Wanting some more information on the origin of the term 'Mumbo Jumbo', I turned to the OED which only had to say that it is of unknown origin. So, I did not find what I was looking for; however, while reading over the quotes, I found this: 'You might have been the High Preist to Mumbo-Jumbo', which, I would guess to be part of a larger sarcastic attack that I wold love to read, so does anyone out there have an e-copy of Hood's 'Ode to Rae Wilson' that you could donate to eMule?
Google has not been much of a help, and there is no copy here at eMule, alas (I know, I know, that was the origional point of eMule -- I just need to make some time for emule).
from Takeourword.com, issue 48
I am wondering from whence came the phrase mumbo jumbo. I am sending this query, not only because I like to use whence whenever I can, but because I'm hoping you and your infinite wisdom and resources can answer my question. I have followed your submitting rules to the best of my ability, which is admittedly limited due to ignorance. I have searched the Archives and Back Issues so as to not be redundant. I am assuming that mumbo jumbo is not a proper noun (is it usually left uncapitalized) and that it isn't a surname as it is not my last name, nor have I ever met such a named person (I admit it is conceivable however, and respect your decision regarding the possible disqualification of my question on these grounds). I put no time pressure on you, as that is rude and you are providing this service from the goodness of your heart. I promise that my desire to know the etymology of mumbo jumbo does not stem from an assigned research project, but comes from a deep personal need that cannot be verbalized properly.
In addition to arduously obeying your very fair rules set forth, I've decided to praise you extensively. I noticed that my chances for getting answered go up if I do so (which incidentally proves I looked through back issues!), so here goes: I have never, ever, in my entire life encountered two such people that I would like to invite to dinner without having met them. You are the kind of people that get begged to be godparents of strangers' children. Your sense of humor is not stifled by your intellect, which is refreshing and, further, facilitates learning. You propose new trains of thought, stimulating young minds and bettering the future of all mankind. All of mankind would be heading a different direction if it weren't for you. I thank you.
Sorry this is so long.
Oh, please don't apologize. We'll take all the compliments you want to throw at us. (Readers please take note. This is the fast track to getting your queries answered.)
There is no easy answer to the origin of mumbo jumbo but the earliest references used capital initials as Mumbo Jumbo was said to be an African deity.
At Night, I was visited by a Mumbo Jumbo, an Idol, which is among the Mundingoes a kind of cunning Mystery... This is a Thing invented by the Men to keep their Wives in awe.
F. Moore ,Travels in Africa, 1738
Then again, in 1799, the explorer Mungo Park described...
A sort of masquerade habit... which I was told... belonged to Mumbo Jumbo. This is a strange bugbear... much employed by the Pagan natives in keeping their women in subjection.
Unfortunately, no one since the 18th century has reported any such deity in any West African tribe. It is possible that mumbo jumbo may be a corrupt form of nzambi, Congolese for "god" (see zombie, above).
Explorers such as Moore and Park dismissed any native god as ignorant superstition. A religious belief in Mumbo Jumbo, a god invented simply to scare the womenfolk, was seen as even more nonsensical. Presumably this gave rise to mumbo jumbo in its modern sense of "obscure or meaningless talk".
Incidentally, there is also a rum-based West Indian drink called mumbo jum (see zombie, above).
Here's something from Bartleyby-
John Bartlett (1820–1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919.
AUTHOR: Thomas Hood (1799–1845)
QUOTATION: Each cloud-capt mountain is a holy altar;
An organ breathes in every grove;
And the full heart ’s a Psalter,
Rich in deep hymn of gratitude and love.
ATTRIBUTION: Ode to Rae Wilson.
Hooray for Project Gutenberg!
ODE TO RAE WILSON, ESQUIRE
[Footnote: Who had, in one of his books, characterized some of Hood's
verses as "profaneness and ribaldry."]
"Close, close your eyes with holy dread,
And weave a circle round him thrice;
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise!"--Coleridge.
"It's very hard them kind of men
Won't let a body be."--Old Ballad.
