Chapters 43 to 46: Spirits and universe
43. Creation of the universe and origin of physical and moral evil
There is not a Bubi who, for as very savage as he may appear, does not know God to be the universal creator of all things. The ancient Bubis knew perfectly well that God created immaterial or pure spirit beings, called bajula by them, and we call them angels. The name bajula comes from the verb o jula, which means to blow, to breathe, to evaporate, etc. From that originate the names rijula and ejururu, which are equivalent to blow or breath, and are identical to spiritus in Latin and “spirit” in English.
God, in the beginning, created the bajula perfect in moral and intellectual goodness. Some of them became perverted, and God, angry at this evil, threw them from his presence and condemned them to live wandering the universe. These are called bajula abé, or angels of bad spirits. The bajula bèbè, who remained in goodness and obedience to God, were retained with him in heaven (o lobakoppuá) with joys and blessings. No evil do they desire nor make to man. Their sole occupation consists of praising and glorifying the Most High for his infinite perfection and faithfully carrying out his orders.
After an indefinite time passed, God made the physical world. They don’t explain how he created it, they only say that he formed it from earth, based on the principal that in the end all will return to dust.
The work of physical creation finished, God resolved to create mankind, male and female. He did not make them from common ground, from where he took the earth for other beings, but from an earth that they distinguish with the names of boa or moa, which is a little reddish. Afterward he blew over the bodies and said to them: a i jurippua, na ijeri becho, and he gave them human life.
He made them a comfortable and spacious house on a charming and picturesque site, and next to this he planted a rattan, which would form a perennial canopy around the house to protect it from the sun’s burning rays. This plant was a symbol of God’s exceptional and loving providence over man. He forbid them to cut it, and assured them that while the rattan lived they would be happy: it would free them from the need to work, all bad luck, and they would never know pain, sickness, or death. The earth would spontaneously produce an abundance of yams, malangas, and all types of edible vegetables and herbs for them, so they would not need to worry about corporal sustenance.
God added that the day his commands were lost he would remove his loving providence from them, and would look at them from a distance as a people banished. Calamities and death would come over them.
However, it happened that a bajula abé, or devil, who was envious of the aforementioned and happy humans, entered the head of the first male and made him frenetic. In his frenzy he cut and killed the rattan. God, ipso facto, threw the man and woman out of the house. His anger for this abomination rose to the point that he completely abandoned them. They remained slaves of Satan, the first of the bajula abé, and God withdrew to the most exalted of the heavens, where he receives homage, glory and praise from the good angels or bajula bèbè. From there he contemplates, as from afar, the events and vicissitudes that occur in this sublunar world.
All the Bubis give as certain the history of the rattan, but not all assure that from this deed came the origin of death, misfortunes, and adversities. In the first place, the woman had no part at all in this story, and the man was responsible physically, but not morally, for his actions, as a bad spirit had possessed him. In the second place, God does not punish man for involuntary evil, only for more serious evils committed with perfect knowledge and free will.
Almost all of them say that bad spirits are the main cause of evil and death, because they are envious of the happiness of man and woman. The bajula abé and baribó abé are the originators of all physical and moral evils that afflict humanity. These bad spirits devise plots to alienate men and women from God, appearing to them as a bad thought to commit a vile sin against their nature. God is merely the permissive cause of them, as he does not restrain these perverse spirits.
From this one can understand the reason the Bubi cult is almost exclusively inclined to honor spirits and the souls of the deceased and to appease them with sacrifices of goats and other offerings when they believe them to be angry.
Some, who are not experts in the psychology and customs of the Bubi people, have said that the primary theme of the Bubi religion is bad spirits or demons. We say this isn’t correct. This assertion erroneously arises from the errant concept of the meaning of the terms mmo and morimó, which mean the human soul separated or the spirit of a deceased person.
Bommó and borimó is the site, in general, where the souls of the deceased are reunited. It can embrace, thus, lobakoppuá (heaven) and ommó ich’erié (hell). Thus, then, bajula is not the same as morimó. Bajula is pure spirit and morimó is the soul of the dead. Bajula bèbè is an angel. Bajula abé means demon. Morimó moemoe means blessed soul, and morimó mobé, a soul condemned.
