A small dictionary of ‘Cha Bubo,’ a vernacular from Butembo in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The commercial centre of the town of Butembo around the 2000s. Photo from M. Makadisi and Umbo Salama's archive, used with permission.

This article was originally published in French on icicongo, and is republished on Global Voices under a partnership agreement.

In almost all the countries of Africa, alongside official languages, there are local languages that are adopted by the authorities as national languages. These languages are spoken by the majority of the country's population. But outside these national languages, we may note a few small localities or groups of people adopting languages of their own. Sometimes this is a case of a mix of official languages and local languages which are often called “argot” or slang in French.

Mirroring Côte d'Ivoire, where Nouchi (a mixture of French and various local and international languages) has gained a hold with the support of a small glossary which is taking shape bit by bit, other countries have similar recourse to such an argot. This article deals with the example of ‘Cha Bubo,’ spoken in the town of Butembo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Butembo is a town well known for its commercial transactions. It is located in the province of North Kivu, in the East of the DRC, and is affectionately known as “Bubo.” If Kiyira, the language of the Yira tribe (the majority people of the Beni-Lubero region) is principally spoken in everyday life, the inhabitants of the town of Butembo have in addition a language all of their own: a mixture of French, English, Lingala and Kiyira. This is the famous Cha Bubo language, some of whose concepts are listed below:

Rero: The word “rero” is in use everywhere. You hear phrases like “Rero! Today it isn't going to rain!” As a listener, you think people are mispronouncing the numeral “zéro” (zero). Rero is used when one is surprised by something. The word also means “on this occasion.”

Zoù: This is an adaptation of the French word “où” (where). It is used to smooth the transition from a word coming before “où,” which ends in a vowel. For example: “Anaenda z’où?” Translation: “Where is he going?”

Wayere: This word means “liar,” but is often used as an euphemism to avoid saying “liar” in conversation between close associates. It is often also used to speak of those who don't keep their word, or are impostors and schemers.

Ana dié: A mix of Swahili that has been adapted to signify “he is leaving.” The expression “ana dié” is used  any departing person. In fact, some use it in the sense of the English verb “to die.” However, in speaking of mortal remains, they may say “ana dayé,” to say that the person is dead or that they are in the process of dying. Colloquially, “ana dié” means “to go” or “to leave.”

Ku looka: This is a mix of Swahili and English or Lingala. It means “seek.” This word comes from the English verb “to look for” or maybe “ko luka” in Lingala, both of which mean “seek.” “Una looka quoi?” is a question in which Swahili, the English adaptation and French enter into a single phrase. “Una” means “you;” “looka,” “look for;” and “quoi,” “what.”  Translation: “What are you looking for?”

Tao: This is a corruption of the English word “town.” “Tao” is used to indicate the place where commercial transactions take place, but also where the offices of agencies and organisations are found. It's akin to the town centre or business district.

Brique or million: These two words simply mean “1000 Congolese francs.” The words “million” and “brique” are often used by motorcycle taxi drivers. They are similarly used by tradespeople. So, when in Butembo, be careful when someone tells you the bill is for a “brique” in cash or for a “million” for a service. Don't fall into the trap of giving more than CDF 1000 (USD 0.49). [Translator: The term “brique,” literally “brick,” was traditionally used in France to mean a million “old” (pre-1960 devaluation) French francs.]

On Twitter, Cha Bubo is not too widely spoken. But Christina Malkia Mukongoma, a citizen of the DRC, journalist with Associated Press and digital commms content producer, shows in this tweet that the language can be widespread for discussions initiated in Cha Bubo:

What's your news, dear members of the Yira community? Are you well?  Have you seen Kave?  😍😍😍 They say we're awake now 😂😂😂😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/lyJsqgd1cd

The presentation of a journal in Cha Bubo on the YouTube channel of Bienvenu Lutsumbi official (Official Welcome Lutsumbi) is another example:

To see Cha Bubo make itself felt on a national scale and be adopted like Nouchi in Côte d'Ivoire would require the language to be spoken by a large fraction of the population of the DRC. In any case, it is clear that the online community is already giving it a boost beyond Butembo.

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