The fate of “Kumbaya”

June 25, 2008

I grew up when “Kumbaya” was the name of a song we’d sometimes sing in school. We didn’t know exactly what it meant, but we knew it was nice. And from what I could tell, everybody in class felt better after singing that song than they felt before singing that song.

So imagine my surprise when, a couple years ago, I heard “Kumbaya” used derisively — and, of all places, in a religious setting. I don’t remember the entire speech, but the context of the remark was that faith today had changed from the Kumbaya ways of the past.

Now the word has become a meme. You can hear it regularly from politicians and pundits. According to Wikipedia, “Kumbaya” is now used sarcastically “to connote a blandly pious and naively optimistic view of the world and human nature.”

Curious about the fate of “Kumbaya,” I read a bit more about the meaning of the word. The sources I checked said that “Kumbaya” is a phrase from Gullah, a Creole dialect, which means “Come By Here.” So it’s a song invoking God’s presence.

Considering the state of the world today, maybe we’d be better off if more people actually sang “Kumbaya.”



  1. The Gullah people have a g reat history. Check out their recipes on site.
    I did this several years ago. A history was given also.
    We used to sing Kumbaya in church. I haven’t heard it in a while.
    happiness to all.

  2. I will check out some Gullah recipes! Thanks.

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