What Is Zango?

"Zango" is one of those words that's simple yet memorable, which is why several colleagues and I chose it for the name of our venture in 1999. That venture didn't succeed, but I kept the name for my portfolio of services because of its memorable nature.

We found the word "Zango" in a mythology book, describing a West African fire god, an auspicious icon, we thought. (It's also spelled "Xango," but the "Z" looks better!) But it's apparently also an Ndebele (Zimbabwean) name meaning "lucky charm." And every city of any size in West Africa has a large centralized Hausa (an African ethnic group) community, usually referred to as zango or zongo, a term that originally referred to the stopping point for trade caravans. In cities outside primarily Islamic areas, the zango is usually the center of organized Islamic activities, such as Quranic schools and sites for the major Islamic festivals, according to the UCLA Hausa home page. Finally, still in Africa, "Zango" is a not-uncommon surname.

The word has other meanings as well. In hip-hop culture, it means "hell," perhaps an allusion to its West African fire-god origins. In Santeria, Zango (typically spelled "Chango" or "Shango") is the ruler of thunder and fire, a god of passion, power, and music. Zango is a hero in shining armor who uses lightning to increase the fertility of the earth and his worshipers. According to D.W. Owens's World Mythology Web site, Chango was an actual historical figure who ruled as the fourth chieftain of Oyo, a city in modern Nigeria. His colors are red and white. But this site's colors are green simply because I like green.

Some uses of "Zango" have nothing to do with African roots. For example, there is an adware-based music-and-games site that uses the Zango name all by itself (with no explanation of how they came up with it). There's also a design company that uses the Zango Creative name; the owner merged the name of her two dogs — Zoe and Mango — to come up with the name of her business. There's an Oregon Web site called Zango Music that sells Native American music; the owner thought it would be fun to have people write out checks to a company named after what she thought was a "nonsense word." And there's a jug band in Maine called Zingo Zango, which took its name from lyrics to a Woodie Guthrie song ("Bling Blang banging with my hammer / Zingo Zango cutting with my saw"); the band notes that Guthrie had been a merchant seaman, so speculates that he may have picked up on "Zango" in his travels. The use of "Zango" in this musical context may have come from West Africa, by way of the Caribbean and the Santeria religion that developed there among former slaves.