Denuncian que niños autistas están expuestos a ladrones, prostitutas y jíbaros

Parents file complaint, say children with autism are exposed to thieves, prostitutes and jíbaros

I was totally thrown off by that last word when I read it in a newspaper article a few weeks ago. Jíbaros? Don’t ask me why, but for some reason that sounds like an animal to me. Maybe a warthog. It immediately fascinated me, though, a new shiny word for this magpie.

I’ve since learned that a jíbaro in Colombia and Venezuela is a person who distributes drugs in small amounts. He or she is a small-time dealer with no real power or influence, and is likely a consumer themselves. Apparently jíbaro was originally used to indicate someone who sold marijuana, but now it can refer to someone who sells any drug or hallucinogen. The M.O. of the jíbaro is to be a part of or to pass as part of the environment where he distributes: i.e., a student in a high school, a waiter in a dance club, etc. At a school, the jíbaro could be students, alumni, or outsiders who wait outside the school gate and surreptitiously slip small bags of drugs to students passing by. One jíbaro I read about hid his stash in a piggy bank while working; others stuffed it in their underwear.

Related words include jibariadero for a place where drugs are sold and jibariato, small-time drug dealing.

In Puerto Rico, a jíbaro is a person from the mountainous countryside, and the idea has become iconic in Puerto Rican culture. As jíbaros have traditionally lacked formal education and are unsophisticated, the term came to be interchangeable with hillbilly and hick. Many people have reclaimed and co-opted the term, though, and wear it as a label of pride. After all, the jíbaro is the ancestor and the backbone of Puerto Rican culture, and people are increasingly proud of these rural, simple, hardworking people who represent their roots. There’s even a Monumento al jíbaro statue in Puerto Rico to pay tribute to these country folk. Jíbaros also made their own music, the música típica of Puerto Rico.


Cubans use the term guajiro to mean the same thing, and ranchero is used in Mexico. I don’t know any equivalent word in Colombia besides campesino.

Here are some lyrics from beloved jíbaro music from Puerto Rico. If the only meaning for jíbaro you knew was drug dealer, you’d take away quite a different message from these songs than the intended one.

Y alegre, el jibarito va pensando así,
diciendo así, cantando así por el camino:
“Si yo vendo la carga,
mi Dios querido,
un traje a mi viejita voy a comprar.”

Soy de Puerto Rico y le canto a Colombia entera, soy jibarito y le canto a Colombia entera.

No sé por qué me atropella el recuerdo de mi amada, no sé si estará casada o qué rumbo habrá tomado la que fue ya en el pasado mi jibarita mimada.

Jíbaros are also an indigenous tribe in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador and Peru most famous for their art of shrinking the heads of their dead enemies to the size of a fist. The ritual is supposed to avoid any later revenge taken by the victims in the next life.

Jíbaro marriage

Wikipedia clues us in on a few more uses of jíbaro.

  • In Cuba, a jíbaro is a runaway dog.
  • In Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela, Xivaro, or Gibaro, which is pronounced similar to jíbaro, was a name given to the natives of these countries by the Spaniards and Portuguese.
  • In Ecuador, givaro is the indomitable indigenous person that is endlessly elusive to the white man.
  • In 18th-century Mexico, a jíbaro was the child of a lobo and a china, that is the child of a mixed-race father (the son of an indigenous man and a black woman) and a mixed-race mother (the daughter of a white man and an Indigenous woman).

The only other word I knew for drug dealer was expendedor, but it doesn’t look like that term is universal. Other words I see are traficante, narcotraficante, narcotirador (Mex.), camello (Esp.), and bichote (PR). Know any others?

Finally, I discovered that Chicago has a famous sandwich called the jibarito. The specialty is a steak sandwich between two fried plantains, and, yep, it was invented by a Puerto Rican restaurant owner in Chicago. Wikipedia translates jibarito as “little yokel.”

Here’s a line I ran into yesterday while reading about Uruguay’s recent decision to legalize marijuana. This time, of course, jíbaro didn’t give me any problems.

En los años treinta le dio la vuelta a Estados Unidos Reefer madness (La locura del porro), una película en la que tres jíbaros corrompen jóvenes a punta de cannabis y jazz.

In the ’30s Reefer Madness came out in the United States, a movie in which three drug dealers corrupt young people with cannabis and jazz.

One thing I noticed on Twitter was Colombians retorting with the phrase cambia de jíbaro, as in, change dealers (to get a better one). I guess the implication is that someone’s low-quality marijuana (or what have you) is making them say crazy things.

Finally, when the Spanish version of Breaking Bad comes out this fall, I’d bet (and hope) the word jíbaro will appear, as it’s being made in Colombia. If I can step out of my pseudo-scholarly persona for a minute, let me just say that I can’t wait for this series to start! In case you didn’t know, it’s going to be called Metástasis. And if it’s even half as good as the English-language original, it will be excellent.

A peasant, a drug dealer, a head shrinker, a sandwich- Latin America has really gotten a lot of mileage out of the word jíbaro. I’d love to know how in the world it started being used to mean drug dealer in Colombia and Venezuela. Any guesses? I don’t have the foggiest idea over here.

12 responses to “Jíbaro

  1. What a wealth of knowledge you are! I am learning so much!


  2. Let’s not forget the “traqueto”, who is, to me, having a larger scale business than a jibaro.


  3. When I read it, I thought of hooligan. I guess I wasn’t too far off!


  4. Great to hear another new word! Ps: I bet you were thinking of ‘jabalí’ when imagining that Jibaro referred to animals…?


    • Yes, I just find it a fun word to say! Jíbaro jíbaro jiiiiiiiibaro :)

      Too bad it refers to something so unsavory. Then again, I do support legalization. I know it’s always thorny writing about Colombia and drugs and not stepping on any toes, but I’d like to think I was classy about it.

      Ha, I did know jabalí. I remember once drinking this enormous cocktail in Bogotá called cabeza de jabalí. I’m sure that had something to do with my mental association. I dunno, it just sounds like an animal to me.


  5. I only knew Jibaro in the Puerto Rican sense – it’s funny how quickly language can change from country to country.

    Still enjoying your blog, please don’t stop!


    • Thanks! OK, I’ll do my best to keep it up. Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to move on already as far as the whole Colombia obsession goes, but I enjoy blogging and connecting with people.

      Yes, language changes so much. It kind of helps me to just limit myself to one language identity– Colombian.


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