Chapters 47 and 48: Rites, Siba seclusion
The word Siba means “cloister” or “seclusion,” among other things, and is a religious function dedicated to the village boaribó or moarimó.
It is a day consecrated entirely to spirit worship, with all servile work prohibited. During the celebration of Siba, no one may enter or leave the village, even for an urgent matter, and they permit no foreigner entrance to the village.
Primitive villages begin their religious solemnities in the afternoon, before sunset. Some time before the date, the main bojiammó of the village announces the upcoming grand celebration of Siba. Moments before it begins, the bojiammó, accompanied by other high-ranking men, parades around the village’s outskirts and entrances. With great pomp and ceremony, he places certain signs to let everyone know that the village is now closed. No neighbor may leave, nor any outsider enter, until the following day when he raises the cloister at the same hour it began.
The morning of the great day’s vigil brings extraordinary activity to the village. Some people set off for the beach, heading down paths with wooden bowls and casting nets to harvest their coveted sardines. Others, armed with long muskets, make their way into the neighboring woods to procure for themselves that which gives larger majesty to the solemnity of the boaribó. Still others, with their bows and climbing arches, head for palm groves to extract the exquisite bau, for larger merriment and joy at the celebration.
It’s in the women, however, where one notes the greatest increase in activity. They are, in truth, early-risers. Their work is continuous and their shoulders bear the burden of field work and domestic chores. From very early on in such vigils, they can been seen clearing and sweeping the areas around their houses, and cleaning and arranging the inside. Much later, some will be found carting heavy bundles of firewood, while others come from the fields loaded with yams, malangas, plantains, and other provisions. More of them come and go from the river carrying water, the element so necessary and indispensable for life and domestic needs. At four in the afternoon, more or less, they finish the work of the vigil and begin the tranquillity and rest of the feast.
I found myself in the vigil of Siba visiting one of the northern villages. My intent had been to stay there just a little while, when I had the convenient opportunity to observe that to which I have just referred. Even more, because the neighbors furnished me with firewood, food, water, and all that was necessary for the following day, so that during the solemnity neither the servant nor I would need bother ourselves even a little.
A half-hour before sunset all the residents had gone into their homes. At this time, the bojiammó and old men, with much gravity, headed for the belakalaka or menakanaka, or arches raised at the settlement’s entrances. The bojiammó raised a kapí, or cayucos oar, as a signal of supreme religious authority, and his companions began to adorn the arches. Some used rattan fibers called botolopette and ichomo. Others had leaves of besolo (a certain pepper) and bikele bi ntochi, or snail shells. On each arch they placed some of these leaves and snails.
This ceremony assures the closure of the village, and if anyone, anyone at all, has the audacity to violate it, he will receive exemplary punishment with a fine of four or more goats. They impose an equal penalty on anyone who voluntarily does not attend the religious function.
Dawned the great day, the old men come to the hut of the bojiammó to deal with matters of the day. Later they move as a group to the rojia ro boaribó. They sacrifice two or more goats to the village’s patron spirit, sprinkling blood on the hut’s interior and exterior walls and amicably dividing among themselves the sacrificial meat. It is accepted as natural that the bojiammó will take for himself the bigger and better portion. As those who sacrifice belong to the society of the basòkò or abstinents, they eat their share cooked and seasoned with bachea, that is, leaves of ripeppé, or eggplant of that country.
Each one of the old ones hangs on his own neck two or three pieces of the victims’ intestines filled with animal fat. He will be required to wear them for many days, suffering the nauseous odor and bother of mosquitoes and flies that come to feed on them.
The sacrifices consumed and the leaders adorned with exceptional adornments, they start a religious dance around the spirit’s adoration hut. The bojiammó presides over it, raising the kapí, or cayucos oar, and they follow the rhythm of the rowers rowing very slowly. The president intones: Mpó! Mpó! The others answer, in the same tone: Enebijulééé! In this manner they give three or four turns around the rojia, and later, forming a circle in front of the door, they perform different dances, according to the village, allusive to the festival. I am going to copy down the words to some very short ones: 1. Boaribó an ka t’olo. Toe betcho banno: “Our protector, we are yours.”
2. Ngne jochi, ne jmmeba. O jmmeba ribolo: “I am white; it gladdens me. You can be gladdened.”
3. Oe jochi, ochi keriki: “In truth you are white and you are not an albino.”
4. A bannao be o jochio: “Your own blood has made you white.”
These chants allude to the general belief among the Bubis that separated souls turn white.
The sacred dances completed, they again enter the rojia. In a corner of it, there is a clay vessel, protected by ribaddobaddo and filled with sea water. They dip their fingers into it and touch their forehead, shoulders, and abdomen.
At about eleven o’clock in the morning, all the village residents congregate in their small plaza. No one is excluded be it for age, sex, or condition.
