Are the Roots of ‘Mofo’ to be found in ‘Mafuka’ ?
I was musing amongst the detritus of my recent travels and came across a reference to a bad tempered chimpanzee named ‘Mafuka’ in an encyclopedia (Vol 1 of the Library of Natural History ed. Lydekker, pub. The Saalfield Pub Co. page 31-34) from 1904. The bad tempered Laongo coast chimpanzee at the Dresden Zoo was of interest to Darwininian researchers and zoologists at the time it was written, 1875, because she also seemed, by the look of her brows, to be part gorilla. She had a fierce disposition, “Mafuka remains an enigma.” said Dr. Hartmann. But what interested me was her name.
In a previous life, back in the ’80’s I was retailing exotic West African masks in San Francisco. I read up on the subject, spoke to travelling salesmen from the Gabon and Chad. In the library of the store owner, Lawrence Hultburg, I had come across a reference to a tribe, the M’Fuka*, a people with a bad rep in the slave trade as being facilitators at the terminus of the piano-key ivory merchants in what is now Benin and Nigeria. They had a bad-tempered life-style. A self-named dance called the M’Fuka was reknown for its angry vigor. The name came to be used as an abusive putdown.
I think that adds substantially to the lore of the African roots of the US slur, ‘mofo’ and related phrases.
*I’ll get better references to the monograph on West Africa which mentioned the M’Fuka when I do.