The village of East Basakato in the early 19th century. (From The Bubis on Fernando Poo)
Chapters 15 to 18: Matrimony
Before beginning a detailed description of the solemn civic and religious ceremonies for Bubi weddings, it is time to advance some ideas for better understanding.
The Bubis distinguish two classes of nuptials: ribala r'eotó and ribala re rijole, which literally translate to: “Marriage by buying virginity” and “marriage for mutual love.”
It appears, at first glance, that both marriages should be considered legitimate, and for greater reason the second; but it is just the opposite. The second marriage, for mutual love, is held to be illegitimate and without value before the law. The only true and legitimate marriage is the first, even if the woman is forced into this union.
In the celebration of ribala r'eotó, there is great ostentation with sumptuous banquets and substantial expenditures. For the ribala re rijole, no solemnity or expense of any sort is required, only that a hut be constructed near that of her husband. In the death of the husband of ribala re rijole, the widow has no obligations to fulfill for her deceased spouse, because she is not even considered a widow. In the death of a husband of ribala r'eotó, the widow is rigorously obligated by law to perform the grief of mokondo and bear mourning for a designated time. The widows comply with this religiously from fear that any failure in compliance will bring the anger of the deceased over them, as he sees and observes all that she does from beyond the grave. If the deceased notes that she did not fulfill his obligations and debts, he will punish her with a premature death.
In a ribala r'eotó, the husband acquires over his wife all natural, civil and religious rights. All property of the wife passes to her husband, and he is able to claim it if she should flee his residence. Husbands married by ribala re rijole lack such rights and have no legal recourse, as their marriage is not held as such, but as a mere concubinage.
16. Marriage Celebration
Preparations made, the eager village waits to see the bride appear in public, their ultimate objective to devour the yams, meats, and liquors that are ready for the guests.
The ceremony begins with singing and dancing maidens going to the girl’s lodging. The bride, accompanied by them, appears adorned and beautiful before the people, where everyone acclaims and applauds her, telling her she is beautiful, fortunate, and lucky. She gives a few turns around the plaza, chanting and dancing with her bridesmaids and childhood companions, then goes to sit in a site of preference, holding court with her intimates.
Afterward, the young men usually sing: E Buebue pul’oppua to eke: “Bring out the girl so that we might see her.” To jorá a bola be bisaka na ba la jela ribala: “We want couples who marry to be same age.”
The girl remains seated while her parents, or those who stand in for them, make their way to the new bride. In a solemn act of the marriage agreement, they admonish her with warnings and threats to be permanently faithful to her spouse, never adulterous, and outline possible punishments. Warnings and threats also come from the president of the assembly.
Then the group begins to pass before the bride, giving her a thousand congratulations and best wishes while predicting and wishing for her complete happiness, prosperity, and luck in her new state. She answers with a smile and inclination of her head. Meanwhile, a small group of young men intones different songs to her, in which they set out a series of admonishments and advisories that she must bear in mind. Here are some of them:
O chi a s’eribola, o ari bolelo: “Don’t believe yourself beautiful, though for you the village has gathered.”
A boari nchioeppala, nho eppala, na o chi b’eppam oba: “One must not sing praises to a woman, but as you haven’t been self-congratulatory, but rather have honored others, we sing to you.”
Bue pale o bulé etupetue: “Never go to unknown regions.”
A boari a pule tchobo, bue jel’epotó: “Woman, do not leave the house, do not become fond of wandering the streets, nor go to the foreigners.”
Bue pat’i tchibo id meri o bèro: “Don’t break the fragile shells of your mother.”
A boari o a ta re o lotoho loa balolo: “Woman, don’t drink from the same glass as the old ones.”
O loria lo boobbo loa babila buella: “Remember that you must gather the fruit of the palm trees.”
After the aforementioned, the attendees begin the banquet of rice, yams, meat, and wine, which they have already devoured with their eyes. A grand dance follows immediately, and, on that first day, it will generally last from nine at night until the next dawn. Big cups of liquor are distributed from time to time, to help alleviate weariness caused by the Bubi dance, and to help conserve strength and warm enthusiasm.
Depending on the power and wealth of the spouse, the wedding celebration may last from eight to fifteen days, but the more common solemnity is no longer than three days. It ends when the people who live farther away return to their homes and ordinary chores.
When the majority of guests have left for their own homes, the new bride and her court of friends and bridesmaids, dressed in gowns with wedding adornments, head for the district’s neighborhoods and small settlements. They stop in the central places and houses of principal families and illustrious persons. Here they usually sing folk songs allusive to their own families or homes, with the hope of receiving some reward that will serve as payment for the party expenses.
After a song and dance for a family in front of their house, the family affectionately congratulates the new bride, giving her well-wishes and a small gift. She responds with grand signs of gratitude, the entire entourage giving loud applause to the family, repeating Iee! Ieee!: “Long life! Long life!” The maiden, who carries a calabash of liquor on her head, offers it to the head of the family so that he can taste and enjoy the delicious liquor. He draws the calabash to his lips and drinks a sip of it.
