Mumbo Jumbo…..


Mumbo Jumbo is the expression we use for language that seems nonsense and to have no discernible meaning. For the origin of this saying we travel to Africa with the explorers and missionaries of the 18th century. One of these travellers, Francis Moore, wrote a book of his adventures called Inland Parts Of Africa, published in 1738. In one part Moore includes the passage ‘A dreadful bugbear to the women is called Mumbo Jumbo, which keeps the women in awe.’

Mumbo Jumbo was a legendary spirit in villages across Africa who was used by male tribal leaders in order to keep the women of their tribes in line. One of the major tribal customs was for a man to have several wives and bitching between them was a frequent occurrence. When an outbreak of backbiting became intolerable, the husband would dress up as Mumbo Jumbo and visit the main culprit in the dead of night and scare her rigid by screaming and shouting. The trouble-making missus was then tied to a tree and given an old-fashioned thrashing by Mumbo Jumbo. Clearly he was not to be messed with.

The phrase travelled back to England and became associated with the meaningless rantings of ‘Mumbo Jumbo’.



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