We said earlier that God abandoned man in view of the execrable sin that he committed. We also said that the Bubis believe that God himself creates human souls and later sells them to a morimó of an ancestor, who will always be his master and protector. To him he must give honor all his life. To him he will go for all his needs. He will be obligated to please him and offer him sacrifices when it is clear that he is aggravated. From him he hopes for happiness and well-being in this world, and he fears him as a slave to his master and lord.
God entrusts the physical rule of this world to the bajula, the superior spirits. Nevertheless, the rule of human souls he entrusts to the baribó, or souls of the heads of the diverse families that compose the Bubi race. The reason for this unique theology relies on, simply, that people will give more care and greater interest in the conservation, magnification and perfection of their own things. That is, the heirs of a family or lineage will work with greater zeal and efficacy for the conservation and prosperity of their own. They also claim that the souls of the deceased in the other world are quite informed of all that occurs in their respective families. It is from here that they believe as unquestionable facts: Rupé nèttè e baesó bocho, boae o mmo a bo ori. (“God himself creates the man, but the souls of one’s own family buy it.”) A Rupé a le eeria a banna, boae e le oddò. (“God gave me life, but in death he buys me.”) A baribó ba pur’ ommó ba l’eka a loko lamma. (“The souls of the dead from the other world follow all that happens in this world.”) Morimó okòne B. mmo le okò. (“I belong to the spirit.”) Morimó oróne. (“The spirit bought me.”)
The Bubis divide the other world into three regions. The first is lobakoppuá, that is, God’s own residence where he lives with the blessed angels. The second is ommó ich’orie, which is hell, where the rebellious angels and the souls of the wicked are tormented; and the third is ommó boeboe, or limbo, a place situated between heaven and hell. In this place happily live the souls of those who, dying in this mortal life, toil now for the common good.
No man or bad angel enters into heaven. God is there in his glory with the blessed angels who worship him and rejoice in him. In hell, bad angels and men suffer unheard of torments. In limbo live only good men, those who enjoy natural wealth, peace, and tranquillity. Here they live grouped in families under the fatherly direction of the first patriarch of each one of them. Their only occupation is to help and to favor those within their power, their family members who still remain in this exile. They celebrate festivals for their prosperity and are greatly distressed by their adversities.
God permits the bammó bèbè to live in places appointed on earth. Thus the great mmo Chibo lives in Pico Basa or Santa Isabel mountain, Esahá in Lake Claret, Lopelo in
Lake Loreto, Lombe in the lagoon of his name in Balacha, and Ole in the depths of the Tudela River. The spirit Moalala lives in the grotto of Riasaká, Ebachú in the mountains of his own name, also called the San Carlos mountains, Jíoba in the cavern of Rebola, and Laja in the Baney cavern and Moeri mountain. There are so many others it would be a long-winded, meticulous chore to enumerate them.
The bajula abé can leave hell and go wandering where they please, but wherever they are they bring torment and work to destroy the good works of the barimó bèbè. When a sick person recovers his health, they say that he has beaten the morimó moemoe, and if he dies, the morimó mobé has won this victory.
This word, literally, means one who worships the spirits. In this sense all the ancient Bubis, in general, were spirit worshippers. But, more specifically, it means a person devoted especially to the particular cult of one of the innumerable spirits that they have.
According to general belief, spirits reside in the island’s important mountains, valleys, forests, trees, crags, lakes, lagoons, and rivers. Thus, bojiachiba is worshipper of the spirit Chiba; bojialaja, adorer of the spirit Laja; bojiamohalala, of the spirit Mohalala; mohiaole, of Ole, mojialombe, of Lombe, and that’s enough, because they are innumerable.
In times that were, in each region there existed various bojiammó, some more powerful than others. They distinguished them in a singular manner. The bojiammó were held in high esteem: they assisted in all the assemblies, and their decisions, counsel, and resolution carried great weight. In serious illness, death, and notable calamities they alone were consulted to find out the cause of such and to know the best way to a terrible and complete revenge.