I have witnessed at various times such celebrations but, singularly, in a village of the north, I tried to find out if they faithfully practice these rites and ceremonies. After a party that lasted three days in all, it was about nine in the morning when I discerned coming quite swiftly in the direction of my residence was the bride and her court of friends with their antique adornments. In arriving at my door, and without other salutation, they began to dance and to sing the following song:
1. Eh, Páteri, silo ke sitoho san
S’oki s’o boatta
Obo tooboela o bitim
Boe epamabuella. 2. E sibeloa natoe a la pule
L’ibacho biau li kottoe
Le ohae o boriba.
1. Father, this little calabash
Has its history,
That you will be able to narrate
In the Spanish language.
2. To the bottom of the ship
The foreigner will hear,
And politely he will perceive
Our genial greetings.”
In finishing the song and dance, they delivered a very expressive look. I understood their wishes and extended some silver coins, which they received with thundering “Long life’s!” to the Father. They, in turn, offered me the small calabash and, so as not to earn their disdain or disgust, I accepted it and brought it to my lips. They were very content and seemed satisfied with my action. Happy as can be, they took themselves to dance and sing at other places.
It is to be noted that the first house they visited was not that of the botuku, but that of the missionary.
From the aforementioned it is clear that celebrations and ceremonies for Bubi marriage have no greater objective than to notify the newlywed wife of the obligations of her new state, to congratulate her for preserving the flower of virginity, and to present her to future generations as a model of spousal fidelity.
17. More About Matrimony
The legitimate wife is the exclusive property of her husband, even after his death. A widow who has performed the ceremonies and rites that widowhood imposes will, therefore, live in complete self-liberty with no obligations to the family of her deceased spouse. Nor is she passed on as property of the dead spouse’s family, as is done in the Fang, Yaunde, and other tribes.
The children of the marriage become the property and dominion of the father’s family, but the widow is free, independent, and the owner of her own person. She acquires the right to unite with the male who best pleases her, although he may have wives eotó and other concubines, as Bubi laws and customs authorized polygamy.
If the widow had no children from the dead spouse, and afterward has them from the other male, these are not the property of the father who produced them. They belong to the family of the deceased man who had bought or given a dowry for the baby’s mother. It is from this that we have children considered legitimate, but not as we understand it in Europe. The children born of ribala r’eotó are legitimate children in the European manner. Those born of ribala re rijole are legitimate children of the man who produced them. Children are considered legitimate of a male who paid a dowry or bought the woman who gave birth, and, if he has already died, the infant becomes the property of the deceased’s relatives.
Equally, they distinguish two legal homelands. The legal homeland of those born from ribala r’eotó is the same as that that of the father who procreated them. For those born of ribala re rijole their homeland is the place of their birth. And the legal homeland of a child of a deceased father is that of the legal father.
In their own way there are among the Bubi uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, cousins, both natural and legal, similar to that which we said before. For them, lawful relationship is more intimate, rigid, and strong than carnal relationship.
Laws and customs tolerate and still permit matrimonial unions between cousins, uncles and nieces, brothers- and sisters-in-law, if the marriage is according to natural law, but not if it is legal according to Bubi custom. They allow unions of children of one father, but of different mothers, but not between children from the same uterus. Of the first class I have known three or four unions, of the second I have news of none.
The custom does not tolerate a man having for his spouses two full-blooded sisters. It was for this that Lobari, the centenarian muchuku of Bokoko who was a great monitor of the laws and customs of his ancestors, intended to severely punish one of the leaders of Batete in 1895, by the name of Mchile Looba, who had sisters from Bokoko as his spouses.
18. Freedom for a Bubi Woman
Ordinarily a Bubi woman never owns herself. From the time of childhood, and, at times, still being in her mother’s womb, she is owned by someone who is systematically delivering the dowry extracted by her parents.
Nevertheless, she frequently obtains the liberty she longs for in one of four ways: By will of her lawful father; by repudiation from her own husband; by unavoidable divorce; by widowhood or death of a spouse ribala r’eotó.
We have already discussed true widowhood. Now we are going to explain how a woman obtains her liberty in the other three ways.
It sometimes occurs, though rarely, that the lawful father of a young girl will declare formally and sincerely before the family council that he will not sell his daughter to any man. He vows that he will not receive a dowry for her, and that he will leave her free to choose the male that pleases her.
Another way she obtains freedom is when repudiation takes place. This is when the husband, whether from frequent disagreements, dislike, or boredom, throws her out of his house.
A forced divorce takes place when the deceased of the family, or morimó, manifests and reveals to the mojiammó or tribal prophet that a man and wife, legally united in matrimony, cannot continue cohabitation. He compels them to a perpetual and absolute separation, with the threat of certain death of one or both spouses if they do not divorce in the time the mojiammó has prearranged. As the Bubi are extremely superstitious and greatly fear death, even though both have been living in concordance, harmony, and love one other tenderly, they unfailingly will separate. This is the reason they call such a separation unavoidable (or inevitable) divorce. I knew some, in 1895, separated by the intimation of a deceased member of the family or morimó.