Nesting sea turtles lay their eggs on southern Bioko shores, then return to the sea. (Truelsen photo)
Chapters 35 to 38: Hunting and fishing
One of the Bubis’ favorite occupations has been, for all time, the hunt. Truly, they have distinguished themselves in this with their exceptional skill and aptitude. It is not my intention to deal with the modern Bubi hunt, in these times when everyone possesses firearms, but only with the primitive hunt, when they were not familiar with such arms. Today the Bubi manages his firearm with confidence and is an excellent marksman, rarely missing a shot.
In hunts in days of antiquity, they used darts (bechika, mechika); traps (ekaso, sibèttèbèttè, boholo (N), siara, epeu, moholo (S); snares (riparu (N), rinchi, ekaso (S), etc.), and the creel (boatcho, moancho). The general name for hunting was ebeba and ebema, and they used to hunt individually, in society with an entire village, or in various assemblies. Hunters by trade, as some were established by chiefs, were called babeba, babema.
Hunting done in a common group they call bohotte, bohodde, bohonde, and this was undertaken some days before some grand celebration for which the village or district might be preparing. It began with the sound of a trumpet (botutu, mochuchu) that summoned the village to gather. They decided, as a group, where they would hunt and their hour of departure. When that hour came, the entire village set out, leaving only the sick, the nursing women, and the babies at home.
When the group arrived at the designated hunting place, they began to clear away underbrush and sweep the ground until the site was clear enough to form a spacious plaza. They encircled the cleared area with a barrier of stout stakes, then most of them headed into the woods armed with clubs, and the others, supplied with darts, remained in wait.
The first group formed a cordon and walked back in the direction of the cleared plaza. Using their clubs, they struck the brush, causing confused game to flee toward the prepared site. The animals would run themselves into the barricade and the second group of Bubis, armed with their darts, would finish them off. This brush-beating they named o boppa, o bobba, o choma, and it translates to English literally as: “to hit the woods.” With this method they hunted forest buffaloes (koppo mboho), deer (chou, nchu), antelopes (chechi, sibelo), porcupines (bipahá), pangolins (nkala), etc.
The old people say that in others times, in the ridges of Santa Isabel mountain, there were herds of forest buffalo. Those who distinguished themselves in the hunt of such mammals were the inhabitants of Otoikoppo or Batoikoppo, words that mean buffalo conquerors.
The Bubis pursued the buffaloes so cruelly and brutally, exploiting their meat and particularly their hides, that they exterminated them. The hides they made into large, strong shields, which darts, commonly, could not penetrate.
Buffalo hunting caused fights and bloody quarrels among the villages, as occurred on one occasion among the Basupuanos and Balveri (Botonós). Sharing the meat from the hunt apparently displeased them. They exchanged words, which went too far, and bloodshed resulted.
There were times when instead of hunting for game, they waited for it (ebechi). The Bubis have studied well the pastures preferred by antelopes and deer, and they know when, at twilight, the animals graze. Dawn they call ope, and dusk esaha. The Bubis arrived early at these times to wait behind a shrub or a trunk, or in the top of a tree. Then, when the beast was feeling most tranquil, he would feel a cruel dart thrown by a savage enter his body.
It is widely known that the Bubi arrow or dart is made of wood, without an iron point, and that they hurl it by simply throwing it with the hand, not using a bow. You will refuse, perhaps, to believe that a man can pierce an antelope or deer from any distance in this way, but it is a sure thing. There was a young man in a village who pierced a goat through and through from more than thirty feet away.
The Bubis also placed traps on paths or trails (boseka or moseka) that the animals frequently used.
So as not to make myself tedious, I will describe only one trap, the ekaso or siara. They dug a hole in the middle of a trail, planting four strong sticks in its bottom with two matching stakes in the middle. Two more strong stakes they drove deeply into the sides of the hole, and these they fastened to the two in the middle. They fixed a stout pole in the ground about six feet away, hanging a cord on its upper end that ended in a large lasso. The lasso they extended over the two poles in the bottom of the pit, attaching it to the bottom poles with a small stick. Thus, they forced the stick to bend, like an arc, held in a state of tight tension.
They cover the hole with leaf rubbish and a thin coating of fine dirt. An animal goes down the path, unwarily steps on the covered ground, where his paws collapse into the hole. At the collapse, off goes the small stick that held the tension on the stout stick, it snaps up, throwing off the open lasso and the beast is raised in the air, snagged by its feet. Into this lasso went antelopes, deer and some feral pigs.
The traps (boholo, moholo, epeu, etc.) they use to hunt small animals, such as grounpig (1), (nhoholo) and porcupines (epaha.) They catch small birds with the lasso riparu or rinchi, and with the creel boatcho or moancho, they gather smaller animals.
In eras long before ours, the main beaches of each region had a fishing village (roobé (N), roomé (S)) and its inhabitants were known as boobé (N) and boomé (S), which is to say, fishermen. The chief of the respective district required these men, just as tribute from vassals, to provide him with enough fish for himself, his family, and his servants. With any surplus, the fishermen bought their own fresh meat and game, yams, malangas, palm wine and oil, and other provisions.
