Hunza Proverbs by Etienne Tiffou

Burushaski is an isolated language spoken by the Burusho people of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is an oral language, that is, it is predominantly spoken rather than written. I happened to come across a reference book “Hunza Proverbs” by Etienne Tiffou of the University of Montreal. He has been working on the Burushaski language since 1975, concentrating more on the Yasin dialect. The book includes a total of 565 entries expressed in the language. Following are some of my favorite proverbial phrases:


  • The bean is under my tooth.

Used when one is unable to take revenge on someone because both enjoy the friendship of an important person.

  • The sky is high, and the earth is hard.

Things are what they are.

  • Sunburn on my head, calluses on my feet.

I am dead tired.

  • For your red tongue, a blow on your black head.
    1. Don’t be surprised if you are in trouble after misbehaving
    2. It serves you right
  • The cooking pot said: “My bottom is of gold.” The fireplace said: “Where was I?”

When a man boasts of his good birth, another who knows all about him says: “I know all about your roots.”

  • You know the taste of a man sometime later; the taste of a fruit you know as soon as it is in your mouth.
    1. One cannot judge a man the first time one sees him
    2. After a man is dead, one remembers him
  • I don’t mind so much the cat’s stealing some milk as its licking its lips afterward.

Boasting about one’s bad deeds is even worse than doing them.

  • From one country to another, even the chewing is different.

Every country has its own customs.

  • Even with its muzzle bound, the calf remains under its mother

In spite of all, family links resist everything.

  • Water cannot flow down a straight stick.

Truth cannot be warped.

  • When the flesh is cut, the bone is also suffering.

One shares his relatives’ pains.

  • The tool makes the work and its owner boasts.

When someone takes credit for the work of others.

  • Nobody sees the dirt on the nape of his own neck.

Nobody sees his own faults.

  • If you tell kings that mice eat iron, they will believe it.

Kings have so much help around them that they are cut off from reality.

  • In through the door, and out through the chimney.

When the food supply brought into the house is rapidly consumed.

  • The heavy load bends the donkey

Even people used to misfortune suffer from it.

  • The thread is broken and the pearls are lost

Said when a nice, young or dear person has died.

  • When matches appeared, flint and steel lost their value.

Used by old men to protect themselves when a young man excels at something.

  • Don’t pile up straw in front of me

Don’t take one for a cow in front of which one throws fodder.


  • The tree said to the axe: “If I give you my arm, will you cut it?”

Said to a person whom you have helped and who turns against you

  • Do you hear voices from the beyond?

Said to someone who does not listen to what he is being told.

  • Don’t wear a leather cape – but don’t complain about the noise if you do.

One must not complain about something he knew was bound to happen when he started it.


  • Like fleeing from a bear’s dung and not the bear

To be extremely cowardly

  • They are like grains of millet in the desert

Applies to people who run away when one needs them the most

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