The general belief of all the blacks is that illness, death and other adversities afflicting humanity never come from God, but from spells and witchcraft practiced by perverse and malevolent persons.
In addition, the work of bojiammó was one of the best paid, inasmuch as all those who consulted him must present offerings of goats, chickens, yams, oil, palm wine, liquor, cognac, etc. No one came to him with empty hands or the bojiammó would give no answer. If the bojiammó gave counsel and ordered sacrifices to appease the spirits of grandparents, or to plead for the health of a sick person, or to ask the prosperous outcome of some battle or notable undertaking, he took away the victim’s greatest and best share.
The great desires of the bojiammó consisted in consecrating and devoting himself in body and soul to the will of the spirit (mmó) of his particular devotion. To do this, he called with intense anguish to the spirit, invoking it with screams to take possession of him and enter his body: ba jorá be jeri choppo, which is to say that one vehemently desired to be an energumen, entirely possessed by the spirit. “Choppo” means crazy or possessed, inasmuch as the spirit that took possession of man made him crazy and he made incoherent and absurd sounds. I have seen that at times they talk and act utterly crazy or, better said, possessed or demon-possessed.
These outlandish cases were common in Rebola and Laka. In 1903 they celebrated in the settlements of Sampaka an eribó, a party and feast in deference to the protective spirit of that village. I went there, accompanied by the now-deceased Father Falgueras, and we saw a bojiammó choppo in the act of diabolic possession. He made such grimaces and faces, movements and actions, that his assistants contemplated him from a respectable distance. For those of us not accustomed to so strange a spectacle, it caused us such horror that we left that place.
He who aspires to bojiammó must fulfill very expressive and excessively superstitious ceremonies. The first, called losupo, is the designation of the spirit to which he must consecrate himself and worship in particular. Losupo is derived from o supa mmó, which is to determine one of the spirits. Afterward, he must go to the residence of the designated mmó, which could be a cave, a lagoon, a spring, a river or another site. A goat would be sacrificed in the name of the spirit, its blood sprinkled on the entrance and inside walls, on the edges, and the water of the lagoon, etc., and the remaining blood washed over his own body. He then cooked the meat and the yams separately, provided himself with abundant palm wine, and ended that which he celebrated with a sacred feast, assisting as meal companions the important men and women of the village. He built a small shelter without walls next to the supposed customary residence of the spirit. He was obligated to live in it for three nights and days, sleeping on the bare ground, with no protection from the damp air and night’s chill. In its center, he burned a fire without flame to drive away mosquitoes and other bugs.
The three days of penitence elapsed, he returned to his village, where he built a rojia or adoration temple for the spirit. He surrounded it with a wall adorned with varied amulets, and in it he lived for a week, accompanied by male or female friends, according to whether the aspirant was man or woman.
To enter the rojia, they stripped themselves of their clothing, remaining as Adam and Eve, innocent while they lived inside. They smeared their bodies with ntola and a yellowish earth by the name of mpepa. During their seclusion in the adoration room they made daily sacrifices of chickens and sometimes goats to the spirit. At night they frightened away sleep by singing hymns to the mmó, the aspirant glazing with desire for the spirit to enter his head as soon as possible and possess him completely.
Here are some examples of their vehement wishes and desires for the spirit to enter into them, so that they may better feel the impulses and inspirations of the spirit and to act according to them: “Eh! Bochubo? Je, je, je. Eh, Bochubo! Eh, boobem! Eh, booberibó, boaeribó! Eh, booberibó! Eh, Echubó! (“Oh, Bochubó. Hey, hey, hey. Oh, Bochubó. Oh, my spouse. Oh, spirit spouse, you are among the spirits. Oh, spirit spouse. Oh, Echubó.”) Ebetahá to beitole eh jura boekaká. Eh, ijerá ni peri nehoppo. (“To you we confess and we praise. Inspire your raven. Oh, we yearn to be possessed of you.”) Eh, boaeribó e Chiba e mpoke me sipapa. (“Oh, spirits. Spirit of Chiba, you are strong as a winged bull.”)
