Macaca (term)

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History & Usage[edit]

"Macaca" is a direct translation for "female monkey" in the Portuguese language. The translation for "male monkey " (English) is "macaco" (Portuguese). In Portugal and Portuguese speaking countries, racists often call black people "macaco" or "macacos" (plural form) as an insult, because of their African origins. "Macaco" is also the Portuguese generic word to designate any kind of ape.[1][better source needed]

According to Robert Edgerton, in the Belgian Congo, colonial whites called Africans macaques—implying that they had lived in the trees until the Europeans arrived. The term sale macaque (filthy monkey) was occasionally used as an insult.[2] In the ceremony in 1960 in which Congo gained its independence from Belgium, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba gave a speech accusing Belgian King Baudouin of presiding over "a regime of injustice, suppression, and exploitation" before ad-libbing at the end, Nous ne sommes plus vos macaques! (We are no longer your macaques!), as the Congolese in the audience rose to their feet cheering.[citation needed] Lumumba was reportedly still stung by being called a sale macaque by a Belgian woman years earlier.[3]

In the Adventures of Tintin written by Belgian writer-artist Hergé, Captain Haddock uses the term macaque as an insult, along with other random terms.[4][better source needed] In a 1994 essay, literary scholar Patrick Colm Hogan discussed the racist symbolism surrounding the name Makak, the protagonist in Derek Walcott's 1967 play Dream on Monkey Mountain.[5]

Journalist Taki Theodoracopulos referred to Bianca Jagger, who is of Nicaraguan origin, as macaca mulatta in 1996. Theodoracopulos has frequently used racial slurs in his published work.[6][7] Note that Macaca mulatta is the scientific name for the Rhesus monkey.

2006 Virginia Senate election[edit]

The failed re-election campaign of Republican U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia generated much controversy after he used the word macaca in reference to a person of Indian ancestry. On August 11, 2006, at a campaign stop in Breaks, Virginia, near the Kentucky border, George Allen twice used the word macaca to refer to S. R. Sidarth, who was filming the event as a "tracker" for the opposing Jim Webb campaign. Prior to this, the term was almost completely unknown in the U.S.[citation needed]

This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent.... Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.

Sidarth is an Indian American and was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia. Even though Allen claimed that he made up the word and said that he did not understand its derogatory meaning, a media outcry erupted following his use of the term. After two weeks of negative publicity, Allen publicly apologized for his statement and asserted that he in no way intended those words to be offensive.[citation needed]

Relating to the Allen controversy, "macaca" was named the most politically incorrect word of 2006 by Global Language Monitor, a non profit group that studies word usage.[8] The word was also a finalist for the American Dialect Society "Word of the Year" that same year.

The term "Macacawitz", referring to the September 2006 discovery of Allen's Jewish heritage, was coined by conservative pundit John Podhoretz as a headline for a post in the National Review blog "The Corner".[9] A field organizer for Democratic Congressional candidate Al Weed resigned after she used the term in email to supporters of Weed.[10]

The controversy created by Allen's use of the term contributed to his unexpected loss to Webb.[11]


  1. ^ Portuguese - English dictionary Infopedia
  2. ^ Edgerton, Robert B. The Troubled Heart of Africa: A History of the Congo, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2002, ISBN 0-312-30486-2, pp. 180-181
  3. ^ Edgerton, p. 184
  4. ^ (French) List of Captain Haddock's insults, French Wikipedia, wiki revision of 10 August 2006
  5. ^ Hogan, Patrick Colm. Mimeticism, Reactionary Nativism, and the Possibility of Postcolonial Identity in Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain. Research in African Literatures Vol 25 Iss 2 (1994): 103-19, p. 103
  6. ^ Taki, Mick's Little Madam, Sunday Times, September 8, 1996
  7. ^ The Guardian leader 21 October 2004
  8. ^ The Global Language Monitor » Politically (in)Correct
  9. ^ Podhoretz, John (2006-09-19). "Felix Macacawitz". The Corner. National Review. Retrieved 2006-10-30. 
  10. ^ Craig, Tim (2006-10-05). "Democratic Organizer Quits After Calling Allen 'Macacawitz'". The Washington Post. p. B02. Retrieved 2006-10-30. 
  11. ^ Craig, Tim (February 6, 2008). "The 'What If' of Allen Haunts the GOP Race". The Washington Post. 

External links[edit]