The Origin of the Vuvuzela

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If you are a football fan, you’ve no doubt been watching the World Cup this week, and a new word, vuvuzela, has entered your vocabulary.  A vuvuzela, also called a lepatata, is basically an incredibly loud horn that South African football fans use to annoy the other team during games.

For the uninitiated, here’s how various commentators have described the “music” produced by the vuvuzela (via Wikipedia): “annoying” and “satanic”…”a stampede of noisy elephants,” “a deafening swarm of locusts,” “a goat on the way to slaughter,” and “a giant hive full of very angry bees.”

So, why do South African football fans subject themselves and everyone around them to this auditory torture? And why is it called a vuvuzela, anyway?

As for the first question, the FIFA website has a quote from Sadaam Maake, one of South African football’s “celebrity followers,” explaining the appeal:

“Without the vuvuzela, I don’t think I would be able to enjoy football. It brings a special feeling to the stadiums. It is something that makes the fans want to get behind their team.”

Another football fan,Mzion Mofokeng, explains further:

“When we started the vuvuzela, there was so much sadness in our country in those years and it brought so much joy. All of a sudden people would go to the stadiums because of this instrument that was able to get fans on their feet and start cheering. For few hours, they would forget about the reality in our society and enjoy the sound.”

Per Wikipedia, Maake actually claims to have invented the vuvuzela himself in 1965, and has the pictures to prove it, although the current manufacturers say that the design was actually imported from America and Neil van Schalkwyk is listed as the inventor on the patent. The original instrument was made of aluminum and created from an old bicycle horn. The design was later modified to make the pipe longer, and plastic vuvuzelas have been mass-produced since 2001. The instrument may or may not have been modeled after ancient African kudu horn instruments.

Nobody is 100% sure how the horn came to be called a vuvuzela. Wikipedia says that it is believed to be derived from Zulu for “making a vuvu noise,” though it could also be derived from a slang word for shower (since it looks like a shower head.)