no chance of catching even the smallest chick. The first fox replied, ‘Rather for the chickens to pass the night awake than to sleep.’ Although the fox was unable to attain his main goal, he had decided he could at least cause some nuisance to his adversaries.


The Mouse and the Beetle – a Sudanese Proverb with a Folktale

الخنفُسانة شافت ولدها في الحيط قالت دا لولي ملضوم في خيط

al khunfusaana shaafat walada fi l-HeeT gaalat da luuli malDuum fi kheeT.

The dung beetle saw its son on the wall and said these are pearls put together on a string.

Though the dung beetle is ugly, to his mother he is as lovely and beautiful as pearls beads strung together on a thread. This proverb implies that parental love can be blind. There is a short folktale called The Mouse and the Beetle relating to this proverb.

It once happened that a mouse married a beetle. One day when the beetle went down to the river to wash her shamla (a rag of wool or goat hair used by Sudanese women to cover their bodies when having a smoke bath), a strong habuub suddenly blew and swept away the shamla, together with the beetle who was clinging on to it tightly. The gust of wind threw the beetle on an island in the river, leaving her feeling shocked and bewildered. By coincidence, a boy from the house where the mouse and the beetle had their hole was passing near the shore. When the beetle saw him, she called out in her loudest voice: Continue reading

The judgment of Garagoosh (part 1)

حكم قراقوش

Hukum garagoosh. The judgment of Garagoosh.

This short expression is used when a peculiar or tyrannical judgment has been passed. The litigious nature of Sudanese society helps to account for why this Arabic saying about a judge called Garagoosh is commonly used.

There are numerous stories about him such as that of Garagoosh although few can be as bizarre as that concerning a pregnant woman: It once happened that a soldier collided with a farmer’s pregnant wife as he rushed to climb onto one of the small boats that ferry people across the Nile. The incident resulted in the poor woman having a miscarriage. After the farmer brought a legal case against the soldier, the parties appeared before Garagoosh to set out their case. Garagoosh decreed that the soldier take the peasant’s wife to his house until she was pregnant again, and that after she had been pregnant for seven months she should return to her husband. “Oh my great master! I withdraw my complaints, and entrust my case to God and his justice,” was all that the flabbergasted farmer could plead.

Another story relates how a creditor went to Garagoosh to complain that his debtor had failed to repay the sum loaned to him. In mitigation, the debtor explained that although he was a poor man he had endeavoured to repay the creditor. However, he had been unable to find the man when the money was in his pocket, and by the time they met the money had been spent. In response Garagoosh passed judgement that the creditor should be gaoled so that the debtor would know the place to hand over the money! On hearing the sentence the creditor didn’t hestitate to forgive the debtor all the money he had borrowed!


Sudanese Proverbs: Translated, Translitrated & Explained


Our book on Sudanese Proverbs is now available as a print on demand book.

The cover was created on a Createspace template which only allows certain options. Nevertheless we were very pleased to receive the cover image from the Sudanese artist, Ahmed Amir Jabir.

Sudanese Proverbs: Translated, Transliterated & Explained (finally finished!)


Our book on Sudanese Arabic Proverbs is thankfully finally seeing the light of day!

Here is the description of the e-book :

This collection of proverbs provides a fascinating glimpse into the culture, social morals, historical traditions and humour of the Sudanese people. Learning some of these proverbs can be a great way of sharing your sense of humour or expressing an opinion without having to stumble on words that might be misunderstood. For the most part, these succinct sayings call for virtues that encourage solidarity, peace and coherence within society.

  • Contains over 560 Sudanese Arabic proverbs that are commonly used in the Sudan.
  • Each proverb has an English translation.
  • The transliterated script guides pronunciation and assists beginners in learning the Arabic language.
  • Concise notes explain the meaning and cultural background of each proverb.
  • Includes a dozen folk-tales linked to individual proverbs.
  • An alphabetical index is supplied for easy reference.

The book can be purchased on the Amazon website

(We hope to publish a print on demand version as well.)

