Edited by Azizi Powell
This is Part I of a three part series on the word "sambo".
Most of this post focuses on the etymology (the origin and meaning) of the name "Sambo". However, I've also included a comment from a folk discussion forum about the Caribbean meeaning of the word "sambo" and I've also included an excerpt of a critique of Helen Bannerman's 1899 book Little Black Sambo. I've included that last excerpt because of the undeniable influence that book has had on cultural connotations about the name "Sambo".
Click http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Sambo.aspx for information about the history of the "Sambo" stereotype.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/09/sambo-in-examples-of-songs-from-thomas.html for Part II of this series. Part II of this series presents examples of the name "Sambo" in songs/rhymes that are featured in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise.
Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/09/caribbean-folk-songs-include-word-sambo.html for Part III of this series. Part III showcases Caribbean folk songs that include the word "sambo".
These posts are presented for cultural and informational purposes.
All copyrights remain wth their owners.
Thanks to those who are quoted in this post.
DISCLAIMER: These posts aren't meant to imply that these are the only songs that include the word "sambo".
Also, I'm aware that the source of the word "sambo" may be more than one traditional African language, and that word (including that name) may have different meanings in those languages, aside from the meanings that were given that word outside of African cultures. Furthermore, I believe that it's also likely that the word "sambo" meaning "mixed racial" came from a different source than the personal name "Sambo".
MY COMMENTS ABOUT THESE SELECTED QUOTES
I've assigned numbers to these excerpts for referencing purposes, but must confess that I prefer the eytmologies for the word "sambo" that are given in the first three excerpts than the etymology that is given in for that word in the Wikipedia excerpt which I assigned #4.
Excerpt #5 refers to the meaning of the word "sambo" in the Caribbean [as does a portion of Excerpt #1]
Excerpt #6 is from an critique of the 1899 book "Little Black Sambo".
VARIOUS QUOTATIONS ABOUT THE WORD "SAMBO"
Excerpt #1: From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=sambo
"sambo (n.2) stereotypical name for male black person (now only derogatory), 1818, American English, probably a different word from sambo (n.1); like many such words (Cuffy, Rastus, etc.) a common personal name among U.S. blacks in the slavery days (first attested 1704 in Boston), probably from an African source, such as Foulah sambo "uncle," or a similar Hausa word meaning "second son."
It could be used without conscious racism or contempt until circa World War II. When the word fell from polite usage, collateral casualties included the enormously popular children's book "The Story of Little Black Sambo" (by Helen Bannerman), which is about an East Indian child, and the Sambo's Restaurant chain, a U.S. pancake-specialty joint originally opened in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1957 (the name supposedly from a merging of the names of the founders, Sam Battistone and Newell "Bo" Bohnett, but the chain's decor and advertising leaned heavily on the book), which once counted 1,200 units coast-to-coast. Civil rights agitation against it began in 1970s and the chain collapsed, though the original restaurant still is open. Many of the defunct restaurants were taken over by rival Denny's.
sambo (n.1) "person of mixed blood in America and Asia," 1748, perhaps from Spanish zambo "bandy-legged," probably from Latin scambus "bow-legged," from Greek skambos. Used variously in different regions to indicate some mixture of African, European, and Indian blood; common senses were "child of black and Indian parentage" and "offspring of a black and a mulatto."
Excerpt #2: From https://web.ccsu.edu/afstudy/upd4-3.html
Vol. IV, no. 3 (Summer 1997) Africa Update Archives
“African Languages and Ebonics" by Dr. Katherine Harris, Central Connecticut State University
..."It is nevertheless too simplistic to conclude that African Americans retained nothing of their multilingual heritage. One can look briefly at naming practices to find evidence of linguistic ties. For example, Juba, one of the day names given to a male child along the Guinea coast, was also a nickname given to a girl born on Monday in slave communities to describe "tomboy" (1620s-1800). The name Juba, which was fairly common among African men in the l7th and l8th centuries, was also the name of a region in modern Kenya/Somalia and Sudan.
The erosion of African names also occurred. Samba, meaning comfort in Wolof, is still recalled in musical form in Brazil, where there remains a strong African presence. A possible derivation of Samba is Zambo (Southern/Central Africa), which also means to give comfort. Other derivatives are Sambu in Mandinka and Sambo in Hausa. The fact that the name was at one time fairly common and no longer used may have relationship to a song popularized by white Americans during the war from 1861-1865, "Sambo's Right To Be Kilt," and especially the derogatory usage of the name enshrined in the book Little Black Sambo."
http://www.answers.com/topic/sambo-3 "Oxford Companion to African American Literature:
"Variants of the name Sambo can be found in several African cultures, including Samba in Bantu; Samb and Samba in Wolof; Sambu in Mandingo; and Sambo in Hausa, Mende, and Vai. Throughout census materials and assorted other eighteenth-century documents, these names emerge as those of new world slaves. The name also has possible Hispanic antecedents: the sixteenth-century word “zambo” refers to a bowlegged or knock-kneed individual.