These fishing villagers never planted fields nor hunted, but had the singular occupation of fishing.
Perhaps someone asks: “How is it that such villages have disappeared today, without even one remaining as an example?” There are still fishermen in the village of Ureka, and there, in 1914, I saw some Bubi cayucos with men in them heading out to sea. Another example is that Santa Isabel’s first residents named the village of Basupú of the East, or Basapo, “Fishtown.” This was where the fishermen of Rebola went, and in Bubi it would have been known as roobé and its inhabitants called boobé.
The principal cause of the disappearance of similar villages was the immorality that subsequently predominated in them. In the beginning, only the women went down to the beach to exchange palm oil, yams, malangas, etc., for fresh fish. Since Bubi law was so severe, punishing adulterers with such cruel and barbaric penalties, the men of the village ingenuously believed no one would be so audacious as to violate these laws.
The fishermen had their own women, but no one is ever content with what he has and will long for that which appears better than his own. The fishermen saw the extreme greed that the women of the besé had for fresh fish, and began to woo them with promises of better and more abundant fish. Greed and gluttony ruined them.
These crimes and abuses for a long time remained concealed, but as Jesus Christ said: Nihil occultum quod non scietur. (2) In time, the crimes became known and the chiefs of the mountain besés who had been most offended gathered in general assembly. The Bubi are jealous of their conjugal rights. They will relinquish them for no price. Outraged at this insult, and considering the boobé low and despicable, they decreed the general extermination of them all. Thus it was executed, all the guilty ones killed, and the innocents ordered to leave the beach and go to live in the besés.
A little after this bloody episode the Krumans came to the island, and they proved to be the greatest enemy of the Bubis and the downfall of their women.
To this day, families keep the name “Boobé” or “Boomé.” The verb “to fish” translates to o oba, and the gerund “fishing” to loobi.
When they were unfamiliar with fishhooks, they used darts or wood harpoons to catch fish, as well as for hunting. The darts were attached to very strong cords (besori) and they used them to attack large fish they found by heading far out to sea in their primitive cayucos (boato (N.) or boto (SW)).
They had an extremely poisonous liana or vine called luilo (N) and builo (S) that they used to catch fish. During low tide, they would dig a pool in the beach sand, surrounding it with rocks. When the tide went up, the pool would fill with water and, consequently, with fish. They quickly threw in pieces of the poison liana, and the fish would drop to the bottom as if drunk or anesthetized. When the tide again lowered, the fish were retrieved.
With palm tree branches, they built dragnets to snare sardines and other fish. This fishing system is still practiced by the Balachas in San Carlos Bay, and it they give the name losala.
The Bubi also use a net made of tight mesh (boatcho, moancho) with a wooden hoop, used like a large basket. They get into the sea with water up to their chests and use it to gather small fish and sardines.
They gather eels using much industry and an instrument called an ejó (N), hokó (SW), which consists of a stick with a lasso made of thin, strong fiber. As eels hide in the rocks of the beach, the fisherman extends the loop in the opening of their hiding place, putting bait in front of it to draw them out. The animal passes through the middle of the lasso to take the bait and the fisherman pulls the cord tight, holding the eel captive, unable to escape or slip away.
Today they fish with a fishing rod (boneha or moleha), with casting nets (lohotte (N), lohodde (S), and lohonde (SW)), and with baskets to gather river crayfish.
37. Domestic animals
The Bubi possess very few domestic animals. From the bird family, only the chicken (kohe), and from the quadrupeds, only three species: sheep (choru, cholu, chelu), goat (mpori, mbori) and dog (mpuá, mbua). The quality of these animals is inferior to those on the Spanish peninsula. Their meat is flabby, less flavorful and nourishing, and their forms, proportionally, much reduced.
The sheep do not have wool, but hair, as goats, and their horns are smaller. Their udders are of an insignificant appearance and barely give sufficient milk to nourish a litter. Milking an animal is unknown to the indigenous. Some years ago they were greatly amazed when they heard that Europeans take nourishment from cow, sheep, goat, and ass milk. Their amazement raised another step when they learned milk was used not so much as a necessity, but for the pleasure of its taste.
The pure Bubi dog never barks, but howls as a wolf. It is of a despicable appearance, thin, poorly fed and not much of a hunter.
During the day, domestic animals go as free as they please with no one watching over them. At dusk, they all return to spend the night close to the houses of their respective owners; the chickens, in the nearest trees, and the others, in the boencha or in their roosts. They go to graze rather far but, in general, one never loses a beast in the woods. The owners mark all of their animals, so there is no need to make a daily tally. In antiquity, theft and robbery were unknown, so respected were an owner’s rights.
From the right of vagrancy that the animals enjoy comes the law, or general custom, that orders high and strong fences to surround village neighborhoods and fields. In this contrary way, the beasts’ owners have no responsibility for any damage they may cause. If a local road passes through the middle of a yam field, the law requires that the yam field’s proprietor put doors in his fence, closed by means of a cord, or that he put in double stairs to give travelers passage. People are required to leave the fence closed, under penalty of fine should the animals cause any damage. In the same way, chickens wear marks by which their owners distinguish them.