Who could say that the mule is in the pitcher? (an Arabic Proverb commonly used in the Sudan)

The Mule is in the pitcher! by Muna Zaki

The mule is in the pitcher!
by Muna Zaki

منو البيقدر يقول البغلة في الإبريق؟

minuu al bigdar yiguul al baghla fi l-ibriig?

Who could say that the mule is in the pitcher?

This proverb is said to imply that a person cannot say the truth because he is afraid of the consequences. There is a story behind it:

There was once a judge who passed an unfair verdict that a man should be given 60 lashes and fined 60 pounds. The hapless man was forced to accept the judge’s sentence. He went out after the execution of the verdict filled with anger and resentment that he was unable to discharge. On his way, he met a genie that saw the signs of rage on his sullen face. When this genie asked what the matter was, the man told him about the unjust sentence passed by the judge.

The genie replied, ‘I could take your revenge from that judge and he will be flogged 600 times instead of the 60 lashes he gave you. And instead of the 60 pounds he fined you I will make him pay you 6000 pounds. What do you think about this?’

The oppressed man readily agreed to the genie’s suggestion. In the flash of an eye, the genie was transformed into a very handsome baghla (mule).

Now the judge was well-known for being passionately fond of mules. Knowing this the genie suggested that the man should sell him (as a mule) to the judge for the set price of 6000 pounds.

The man led the mule around the village until he passed by a group of people amongst whom was the judge. As expected, the judge admired the animal and asked the man to sell it to him. The man followed the genie’s advice and asked the judge to pay 6000 pounds. The judge agreed to the exorbitant price because the mule was an exceptionally fine one. From that time on, he rode the mule wherever he went, and bragged to everyone that he had the finest mount in the district.

One day, the judge was making his ablutions while the mule was standing before him. The judge was looking in admiration at the animal when something unbelievable happened before his eyes. The mule was sucked down into a jug being used for the ablutions. The terrified judge started to scream madly, ‘The mule is in the pitcher! The mule is in the pitcher!’

People hurried to him to ask what was wrong. When he told them that the mule was in the pitcher, the people looked inside but only saw the water. They tried to convince him that it was just his imagination but the judge swore by his faith that the mule was in the pitcher. Naturally the people thought that this was absurd and began to scoff. ‘Couldn’t the judge see the mule standing before him?’ they asked incredulously.

As soon as they had gone the mule slid back again inside the pitcher. The judge this time screamed even louder, ‘The mule is in the pitcher! The mule is in the pitcher!’

The people thought that the judge had become mad so they took him to a religious sheikh to seek some treatment. The judge tried to convince the sheikh that the mule really had gone inside the ablution pitcher but to no avail. The sheikh was convinced that the bedeviled judge had completely lost his mind. He stared to flog him hysterically with his whip but even then the judge continued to scream, ‘The mule is in the pitcher! The mule is in the pitcher!’ until he lost consciousness. When he regained his senses, he found his mule standing in front of him. Then the people asked the judge where his mule was. He pointed to the mule before him and it seemed to everyone that he had been healed from his madness. However, as soon as the judge was alone with his mule, it returned back to the pitcher and the judge started once again to shout and scream madly. The people took him back again to the sheikh who flogged him violently. This situation continued for a long time with the judge being beaten each time he relapsed into apparent madness.

One day while the judge was making his ablutions, the mule slipped inside the pitcher and looked up at him. The judge laughed and quietly addressed his mule by saying, ‘I see you but who could say that the mule is in the pitcher?!’

More Sudanese Arabic Proverbs

These proverbs from Sudan all have an animal theme.

الجَمل ما بشوف عوجة رقبته
aj jamal ma bishuuf ‘awajat ragabtu.
The camel does not see the bend of its neck. This proverb is said about people who are very good at condemning others and ignoring their own faults and mistakes. (An English proverb with a similar meaning could be: the pot called the kettle black)

ابن الوز عوام.
ibn al wizz ‘awwaam.
A gosling is a good swimmer. Like father, like son. Children take after their parents, not only in looks but also in their character.

Another proverb with a similar meaning would be:
ود الفار حفار.
waddal faar Hafaar.
The son of a mouse is a digger. Sons inherit their fathers’ traits and characters.