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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Nuts and Bolts: Bube


Bube, Bohobé, or Bube–Benga, is one of the languages spoken by the Bubi, who are a Bantu people who live on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.
I first heard about Bube on the BBC TV Quiz programme QI, where it was said that the Bube language can't be spoken in the dark because it relies so much on gesture.
I can't find any other reference to this fact (if fact it be) anywhere else, so I can't guarantee that it's true.*
But Bube, which has around 40,000 speakers, is an extraordinary language whether it relies on gestures or not (and the fact that it's written in Latin characters suggests, I think, not).
For a start, the Bube word for the Bubi people wasn't Bubi until quite recently. The original Bube word for the Bubi people translates literally as people of the land who are among the living, and in Northern Bube this word is the utterly enchanting bombilicious.

In case you're wondering, the plural of bombilicious is...

And you know, I don't really think that anything could be more extraordinary than that.
Word To Use Today: Bube. This word probably comes from the word boobè, meaning male. The name was given to the Bubi by visitors to the island of Bioko. It may come from the greeting A boobe, oipodi, which means good morning, man

*But I must say it doesn't seem at all likely to me: isn't after dark the time when people really need to tell stories?



  1. Wonderful article, I wen on the same quest and could not find anything like the QI claim either.
    I enjoyed it
    All the best

    1. Thanks very much indeed, Simon. And to think that until I wrote this I thought the old plural of sphinx (sphinges) was odd!

  2. Wow! I really appreciate this article. My family is Bubi so I know is a wonderful language too :)
    I am surprised by the QI program that spoke about it! Anyway, I think it's a myth, I know my family gesticulates when they talk, but it does not mean the language can't be spoken in the dark. Giving an analogy, thousands of songs written in Bubi have been made, and those lyrics could not be understood through the radio or a CD without looking at the singer...

    Gestures are important to communicate in bubi, but more as a cratch than a need. :)

    1. Adler, what a total joy and a privilege to hear from you!
      I'm glad my instincts were right, and that people can speak Bube in the dark. Now I must go and find out what I can about all those thousands of Bubi songs. What riches!
      Thanks very much indeed for writing.