Proud Bubi fathers and their children from southern Bioko Island. (Truelsen photo)
Chapters 55 to 58: Kinship, Penal Code
55. Abba Mote
This word abba denotes the greatest bojiammó. His residence is on a high mesa, which is the permanent residence of the supreme Bubi king of the island, from which it takes the name. The Europeans call it Moka, in remembrance of the Bubi king Moka who died in March of 1899; but the Bubis call it Riabba, this is, “territory of the abba” or Bubi pontiff.
The abba must feed and permanently preserve the sacred fire brought by primitive Bubis from the neighboring coast of Africa. He must set the dates for religious festivals and the number of sacrifices that they must offer in the days of Siba, Bonoha, Bokottekotte, the Roomo rote, which is celebrated in November before the planting of yams, and for their harvests. He has the high mission of being the natural interpreter of the will of the spirits (bammó), and neither officials nor private persons risk beginning any business of importance without first consulting with the abba. He helps in all the general assemblies, civil as well as religious, and is the supreme religious authority over all civil power.
His office was hereditary. The inheritance did not pass from fathers to sons, but from the eldest of the family to the next most ancient of the same family. Thus, for such an elevated charge, a person experienced, sensible and wise was elected. For his consecration they used almost the same ceremonies or rites that they used in the coronation of the supreme king of the Bubis.
As one of his most serious duties is guarding and preserving the sacred fire, he is not permitted to take long trips, nor to sleep outside of his residence. His foods must be cooked in the sacred fire, and he must not eat deer or mountain goat, as almost all Bubi nobles, because that is considered symbolic of the evil spirit.
At the beginning of yam planting, as we have already said, and in time of harvest, the great men gather to implore the Supreme Being for his blessings to make them prosperous and to give them the proper grace for a good harvest.
Once he has taken possession of the pontificate, it is not legal for him to use arms even for his own defense.
At his death, his children do not inherit his post nor his belongings, but rather the eldest of the priestly family who is most worthy and capable of so honorific charge. The superior chief of the island sends notice of his death to all subordinate chiefs, who by rights must assist in the burial. Thus, then, they are reunited and before the burial they must seat the legitimate heir over the thighs of the cadaver, so that he may receive the spirit of the deceased.
The rites and ceremonies observed in the burial of the abba are almost identical to those we told of in the burial of the notable chiefs. His body is washed and anointed with ntola, adorned with the trappings of his elevated rank, this is, with an infinite variety of amulets. They sacrifice goats, their blood is spread over his body, and his interment is entirely the same as the major chiefs. His grave is made the same, with a tunnel opened between two pits. Before they deposit the cadaver, his legitimate heir must pass underneath the center tunnel. If in his passing the tunnel collapses, it is a bad omen that the successor is neither worthy nor deserving of his predecessor’s position. This ceremony, as one can see, proves to be useless, because if the tunnel is well dug, it will never collapse.
The cadavers of the major chiefs are placed, seated, inside the tunnel grasping a oar; but the cadaver of the abba is placed lying down on the left side. During his interment discharging firearms is rigorously prohibited, while the complete opposite happens in the demise of the chiefs. From the moment of their death until the end of the interment, they do not stop salvos in honor of the soul of the deceased.
After the burial, no one is allowed to perform any work, no matter how menial.
Bubi law allows men to have many legitimate spouses (a bari b’eottò) and to bring into their homes all the women friends and concubines (a bari be rijole) who present themselves, who ordinarily would remain widows.
They are considered legitimate spouses, a bari b’eottò, those women for whom the male paid a dowry (a puero loko), which is to say that they were bought. They call them concubines or friends, a bari be rijole, those widows that, having fulfilled the law of widowhood (bokotto or mokondo) for their deceased husbands, remain in complete freedom to approach any male they like, whether he be single or married. The widow remains free of all obligation to the family of her deceased husband. The children from her marriage pass to the dominion of the family of the husband who bought her.
Married men with women whom they bought enjoy all the rights that natural law concedes to a husband over his spouse and to a father over his children.
When men begin marital life with widowed women, the children of such unions, in the northern regions of the island, are the property of the father who engendered them. In the southern districts, if the women did not have children from the man who bought her, she must deliver the first son born to her from the second man to the family of the first. The law declares him his legal father. He will take his last name from the first husband and not from the natural father. Other children born to her are the property of the man who engendered them.
In the southwest territories they follow the same custom as their southern neighbors, with one difference. In the south, they deliver a male only to the family of the husband eotó, and in the southeast they give the first three children born of the second father to the family of the first husband. The rest belong to the natural father.
With respect to matrimonial restrictions, bear in mind that natural family kinship is restricted more than lawful family kinship, and maternal kinship before paternal. They allow marriage between siblings born of a father and a different mother. At times, a polygamist designates his daughter for the wife of his son, if they are not of the same mother, but I have never seen a young man and young woman who have a maternal kinship between them united in marriage.
