Seven Food-Inspired Caribbean Proverbs to Live By

Words of wisdom you'd likely hear from your Caribbean grandmother.

If you live in a Caribbean household you'll know your food doubles as a means of sustenance and a metaphor for life lessons. Caribbean proverbs often intertwine ordinary items with extraordinary meanings. In most cases, food is at the centre of creating these puzzling proverbs to draw parallels to the world around us. However, some sayings will definitely leave you scratching your head. In that case, you'll probably need a team of highly inebriated uncles to decode them.

Inspired by my friend's unhealthy addiction to Grace sodas and the fun Caribbean proverbs on the bottle caps, I've chosen seven food-inspired Caribbean proverbs and turned them into colourful graphics. Luckily for you, I’ve provided insight into their translations and how you can apply them to your life.

Now you can survive your workweek, work month, and probably the rest of your life. No need to thank me.

Proverb 1:

"All cassava get same skin but all nah taste same way."

Cassava is a type of yam traditionally used in curries and stews. This proverb reminds me of all those times my parents took me to the West Indian grocery store and told me to pick out a few cassavas. To me, they all looked the same – long, brown, and awkward. Only when they are cooked do you know if you picked out the right batch or not. Some cassavas are sweet, some are buttery, or some can be too watery. I can see how the same theory can be applied to people. Although some people may ‘look’ the same, everyone has their own unique personality that is revealed once you get to know them.

Proverb 2:

"Pepper bun hot but it good fi curry."

If you are addicted to spice, chances are you’ve encountered a bowl of piping hot curry. I love curry, but sometimes the heat can be too much for me. Growing up in a Caribbean household I’ve always been told, “the hotter it is, the better it is for your health.” Although it’s not the most medically sound advice, it does seem to hold true for the proverb, which roughly translates to, “harsh advice may be good for you.”

Proverb 3:

“Yuh can't drink mauby and belch beer."

Mauby (maw-be) is bold, spicy, and definitely packs a punch. However, the one thing it lacks is the lovely compound to get you tipsy – alcohol. It may be carbonated like beer and have the same bitter taste, but it is very different. The proverb makes the comparison between using something in place of another and expecting the same result. In this case, no matter how hard you try, you cannot get tipsy off of mauby. 

Proverb 4:

"The looks ah de pudding is not de taste."

Simply put, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” West Indian desserts don’t look the prettiest but they certainly are delicious. My favourite is ‘sago’ or tapioca pudding (you can find a recipe here). 

Proverb 5:

"When jackass smell corn him gallop."

A jackass or ‘donkey’ is a traditional working animal not only used in the Caribbean, but in many other countries as well. With any working animal (including humans) a little motivation is needed to meet goals, whether the motivator be corn or an ice-cream cone. Finding the right kind of motivation is a major key to making things happen.

Proverb 6:

"Nah every crab hole get crab."

I always beg my mom to make crab curry. It’s a thing of beauty, except it takes painstakingly long to clean and prepare. I can only imagine the disappointment in fishermen as the scour every crab hole to get enough catch to sell at the market. It’s a win-lose situation – some holes may be bountiful, some may be empty, and some may house terrifying creatures. Simply put, “things don’t always turn out the way we expect.”

Proverb 7:

“When coconut fall from tree he can't fasten back."

This is another way of saying, “what’s done cannot be undone.” Some things cannot be changed or reversed. So you can try to tie, staple, or super glue that coconut back onto the tree, but chances are it won’t stay. Focus instead on cracking the sucker open, and enjoying the jelly inside. 

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