When they began to feel inspiration or that a spirit had seized them, which they call bojulera or mohulera, they screamed at the top of their voices: O leppa koppé e ra koé; oá, ne koppé, oá, ne koppé, opah’ ommó, o paobio oá’ ne koppé. (“Watch the hawk that eats chickens, say: I am hawk, I am hawk. Throw me to the ground and raise me on high and say: I am hawk.”)
On some occasions they use an entirely figurative style that the common people don’t understand. The witch doctor sings the final canticle and departs the hut adorned with leaves from a climbing plant. He runs, giving leaps and inarticulate screams through the village as if truly possessed by a demon. The afternoon of the same day he makes a banquet that only the bojiammó of the village attends. The next day he goes from house to house in the village to receive congratulations and well-wishes of the inhabitants, who honor the new witch doctor with small gifts of yams and chickens.
The Bubis divide the baribó or souls of the dead in an orderly hierarchy. In ascending order they are: Obtleppe o bommó ich’ orié, hell of the condemned; and second, balepperibó, bariribó, the souls that for certain crimes are tied to big rocks or crags found in dense places in the woods. I have seen fields recently planted abandoned for having in their proximity one of these boulders that they consider evil because they believe some soul is tied to it and being punished. In the third hierarchy are the basokoari, or the souls of dead infants. In the fourth, the bantente, which are the souls of the young virgins or young girls. In the fifth level are the souls of women who died in their old age. The sixth is occupied by the barekaita, or souls of boys or very young men. In the seventh live the baolaribó, or the souls that act as guardian angels, buying other souls when God makes and sells them to be as the guardian angels of the same, which they give the name of boaribó. In the eighth category belong the bapoteribó, or spirits of those who in this world worked wonders, such as eating red-hot coals, or raising on high and flying without wings. These they consider the most noble. Finally, in the ninth we find the bateribó, who are, in general, the souls of the batukus or chiefs.
Thus, then, in the ommó or borimó, or country beyond the grave, there exists, according to the Bubis, nine hierarchies. Some claim that the souls of men are presided over by God, and those of the women by Bisila or Bariobadda.
46. Roóbo or Roómo
The Bubi is not only religious, but superstitious. Because of this, he places symbols of his religion in many places. We have said repeated times that his religion consists in the idolatrous worship of his ancestors’ souls. Consequently, his symbols must be remains of the dead. A good practice among the Bubi: they never use human bones as symbols, as do other tribes on the nearby continent, but only plant and animal remains. The Bubi has deep respect for the mortal remains of his elders, and there never has been a case of sepulcher violation, a thing that is so common on the neighboring coast.
In times long passed, the cadavers of those who had been feared for their tyranny and cruelty were interred far from any population. And, so that the soul of the hated deceased would not return to molest his family and neighbors, we have already said how they used to bewilder it and, thus, it wouldn’t know the road home. Nor did they believe themselves safe from their attacks and evils in spite of these precautions. To further throw the wicked one’s soul off-track, they set fire to his house and the neighbors moved their residence to another site, not much distant, but more secure, according to their beliefs. Here is why in many places they have figures and conventional or arbitrary signs, to which they attribute superhuman virtues to repel and drive away spells and curses from perverse spirits. These signs or amulets are called roobo (N), and roomo (S). Nowadays the word has a broader significance, as it refers to anything that directly or indirectly relates to fetishism.
The Bubi wear personal amulets to protect themselves from evil spirits and curses. These include snake skeletons and skins: ebebe or ememe, and bebila or mebila. The ebebe has a reddish-color skin, great strength, and is nonvenomous. The bebila is deep black and extremely venomous. The ebebe represents beneficent spirits and the bebila malevolent spirits. They used to wear snake skeletons and skins around their waists, necks, and wrists. Antelope horns were hung from them, as well as small dried bones (toeha and toploma), knucklebones (tooso), sheep tails (beriba), and gourd necks (rubbé).
