¡Qué Quilombo!

If you’ve been studying Spanish at Spanish in Rosario, you’ve probably heard the word “quilombo” thrown around to describe a ruckus, mess, scandal, disorder, or conflict. It can be used positively or negatively – as in a fun mess or a total shitty disaster.

But I bet you don’t know where the word comes from. Contrary to what you’re probably thinking, it’s roots aren’t Argentinian. This word is traced back to the Kimbundu language, a language spoken in parts of West Africa, especially Angola. So how did it get to Argentina you’re probably asking yourself. Well, Africans were brought to Brazil and forced to work as slaves starting in the 15th century. Some slaves weren’t having it, and escaped, creating “kilombos,” a type hideout for escaped slaves, many of which evolved into full-fledged towns in the interior of Brazil.

At some point it then made its way to Argentina, specifically to Buenos Aires, and “quilombo” strictly meant brothel or whorehouse. How it went from meaning slave hideout to whorehouse, though I have no idea why. And finally, to its present day meaning: mess. There is probably a good story in that one, now long forgotten, as to how the term “quilombo” evolved from “brothel” and then to ”mess”, but I’m sure you can use your imagination on that one.

Ways to use “quilombo” in context:

¡Tenés un quilombo en tu escritorio! -You have a disaster on your desk!

Te metiste en un quilombo besando la novia de tu mejor amigo. – You got yourself into a messy situation kissing your best friend’s girlfriend.

¡Hay un quilombo en la cancha! – There’s so much ruckus in the soccer stadium.


Related words:

Quilombero/a (noun or adj): a troublemaker, rowdy, noisy, disorderly

(n) Tu hijo es un quilombero. -Your son is a troublemaker.

(adj) Mirá el grupo quilombero allá! – Look at that rowdy group over there!

Bolonqui: means the same thing as quilombo with the letters switched around.

And you even can impress your Argentine friends by learning this popular soccer chant that includes the term “quilombera”:

¡Vamos, vamos, Argentina,
vamos, vamos a ganar,
que esta barra quilombera
no te deja, no te deja de alentar!

Written by Vanessa Galban

ESL Teacher