February 24, 2008

Exploring Puerto Rico's African Heritage, Part 4: Bemba. and other Words of the Week (Months?)

Yes, word of the week is (finally) back! This week it's bembes/bembas, a word referring to lips, particularly big ones. It feels a bit exaggerated usually and is often used ironically.

Here is a very partial list of other words from various African languages that are present in Puerto Rico today. I say "very partial" because while there are undoubtedly many more words from African languages, few can be traced back to their origins, not only a difficult task but one that is mostly ignored, since very few etymologists and linguists study either African languages or Puerto Rico (sad, really). Anyways, this is a pretty thorough list of words that are definitely from an African language that are used today. The definitions are kind of vague, my fault. Keep in mind that the uses of these words are really fluid and so they are used often in different ways besides the ones given here.

Anyways, without any further ado...

Anamú - a bush, a plant
Bachata - a dance from the Dominican Republic, originally just any kind of party
Baquiné - wake for dead children
Bembeteo - a talkative person, usually someone who speaks way more than they they should
Bembón - a person with big lips
Bochinche - gossip
Bomba - african type dance
Bongó - percussion instrument
Burundanga - mix of things (usually in cooking)
Cachimbo - smoking pipe (according to a more official definition), but also used as a nickname
Calalú - vegetable
Candungo - container, usually bucket or trash can
Chango - a type of black bird, also a timid or wimpy guy
Changa - timid, wimpy girl
Cheche - boss, guru
Chévere - cool, great
Chongo - something that doesn't work because it's slow or old
Chumbo/a - flat butt
Cocolo - people who like salsa
Cocoroco - sound of a rooster
Conga - percussion instrument
Dengue - mosquito as well as the virus
Fufú - a spell
Funche - hard corn meal food
Gandinga - pork tripe, intestines
Gandul - pigeon pea
Gongolí - a little worm
Grifería - african hair
Guineo - banana
Guingambó - okra
Jurutungo - used in "estoy por lo ultimo" instead of ultimo ("I'm almost there")
Mafafo - overweight person, also a type of banana.
Malanga - vegetable
Malango - an ordinary or stupid person
Mambo - type of dance
Marifinga - bland cornmeal food
Marimba - a seed that is dried and filled with smaller seeds to make the instrument
Merengue - a sweet as well as a Dominican dance
Mofongo - dish of mashed plantains
Mogolla - really mixed up
Mondongo - type of dish made of cow stomach
Monga - an illness, like a headcold
Mongo - without strenght
Ñame - yam
Ñangotao - squatting
Neñeñe - whiny, bratty person
Ñoco - missing a part of their body, like a hand or foot
Ñoño/a - lazy or childish person
Pachanga - a country dance
Quimbambas - boondocks
Quingombó - a bean
Sambumbia - keep adding things, usually liquids (to a stew, for example)
Sandunga/eo - enjoyment or a rhythm that overtakes you
Titingó - going out to have fun
Tumbao - a type of walking that is really notable in the streets...
I'm not really sure how to explain this last one, I think the best way would be through this video here...

Well that's all for now... I'll be posting later (I hope... depends on a few external factors!).


El Rata said...

That's a pretty comprehensive list of words of African descent in the Puerto Rican vernacular: good job! :-)

Of course, you forgot one of the meanings of "ñame":

Ñame - Name of a Puerto Rican humor newspaper (http://elname.com/)


Nice reading you! :-D

Speaking Boricua said...

Thanks! and yes, I should have thought of that first!! hehe

Andrea Fahy said...

Oh, too bad the video has been removed from YouTube!

Mixarican said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! As Puerto Ricans we need to come to the realization that our "culture" was heavily influenced by our African ancestry, it is evidenced in our language, our customs, beliefs, and in our blood! I wanted to mention the word "sancocho" (a beef, pork, or chicken stew made with root vegetables). I'm not sure I spelled it correctly, but it is one of our traditional dishes and it sure sounds like a word of African descent. I am proud of our African roots and always thankful to learn more. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I've heard the word "Cocolo" with a whole different meaning than "Someone who likes to dance salsa>>>>>>>>>> The vulgar term "Cocolo" goes alot further back than Salsa....

Aram Rivera said...

How do you know these words are of African descent. I know Chango is a Yoruba word, but what are the origins of the other words on the list





Who Am I said...

Yeah, 'cocolo' is a rather derogatory term for someone of sub-Saharan African descent.I'm not sure where "lover of salsa" came from...

Chango in Spanish sounds completely different to the Yoruba name for the orisha Shango. In Puerto Rico it's used for crows/ravens, whereas in Mexico it's used to refer to a monkey, or monkeying around (which is likely the root for saying someone is acting 'changa').

Sambumbia should be a bit more precise. It's not so much just adding things (in particular liquids) to a stew, but rather the character of the dish/item being off-putting,because of its disordered nature mixing things that don't go together.

TheGlam_Mam said...

It depends what part of the island you're from. In the western part cocolo is referring to someone who loves salsa

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

For those who wonder about the term "cocolo," it was a term used widely around the 80s, when the salsa music was very strong in the island. When you would say to someone, you are a "cocolo," it means that person prefers salsa music over others. The same used to happen with the term "roquero," meaning the people who prefers rock music. These two terms were used a lot then. After this, I have always known the word "cocolo" as someone who likes salsa a lot.

And yes, I would add the word "sancocho," which I learned long ago is a word from the African culture.

Also, I am not sure of these two: 1) "abombao" which means the smell of something when it gets wet and stays wet for a long time, it is "abombao." 2) "apearse," is to get down from something. I used to hear to that one a lot when I was a girl: Apeate de ahi (Get down of there).