The Mambos


I have mentioned mambo a few times on this blog and this will be another one. Did you know that the word for the high priestess in Haitian Voodoo is mambo? Mambo, which means “important words, matters, etc” or “conversation with the gods,” in the Central African language of Kikongo, is also used for the name of the Cuban music and dance. In addition to those usages, mambo is a greeting in Swahili (“how are things”) and “king” in the Zimbabwean Shona language. It may also be related to “Mumbo Jumbo” or “Mambo Jambo,” which came from the Mandingo word “Maamajomboo.” “Maamajombo” (“mamagyombo) meant “a magician who makes the troubled spirits of ancestors go away,” and was a name for a masked dancer in a religious ceremony. Later it was used in the 18th century for the name of a West African god. Several of these languages are part of the Bantu language family, which explains why the word shows up in them.

The above clip is from the documentary, When the Spirits Dance Mambo, which was produced by Afro-puerto Rican author Marta Moreno Vega. The documentary is named after the book of the same name. For more on West African deities in the Americans, read Denise Oliver Velez’s article on Daily Kos.

Mayda Del Valle- Mami’s Making Mambo

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