Friday 12th April 2013 - by Kyl Chhatwal
Silvio Berlusconi. Former jester-in-chief, rascal, self-proclaimed “dream of all Italians.” Who recently found himself victim of another scandal, which—perhaps for the first time in his career—was not actually of his own making. In late March an advertising firm representing Ford India produced a series of ads for its compact, Figo, boasting an “extra-large boot.” One ad shows a cartoonish Berlusconi with three buxom Italian women bound and gagged in the boot of his car, one wearing
the now-infamous police uniform from the leaked photographs of Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga parties. The tagline below the ad reads: “Leave your worries behind.”
The ads never ran, but still the outcry against them was swift and fierce. India was still reeling from two highly-publicized and vicious gang rape cases; and now here was this ad firm trying to sell a car based on a tasteless joke about Italy’s perpetual teenager of an ex-Prime Minister, and his perpetual philandering.
To present, the world has been treated to an enormously intimate look into the private life of Mr. Berlusconi, whose kinks and fetishes have become the stuff of daily news, and whose own private sexual language (“Bunga Bunga”) has entered the global lexicon.
But what does Bunga Bunga actually mean, if anything? Some close to Berlusconi claim it comes from a joke he used to tell—a racist one at that—involving an African tribe, sodomy, and his own Italian political opponents. One of Mr. Berlusconi former lovers, Sabina Began, has claimed that “Bunga Bunga” was simply a mispronunciation of her last name.
In fact, the phrase is much older than Mr. Berlusconi’s lascivious love fests, and dates to England prior to WWI. In 1910 an English aristocrat and hoaxster, Horace de Vere Cole, decided to play a trick on the British Royal Navy: he sent a false telegram to the HMS Dreadnought, a battleship moored in Dorset, claiming that the royal family of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was coming on an official visit.
Except the “royal family” was actually a bunch of British writers and artists dressed in costumes and turbans with their faces darkened, all members of the now famous Bloomsbury Group. Among them was a 28-year-old Virginia Woolf. Allegedly, the hoaxters invented a sort of gibberish language to make their performance more believable, and as they stood staring up at the Dreadnought, they expressed their admiration to one another by exclaiming: “Bunga! Bunga!”
Below are two photos: first, the Ford India ad, with Berlusconi and his Bunga Bunga girls; and second, the Bunga Bunga royals of 1910, in full “Abyssinian” regalia. Virginia Woolf is on the far left.