Paths through the rainforest on Bioko Island. (Truelsen photo)
Chapters 50 and 53: Yams to Prophecy
50. Bomputtu and Siobo
Bomputtu is one of the customs that they scrupulously observe. It is carried out two times a year: at the first of December, before the beginning of yam planting, and in June, when they harvest their first fruits.
Before yam planting, the great men of the district assemble, presided over by the bojiammó, in the small village chapel dedicated to God (rojia ra Rupé). They cook yams from the reserves for seed. They cut the throat of a male goat (ropeporí) and spread his blood in the rojia and on the chest, back, and shoulders of the assistants. They butcher the goat, putting the pieces over hot coals on the sacred fire to grill.
Law prohibits eating the meat of the male goat sacrificed on this occasion boiled or cooked in another manner.
The principal goal of this sacrifice is to implore the Supreme Creator of the universe to protect and shelter the new plantings so that they will be good and abundant. They wash themselves with the victim’s blood to free themselves from legal and moral stains and to appease and have the favor of the Creator in all things.
The sacred feast finished, in which they each drink calabashes of palm wine, they stand and begin the dance and song, whose lyrics are, in December: To a purí lo loa, toe a loebat: “We leave from one year and enter in another.” This religious function finished, permission is given to begin the clearing of undergrowth for new fields. The first of these is the small field for God (Eputa a Rupé (N), Eberi a Pótó (S)). Everyone in the district must contribute to its work.
In the middle of June they repeat the ceremony, this time cooking the first harvest of yams (bibattu) to give thanks to the Supreme Being for these first fruits: To a purí lo loa, toe pari loela. The assistants in the Bomputtu are painted red with different white or yellow figures made with the soil by the name of boem. They assemble for the same dance that they did in December (asa nchi) adding the following: Eh, Rupé! Eh, Rupé! Ue boobo, boomo, to o potobiera bilo bibatta, s’och’ omma: “Oh, God, all powerful. We thank you for the first yams, now and forever.”
On this occasion only do the Bubis appeal to God as the one responsible for all their needs, to ask him and to thank him. In other circumstances, almost always they appeal to the souls of the deceased.
In passing, it is fitting to note that the Bubi year is not equal to ours. The Bubi year consists of only six months. The year first begins in December, when they start off the new planting of yams, and ends in May. The second year begins in June, when they harvest the first yams, which they call biolalo (S), bibattu (N), and ends in November. It’s not advisable to ask a child his age, because if he is six, he will say that he is twelve, and if ten, he will respond that he is twenty. To ascertain for certain someone’s age, ask him how many times his father has planted yams since he came into the world. In modern times, this way of counting years has disappeared, and they count as we do. But before the year 1896, it was a problem to ascertain someone’s precise age; one had to roughly judge it.
In the ceremony of Siobo, all the village residents went to the bojiammó very early in the morning. He was already seated in the eodda (chair of respect) with some yellow earth painted over his shoulders, back, chest, forehead, stomach, and covering his feet. He attached some herb leaves called ausam to each person’s neck with a palm strand, while the recipient said, Etaole! Ne sele mmó okó re rojia: “Spirit that lives in this chapel, keep me from death.” They wore their markings all day, when they went to the fields, to their chores, and to their business.
This ceremony demonstrates very clearly the Bubi horror of death and their fervent desire to live for many years.
51. Lotubia or Lotumia and Botoitoi or Bonoha
Just as the Bomputtu is an exclusive rite of the noble, elderly men, the Lotubia is a rite exclusive to the respectable, elderly women.
There are two annual harvests of nourishing tubers, one for yams and one for malangas. Everyone works the yam fields, but only women work in malanga fields. Before planting or sowing yams, which takes place in December, and in the time of its first fruits, which happens in June, the great men gather in the district’s main rojia. In December they asked, as we have said, Rupé (N) or Pótó (S) for prosperity and abundance, and in June they gave him thanks and praise for the good harvest. In the same way, the women proceeded the sowing and gathering of malanga (bijem) with tributes to the woman spirit Bisila, in the north, who is given other names in other districts.
In May, they plant malanga roots, and in December, they are harvested. In these times they honor Bisila. First they plant a small field of malanga in honor of the goddess they call epatta e Bisila. That completed, they gather in the chapel of Bisila, each one bringing from their house a small pot filled with cooked fish, which is seasoned with different nutritious herbs, and an etuka or small basket with cooked, unpeeled malanga. They begin peeling the malangas (bonono (N), bololo (S)), placing all the peelings in a corner. In May they would ask and implore Bisila for a good harvest of bijem and that they pass through life with tranquillity, free from burdens. In December or January, they repeated the ceremony, giving thanks for the harvested malangas and, in both ceremonies, they prayed to Bisila that she bless the small banquet they ate in her honor in her rojia. Thus ended the Lotumia.
Not all Bubi men ate malanga, particularly the nobility and the basako or abstainers. People who ate malanga were called bamesé or poor people of low birth.