They profess great veneration and esteem for these amulets, and they believe in their effectiveness with the utmost faith.
They celebrate a festival called roobo ro botata. Three weeks ago the old women celebrated this festival, and one of them had worn a bebila snakeskin no less than five inches wide, rattan fibers, small shells (chibo), and beads (topotópotó.) In beads that surround their waists, necks and wrists, older children wear anklebones and antelope horns, and small, round, hard, ripe fruit by the name mpepele, which produces a liana. The rubbé, beriba, and mpepele are suitable amulets for pregnant women. If a woman notices miscarriage symptoms, she will tie a skin from one of the two snakes, which the bojiammó keeps on-hand for these and other such cases, around her abdomen. From the snakeskin she will hang her protective amulets, thus believing herself safe from such a mournful and grievous misfortune as losing her child.
There are, likewise, some amulets that are wedge-shaped snails called mpea, worn fastened with some palm filament (tutaneka), and soils of varied colors with which they paint themselves during festivals celebrated in honor of the spirits. Different parts of the body are painted, in particular the forehead, the shoulders, the navel (or mid-section), the wrists, the eyebrows and the instep of the foot. The common colors are yellow (npepa), dark yellow (siobo or siomo), and white (biacha). The pomade ntola is not an amulet, but they use it to soften the skin, keep away mosquitoes, and as a panacea for skin diseases. Between strings of chibo they add small, brightly colored porcelain shells (bibetébeté) that they wear for nahá, naká or ñangá, which is, adornment.
When a notable sacrificed goats to the souls of his ancestors, he wore its fat-filled intestines hanging from his neck for at least a week, suffering the repugnant, sickening stench and swarming flies. In village entrances they placed arches, from which they hung amulets such as feathers from pheasants (nkiso or moleo), from chicken (nkoe) and from other birds, with they planted sacred trees (iko). Small pots of sea water or rain are amulets (bobo), as are land snails (ntochi) and fruits that resemble a big tomato called esasaha. They place smooth rocks covered with copal resin (bejola or majola), in which small snails are adhered, inside doorways and houses, in particular those of sick persons, and these are also amulets.
In brief, amulets are everything that serve to free oneself from witchcraft, spells and curses, etc., which are the cause of illness, death, and the other calamities that afflict humanity.
The Bubi, as we have already said, is extremely superstitious. Wherever he goes or fixes his dwelling, he fears being subjected to evil influences from malignant spirits that lie in ambush for him and continuously pursue him. This is why they have innumerable amulets to defend their people, houses, villages, roads, plazas, rivers, and forests from the omnipotent malevolence of the baribó.
Anyone traveling years ago to the besés, or Bubi villages, observed an arch, sometimes two arches, about five to ten minutes outside the village entrance. These are called belakalaka or menakanaka, and are built either with trunks of tree-like ferns (bisihibisihi), or with living stalks, such as from the iko, the tuhulamoelo, or from the moeke. These arches were resplendent with all the luck of amulets. To the sides they might tie bundles of ditch reed (ripaho) or, driven into the ground, place three fern trunks to support a pot (sipanchi). At other times they made a circle of small stakes and filled its interior with rocks (ribaddobaddo). As the large villages consisted of neighborhoods separated by a strong stockade, at the entrance of each they planted spindly saplings of iko, mpilo, moeke, etc., which in time became corpulent trees. Inside their huts, in a corner, was a clay pot surrounded by small stakes driven into the ground. This pot was called sipanchi sa bajula, and was a rustic altar dedicated to the family’s household gods. They put palm wine, sea water, or spring water in it. The same they put in pots at village entrances, plazas, and in the entrances to the main caves (moambo or bosila). In village plazas they built a small chapel to the village spirit with sacred trees (iko) joined to it, and sacred trees were planted next to meeting houses (bietcha), where the important men assemble.
With water that they put in these various pots, they made libations to the family’s gods. With this water they asked that their generative virtue be always clean and incorruptible, that their wives not lose fertility, and that births continue with regularity, just as clean water runs from the spring.
