View of the waterfront at the capital city of Malabo, taken February 2006. (Phonohan photo)
Chapters 39 and 40: Warfare
39. War among the Bubis
All of the Bubis admit to ongoing and extremely cruel wars before the Europeans came. This continued while Spanish government policy mandated noninterference in local customs and practices. The peace that exists today dates from 1890, when Spanish missionaries established themselves in places most central to the island, which are Santa Isabel, San Carlos, and Concepción, and began visiting district villages.
In times before, private vengeances and attacks on others’ lives were the order of the day. It was quite dangerous for a person to cross a strange region alone.
It was noted before that to obtain the boita or moita title most honored among them, which was bohama (N) and bohabí (S), one was required to kill a personal enemy or outsider. He who sought to climb to the peak of Bubi nobility went to a remote place to wait in ambush by the road. When an unarmed man passed, he sprung out to kill him. Then he would cut off his victim’s right arm, put it in a pouch, and run to present it to his village botuku. The botuku would receive it with great displays of satisfaction and congratulate him for this heroic deed. They would either place the severed arm near the warmth and smoke of the hearth or put it in a container of oil.
The murderer returned to his house, his spirit filled with delight and happiness. He began working tirelessly to first provide himself with five biôtô spouses and later to prepare a grand banquet (siobe or siome) commemorating his feat. A huge crowd would attend and, once the feast was finished five or six days later, he was awarded the title bohama (N) and bohabí (S), which can be translated to “hero” or “illustrious man.” They go down in history, now, these evil treacheries and savage exploits.
Someone perhaps could have doubts about what I have just narrated. I cannot today confirm these stories. They were told to me by elderly Bubis, the majority of whom have gone to the other world.
Such were Bubi customs until the mochuku moote, called Moka, a man of gigantic stature, Herculean strength, and great power came to the throne. He was a very prudent ruler with an exceptional gift for governing, and was called mochuku m’oritcho omma omma — chief of the entire island.
While he held power, there was order and public security. When in his old age he began to decline, some villages resisted his rule. He sent his lojúa to repress their rebellion and punish them.
The primitive Bubis’ system of war is not clearly evident. Some claim that they would fling rocks with slingshots, to which they gave the names of pabula (N), mabola (U), mesisí and mesuisuí (S). Other say they fought with a club (toahá, choahá). A blow given with the haha (Bubi cane) to the head causes a wide and deep wound, as a wound with a machete. This I can assure you, for I have cured similar wounds innumerable times. On one occasion, a Bubi from the mountains came to me with six horrible head wounds that he had received in a dispute (roa, moloa) among neighbors from other villages. His wounds had him prostrate in bed with high fever for a month.
The skill in these fights is in delivering hard blows to the opponent’s head or wounding his arms to disable him. Such fights were common in the southern regions, and in the north they ultimately adopted boxing or pugilism (bakotto).
In wars of later times, they used javelins or throwing darts (bechika, mechika), which originally were intended for hunting deer. The old ones tell that the first man to make use of the bechika in battle was a certain Etataké, native of Bualatókolo or Ruiché ro Motéhé. The Bubi javelin is a wooden stick about five feet long, ending in a sharp point, its sides fat with tiny barbs in such a way that if thrust into flesh, one cannot take it out without tearing. To avoid such a tear they used to make two deep incisions on the sides of the wound with a sharp jackknife. As a defense against the bechika, they wore a cuirass of buffalo hide with its breastplate and backplate reaching the waist, protecting the chest, the stomach and back.
The Bubis of Batete tell the story of a woman of Balacha (molanchari) who was making her way to Bokoko. As she passed by Batete, the people there greeted her with affection, but when they drew near her for the accustomed hug, she hurled disdainful curses and insults at them, such as: Soohiñao, soó mbua ñao, that literally means: ”Go, dogs, to eat shit.” The enraged Batetes cut off her right hand and refused her passage.
From this date, according to the Batetes, they used machetes and other bladed weapons in war.