There are marriages between natural cousins, between uncles and nieces, and vice versa.
Eight days after the birth of a son, they have a family celebration that consists in giving the son the name he will have in infancy, and the Lopurí loe chobo, which is to take out the recently born. The ceremony ends with a small feast.
Wet nurses are totally unknown. If a woman who has just given birth dies, the newborn is fed palm wine that is not fermented, mixed at times with juice extracted from other plants and given with a small spoon. Since they never could reconcile themselves to nourish these infants with goat milk, scarcely any lived to puberty.
It was the duty of the parents to educate, advise, and correct their children. When they were older, if they committed some disrespect against the father, the mother, or someone of the family, they all met together to deal with the punishment that must be imposed on the miscreant. If he refused to carry it out, they informed the village chief, and he condemned him to compulsory work. If, humiliated, he asked for pardon from his family, they admitted him again into their bosom. But, if he remained rebellious and obstinate, the family rejected him, blowing over his forehead and spitting on the ground as signs they detested his abominable conduct. They hurl curses over him worse than those one reads in Psalm 108.
The family real estate amounted to only their palm groves, which they owned. Houses and yam fields, in reality, were not theirs, because fields, annually, were planted on a different site, and the houses, upon the death of notable members of the family, were moved to other places.
Household goods: These consisted of clay and iron kettles and small pots, large buffalo hides used as shields in war, fat bundles of wooden throwing darts, calabashes for water, small, almost-flat dishes made of clay and wood that were used for plates, and three-legged trivets for the kettles. In a corner of the house, surrounded by small sticks, there was the sipanchí, a small pot that held sea water for the household spirits. Lastly, three or four planks, poorly put together, from about twelve to sixteen inches wide and five feet long, served as beds. In the middle of these was the hearth, stout logs burning, fending off cold and mosquitoes.
Farming tools: Today they use iron machetes, axes, pruning shears, and knives, imported by the Europeans, and some stout, pointed sticks of ebale, an extremely strong wood, that they use as picks and hoes. They climb palm trees using their clever arcs of wood. They separate olive pulp from the pit with poles that they call betao or metao, and instead of presses to squeeze the residue from the olives to extract oil, they use their own hands.
Instruments for the hunt: In antiquity, they used strong wooden darts, bechika or mechika, to kill buffalo, deer and antelopes, and they used thick nets (baotte or maonde). To hunt small and medium-sized animals, they used a variety of lassos and traps.
Fishing instruments: For deep-sea fishing there were large and coarse cayucos. To spear larger fish, they hurled wooden darts with a long cord that came from the forest tied to them. For sharp hooks they used fat spines from fish and other animals, and pointed palm ribs. For catching small fish, they used nets made from palm branches (losala) and to catch sardines and crayfish they used woven cones made from palm stalks. To catch eels they used an ingenious lasso. In their antique cayucos were closed compartments filled with sea water to store live fish.
57. Social Customs
Bubi villages were made up of neighborhoods, some joined, some separated, surrounded by stakes generally made of fern tree trunks. Each neighborhood consisted of families that came from a common branch. The eldest was the neighborhood’s patriarch or chief or mayor, and everyone was subordinate to the village’s main botuku.
On the outskirts of the neighborhood that belonged to the main village chief was a house larger than the rest, with doors on all sides, called the boecha or boencha. It served as lodging for foreigners who spent the night in the village, and also for meetings of the chief and other leaders when they discussed common matters. General assemblies of all the inhabitants were held in the plazas that all settlements of any importance had, in which they celebrated the Buala, Lopo, and other festivals.
Bubi law permitted livestock to go free, wandering without a shepherd, so they enclosed their housing and yam and malanga fields with barriers. If there were no barriers erected, no one had the right to exact reparation from damage caused by livestock; but if a goat or sheep habitually jumped fences, it was slaughtered.
It frequently happened that a yam field was on both sides of a public road, and as the law ordered it to be fenced, a piece of the road was closed inside of the fence. In this case, the owner of the field was required to place a door made of the same material as the fence on both sides of the road, with a knotted rope to secure it. All passing could open it easily, and, having passed, must leave it closed. Others, in order to fulfill the law, built a double staircase of rail and thus avoided the bother of opening and closing a door.
Palm trees (eteddebola) used in the making of wine used to have a small clay pot mounted on a nearby fern trunk. Daily they filled it with new wine, pouring out the old, as a gift to the protective spirits of palm trees, in the hopes they would keep the palm tree from damage.
Just before the entrance to a village on the public road, as we have said before, there was an arch loaded with amulets to impede spirits from harassing the population. In the same manner, on crossroads and on top of the escarpment of a deep ravine, they planted off-shoots from trees, preferably iko, so that transients, upon passing in front of it, could give a simple inclination of the head and a strong stamp of the foot in front of it, and thus the custodial spirits of the road protected them from falling or losing their way.