Animals that jump fences into villages or fields are tied up outside and, the first time, a warning given to the proprietor. The second time, they boxed its ears. The third time, they called together the owner and two experts to calculate and appraise damages, which the animal’s owner must pay. If a beast continued this bad habit, they destroyed it.
To help animals leave behind a house of a previous owner, they give them salt water to drink or bring salt-saturated driftwood from the beach to occupy them. They cook yams or plantains with spices to fatten chickens. They prepared egg-layers (bileko) with dried herbs (raalo), which they change a little if they have lice. And when the little chicks cannot go up the roost (biopo), they place them with care under the wings of the mother so that they are a little warmer. Pip (eijo, hombe) in chickens is cured with water boiled with red pepper, and with that same water they treat small pox in chickens, anointing the part afterward with palm oil.
They cure ringworm and mange (korokoro) in animals by washing them with nearly boiling water and later adding an uncture of palm oil. They extirpate dropsy by giving the animals the cooked herb bileppa (N), bokari (S) and salt water, and they combat diarrhea by keeping the beast in the house and feeding it only dried herbs.
There were official castrators to castrate animals, and they were very well rewarded.
They rarely sacrificed sheep to the ancestors of their parents, usually only goats and chickens. Nor did they eat chicken meat or eggs. These times have passed; now they eat well.
As the needs of the primitive Bubis were quite limited, one understands that trade or commerce was scanty. It consisted only in exchanging goods, although at rare times they would exchange with Bubi money (chibo lôhô).
The goods for sale were transported by porters, who were the servants, the larger children of both sexes, and the women, who carried the cargo on top of their heads. The chiefs, if they carried any weight at all, would carry it on their shoulders. That would only happen if he did not have any servant or woman at hand.
At distances of fifteen miles there were public sites called bitobam (N), and bochimba or selano (SW), which we call markets. These were small plazas located in the shade of local roads, where they made commercial transactions. Joined to the extinct village of Riringó, between Moeri and Basakato of the West, there was a bitobam or selano, another in Bariaobe, and another between Relebó of Balacha and the village of Ureka. This last I visited in January of 1896 and 1898 in two trips that I made to the Urekano beaches; but it no longer existed when I returned in February of 1925.
It is known that the inhabitants of Biapa and Balacha of San Carlos supplied yams and wine gourds to the rest of the island and also to foreigners. It is also quite certain that every year, in the months of October and November, there came small sloops from Calabar and Douala to San Carlos Bay for yams that the Balachas sold them in exchange for other goods. Upon the arrival of these vessels to that bay, the crew members made gunfire salvos and throngs of Balachas came down, loaded with big metete or betete of yams.
The people of Biapa and Balacha worked huge yam and malanga plantations and had large herds of sheep and goats. In exchange, they needed palm oil and other articles. At first, commerce consisted only in exchange; later on it took place by buying and selling with Bubi money. The Bubi money was long and short strings of small pieces of shells from shellfish. Those of about five inches were valued in twenty-five hundredths of a peseta; but they counted by rionchila. The rionchila consisted of twenty strings, which was equivalent to a peseta.
The villages neighboring Santa Isabel were the first to obtain European merchandise, such as iron pots, machetes, knives, hatchets, salt, liquor, cloth, etc. These goods were transported to markets in the southern regions and resold at a good price.
Usually villages agreed beforehand when they would be going to the marketplace for an exchange. If for some reason one party did not arrive at the meeting, the other party would not be angry or vexed. They merely would drop their goods at the market and returned home with no fear that their goods would be stolen. The late party would show up, take their merchandise that had been dropped there a day or two before, and leave behind their goods for exchange. When the first party was informed their goods were at the market, they would go pick them up. If they were not exchanging goods, but purchasing with money, they would leave the baonchila (N), maonchila or strings of shells at the agreed-upon price hung on the trunk of a nearby tree. I saw just such an exchange in 1896, in the market on the road from Balacha to Ureka. The baskets of yams from the Balachas were hung in the trees neighboring the road, which must have been picked up by the Urekanos.
The old ones told me that the first poto or foreigner who began to do business with the Bubis of San Carlos Bay was the now-deceased Guillermo Vivour. This black man invested in factories on many beaches, with the goal of stockpiling palm oil from different districts, which he obtained with salt, tobacco and other articles. As he treated the naturals with honesty and formality, he won their esteem and confidence. Likewise, he aided and helped exceedingly in the establishment of the Mission of Batete or Maria Cristina, in January of 1887.
The first European merchant who established his residence in San Carlos Bay was a Spaniard named Juan, who the Krumans called “John Pana,” which means “John Spanish,” and the Bubis of Batete gave him the name of “Vico.” He was most esteemed and respected by the Bubis, or at least the old ones of Batete spoke very well of him. He situated his house on the same point where now we find the House of Barcelona, and since that date the before-said point carried the name of “John Pana,” or John Spain.
(1). Pigenglish for ground pig, a local name for bush rat. --Trans.
(2). Latin: Nothing is concealed that will not be known. --Trans.