Today’s reading in “Everyday Joy, 365 days of ohmygod life,” by Z Egloff and Melissa Phillippe stated the original meaning of the word “kumbaya” was “come by here” as in Come by here, Spirit. We need your help.
The reading got me curious enough to learn a bit more about this term and its history, as I’ve always enjoyed listening to and singing the song with that single word title. There is lengthy discussion provided by the Library of Congress; below is a brief summary.
The most common claim made today about the origins of “Kumbaya” is that it is from the Gullah-Geechee people of coastal Georgia and South Carolina. The earliest record in the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center (AFC) comes from lyrics collected in North Carolina in 1926 for a song called “Oh Lord, Won’t You Come By Here.” The spiritual pleads for divine intervention—for God to come by here and help a people in great need, referencing an area historically connected to the enslavement and oppression of African Americans.
The following rendition of “Kumbaya” is sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir.
In asking for help, we acknowledge that we can’t do this thing called Life alone. In gathering with others in prayer, in song, in asking for help, the power of the request is strengthened.