Many Meanings of Gumbo

The Creole/Louisiana word “gumbo” is derived from the word for okra in the Central Bantu dialect of West Africa. That region was home to many of the first Louisiana African slaves, who brought with them a love for spices, smothered greens and stews, and whose okra was originally known as “kingombo.” The word evolved into “quingombo,” and was later shortened to “gombo,” then “gumbo.”

Today’s gumbo that we eat is a spicy soup/stew made of just about anything imaginable. Along with optional tomatoes, okra and filé, this roux-based, one-pot meal is typically served over rice. It’s a wintertime staple in south Louisiana, but over the years has gained popularity just about everyplace else.

But there’s a few more definitions of the word — In the world of dirt, the word gumbo refers to a dark, dense mud that dries brick-hard.

Then there’s the French dialect known as gumbo. It’s a language spoken in south Louisiana, mainly by African-Americans, who took the standard French language and created a patois of their own.

Finally, gumbo can mean a melange of things, such as a gumbo of flowers in a garden, meaning a diverse mixture. Another example is 1850s New Orleans, which was an exotic city populated by a gumbo of humanity, with folks sailing in by steamboat from all parts of the world.

It is because of this disparate populace that the Crescent City has such great food. And we owe thanks to the city’s earliest inhabitants, Native Americans, Africans, French, Spanish and common housewives, for creating the dish that personifies their co-existence – gumbo.