Botoitoi or Bonoha – Before the coming of Europeans, the Bubis had no knowledge of gathering salt from salt pits, or using it to season food. They used sea water for such purposes. In modern times, they still use sea water as a medicinal water and purgative, but not as a condiment. It is the general opinion among them that sea water is the remedy most effective for treating intestinal colic, increasing fertility, and for curing sterility in women.
The sole hope of the young girl was, in the old days, to grow to be a mother. Among married women, the greatest ambition was to produce numerous offspring, and the glory of the old woman was in surrounding herself with a multitude of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. These noble and natural sentiments are becoming more and more lukewarm in the women of today.
When villages needed sea water (bonoha or boa), the chief communicated this to the most predominant woman. She gave notice to the others and selected the day. On that day, in the early morning, all of them, in silence, and each one with a calabash, went to the nearby beach. There they first washed themselves and adorned their bodies with small branches of climbing plants. They filled the calabashes, and with them on the head began the dance in honor of Bisila, Laja and Riobadda, according to the districts: E’ho! E’ho! O’ha! O’ha! Bisila esahe obate. Ji’ho! Ji’ho! A bolam, olo koam (N): “Ah! Ah! Oh! Oh! Bisila all powerful. Ah, children, this is my great desire.” Ah! Esaha tojori o bela bola boobe (Bask.): “Ah! Esaha, we desire male children.” Ah! Lombe to ñaha bona boomo (Bal.): Oh! Lombe, we want robust children.” Eh! Laja booparé, choe naha oiela tolaso (Ban.): “Oh! Laja who gives life, we yearn to produce children.”
Later, they made the climb back to the village. If on the way they found some important business or house, they repeated the same dance with the confidence of obtaining some gift. As I saw it in San Carlos, first the women of Balacha danced in front of the mission, next, on the patio of Mr. Maximiliano, and later in the Methodist village, and from all they received presents.
In arriving back at their besé, they raised the level of their song to call everyone’s attention. They proceeded to the various small chapels to distribute the sea water, and took leftovers to their respective houses, to put it in the epanchi of the family home, where, according to general opinion, the spirits of the family live.
When they felt pain or illness, they went to a rojia where the bojiammó blew (o jura) over their forehead and the painful area, and gave them vigorous rubdowns with sea water. If the illness or pain was in the chest or belly, he gave them a drink of water and, putting his hand where the pain was felt, he blew again, saying: E rooppa pule ajo, na jele oreka: “The pain leave you and take itself far away.”
Another Bubi custom that quite clearly demonstrates their vehement yearning to produce children was the mpori ra barikana. In some years, villages would have a large number of matrimonial unions. The newlywed women would gather and all agree to persuade their respective spouses to contribute a certain amount toward buying a goat to present to the village bojiammó. This goat would be sacrificed to the main protective spirit of the settlement, the objective to free them from the infamy of sterility, crown them with the supreme glory of fertility, and help them be mothers of normal offspring.
52. Reconciling and Making Peace
It often happens that some people, even entire families, live a long time as enemies, filled with deep rancor and an inflamed hatred. They will then decide to try to mend the rift.
To do so, they first find someone to be their intermediary or peacemaker. That person goes to the enemy, with a message of peace and reconciliation. If their honest and benevolent intentions are effective, a public reconciliation will take place.
First, the quarreling persons or families designate the day that they will present themselves before the village chief to reinstate their friendship. On the morning of an established day, they prepare some modest food, which consists of meat or fresh fish prepared with oil and herbs, yams cooked in steam, which they use as we use bread, and an ordinary calabash of palm wine. All prepared, they make their way to the rijata of the chief. He seats himself on the eonda, the stool of the chief, and they stand near him on both sides.
The parties pass their right hands by their chins as a signal and oath that they will tell the truth. Then comes the esosorí, or public confession. The originator of the animosities begins, explaining in detail the issue and the motive that drove him to break his friendship with his companion, the evil he spoke, and his vehement desires to take revenge, including what actions he took to injure the other person. While he talks he holds up a small branch of the sacred iko tree, gesturing excessively, ending by saying: N’ka sería; a lo n’pennasiala a serí, nchi la pennaha nkettó nela. “The evil that I did is completed; I will never do it again. I have spoken.”
Next to have the floor is the party who received the offense. He speaks in the same way, explaining what injuries he received, the slanders he suffered, any material damage that his counterpart caused him, how he avenged himself, and other serious damages received. He tells this in the same way, finishing as the first, repeating: N’ka sería, etc.
The confessions (bisosorí) made, the chief stands, and slowly pronounces the sacramental words with great gravity: Obola’ seri; alo loe pal’ o penna lalo, eló elá. “The matter is concluded; thus, then, you two never act as you have acted.” The reconciled respond: Lalo. “So it will be.”
