Chapters 41 and 42: God and Bisila
41. Idea of God
In an antique description of Fernando Poo island and its inhabitants, it was said they had no knowledge of God. This is groundless and ventured.
The Bubi possess an exact and complete idea of God. To he who studies their customs quickly and superficially, their religion will appear as only a crude fetishism. But he who practices a thorough and deep study of their habits and their beliefs will find a primitive monotheism.
The supreme being, principal creator of the universe, is given the name of Rupé in the north, which means Great Spirit, and in the south they call him Potó, which is equivalent to Excellent Lord or Supreme Lord. His rijata, or habitation, is beyond the firmament (or lobakoppuá), where he enjoys the same and takes delight in his works. From there he observes and contemplates the occurrences and vicissitudes of his creatures, and nothing is concealed from his gaze.
He gave life and movement to all beings of creation. Nonetheless, he does not rule and govern those inferiors directly, but by means of the superiors, that is, by pure spirits called bajula. Natural disasters, earthquakes, floods and other disturbances of nature they suppose are results of the bajula babe or bad spirits, of which there are many. They cause residents of the earth all manner of possible evils.
God is essential goodness and abhors, naturally, wickedness. This is why all evils, thus physical as spiritual, proceed from the bajula abé. God is infinitely rich, self-sufficient, and needs nothing from no one. Therefore, he demands from man only deep respect and eternal veneration and, at very rare times, the sacrifice of a goat. It is a common opinion among the Bubi that God creates human souls for himself, but, as he has no needs at all, he sells them to the bajula and baribó, from which comes the belief that men need to respect them and obey them as slaves to their masters. The Bubi religion is not of filial respect and veneration, from which one derives affection, recognition and gratitude, but rather of dread and servility, coming from an enslaved and diffident soul.
In spite of this, the worship of the divinity is not neglected or abandoned. In all the districts in ancient times there existed a family, called Bolaribó (sons of the spirit), whose occupation was the service and worship of the Supreme Being and the care of the sacred fire, which burned continuously in honor of the divinity.
Such family was held in great respect and high veneration and enjoyed notable privileges. All the inhabitants of their respective district were obligated to contribute to their sustenance and maintenance and they enjoyed the privilege of power. None of its individuals were subjected to common law, nor could they be judged by civil or military authority.
There’s an old story from the north that in a certain region there lived an impious chief, whom no one feared or respected. He professed a personal hatred of this sacred family. It happened, then, that an individual from the family was accused of an abominable crime, and to the chief it appeared the perfect occasion to satiate his hatred. He planned to judge and condemn the accused by a common code of laws, without due consideration to his privilege and dignity. He called the villagers together in the public plaza, so that all would assist in judging the man guilty and would witness the severe and exemplary punishment the chief intended to impose.
History tells us that the day was beautiful and splendid; the sky serene and diaphanous, the sun shining with clarity and force. The crowd met under the sacred trees of the plaza, waiting to see the results of this unique justice. When the moment arrived for the chief to give the condemnatory sentence, the sky was clear and without a cloud. In the precise instant he pronounced it, they heard a hair-raising thunder, so loud the sky seemed to fall to pieces, and from a cloud came a spark that reduced the impious chief to cinders. The participants of his impiety, who sacrilegiously desecrated this sacred privilege, were also incinerated.
This history was told to me by an old man of the north, and clearly proves that, even among the faithless, the persons consecrated to the worship of the divinity were held in enormous veneration and enjoyed notable prerogatives.
A little before they began the annual planting of yams, the district notables used to meet to designate the time for planting. They cleared a small bit of land for yams dedicated to the creator, which they called epata a Rupé. They fenced it and they cultivated it with great meticulousness. This small planting finished, they gave permission for individuals to clear their fields in designated places.
Come the time of the harvest, the old nobles met again in the rojia ra Rupé, which was in the care of the bolaribó. They pulled up the yams in the small, sacred field, which were cooked by their own bolaribó. They sacrificed a goat, scattered its blood around the rojia or worship room, and cooked its meat in water and the yams in steam, celebrating a simple and religious agape in honor of the creator. The women and all those who were not from the noble families or the family of the Bolaribó were excluded from this feast.
Later, after finishing the sacred feast, the eldest and most venerable of the nobility and the bolaribó assembled a religious dance, singing the following hymn to the divinity: Eh Rupé, esaha e rilao. Ommoe e basó e biria: “Oh God. Glory to your name. You cared for the villages and the people.” The aforementioned ceremony complete, it was permissible for everyone to harvest their own yams and eat them as they please.
The ancient Bubis knew God, as has been proven, and they gave him the name of Elal-lo, not that of Rupé nor Potó. An old man who knew the Christian truths told me the names of the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity saying: Elal-lo Boié, Elal-lo Bola, Elal-lo Bojula Boeboe (N) and Elalo Moié, Elalo Mola, Elalo Mojula Moemoe (S). In modern times, they give God the name of Rupé in the north and Potó in the south.
The Bubis call foreigners mopotó (plural), bapotó, but when this word is applied to foreigners it has an acute accent, such as potó, and when to God it has two accents: A Pótò — one “o” is closed, and the other, open
The northern Bubis recognize another subordinate to God, who is a great benefactor of humanity, but of the feminine sex. They claim that this is not a pure spirit, but that it has the body of a woman, and they call her Bisila. They believe she has a close relationship and is intimate with the divinity, such that many consider her as the mother of God, Ber’ a Rupé. Others negate that because God cannot have a mother, but one can consider her as a sister, Boett’ a Rupé, for the deep love she professes and the pleasure she takes in all, never rejecting anyone.
She placates the anger of God and removes the arm of divine justice so that the evils and abominations of men are not punished with the rigor that they deserve. She taught the women the uses of the malanga, which is their daily food.
They tell a story that, while a woman was washing herself in a river an extraordinarily beautiful white woman appeared to her, her face giving off a marvelous and heavenly radiance. With a soft and sweet voice she offered her a malanga, assuring her it was a nourishing and healthy fruit. She exhorted her to plant it and cultivate it with great care and solicitude. The fortunate woman obeyed faithfully after the angelic woman had educated and entrusted her.
All the women of the island plant, harvest, and eat malanga. Babesé or bamesé men eat it, but eating malanga is prohibited for baitas and basokó.
Its planting is done only by the women. Before the general and common planting, they must first clear a small parcel of land where they plant some malangas in honor of Bisila. Finished with that duty, each one plants her own field. When harvest comes, usually in the last part of December, the eldest and most venerable women meet to pull up the malangas consecrated to Bisila. Later a feast in honor of Bisila is celebrated, just as the men solemnize a thanksgiving to Rupé for the harvest of the yams.
In this feast, they first cook a large kettle of malanga. Later, separately, they cook fresh fish with palm oil, seasoning it with diverse edible herbs, such as bileppa, nan, koja, etc., and celebrate a small banquet in honor of the benefactor. This ended, they dance modestly singing praises to Bisila:
1: Eh, Bisila, esahá obattá, ommaio! Ebijem biao orihuá: “Oh, Bisila, thank you. Oh, mother! You make our malanga always prosper and multiply.”
2: Eh, Bisila, esaha obattá, Ommaio! Itó ia bobele bao orihua: “Oh, Bisila, thanks to you. Oh, mother, you have made the yams of our brothers prosper and multiply.”