BUBI PEOPLE: EQUATORIAL GUINEA`S ANCIENT WARRIOR AND STEVEDORING PEOPLE THAT ABHORS SLAVERY AND RESISTED ITS IMPOSITION ON THEM
The Bubi people, also known as Voove, Bobes, Boobes, Boobees, Adeejahs, Adijas, Ediyas, Eris, Fernando Poans, Fernandians, and Bantu Speaking Bubi, are an African ethnic matriarchal group, members of the Bantu group, who are indigenous to Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. They are numbering about 50,000 people and used to be the majority tribe on the Bioko Island (Fernado Po). The name Bubi comes from the word "Boobe" meaning "Man."
Bioko Island: When 15th-century Portuguese explorer Fernão do Po arrived on the island of Bioko, he was so taken by its natural splendor that he named it Formosa, or "Beautiful." . When noted English explorer Henry M. Stanley saw it in 1884, the natural beauty of Bioko Island, to him, was "extraordinary ... the pearl of the Gulf of Guinea."
Bioko Island (Fernado Po) formerly Formosa
With its towering volcanic peaks, thick, green-velvet blanket of lush rain forests and distinctive black sand beaches, Bioko is indeed a picture of tropical paradise. And to that paradise, some 3,000 years ago, fighting brutal surf in hand-dug canoes, came the original inhabitants -- the Bubi tribe.
Bubi man from Bioko Island
Isolated on their island, they formed a society, language and religion that was theirs alone, different from their mainland Bantu relatives and left to develop, undisturbed. Even slave-hunting, resource-hungry Europeans were intimidated by the Bubi's legendary savagery, more likely to take their vessels to the comparatively easy trading and slaving offered on the mainland West Africa shoreline. "A savage and cruel people live there," wrote a Portuguese explorer in the mid 1700's. But if they had openly welcomed the white men in huge vessels, the Bubi most likely would have found themselves shackled in the bowels of those boats, bound for New World plantations.
A Bubi girl
The Bubi were distrustful -- perhaps their kind god Rupe, watching from high atop 10,000-foot Pico Basile, warned them of explorers and traders true motives? The slaughter of an entire English crew by a Batete Bubi tribe in 1810 is among the more dramatic stories of their responses to infiltrators. The Bubi have never practised slavery, but there is a form of indentured servitude among the people called botaki - there are nobles who earn that status by virtue of birth, and lesser peoples are expected to serve and protect them.
Brief History: Linguistic studies suggest the Bubi were among the first Bantu tribes to leave their Nigerian/Cameroon-area homeland, maybe 5,000 years ago, and migrate southeast, settling on the coast of what is now southern Cameroon or northern Gabon. They finally arrived on the Atlantic beaches between the Batanga and the Ntem, or campo, rivers. They lived in this area for a lengthy amount of time and during this time they formed sub tribes.
Malabo harbor. (Photo by Jessica Weinberg)
According to legend when another tribe, more warring and more numerous, invaded the Bubi's beach homeland, forcing them into hard labor and slavery. They must have stared with longing across the water at those peaceful, mysterious peaks nearly 100 miles away that began to hold the promise of peace and freedom. The chiefs of the sub tribes decided that they needed to flee the country and cross the seas to a new land named Fernando Po, which is now Bioko Island.
The Bubi, as shore-dwelling, fishing people, probably had a canoe-engineering knowledge than most African people. But when a plan for escape began to develop, they knew it would take the largest trees of the mainland forest to make the strongest canoes for their bold, desperate plan -- which was to leave, not all at once, but by sub-tribes, under cover of darkness over a period of several months, and flee to that distant land.
The work on the canoes was done in secret. Supplies were gathered and loaded under the very noses of their captors. And the plan worked. The first tribe launched its boat after midnight, without discovery, and they rowed with palm leaf oars, in complete happiness and security, the story goes.
According to Antonio Anmeyei, the bubis had migrated here about 3,000 to 5,000 years before
Portuguese explorer Fernando Po landed there in 1471. According to legend, all the migration was done within one year, primarily between mid-November and mid-March.