Immediately thereafter, the reconciled take a cooked malanga, each rub their throat with it and spit on the ground as proof of repentance of the past and say: Alo a para tó chi a bajmma eddo. “In going forward, we will communicate with each other always as friends.” The chief takes a small branch of the lotetto bush and passes it from the navel to the neck of each one of the reconciled, giving them each a tight embrace as a signal of friendship. They then eat the prepared food, accompanied by their chief.
This act they call lobetta (N), lobedda (S), which means “firm resolution of the separation”; and o ebettoala (N), o ebeddoala (S), which translates as: “to make peace.”
53. Prophecy and Exorcism
Prophecy was plain and simple, limited to ascertaining the persons responsible for thefts, crimes, witchcraft, etc. The injured persons went to the witch doctors who possessed a spirit of prophesy, called bosokoari. The witch doctor used a small calabash (kobi or bosahá) to prophesy, which held pieces of shellfish (chibo) and was always kept well covered. The bojiammó invoked and entreated to his bosokoari many times for the spirit to possess him so that he would know the causes of such and which damages and curses.
When the bojiammó believes, or imagines, himself possessed by the bosokoari, such a madness possesses him. It is a delirium tremens so accentuated – he makes such faces and gesticulations, moving his head violently in all directions – that shivers of terror run through his own consultants.
They believed with infantile faith that by moving the head rapidly, a sliver of shellfish detached and – at that same moment – entered the body of the evildoer, causing him such intense pain that it forced him to confess his crime to his bojiammó. But, if in spite of the atrocious torture he still concealed his crime, in eight days, without fail, he would die. To such a degree of idiocy had the Bubi arrived.
On other occasions they condemned an innocent person by simple conjecture or malicious suspicion. No one in a Bubi village died that the relatives of the deceased didn’t go to some district cave or to some marked point where the bojiammó resided, to ask who killed their family member. They did this even if it had been a natural death, the effect of pneumonia, sunstroke, etc., or of an accident, as in the falling of a palm tree — that when cutting trees in the forest he felled one and it crushed him, etc. The witch doctor, very skillful and expert in the matter, to better guess correctly which person his consultants suspected, made use of sly questions. For example: If the deceased had some altercation with someone of his own family or in his neighborhood; if they spoke badly of each other; if they knew that someone professed hate of him or had envy of him because he had advantages in personal qualities, in number of children, or in good fortune. Hearing their responses, and after some brief moments of reflection, with a serious voice he would say slowly: “Fulano (calling him with his own name) is the originator of the death of the person for whom you cry.” They believed it with such secure and firm faith it was as if it had been revealed by an angel from heaven.
Later, in returning to the house, they talked quietly to their friends and relatives of how that little Fulano had killed their father, mother, son, or brother. Shortly afterward, the interested party found out about the slanderous gossip. At times he knew to ignore it, other times, he laughed at them, because he knew well their customs, and other times, angry, he threatened to take these slanderers to the tribunal. In any case, it ignited hatred that passed from one generation to the next.
In a village, a young woman presented herself to me saying: “Father, the mother of the young man who was buried a few days ago, claims that I killed him.” I responded to her: “Tell this woman that, if she repeats such a claim, I will take her to the judge for being a slanderer.” Thus she was silenced, but the young girl never again looked favorably upon her.
All of this comes from the conviction that primitive people have that neither death, illness nor other natural misfortunes come from physical causes directed or permitted by God, since being the bondad esencial, he cannot tolerate nor permit such disorders. Rather they claim that unfortunate results or fatalities are produced by some sin or personal crime, perpetrated by someone from their own family, caused by some malignant spirit, or come from curses or witchcraft.
Bokottekatte: This word means, literally, “big uproar or noise,” but it ends up meaning “that which produces a great uproar” or can be translated as “conjure” or “exorcism.”
The act to which this alludes comes from what we have just written with respect to bad spirits, and takes place after a village has suffered an epidemic or common misfortune, such as the grippe or smallpox. The bojiammó sets the day for the ceremony, when all the neighbors must be in their respective domiciles and supplied with a small palm branch (losala chiké). At sunset, the bojiammó, loaded with a variety of amulets, shouts: Biloppeéé, obui, obui, obui. “Condemned spirits, go out, go out of here.” The words stated, and supplied with the losala chiké and a club, he beings clubbing left and right, on the furniture, on the interior walls, and on the exterior walls of the huts. The neighbors, who wait for the signal and are provided with the losala chiké and large poles, do the same, delivering blows here and there, screaming with all their might: Biloppeéé, obui, obui, obui, resulting in an infernal and indescribable racket in the entire neighborhood.
When they have finished with the interior of the huts, the men head for the road, captained by the bojiammó, and they continue clubbing everywhere, screaming in the same forum until they reach the village outskirts. Here they say: Ajo to lo poalesijé, loe palam jalo. “Here we have ejected you, do not enter again.” That said, they fling the palms and clubs aside and return to their domicile, firmly believing that all perverse and condemned spirits have fled from the besé scared, never again to be bold enough to enter.