The phrase ‘bunga bunga’ has become synonymous with the private life of Silvio Berlusconi, but nobody seems to quite know what it means. I thought I’d coined the phrase here in a previous post when I wrote about ‘bunga-bunga’ in terms of illegal financial transactions, but as Mr Berlusconi’s newest trial looms, it seems clear that the word has acquired cult status in Italy for quite different reasons. A woman whose nickname is, improbably, ‘Bunga-Bunga’ is alleged to have organised – er – ‘parties’ for Mr Berlusconi, as did Col Gaddafi whose parties involved squadrons of ladies; ‘bunga-bunga’ having appeared in Arabic news stories reporting them. Then, the Net being what it is, stories began circulating online claiming the phrase owed its origins to a joke, apparently Mr Berlusconi’s favourite. Here it is; the old ones are always the best. Two opposition politicians are captured by an African tribe. They are asked whether they would prefer to die or undergo ‘bunga bunga’. The first one opts for ‘bunga bunga’, and is immediately subjected to a prolonged, violent sexual assault by every male member of the tribe. The second said he would prefer to die, to which the chief of the tribe replied: “OK, ‘bunga bunga’ first, die after.”
They’re all wrong. In 1910, Horace de Vere Cole, a British aristocrat (centre), contacted the Admiralty pretending to be the Emperor of Abyssinia and told officials that he wished to inspect the Home Fleet while on a forthcoming visit to Britain. After enlisting some friends from the Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia Woolf, (far left with turban) they all dressed up in silly costumes and boot-polish and masqueraded as his entourage while on an ‘official visit’ to HMS Dreadnought. During the inspection, the ‘visitors’ cried ‘Bunga, Bunga!’ in appreciation. They were treated to a civic reception afterwards.
The phrase exists in other languages – it means ‘flowers’ in an Indonesian dialect – but, for now, ‘bunga bunga’ seems to belong to the Italian Prime Minister.