In the intersections of the road (erinkoano) and before a drop-off to deep ravines and rivers, they plant a shoot of a sacred tree by the name sijulamoelo, which honors the rivers’ and roads’ guardian spirits. When a traveler arrives in front of the sijulamoelo, he must make an inclination with his head and give a robust kick in front of it with his right foot. Such ceremony appeases the spirits so they’ll not cause falls and other mishaps. The Bubis are most zealous in preserving such practices and they execute them, it appears, with great faith.
It was during February of 1896 when we were returning to the heights of Batete from a grand ripelo celebrated for the motuku of Ríohoricho of Balacha, called Mommó. We were traveling along the road with faithful friends, happy and in animated conversation about the event and our impressions of the big feast, when suddenly they fell silent. We had arrived at the escarpment of the Endá River, or Balombe ravine, where there was a sijulamoelo. Each man, one after the other, began the Bubi rite in front of a stalk planted on the escarpment. He that writes this had just recently arrived to these lands, and I laughed at the ceremony, which seemed strange and ridiculous. We descended without mishap until the bottom of the ravine, where the deep river bed was covered with slippery stones. I was wearing shoes with studs and I slipped and found myself flat on my back on the ground. They ran to lift me up, asking if I had been injured. I responded that I was fine. They told me: “We are happy that it is so, but Father, be informed that the morimó of the river has punished you for having ridiculed and laughed at us when we made reverence to the morialera to keep him favorable.”
In this manner there are sacred woods, palm groves, and palm trees where it is illegal to cut firewood, extract palm wine or oil, or to cut palm leaves without permission of the ehebí. A daring or impudent non-believer will not avoid severe punishment from the spirits. In such places there generally are some tall, wedge-shaped rocks fixed firmly in the ground. Those that one finds near palm trees and palm plants they call barekaita. These rocks also face the sipanchi sa bajula, which the winemakers fill with palm wine each day. They pour out the old wine, asking the spirit who resides there to bestow them with abundant wine and oil and to prevent falls from palm trees.
The rocks one may find in forests where there are no palm trees have the name of boariribó or moaririmó. These woods are the most respected and there is no Bubi who dares to start a cocoa farm in them. They are in the custom of planting a bush called bojéddejédde next to these rocks, and a little farther away from them is a line of small rocks (ribaddobaddo ra maté).
Near Balombre is a sacred forest where one finds a moaririmó or rock owned by a spirit. I went up to this village accompanied by a Yaunde who wanted to be nationalized on the island and to plant a field for himself and his family. We arrived at this forest and I asked whose it was. They told me that it belonged to no one. I told my companion: “You can ask for the land from the governor for your farm.” Upon hearing this, the Bubis threatened the Yaunde with the ire of all the village spirits and, and as the religion of Africans is essentially identical, that is, animistic, the Yaunde was so afraid he abandoned the project. Then I said: “Since everyone fears farming on this ground, I will order it cleared to plant a great banana grove for my associates.” The Bubis immediately lodged protests: “What offense have you received from us that you would desecrate the moaririmó and bring calamities over our village?” I laughed and calmed them down, assuring them it had been only a jest to test them and tease them.
Bubi history tells that in ancient times there was a negligent and impious man who had the audacity to clear and farm a piece of land in which existed a moaririmó. It wasn’t long before he suffered the penalties from his profanity and impiety. Overnight, a severe intestinal colic attacked his wife, killing her in a few moments, and the man died in a hunt, with no one to assist him.
In the woods are also sacred trees, those which no one may cut without first consulting the spirits and receiving their response. There are a variety of these trees, such as iko, lojela, boeke, basukésuké, borupérupé, buma, etc. The Bubis tell a story that they swear is true. A Monrovian had in his farm a very old buma tree (a ceiba tree) that had lost its largest branches during a tornado, causing much destruction to his cocoa plantation. To prevent more damage, without consulting with any person or spirit at all, he cut it down. Several days passed and he contracted an insidious and malignant disease that caused his sudden death. The Bubis, naturally, say that the illness and death were a severe punishment from the spirit of the buma or ceiba tree.