A wanderer, Wilson, from my native land,
Remote, O Rae, from godliness and thee,
Where rolls between us the eternal sea,
Besides some furlongs of a foreign sand--
Beyond the broadest Scotch of London Wall;
Beyond the loudest Saint that has a call;
Across the wavy waste between us stretched,
A friendly missive warns me of a stricture,
Wherein my likeness you have darkly etched,
And though I have not seen the shadow sketched,
Thus I remark prophetic on the picture.
I guess the features:--in a line to paint
Their moral ugliness, I'm not a saint,
Not one of those self-constituted saints,
Quacks--not physicians--in the cure of souls,
Censors who sniff out moral taints,
And call the devil over his own coals--
Those pseudo Privy Councillors of God,
Who write down judgments with a pen hard-nibbed:
Ushers of Beelzebub's Black Rod,
Commending sinners not to ice thick-ribbed,
But endless flames, to scorch them like flax--
Yet sure of heaven themselves, as if they'd cribbed
The impression of St. Peter's keys in wax!
Of such a character no single trace
Exists, I know, in my fictitious face;
There wants a certain cast about the eye;
A certain lifting of the nose's tip;
A certain curling of the nether lip,
In scorn of all that is, beneath the sky;
In brief, it is an aspect deleterious,
A face decidedly not serious,
A face profane, that would not do at all
To make a face at Exeter Hall--
That Hall where bigots rant, and cant, and pray,
And laud each other face to face,
Till every farthing-candle RAY
Conceives itself a great gas-light of grace!
Well!--be the graceless lineaments confest
I do enjoy this bounteous beauteous earth;
And dote upon a jest
"Within the limits of becoming mirth;"--
No solemn sanctimonious face I pull,
Nor think I'm pious when I'm only bilious--
Nor study in my sanctum supercilious
To frame a Sabbath Bill or forge a Bull,
I pray for grace--repent each sinful act--
Peruse, but underneath the rose, my Bible;
And love my neighbor, far too well, in fact,
To call and twit him with a godly tract
That's turned by application to a libel.
My heart ferments not with the bigot's leaven,
All creeds I view with toleration thorough,
And have a horror of regarding heaven
As any body's rotten borough.
What else? No part I take in party fray,
With tropes from Billingsgate's slang-whanging Tartars,
I fear no Pope--and let great Ernest play
At Fox and Goose with Fox's Martyrs!
I own I laugh at over-righteous men,
I own I shake my sides at ranters,
And treat sham Abr'am saints with wicked banters,
I even own, that there are times--but then
It's when I 've got my wine--I say d---- canters!
I've no ambition to enact the spy
On fellow-souls, a spiritual Pry--
'Tis said that people ought to guard their noses
Who thrust them into matters none of theirs
And, though no delicacy discomposes
Your saint, yet I consider faith and prayers
Among the privatest of men's affairs.
I do not hash the Gospel in my books,
And thus upon the public mind intrude it,
As if I thought, like Otahei-tan cooks,
No food was fit to eat till I had chewed it.
On Bible stilts I don't affect to stalk;
Nor lard with Scripture my familiar talk--
For man may pious texts repeat,
And yet religion have no inward seat;
'Tis not so plain as the old Hill of Howth,
A man has got his belly full of meat
Because he talks with victuals in his mouth!
Mere verbiage--it is not worth a carrot!
Why, Socrates or Plato--where 's the odds?--
Once taught a Jay to supplicate the gods,
And made a Polly-theist of a Parrot!
A mere professor, spite of all his cant, is
Not a whit better than a Mantis--
An insect, of what clime I can't determine,
That lifts its paws most parson-like, and thence,
By simple savages--through sheer pretense--
Is reckoned quite a saint among the vermin.
But where's the reverence, or where the nous,
To ride on one's religion through the lobby,
Whether as stalking-horse or hobby,
To show its pious paces to "the house."
I honestly confess that I would hinder
The Scottish member's legislative rigs,
That spiritual Pindar,
Who looks on erring souls as straying pigs,
That must be lashed by law, wherever found,
And driven to church as to the parish pound.
