[Ads-l] Mumbo Jumbo

Barretts Mail mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 25 18:01:26 UTC 2020

"Histoire Genéralé des Voyages Depuis Le Commencement du VXe Siécle” (vol 4, 1747, https://tinyurl.com/y3n8hfqs <https://tinyurl.com/y3n8hfqs>, p. 232) mentions mumbo jumbo in connection with the Mandingos (Mandinkas). 
The Mandinkan connection is also mentioned in "The SAGE Encyclopedia of African Cultural Heritage in North America" (https://tinyurl.com/y5g56d47 <https://tinyurl.com/y5g56d47>).

I did not see either of the words in a dictionary of Mandinka at http://resourcepage.gambia.dk/langabot.htm <http://resourcepage.gambia.dk/langabot.htm>, but maybe it is there in a different form.

See also https://tinyurl.com/y52phtnj <https://tinyurl.com/y52phtnj>. “Mama” is in the dictionary. 

Benjamin Barrett (he/his/him)
Formerly of Seattle, WA

> On 25 Nov 2020, at 08:50, Z Rice <zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> In a number of dictionaries, the term mumbo jumbo - 'words, talk, chatter,
> idle talk, excuse, reason, ritual, stuff' - is said to derive from an
> African mask. (I've also heard "mumbu jumbu".)  However, I've maintained
> that the phrase (as it pertains to the aforementioned definitions is
> actually Kikongo in origin, from the Kikongo mambu (plural) and djambu
> (singular), meaning 'words, talk, chatter, idle talk, reasons, rituals,
> abstract things, processes'.
> I would also say that the meaning noted in the Oxford dictionary, at least
> - i.e., "language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or
> bewilderment" - is not necessarily consistent with its use in the United
> States, particularly that which is found in the South and among Native
> Black Americans as a whole.
> Still, in a historical context, the Oxford meaning can very well be
> explained by the closely-related Kimbundu cognate mambu (plural) 'sermons,
> prayers, orations'; such utterances would indeed take place among Bakongo
> and Umbundu natives in their native languages and would be intended to
> escape the understanding of the era's enslavers and colonizers.
> Merriam Webster definition offers the following definition:
> - a complicated often ritualistic observance with elaborate trappings
> - complicated activity or language usually intended to obscure and confuse
> - unnecessarily involved and incomprehensible language; gibberish
> - language, behavior, or beliefs based on superstition
> This definition, while more extensive than that which is provided by
> Oxford, also fails to capture the meanings found throughout the United
> States. (I would even say that the meaning seems to reflect the usage of
> the bourgeoisie, in particular.)
> Regards,
> Zola Sohna
> _____________________________________
> Date:    Tue, 24 Nov 2020 14:02:01 -0500
> From:    Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject: Re: Jumbo (Size/Quantity)
> I wonder if Vachel Lindsay's notorious poem may have been a vector here:
> "Be careful what you do,
> Or Mumbo-jumbo', God of the Congo,
> And all of the other
> Gods of the Congo,
> Mumbo-jumbo will hoo-doo you,
> Mumbo-jumbo will hoo-doo you,
> Mumbo-jumbo will hoo-doo you."
> From "The Congo" (
> http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/poetry/poems/the_congo.html), his racist
> and/or anti-racist (there is that couplet, "Listen to the yell of Leopold
> <http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/poetry/poems/leopold.html>'s ghost/Burning
> in hell for his hand-maimed host) poem.
> LH

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