In more modern times, foreign blacks imported flint rifles, and the first use made of them was to kill the bapotó or foreigners. In San Carlos, the people of Rutoloeri de Boloko went down to the beach and killed all the bapotó who lived there. Much later, in July of 1910, they used them in the “Acts of Balacha.” In the operation of a flint rifle, the Bubi is quite dexterous.
The casus belli (1) most common were the murder of a village’s great man and the kidnapping, or flight, of a woman eôtô or legitimate spouse, with her being kept in another village.
In the first case, when word spread that a homicide had been perpetrated in another village or district, the victim’s village would send an ambassador to the offending village, who demanded to know the motives and reasons for the death of his countryman. If the motives and reasons were just, there it would end; but if there had been a grave injustice, the victim’s village would demand indemnification or reparation from the others. If the offender would agree to all the demands of the offended, relations between the two villages would remain intact. In the contrary case, the offended would declare war on the delinquent.
In the flight of a legitimate spouse, the husband would first ascertain her whereabouts. Once she was located, he would go to his own chief to tell him where the fugitive had been found and implore him to perform due diligence to return her to his hearth. The chief would send notice of what had occurred to the chief of the village where the fugitive had been found. If the fugitive was a boita spouse and had taken refuge in the house of a common sibala, she would be delivered to her husband. If the host violated the fugitive during this time, his own chief would embargo all his goods and he would be reduced to misery. In addition, the fugitive, for having made this flight from the conjugal domicile, remained defamed before the public and was the disgrace of her family. In supposing that she was violated, she was punished as an adulterer.
In the case that the fugitive took refuge in the palace of another district’s chief, her husband’s own chief ordered her reclaimed from the deforciant. If he immediately returned her, peace was maintained; but if he obstinately refused to return her, war between the districts began at once.
They made their war declarations with figurative terms such as: Olo bari to a jetasá lojecha lulé (Balacha): “Tomorrow we will dress ourselves in the same clothing.” Mbí ebari to a lahá nchobo nde (Batete): “Tomorrow we will eat together.”
Events having arrived at such a state, they first built large barriers or stockades of trunks (babeku (N), mabeku (S), meku (SW)). The suitable measures taken, they sounded the grand trumpet (mpototutu, mopotochuchu), summoning all able men to take up arms. They left on their campaign (lobotto (N), loboddo (S), lobondo (SW)) in tight squadrons, leaving behind a retinue of troops in the village outskirts in case of ambush. In each armed body there was a neloridorí or ñebbi, who harangued his people at the top of his voice during the skirmish to set their hearts aflame with courage. From time to time he repeated these words: Olib’o bosorio mbotelo momma: “Forward, brave men, face to face to capture a chief.”
In the event that they fought Batetes against Boloketos, and a Batete captured a Boloketo chief, the chief would scream: Elo boloketo nchiari!: “People of Boloko, I am a prisoner,” and the Batete warrior would cry out with all his force: Eno batete, mpasi: “Batetes, I have captured a fat one.” When this happened, disorder, confusion, and an infernal uproar would ensue, the Boloketos determined to free their imprisoned chief and the Batetes in keeping him. One could hear nothing but clubbing, curses, moans, and cries of desperation.
The signal to order capitulation was this: the chief raised his pole of command and gave some steps back, and the combat would end immediately. The victors imposed their conditions for peace and if the defeated ones rejected such conditions for very long, the fight renewed until one of the factions gave up and submitted without condition.
40. Warlike feats narrated by the old ones
We made mention of the past wars between the first inhabitants of the San Carlos district called Batete, with the present-day residents. As these last defeated the first, they were expelled from their homeland and established themselves in the northerly region, comprised between the Ope River on the west, and Maputo River on the east.
The present-day Batetes endured many encounters with the Bokokos. In one of these perished Mai, the famous mochuku mo Motchè, and the Batetes were defeated. But they recouped, rushing the Bokokos beyond the Ndohá River, which serves as boundary nowadays between Batete and Bokoko.