I do confess, without reserve or wheedle,
I view that groveling idea as one
Worthy some parish clerk's ambitious son,
A charity-boy who longs to be a beadle.
On such a vital topic sure 'tis odd
How much a man can differ from his neighbor,
One wishes worship freely given to God,
Another wants to make it statute-labor--
The broad distinction in a line to draw,
As means to lead us to the skies above,
You say--Sir Andrew and his love of law,
And I--the Saviour with his law of love.
Spontaneously to God should tend the soul,
Like the magnetic needle to the Pole;
But what were that intrinsic virtue worth,
Suppose some fellow with more zeal than knowledge,
Fresh from St. Andrew's college,
Should nail the conscious needle to the north?
I do confess that I abhor and shrink
Prom schemes, with a religious willy-nilly,
That frown upon St. Giles' sins, but blink
The peccadilloes of all Piccadilly--
My soul revolts at such bare hypocrisy,
And will not, dare not, fancy in accord
The Lord of hosts with an exclusive lord
Of this world's aristocracy,
It will not own a nation so unholy,
As thinking that the rich by easy trips
May go to heaven, whereas the poor and lowly
Must work their passage as they do in ships.
One place there is--beneath the burial-sod,
Where all mankind are equalized by death;
Another place there is--the Fane of God,
Where all are equal who draw living breath;--
Juggle who will ELSEWHERE with his own soul,
Playing the Judas with a temporal dole--
He who can come beneath that awful cope,
In the dread presence of a Maker just,
Who metes to every pinch of human dust
One even measure of immortal hope--
He who can stand within that holy door,
With soul unbowed by that pure spirit-level,
And frame unequal laws for rich and poor,--
Might sit for Hell, and represent the Devil!
Such are the solemn sentiments, O Rae,
In your last journey-work, perchance, you ravage,
Seeming, but in more courtly terms, to say
I'm but a heedless, creedless, godless, savage;
A very Guy, deserving fire and faggots,--
A scoffer, always on the grin,
And sadly given to the mortal sin
Of liking Mawworms less than merry maggots!
The humble records of my life to search,
I have not herded with mere pagan beasts:
But sometimes I have "sat at good men's feasts,"
And I have been "where bells have knolled to church."
Dear bells! how sweet the sound of village bells
When on the undulating air they swim!
Now loud as welcomes! faint, now, as farewells!
And trembling all about the breezy dells,
As fluttered by the wings of Cherubim.
Meanwhile the bees are chanting a low hymn;
And lost to sight the ecstatic lark above
Sings, like a soul beatified, of love,
With, now and then, the coo of the wild pigeon:--
O pagans, heathens, infidels, and doubters!
If such sweet sounds can't woo you to religion,
Will the harsh voices of church cads and touters?
A man may cry Church! Church! at every word,
With no more piety than other people--
A daw's not reckoned a religious bird
Because it keeps a-cawing from a steeple;
The Temple is a good, a holy place,
But quacking only gives it an ill savor;
While saintly mountebanks the porch disgrace,
And bring religion's self into disfavor!
Behold yon servitor of God and Mammon,
Who, binding up his Bible with his ledger,
Blends Gospel texts with trading gammon,
A black-leg saint, a spiritual hedger,
Who backs his rigid Sabbath, so to speak,
Against the wicked remnant of the week,
A saving bet against, his sinful bias--
"Rogue that I am," he whispers to himself,
"I lie--I cheat--do any thing for pelf,
But who on earth can say I am not pious!"
In proof how over-righteousness re-acts,
Accept an anecdote well based on facts;
On Sunday morning--(at the day don't fret)--
In riding with a friend to Ponder's End
Outside the stage, we happened to commend
A certain mansion that we saw To Let.
"Ay," cried our coachman, with our talk to grapple,
"You're right! no house along the road comes nigh it!
'T was built by the same man as built yon chapel,
And master wanted once to buy it,--
But t' other driv' the bargain much too hard,--
He axed sure-LY a sum prodigious!
But being so particular religious,
Why, THAT you see, put master on his guard!"
