phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Mumbo Jumbo

Posted by Rude Boy on October 10, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Mumbo Jumbo posted by ESC on October 07, 2003

: : Your meaning suggests the origin is from a Mandingo god 'Mama Dyanbo'. The C.O.D. says it is a "grotesque idol said to have been worshipped by some tribes; (fig.) object of senseless veneration; meaningless ritual. [orig. unkn.]". I do not know but could it be from the Swahili? "Mambo" = "a thing, matter, affair" much like the Latin "re". And the plural of "mambo" in Swahili is "jambo". Hence, "stuff" and "lots of stuff", perhaps a patronizing white Kenyan settler phrase derived from Swahili.

: Here's what a couple of references say:

: MUMBO JUMBO - "is generally used to mean any kind of gibberish or meaningless combination of words or syllables. Originally, however, it was a word in Mandingo (ma-ma-gyo-mbo) meaning 'magician who makes the troubled spirits of ancestors go away.' It referred to the belief of some Mandingo peoples in the western Sudan that a high priest called the 'Mumbo Jumbo' had the power to protect his village from evil spirits." "The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

: Another reference has a different take on the term. "Mama Dyumbo was really more a male chauvinist god than anything else. The English explorer Mungo Park writes in his 'Travels in the Interior of Africa' that Mama Dyumbo was the spirit protecting the villages of Khassonke, a Mandingo African tribe on the Senegal. His name literally means 'ancestor with a pompon,' or wearing a tuft on his hat. Mama Dyumbo was mostly a ploy used by crafty husbands to silence their many wives." The "god" would appear to frighten the offending wife and then tie her to a tree and "whip her silent" amid the jeers of onlookers. "Because the god bewildered offending women, mumbo jumbo came to mean confusing talk, nonsense and meaningless ceremony. "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

: I didn't like that last part one bit. Some woman needed to snatch that little tuft right off his head.

What's all this about whips, bondage, snatch and little tufts?
All sounds a little like a naughty version of "St George and the Dragon".