The bojiammó sits on a stool (eodda) in the shade of the sacred tree iko, which is planted close to the small rojia ro boribó. He has two vessels, one containing a certain clay by the name toobo and boem, and the other, leaves of bosukébosuké and palm fibers, called tumba. Later, beginning with the men, they approach the bojiammó one by one and squat or drop one knee on the ground in front of him. He takes some clay and marks each one on the forehead, shoulders, pit of the stomach, navel, wrists, knees, and the foot’s instep. Then he hangs palm fibers with the leaves of bosukébosuké from their necks, saying: E rooppa ri pulahá e etuébuella, a baabbabuella, o botebabuella, o buelaobuella, le birúobuella: “Illness keep away from your head, from your shoulders, stomach, and knees.”
With the women, in addition to completing the aforesaid ceremonies, he adds another. Embracing their waists with both hands, passing them softly over the back and front, he says: E rooppa na ri a pura o boelaobuella, na o jeri boéboé, na o bela bola, na Bisila o iala: ”The pain leave your womb, be it always healthy for many children, and Bisila bless you and help you.”
This ceremony was extremely long in many villages.
Finally, they form two great circles in the plaza, one of men and another of women, and, separately, they execute different dances, all very modest. The women perform their characteristic sijiri or sikoko, and the men their virile boatte or moande and the kachá.
With this ends the great solemnity of Siba. Between four and five in the afternoon, the bojiammó reopens the village with the same pomp as before, and everyone once again has the freedom to enter or leave and to go where they fancy.
48. Religious Practices Similar to Siba
1. Robo r’epeppe – This practice differs from Siba in that Siba requires village closure, but inside the village neighbors can visit one another. The Siba also prohibits all types of manual work and requires public religious acts. The robo r’epeppe permits outsiders to enter during the ceremony, but, once inside, they are forbidden to leave the house they are in. Thus it orders outsiders who enter during the day to remain in the first house they enter.
At the end of the robo r’epeppe all adults must bathe to cleanse themselves of any impurities that may offend the spirits of the deceased. Any violation during the celebration or bathing omission is severely penalized with fines of goats and chickens, according to the person’s social position. But they had much more fear of offended spirits penalizing them with a premature death.
2. Robe re belopette – This pertains only to women, and consists in their encircling their waists and necks with a cord from which they hang leaves and small sticks from an aromatic bush called siesá. They go adorned in this manner to offer presents to the spirit who bought them when God created their souls. One can call it the rite of the cords, inasmuch as apette, pl., epette, means “cord.”
3. Nkokko la beruba be kala - Nkokko is a rattan from which they take some very fine filaments and make them into strong cords. Beruba be kala means scales of the pangolin or armadillo. This ceremony is peculiar and unique to the males, and is almost the same as the former. They surround the neck, arms, legs and waist with these cords. Around their neck, they wear a small bag woven from the same filaments, which they fill with pangolin scales. And from the other parts mentioned they place fresh palm sprouts.
The goal of the three preceding ceremonies is to ask the spirit to increase births and decrease deaths in their families. During the ceremonies, no one is permitted to go down to the beach, nor even look at the sea.
In Bubi tradition is a story that relates an exemplary punishment received by a woman who went to the beach during one of these ceremonies. On Topé beach, located in the Baney district, they say there was a large iron buoy (I did not see it) that strong tides had probably pulled away from the neighboring coast and left bogged down in that small cove. These people reputed this buoy to be an evil object and they gave it the name Nkanganga.
Between Basupú of Baney, which is now vanished, and Batui, located near the Sòpò or San Luis mineral waters, there existed a village called Basariché. There the women were celebrating a day among others, the rite of Robo re belopette. One of them, profane and irreligious, had the audacity to go off to the beach for eels, sardines, and crabs. While she was at her work, she noticed that waves had pushed a large barrel up to the beach. She noticed a brilliant radiance inside the barrel and heard soft voices and songs more harmonious than any mortal ears had ever heard. Astonished and stupefied, she cried out in horror. Beside herself with fright, she ran to her besé to warn its inhabitants.
One song that she heard was the following: To pualasa nkanganga Ripotó, toe to la tcha le ribettè: “We bring from Santa Isabel the ‘kanganga’ and we carry it as if it were an empty barrel.”
Upon the Basaritché hearing the woman’s cries, they first believed her crazy but, once calmed, she told them what she had seen. The men suspected it was a barrel of cane rum that came at that time from Cuba (koroko) or of gunpowder (boro). They rushed down to the beach, but how disappointed they were when they did not see lights or hear harmonious songs, but only found an ordinary buoy embedded in the sand.
Nonetheless, their deep-rooted superstitions made them believe that the spirits of their grandparents had come in the buoy to punish the impudent and shameless woman. As proof, a nearly sudden death came upon the hated woman and, not much longer after that, the village of the Basaritché disappeared completely.