Church is "a little heaven below,
I have been there and still would go,"
Yet I am none of those who think it odd
A man can pray unbidden from the cassock,
And, passing by the customary hassock
Kneel down remote upon the simple sod,
And sue in forma pauperis to God.
As for the rest,--intolerant to none,
Whatever shape the pious rite may bear,
Even the poor Pagan's homage to the sun
I would not harshly scorn, lest even there
I spurned some elements of Christian prayer--
An aim, though erring, at a "world ayont"--
Acknowledgment of good--of man's futility,
A sense of need, and weakness, and indeed
That very thing so many Christians want--
Such, unto Papists, Jews or Turbaned Turks,
Such is my spirit--(I don't mean my wraith!)
Such, may it please you, is my humble faith;
I know, full well, you do not like my WORKS!
I have not sought, 'tis true, the Holy Land,
As full of texts as Cuddie Headrigg's mother,
The Bible in one hand,
And my own common-place-book in the other--
But you have been to Palestine--alas
Some minds improve by travel--others, rather,
Resemble copper wire or brass,
Which gets the narrower by going further!
Worthless are all such pilgrimages--very!
If Palmers at the Holy Tomb contrive
The humans heats and rancor to revive
That at the Sepulcher they ought to bury.
A sorry sight it is to rest the eye on,
To see a Christian creature graze at Sion,
Then homeward, of the saintly pasture full,
Rush bellowing, and breathing fire and smoke,
At crippled Papistry to butt and poke,
Exactly as a skittish Scottish bull
Haunts an old woman in a scarlet cloak.
Why leave a serious, moral, pious home,
Scotland, renewned for sanctity of old,
Far distant Catholics to rate and scold
For--doing as the Romans do at Rome?
With such a bristling spirit wherefore quit
The Land of Cakes for any land of wafers,
About the graceless images to flit,
And buzz and chafe importunate as chafers,
Longing to carve the carvers to Scotch collops?--
People who hold such absolute opinions
Should stay at home in Protestant dominions,
Not travel like male Mrs. Trollopes.
Gifted with noble tendency to climb,
Yet weak at the same time,
Faith is a kind of parasitic plant,
That grasps the nearest stem with tendril rings;
And as the climate and the soil may grant,
So is the sort of tree to which it clings.
Consider, then, before, like Hurlothrumbo,
You aim your club at any creed on earth,
That, by the simple accident of birth,
YOU might have been High Priest to Mungo Jumbo.
For me--through heathen ignorance perchance,
Not having knelt in Palestine,--I feel
None of that griffinish excess of zeal,
Some travelers would blaze with here in France.
Dolls I can see in Virgin-like array,
Nor for a scuffle with the idols hanker
Like crazy Quixotte at the puppet's play,
If their "offense be rank," should mine be RANCOR?
Mild light, and by degrees, should be the plan
To cure the dark and erring mind;
But who would rush at a benighted man,
And give him, two black eyes for being blind?
Suppose the tender but luxuriant hop
Around a cankered stem should twine,
What Kentish boor would tear away the prop
So roughly as to wound, nay, kill the bine?
The images, 'tis true, are strangely dressed,
With gauds and toys extremely out of season;
The carving nothing of the very best,
The whole repugnant to the eye of Reason,
Shocking to Taste, and to Fine Arts a treason--
Yet ne'er o'erlook in bigotry of sect
One truly CATHOLIC, one common form,
At which unchecked
All Christian hearts may kindle or keep warm.
Say, was it to my spirit's gain or loss
One bright and balmy morning, as I went
From Liege's lovely environs to Ghent,
If hard by the wayside I found a cross,
That made me breathe a prayer upon the spot--
While Nature of herself, as if to trace
The emblem's use, had trailed around its base
The blue significant Forget-Me-Not?
Methought, the claims of Charity to urge
More forcibly along with Faith and Hope,
The pious choice had pitched upon the verge
Of a delicious slope,
Giving the eye much variegated scope!--
"Look round," it whispered, "on that prospect rare,
Those vales so verdant, and those hills so blue;
Enjoy the sunny world, so fresh, and fair,
But"--(how the simple legend pierced me through!)