The boundary line of Batete and Bokoko was in the older days the Oko River, which flows east to the Drumen property, inasmuch as Bokoko means inhabitants of the district east of the Oko River. In the present day they live to the west of the Ndohá. The terrain between both rivers is occupied by the Bachá or Biché Batetes, who before possessed the palm groves east to Balombe.
These same Batetes would lie in ambush in the old property of Guillermo Vivour, waiting for the people of Boloko to go to the beach for fish. A bloody and terrible slaughter would be executed. The inhabitants of Risule, Moeri, and Riringó verified this history, as well as the neighbors of Basakato of the West. On those whom the Batetes subjugated and enslaved, they imposed a shameful tribute of a certain number of young women each year.
We have noted before that the same western Basakatos argued and fought among themselves over the poor distribution of their palm trees. They quarreled and fought so much that the grandparents of the present-day residents of Basakato of the West threw their ancestors out of their country. They now live in Basakato of the East, between Basuala and Bariaobe. Thus the Basakatos, east as west, are brothers or form part of the same subtribe, but the eastern were expatriates or exiles of the Basakato of San Carlos.
We have indicated that the Batetes, primary inhabitants nowadays of Batikopo, Baloeri, Basupú of the West, Sampaka, Basile, Basupú of the East, and of Rebola, were forcefully ejected from San Carlos. Upon arriving at the banks of the Apú River, they found that region inhabited by other Bubis who, the old ones consistently tell, were the Baney and Basuala.
The Baney and Basuala were peaceful people, in those times, enemies of altercations and war. But they were antagonized by the recent arrivals, who were a most numerous army. They were at first able to fight off the invaders, defending themselves and their homes. But when the Batete realized they had lost, and that they were still refused permission to pass through the country, they threw themselves over the farms and homes with a concentrated rage, wrought from their shame and defeat. They executed a horrible slaughter on the poor indigenous.
That place still retains the name of the slaughter of the Baneba: Riorippuá ra Baneba.
The people of Meri, Risule, and other Baloketos in the same way carried devastation throughout the territories of Batikopo and Baloeri, even extending to Basupú of the West.
It has been some thirty years, the ancient Bubis recall, since the last foray carried out by Baloketos in Basupú. In that attack, the objective was the revenge of one of the main chiefs of that region, who had been insulted about his belongings and people. This chief, tell the old ones, was a true giant, so shrewd and such a brave fighter that in only one stroke he knocked down five of his enemies, and on one occasion confronted fifty of them alone.
The Baloketos went to Basupú secretly, lying in ambush in some underbrush near the farm of the giant, attacking by surprise and taking it without resistance, as they had found the man absent and only some women and children about. They took them out of the village and set it on fire. They cut off both hands of the old women and, as plunder, they carried away the children. The attackers withdrew and returned to their own region, the mutilated women filling the environs with painful howls and pitiful weeping.
The farm’s owner returned home to all of this. He bellowed with rage, like a wounded lion, gathering in a moment a staff of servants and neighbors able to bear arms. He ran in pursuit of the attackers and, overtaking them in Basakato between the Ope and Bioko rivers, rushed upon them like an enraged tiger. He routed them, put them in confusion, and stampeded them, taking from them the plunder they had captured.
The Batetes of the north, in the same way, frequently harassed and persecuted one another. The cause was that, even though they were all Batetes, they were divided in two branches, called Bariobatta and Baho or Rao. The Basupús, Baloeris and Batoikopos were Bariobatta, and the Barebola, Basupú of the East, Basilé and Banapá were Baho. There never was peace between the two. Night-time attacks, homicides, fires, and assaults followed one after another almost without interruption.
The Rebolanos also had made invasions into Bariaobe and Bakake, and the inhabitants of these last villages took up against the Bikos and eastern Baloketos.
From all of this, one gathers that for many years the kingdom of the Bubis was pandemonium. One can understand why the Bubi population became so reduced. This state of things lasted from the time many regions rebelled against the supreme chief of Biapa until the celebrated Moka once again subdued them.
(1) Latin: An act justifying, or regarded as a reason for, war. --Trans.