By the late eighteenth century, whites had begun to use the name in a generic fashion to refer to male slaves. Before long, comic associations were commonplace; childishness, sloppiness, and a propensity to mispronounce multisyllabic words were the key traits of a Sambo figure. Such characters emerged in late eighteenth-century plays and sheet music, and became mainstays of nineteenth-century minstrelsy. By the time Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo was published in 1898, the name was thoroughly linked with the image of an immature, fun-loving, inept, black male."...
Excerpt #4: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambo_(racial_term)
"The word "sambo" came into the English language from the Latin American Spanish word zambo, the Spanish word in Latin America for a person of mixed African and Native American descent. This in turn may have come from one of three African language sources. Webster's Third International Dictionary holds that it may have come from the Kongo word nzambu (monkey). Note that the z of (Latin American) Spanish is pronounced like the English s rather than as the z in the word nzambu. The Royal Spanish Academy gives the origin from a Latin word, possibly the adjective valgus or another modern Spanish term (patizambo,) both of which translate to "bow-legged".
The equivalent term in Portuguese-speaking areas, such as Brazil, is cafuzo.
Examples of "Sambo" as a common name can be found as far back as the 18th century. In Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair (serialised from 1847), the black skinned Indian servant of the Sedley family from Chapter One, is called Sambo. Similarly, in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), one of Simon Legree's overseers is named Sambo. Instances of it being used as a stereotypical name for African Americans can be found as early as the Civil War. The name does not seem to have acquired the intentional, open derogatory connotation until the first half of the 20th century”...
Excerpt #5: From http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=138244
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Big Big Sambo Gyal (jamaica)
From:Q; Date: 11 Jun 11 - 10:37 PM
..."In notes with another "Sambo" song*, Walter Jekyll, 1904, remarks: "A Sambo is the child of a brown mother and a black father, being a cross between black and white. The Sambo lady, very proud of the strain of white in her blood, turns up her nose at the black man. She wants a white man for a husband. Failing to find one, she will not marry at all."
* "Another "Sambo" song = another song that includes the word "sambo" other than the song "Big Big Sambo Gyal" which is the focus of that folk music forum's discussion thread. I'm not sure about the name of that other song. However, the lyrics for and comments about "Big Big Sambo Gyal" are included in Part III of this pancocojam series.
Excerpt #6: http://people.lis.illinois.edu/~heinric3/514LBS/LittleBlackSambo5.html "Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo:
"Sambo’s name also worked against him in the United States. Bannerman’s choice of the name Sambo was understandable in her setting. Although the content and context of the tale are decidedly Indian (tigers, ghi, the bazaar, curly but not kinky hair, and the Indian place of authorship), Bannerman biographer Elizabeth Hay believes the author consciously chose a name she knew was associated with Africans (161). But the name Sambo could easily have been a variant of Sambasivan, a common boys’ name for the Tamil ethnic group among whom the Bannermans lived in Madras (“Tamil Names”)....
In any case, uprooted from India and transplanted in American soil, the name turned out to be most inopportune. Sambo had become the generic name for a stereotyped, subservient, dim-witted African American male. As early as 1843, “Sambo” was the title character in the song “The Fine Old Color’d Gentleman” by Dan Emmett, founder of the first blackface minstrel troupe".
I've also read the theory that the name "Sambo" in Helen Bannerman's book could have come from the name for the Indian god "Shiva"*. However, I agree with "Bannerman biographer Elizabeth Hay [that] the author consciously chose a name she knew was associated with Africans" in large part because Bannerman also used other African words as names in that book [i.e. Black Mumbo for Sambo's mother and Black Jumbo for Sambo's father]. She also wrote and had published other books that used names which "were associated with Africans". Read my comment below for more about this.
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva "The name Śambhu (Sanskrit: शम्भु), "causing happiness", also reflects this benign aspect [of Shiva].
"Śambhu, another common name or epithet of Śiva, has been compared with the Tamil chempu or Śembu meaning "copper," i.e. "the red metal."
While the name "Sambo" and the name "Sambu" are spelled simiarly, they have different etymologies and meanings. I doubt that Helen Bannerman, the author of "Little Black Sambo" was alluding to Sambhu when she named that character "Sambo"..
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