"PRIEZ POUR LES MALHEUREUX."
With sweet kind natures, as in honeyed cells,
Religion lives and feels herself at home;
But only on a formal visit dwells
Where wasps instead of bees have formed the comb.
Shun pride, O Rae!--whatever sort beside
You take in lieu, shun spiritual pride!
A pride there is of rank--a pride of birth,
A pride of learning, and a pride of purse,
A London pride--in short, there be on earth
A host of prides, some better and some worse;
But of all prides, since Lucifer's attaint,
The proudest swells a self-elected Saint.
To picture that cold pride so harsh and hard,
Fancy a peacock in a poultry-yard.
Behold him in conceited circles sail,
Strutting and dancing, and now planted stiff,
In all his pomp of pageantry, as if
He felt "the eyes of Europe" on his tail!
As for the humble breed retained by man,
He scorns the whole domestic clan--
He bows, he bridles,
He wheels, he sidles,
As last, with stately dodgings in a corner,
He pens a simple russet hen, to scorn her
Full in the blaze of his resplendent fan!
"Look here," he cries (to give him words),
"Thou feathered clay--thou scum of birds!"
Flirting the rustling plumage in her eyes--
"Look here, thou vile predestined sinner,
Doomed to be roasted for a dinner,
Behold these lovely variegated dyes!
These are the rainbow colors of the skies,
That heaven has shed upon me con amore--
A Bird of Paradise?--a pretty story!
I am that Saintly Fowl, thou paltry chick!
Look at my crown of glory!
Thou dingy, dirty, dabbled, draggled jill!"
And off goes Partlett, wriggling from a kick,
With bleeding scalp laid open by his bill!
That little simile exactly paints
How sinners are despised by saints.
By saints!--the Hypocrites that ope heaven's door
Obsequious to the sinful man of riches--
But put the wicked, naked, bare-legged poor,
In parish stocks, instead of breeches.
The Saints?--the Bigots that in public spout,
Spread phosphorus of zeal on scraps of fustian,
And go like walking "Lucifers" about--
Mere living bundles of combustion.
The Saints!--the aping Fanatics that talk
All cant and rant and rhapsodies high flown--
That bid you balk
A Sunday walk,
And shun God's work as you should shun your own.
The Saints!--the Formalists, the extra pious,
Who think the mortal husk can save the soul,
By trundling, with a mere mechanic bias,
To church, just like a lignum-vitae bowl!
The Saints!--the Pharisees, whose beadle stands
Beside a stern coercive kirk,
A piece of human mason-work,
Calling all sermons contrabands,
In that great Temple that's not made with hands!
Thrice blessed, rather, is the man with whom
The gracious prodigality of nature,
The balm, the bliss, the beauty, and the bloom,
The bounteous providence in every feature,
Recall the good Creator to his creature,
Making all earth a fane, all heaven its dome!
To HIS tuned spirit the wild heather-bells
Ring Sabbath knells;
The jubilate of the soaring lark
Is chant of clerk;
For Choir, the thrush and the gregarious linnet;
The sod's a cushion for his pious want;
And, consecrated by the heaven within it,
The sky-blue pool, a font.
Each cloud-capped mountain is a holy altar;
An organ breathes in every grove;
And the fall heart's a Psalter,
Rich in deep hymns of gratitude and love!
Sufficiently by stern necessitarians
Poor Nature, with her face begrimmed by dust,
Is stoked, coked, smoked, and almost choked: but must
Religion have its own Utilitarians,
Labeled with evangelical phylacteries,
To make the road to heaven a railway trust,
And churches--that's the naked fact--mere factories?
O! simply open wide the temple door,
And let the solemn, swelling organ greet,
With VOLUNTARIES meet,
The WILLING advent of the rich and poor!
And while to God the loud Hosannas soar,
With rich vibiations from the vocal throng--
From quiet shades that to the woods belong,
And brooks with music of their own,
Voices may come to swell the choral song
With notes of praise they learned in musings lone.