In large areas they built huts and planted sacred trees, and in the entrance and exit they placed, as in the settlements, arches with amulets. Upon entering them they invoked the spirits saying: Omno ipues’ e riose: “The spirit elevates the area.”
In matrimony, all goods belong to the husband, insofar as the wife brought nothing to the marriage and became a thing bought by the husband. With other goods acquired or gained during marriage, the person who gained or acquired them owned them. In this way, between husband and wife, there is complete separation of goods. I heard frequently from men: “This chicken is not mine, it is owned by my wife.” Thus it is with household furniture, etc.
58. Penal Code
No society exists without laws, nor laws without sanctions, nor sanctions without recompense and punishment. The Bubis, forming a most primitive society, established laws that were quite ingenuous and simple.
The Bubi name for law is biéhété, for recompense it is bahobo or mahomo, for punishment it is beako or meako, for jail, ocharom or ochele, for orders, ntobo or ndomo, and for prisoner or incarcerated, bocho bochò or a le ocharon.
We will list only the most common punishments:
Crimes against religion, such as impiety, blasphemy, and profaning objects appointed for worship of the souls of ancestors, were punished with fines of large numbers of goats, which they sacrifice in compensation to the offended and angry spirits. If lacking goats to sacrifice, they condemned the criminal for a very long time to forced work, and if his constitution was weak and sickly, and he could not work, he was ejected once and for all from the village, carrying with him imprecations and curses from all the inhabitants.
The stubborn and rebellious as we have already indicated were chastised. Adolescents were punished with temporary expulsion from the bosom of the family. The parents or guardians gave notice to the village chief and neighboring settlements so that no one would help him. The youngster, finding himself expelled and dying of hunger, returned to the family home humiliated and prepared to accept whatever penalty.
The criminals of sedition and rebellion were immediately decapitated without trial.
The autocrat Moka condemned a chief of Ruiché of Balacha to this penalty, and sent his lojúa, or army of adventurers, to carry out the execution, but the execution was impeded by a group of ten sailors from the pontoon Ferrolana, led by Father Jaime Pinosa.
Disobedience, irreverence, and lack of due respect for the constituted authority were punished with forced work or fines of four to six goats, two hundred to four hundred yams, and twenty-five to thirty strings of chivo, which they used as money. If the same outrages recurred, they confiscated all their belongings or punished them with expatriation.
For voluntary homicide they applied the talion law. Ordinarily, homicide gave a place to a deep and implacable hatred that led to horrible vengeances between villages and families.
If someone caused trivial wounds to another, they were given no penalty, but if the wounds were serious, they were fined from four to six goats. If the wounds resulted in death, the assailant received capital punishment.
Adulterers received exemplary punishment in a barbaric and savage way. However, it is fitting to know what could be considered adulterous for a Bubi woman in those days. As we all know, in times passed a man, either old or young, could claim a Bubi female as his wife even before her birth. He would pay her dowry in installments to her father or guardian, even if she were ignorant of it. From this moment, she was considered a married woman, and if she was violated by another, they were both judged adulterers, and, therefore, punished as such.
However, it happened sometimes that before the virgin maiden was delivered to her betrothed, he died. In this case, the girl could cohabitate with anyone without being considered adulterous. This is because the Bubi woman could be purchased only one time, by one male.
The woman found guilty of adultery was required to declare her accomplice. If she refused, she was tortured, as I saw in 1911. Once she reported her accomplice, he was forced to repay the offended spouse her dowry, duplicated, that the spouse had paid to the family. If the adulterer lacked material wealth, he was condemned to be suspended from the branches of a tree with his companion in crime, both completely nude. The entire village was present for this torture, and each one had the right to taunt, curse, and beat them with a stick. This torture lasted many long hours. When the offended husband believed it was enough, they cut the cords tying the victims’ wrists with a machete and let the criminals fall senseless to the ground. Few escaped this torture with their life. Some indulgent husbands would not permit their spouses to suffer such torments. It all depended on the will of the injured husband or of the family.
These penalties and punishments today have passed into history.
Thieves they punished by requiring them to restore what had been taken or its equivalent in value, with an additional fine equal to the value of that which was taken. If he was insolvent, they condemned him to forced labor and public infamy. Among the Bubis robbers were, in other times, very rare and scarce. It was a sin that few committed and it was held in great infamy.
Slander and false testimonies they penalized with fines of goats, according to the seriousness of the crime. They required public retractions and reparations of the wronged for any successive damage.
In times past, there were no crimes of parricide, infanticide, or abortion on the island.
Children’s mischief in some places was punished with whippings, and, in others, with a long and deep cut in a meaty part of the body, especially in the cheeks.