Engraving of the beach and city of Santa Isabel, published in the Spanish magazine El Museo Universal, May 22 1864.
Chapters 19 and 20: Adultery, widowhood
19. Punishment of Adulterers
As I have indicated, it was the general custom among the Bubis to buy baby girls, at times before birth with her still in her mother’s womb. There was a condition to this: If the birth resulted in a male, he would be the purchaser’s man-servant or servant, and, if female, she would be his spouse or the spouse of his son, if he is of marriageable age.
They would stipulate the price, which ordinarily would not exceed four hundred Spanish pesetas. The amount agreed and set in place, the claimant would begin his payments, at times with pieces of game or with big bowls of fish, at other times with bags of salt or with cans of oil. Sometimes payment was with long strings of chibo, other times with goats, and other times with physical labor, as the biblical Jacob.
Both parties kept notes of the type and number of pieces of game, etc., delivered and received. Some readers will question: How did they keep these notes, since they did not know how to write? They would place values on bundles of different-sized pieces of sticks with which they recorded the number of a particular type, and in order to distinguish the type and amount, they used bundles of longer and shorter sticks. They also used a pole or walking stick, in which they made different cuts or hacks with a knife, which indicated the class and number of items delivered and received.
From the aforementioned, one understands that the betrothed or engaged baby girl, even as an infant, is considered and considers herself married. When she arrives at a suitable age, before her spouse will bring her into his home, he usually demands her inspection or examination to assure that she is still a virgin, or if she has been deflowered and compromised. If she remains a virgin, she receives praise, congratulations, wishes for happiness and sincere, cordial blessings from all. But, if the examination proves her to have been violated or raped, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, she stands before the public in extreme dishonor and shame. They rise up against her, hurtling insults, affronts, and damnation. In their reasoning, if she voluntarily gave up her virginity, then her criminal spirit has caused her to be humiliated, dishonored and defamed, and her unjust intentions were to offend and affront the future spouse and his family. If she has been forced and violated, then she is rebuffed for not having denounced the perpetrator of the brutality.
It frequently happens that the girl declares her innocence and protests these accusations, swearing that no one violated her. Then they use torture to pull a confession out of her. The torture consists in encircling the presumed criminal’s wrists with a thin, strong cord, from which hang two ropes. Some men will pull these ropes, at first, softly, but if she continues her denial, they pull with all their strength. The cord breaks the skin and penetrates the flesh, causing such sharp pain that she screams in desperation, crying pitifully. If this doesn’t stop her insistence, then they pull harder, until, from the vehemence of the atrocious pain, the young woman confesses her crime and declares someone to be her accomplice.
The crime confessed, it is given over to the principal chief, who will punish all those involved as an example. He immediately sends for the delinquents and asks them if what the girl has declared is true. If the answer is yes, the male is obliged to make restitution to the husband for the entire dowry that he had paid for her. If the accomplice is insolvent, he remains indebted to pay her family and receives other penalties.
Again the chief interrogates the spouse of the young woman and, although she is deflowered, asks if he wants to accept her for his spouse. If, in spite of everything, the spouse receives her, then half of the restitution remains with the chief. If he refuses to accept her into his house and receive her for his spouse, the restitution for the entire debt becomes his and the girl is deposited in the house of her parents. Both adulterers will be forever dishonored.
At times the girl, in her own self-interest, makes a declaration that is slanderous, either to disguise the true accomplice or to slander another who has scorned her. I have witnessed this last treatment. Finding myself, at the beginning of this current century, in a certain village in the north, the old women inspected a girl and found her violated. The chief gathered the entire village under a covered space so that all would hear the girl’s declaration. He requested that I be present, and I agreed.
At first the young woman refused to talk, and in spite of the chief and village leaders’ orders and requests, she remained mute. The chief ordered them to torture her, and, forced by intense pain, she revealed two young men to be her accomplices, calling them by their names. They were well able to defend themselves before the general assembly, although one did better than the other.