How strange it is, while on all vital questions,
That occupy the House and public mind,
We always meet with some humane suggestions
Of gentle measures of a healing kind,
Instead of harsh severity and vigor,
The saint alone his preference retains
For bills of penalties and pains,
And marks his narrow code with legal rigor!
Why shun, as worthless of affiliation,
What men of all political persuasion
Extol--and even use upon occasion--
That Christian principle, conciliation?
But possibly the men who make such fuss
With Sunday pippins and old Trots infirm,
Attach some other meaning to the term,
One market morning, in my usual rambles,
Passing along Whitechapel's ancient shambles,
Where meat was hung in many a joint and quarter,
I had to halt a while, like other folks,
To let a killing butcher coax
A score of lambs and fatted sheep to slaughter.
A sturdy man he looked to fell an ox,
Bull-fronted, ruddy, with a formal streak
Of well-greased hair down either cheek,
As if he dee-dashed-dee'd some other flocks
Besides those woolly-headed stubborn blocks
That stood before him, in vexatious huddle--
Poor little lambs, with bleating wethers grouped,
While, now and then, a thirsty creature stooped
And meekly snuffed, but did not taste the puddle.
Fierce barked the dog, and many a blow was dealt,
That loin, and chump, and scrag and saddle felt,
Yet still, that fatal step they all declined it--
And shunned the tainted door as if they smelt
Onions, mint-sauce, and lemon-juice behind it.
At last there came a pause of brutal force;
The cur was silent, for his jaws were full
Of tangled locks of tarry wool;
The man had whooped and bellowed till dead hoarse,
The time was ripe for mild expostulation,
And thus it stammered ftom a stander-by--
"Zounds!--my good fellow--it quite makes me--why
It really--my dear fellow--do just try
Stringing his nerves like flint,
The sturdy butcher seized upon the hint--
At least he seized upon the foremost wether--
And hugged and lugged and tugged him neck and crop
Just nolens volens through the open shop--
If tails come off he didn't care a feather--
Then walking to the door, and smiling grim,
He rubbed his forehead and his sleeve together--
"There!--I've CONciliated him!"
Again--good-humoredly to end our quarrel--
(Good humor should prevail!)
I'll fit you with a tale
Whereto is tied a moral.
Once on a time a certain English lass
Was seized with symptoms of such deep decline,
Cough, hectic flushes, every evil sign,
That, as their wont is at such desperate pass,
The doctors gave her over--to an ass.
Accordingly, the grisly Shade to bilk,
Each morn the patient quaffed a frothy bowl
Of assinine new milk,
Robbing a shaggy suckling of a foal
Which got proportionably spare and skinny--
Meanwhile the neighbors cried "Poor Mary Ann!
She can't get over it! she never can!"
When lo! to prove each prophet was a ninny,
The one that died was the poor wet-nurse Jenny.
To aggravate the case,
There were but two grown donkeys in the place;
And, most unluckily for Eve's sick daughter,
The other long-eared creature was a male,
Who never in his life had given a pail
Of milk, or even chalk and water.
No matter: at the usual hour of eight
Down trots a donkey to the wicket-gate,
With Mister Simon Gubbins on his back--
"Your sarvant, Miss--a werry spring-like day--
Bad time for hasses, though! good lack! good lack!
Jenny be dead, Miss--but I'ze brought ye Jack--
He doesn't give no milk--but he can bray."
So runs the story,
And, in vain self-glory,
Some Saints would sneer at Gubbins for his blindness;
But what the better are their pious saws
To ailing souls, than dry hee-haws,
Without the milk of human kindness?
So the poem was not quite what I was expecting but quite intersting nonetheless (I mean, how can you go wrong with bad puns?).
"Mungo Jumbo", though? I wonder if that is a scan-o/spell checker-o (the text file also has a "Mungo Park")? The OED does show it as "Mumbo Jumbo", but the OED also drops the "esquire" from the title of the poem. Hh well, the answer to this question will have to wait for eMule-II.