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Camba is a word historically used in Bolivia to refer to the indigenous population in the eastern tropical region of the country, or to those born in the area of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. Nowadays, the term "Camba" is used predominantly to refer to eastern Bolivian populations of mixed Spanish, Chane, and other indigenous Amazonian descent born in the eastern lowlands in and around Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Colla people, who are the population that lives in Western Bolivia, have always been in conflict with Camba people due to their different customs, behavior and appearance. Therefore, it may be common to hear Camba people use the term "Colla" as a swear word or to insult the Western population as such as it is possible to hear Collas curse on cambas.

Camba may also be used as a colloquial term for "person", as in "Who is that person?" translated to "¿Quien es ese camba?" (ignores the ethnicity of the subject and does not change depending on gender as most Spanish nouns do). Such use is predominant in eastern Bolivia.

Etymology and context

According to a theory presented by Ramón Rocha Monroy, some of the Bantu languages spoken by Angolans who were sold in America as slaves, were recorded in a book published by a Jesuit missionary named Pedro Dias in 1697, called Arte da Lengua de Angola (The art of the Angola language). This publication had recorded the word camba (Friend of the color black), among other words, and its plural form macamba.[1]

During that time, Angola, which was a Portuguese Colony, was responsible for more than a third of the slave trade on the Atlantic directed toward Brazil From there the slaves went to the Spanish colonies, from the Río de la Plata (Plata River) to Eastern Bolivia. Kamba has become part of several Indigenous languages of the region, like Guaraní,[2] as a demonym (nickname) for black persons[3] (different than h?, which means 'the color black'), as well as to refer to the King Mago Baltasar. In several local Liturgies he was called el Santo Cambá, or the Camba Saint.

Today, the term camba is used as a demonym for mestizos cruzeños, or people with Indigenous descent from Santa Cruz, Pando or Beni.[4] African slaves got all the way to modern day Potosí, Bolivia, however, they were able to settle mostly in the yungas. The term could have begun as a demonym there, and then spread to the rest of eastern Bolivia.

Another hypothesis states that the word camba comes from a town in Galicia, called Cambados. Some dispute this theory considering it to be improbable, insulting or politically incorrect to have a nickname for "cruceños" (persons from Santa Cruz) with an African origin. They support this based on the chronicles written by the Jesuits, which describe many traditions of Spaniards and Creoles in America, but don't make any mention that they would use African vocabulary to describe themselves.


Camba Spanish was originally spoken in Santa Cruz Department, Bolivia, but is now also spoken in Beni Department and Pando Department. Nikulin (2019) proposes that Camba Spanish has a Piñoco Chiquitano substratum.[5]


  1. ^ Rocha Monroy, Ramón (2 March 2006). "Fondo Negro". La Prensa de Bolivia.
  2. ^ Fabricant, Nicole (6 November 2009). "Performative politics: The Camba countermovement in eastern Bolivia". American Ethnologist. 36 (4): 768-783. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1425.2009.01209.x.
  3. ^ Hobley, C. W. (1910). Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Tribes. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  4. ^ Paredes-Candia, Antonio (1977). El Apodo en Bolivia. La Paz, Bolivia: Casilla 4311. p. 136.
  5. ^ Nikulin, Andrey. 2019. Contacto de lenguas en la Chiquitanía. Revista Brasileira de Línguas Indígenas, Macapá, v. 2, n. 2, p. 5-30. (PDF)

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