There passed several years, and I casually encountered the aforementioned young person, now a Christian, and I asked her: “Tell me: Those two young men that you declared to be your accomplices in that general meeting of your village, had you been truthful about it?” She answered: “Fulano” – she named him – “it was true, certainly; but about Zutano I hadn’t been honest. I only wanted to slander him because I desired to have him for a friend and he disdained me.”
In general, the young men tenaciously deny complicity with the girl and they declare her confession to be slanderous because she has ill will toward them.
To better purge the truth, in ancient times, in the north in particular, never in the south, they used a threatening, ritualistic oath.
The chief would send some people to the mountains to hunt a deer, no other animal. Once they had the deer, they presented it to the chief, who ordered it split from top to bottom and divided. This done, he gave the order that all the village join together in the big plaza, which almost all the villages have. Once they were gathered, he placed the two deer pieces at the plaza entrance, ordering those accused of adultery to appear in public. He ordered each one to pass through the middle of the two pieces, saying these exact words: “Be I open and divided in pieces as this animal, if in some time I joined with or knew this girl.” In such solemn moments the girl stood completely nude in the middle of the assembly.
It is a deeply rooted belief among the Bubis that the perjurer, although he may go free of punishment from the residents of this world, will not escape the terrible and atrocious punishment that the boribó or inhabitants of the other world who belong to his family, or to the girl’s family, will inflict on him. Under the degree of superstition that shrouded them, no guilty person dared recklessly pass through the deer, speaking such a horrible oath. Once they had ascertained the truth of the violation, they condemned the delinquents to repeat the same act in the plaza and in the presence of all those present. It is an inconceivable thing used only by the more primitive, abject, and savage villages.
The inhabitants of a certain district attribute the Jesuit fathers abandoning that place from such an action, carried out not very far from their residence.
The law used to allow a husband to punish his unfaithful wife with severity. In the southern districts the female adulterers were condemned to be suspended from tree branches, their hands tied, one to one branch and one to the other, entirely nude, the body hanging in the air without support. For the penalty to be an even greater example and the torture more intense and atrocious, they would tie baskets and kettles filled with stones to her feet. In this position she was contemplated by the entire village, gathered in front of the gallows, with the right to ridicule, mock, and shower her with insults, imprecations and curses, or even beat her if they felt the desire. No one could escape this torment alive.
Today, they no longer use this torture out of fear of the Spanish government. The things of this writing are from more primitive times. Back then, in the month of December 1895, in the village of the Batete named Rachá or Ruiché, there was a woman condemned of the aforementioned penalty. This unfortunate remained all day suspended from the terrible tree. When night arrived, they left her alone, abandoned to her torments. The night was extremely dark and gloomy. Protected by the darkness, she made desperate and supreme efforts to free herself, and at the end of an hour of violent struggle, the knot broke and she dropped to the ground, senseless.
Coming to, she undertook a hasty escape through woods and thickets in the direction of the mission, arriving in the depths of the night. To see her, even the most heartless and indifferent man would be moved to compassion and pity. She came with her body bruised and with contusions, both wrists with deep and bloody sores. Her eyes were wild, with signs of mental disorder. Small noises startled her and she believed her executioners still pursued her. After three days she became free of the nightmares, but never again would she return to the mountain with her people.
Thus one explains why adultery among the Bubis, in the ancient days, was so rare. Once the crime was exposed, one knew with certainty they would be condemned to barbaric and atrocious penalties. Besides what has already been stated, although the guilty might conceal the fault from the eyes of the mortals, it wasn’t or isn’t hidden from the deceased or borimó. From the land beyond the grave they are abreast of so much that happens in this sublunar world, and they punish anyone who violates matrimonial law with death. According to their superstitious beliefs, the crime of adultery is never committed with impunity, but one will receive his just deserts either by the living or by the deceased.
Later on, the penalties were gentler. In 1914, an adulterer of the besé of Batete was given a fine of ten goats. It seemed an excessive fine to him, so he came to me hoping that I would take up his cause. I told him: “The fine, although large, I consider very just and reasonable. The fines and other penalties defend and protect the laws. Go, pay the ten goats. There is nothing I can do for you.”
