Sunday, 10 May 2015

Angolan Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names, and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals, I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. This time the country of Angloa and some of the largest towns and cities beginning with the largest.

Luanda, earlier given as Loanda, is of uncertain origins but with two most commonly cited meanings. The most popular is this is derived from a native word meaning 'tax' and a reference to the tribute of shellfish sent to the ruler of Congo. Others point to the earlier name of Loanda being a word meaning 'flat land'. From an etymological perspective the second explanation is more likely as it comes from a known word, while also being a typical definition of a place name. While it is easy to see why the first explanation is the most popular, it can almost be discounted entirely and for three good reasons: not least because the root word is unrecorded; conversely the word loanda is known and fits the topography; and the latter definition is exactly what we would expect from a place name (the most simple is invariably correct even if the least desirable).

Huambo, known to the Portuguese as Nova Lisboa or New Lisbon, and gets its name from the Wambo, one of the former Ovimbundu kingdoms of Angola. The Wambo were a Bantu tribe, one of several who migrated here from Namibia. The origin of their name is completely unknown but the word 'wambo' is found elsewhere, although the ancient Proto-Germanic wambo meaning either 'belly, bowels, uterus' and even meaning 'heart' as in the sense 'central' depending upon the context, is certainly not related. From an implausible ancient offering to an impossible contemporary source, yet still worth a mention. The 'word' was used in a scene from Spongebob Squarepants when the eponymous character is discussing a setting on Mermaidman's belt with Patrick Star. Patrick informs Spongebob he has the setting wrong: "You've set it to 'M' for 'mini' when it should be 'W' for 'wambo'. Spongebob: "Wambo? Don't think that's a real word." Patrick: Of course it is! I wambo, you wambo, he, she, me wambo. Wambology, the study of wama. It's first grade, Spongebob!" Having said the latter is an impossible origin for wambo it is quite likely, now this has appeared on the internet, that Patrick Star will one day be cited by someone as the man who named an Angolan city.

Lobito is a city named because of its long use as a trading post, a fitting excuse for also naming the Bay of Lobito as it is one of the finest natural harbours on this coast of Africa. It comes from pitu, an Umbundu word which, when prefixed by olu, can be defined as something akin to 'passageway, door' even 'pathway'. The pronunication has changed from the original Olupitu to Lupitu and through Portuguese influence to the modern form.

Uige was renamed in 1955 as Vila Marechal Carmona, to honour the former president of Portugal, Oscar Carmona. When declared a city it was reduced to Carmona and, in 1975, returned to Uige which is also the name of the province. Pronounced 'weej', the origins of the name are unknown and yet there is an Irish name which comes from a word with the same spelling. The name 'Higgins', and every variant spelling, is derived from the Old Irish uige meaning 'knowledge, skill, ingenuity'.

Namibe, somewhat predictably, shares an origin with the neighbouring Namib Desert and which is from a Nama word meaning 'vast place', a fairly apt description of a strip of land along the coast which has an average width of 124 miles wide but over 1,200 miles long. Note the Nama language is officially called Khoekhoe and is the most widespread of the non-Bantu languages containing click sounds.

Soyo was originally known as Sonho and a province of the Kingdom of Kongo and ruled by the Mwene Soyo or 'Lord of Soyo', he usually a member of the Kongo royal family. Again the meaning of the name of the Angolan place is unknown but, just as with Huambo and Uige, we do find the word used in quite unrelated areas. There is an example found in Tahiti, most often used for the name of a cocktail, and means 'out of this world. Similarly there is a reference to soyo in Paraguay, this a shortened form of so'o josopy where so'o meant 'meat' and josopyre 'crushed'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

No comments:

Post a Comment