20. Widowhood and Mourning
Bubi laws and customs used to impose a rigorous precept on women to wear mourning attire for an entire year after their legitimate husbands had died. The law was general and absolute, but obligated only women who had contracted in ribala r'eotó with their deceased husbands, and not those united in ribala re rijole.
If a woman found herself in a condition that made it impossible to carry out the law, such as, for example, she was still an infant or confined in the maternal womb, once she arrived at puberty she became obligated to carry out the law. These same laws apply to a woman who had been thrown from her house by the deceased, separated from him by a forced divorce, or if she had moved to a far-away place. As soon as she knew of the spouse’s death, she must return to the deceased’s village and fulfill the laws of mourning and widowhood.
In carrying out these laws, all widows, infidels, and even Christians, are very exact and punctual. It is believed that from the borimó or region of the dead, the deceased spouse is able to demand atonement for all of their actions. With death he has obtained a supreme power with near-omnipotence to punish with frightening and unheard of calamities any person who in life belonged to him, should he be shown disrespect or damage be done to his good memory, reputation, or esteem.
The requirements of widowhood are:
1: She must remain secluded in the house of the deceased exactly twenty days;
2: On the sixth day of seclusion, she must shave her head and deposit her hair in a small basket, undress, remove any feminine adornments and remain in the nude. She wears only a simple apron three inches wide by six inches long, fastened at the lower abdomen with a palm fiber;
3: After twenty days of enclosure, she must go down to a beach where the region’s most important river flows. There, she must bathe to rid the body of impurities picked up during the time that matrimonial laws bound her. Here they throw out the small basket that contains the widow’s hair. Sometimes they throw the hair, adornments, and other ornaments received from the deceased on his burial site.
4: After returning from the beach she must live another twenty days and nights in a lopando, or a hut open to the four winds, which is raised outside of the village and connected to the public road. She has only a simple table that serves her as chair and bed, and a fire to cook her meals and protect her from cold and damp nights.
5: At the end of her residency in the lopando, she returns to the house of the deceased. There, she wears what has become known as the dress of a widow. The dress of a widow is extremely simple and primitive. It consists in painting her entire body, or more accurately, smearing her entire body, with a clay-like, ash-gray material that has a tint of yellow. Some widows wear hoops of the esparto plant between their knees and calves, and others, on their forearm in the manner of a bracelet, and on the top of their arms. Finally, around the waist they wear a band or belt made of esparto fibers, from which, on the front, they hang a bundle of fibers of the same material to defend their modesty, leaving the rest in natural nudity.
Adorned with this simple clothing, she stays two more days in the dwelling place of her deceased spouse. Then, beautified with the ash-gray paint and wearing the tuuba, or belt and bundle of fibers and herbs, she raises a basket on her shaven and uncovered head to carry alms and little gifts that she has made. She travels far and wide, walking where she pleases until the end of her mourning, which usually lasts an exact year.
From this moment she is completely free to go anywhere she wants, to do all that she fancies, and to offer favors to the male that solicits them or who pleases her most. She will have no dishonor nor does anyone have the right to ask her the reason for her conduct. Nonetheless, law forbids the male who receives the first favors of a widow to live with her. No one dares to violate the law for fear of a premature death.
The widow, during mourning, is well received everywhere. The men, in particular, exert themselves to the utmost in their attentions with the aim that, once mourning is concluded, she might cohabit with them. No one will be able to marry the widow.
She may be friend or concubine to anyone, but never again spouse; nor will the children that she has of her friends be owned by them, but of the family of the deceased spouse.
In 1905, there lived in Batete a man who considered himself an intimate friend of the Fathers, who had begotten a little son who was quite handsome. I was absent a long while, and upon returning I came across the boy horribly disfigured with big cuts on his face. To see him in such a state angered me greatly: I called to his father and reprimanded him for having mutilated his son’s face in such a hideous manner.
“Father, I did not order the boy cut,” he responded. “It was the family of the husband eotó of my woman who ordered it. The boy is my natural son, but he is not mine legally.”