Bubi man from Bioko Island
The sub-tribes settled in a rings of territoriality around the island, where they landed depending on wind, current, luck and when they arrived -- the last tribes getting some of the more steep, inhospitable inland terrain. (Which would provoke constant intra-tribal warfare as they sought to better their situation).
Those who ended up on the northeast side of the island, where the capital city of Malabo is now, had the easiest landing, thanks to the natural harbor. Others fought giant, craggy boulders and pounding surf to make their landings on the southern end, in the vicinity of Punta Santiago.
Bubi traditional building/hut
The names of small villages that today circle the island still preserve the memory of some of those tribes of origin -- the Baney, Batate, Baho, Bakake. The Biabba tribe, later the city was named Riabba, is considered the first to arrive. The last, and the most beleagured as they looked for room to settle, were the Batetes and Bokokos.
Bubi boys from Ureka village on Bioko island
An unfortunate incident involving some forgotten yams gave the early Batates the worst location on the island. Dragging ashore on the difficult southern end, the Batates and Bokokos found themselves forced to negotiate living with the already-settled Barekas. They shortly realized they had forgotten to bring their favorite "rea" yam-plantings. The Barekas, already disgruntled at having to share their land with the new arrivals, apparently did not feel like sharing any of their "rea" plants with the newcomers.
So, the Batates stole some.
United colors of Bata.photo by JotaEseGé
Moaddo, the Bareka's leader, banished both the Batates and the Bokokos (guilty by association, it seems) from the coastal area. They headed inland, began fighting amongst themselves, and split off -- the Bokokos going one way, the Batetes ending up in the steep, inland Gran Caldera area. It was here they took on a fiercesome reputation, letting their hair and beards grow wild and generally making themselves a constant threat to the tribes around them. That is, until they finally moved over the mountain top and defeated a tribe that had a more favorable location.
Not that that meant peace. Throughout their early history, the Bubi tribes led a cantakerous, non-unified existence as each tried to expand and prosper on a small, isolated island. The sub tribes all formed in different areas around the Island, all speaking the same native language. There was a lot of hostile violence between the sub tribes. Their numbers were lessened dramatically because of the slaughter of their previous dictator Francisco Macias Nguema. Macias took reign after the country gained its independence from Spain in 1968.
During Macias Nguema’s reign he lessened a majority of the population by torturing, beating, and even
executing. This occurred until 1979 when his nephew, who is now the current president, overthrew him and had him executed. Macias Nguema’s reign of terror reduced the Bubi’s population dramatically during his dictatorship, but those who remain are under the rule of a just as equally cruel and corrupt dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema. The Bubis live in Bioko today, under the dictator- president of the larger Fang tribe.
Ancient Bubi Kingdoms
Lasting over three thousand years, the Bubi Kingdom was divided into five regions: North, Northeast, East, South and Southwest. Each region had its own distinct Bubi vernacular and were further divided into various subgroups, perhaps states.
Dynasties and Rulers
Ancient Tribes and Kingdoms faction name is anciently synonymous with tribal, village and dialect name.
Bahu Subgroups: Rebolanos, Basapos of Rebola, Basilés, and Banapás.
- Bakake - Formed a subtribe with Bareka.
Bakake Subgroups: - later made up of Urekanos, Babiaoma, Balacha (of San Carlos), and the original Batete.
Bariobatta Subgroups: Basupús, Basapos (of Basupú), Balveris, and Batoikoppos. 'Basakato Subgroups
Batete Subgroup 1
Batete Subgroup 2 This group divided in to 3 subgroups: Ríobanda, Ríokoritcho, and Ratcha or Ruitche
Polygamy, with an elevation in status and power depending on the number of wives a man could accumulate, brought about much of the intra-tribal Bubi fighting that plagued Bioko for centuries. So, too, do scarce resources figure in to the legend of Bubi savagery.
Young girls in traditional grass skirts at a parade in Luba. (Photo by Jessica Weinberg)
Bioko is 26 miles wide and 45 miles long . Once the Bubi made the perilous journey across the ocean to the island, seafaring was forgotten and they settled in to make do with the land, and the people, that were there.
But if a man wanted to improve his status, wanted to show his wealth and power and become a village or district leader, it was his animals, his yam production, his shell money and how many wives he could accumulate that counted. With a limited number of women available to each tribe, however, therein came the conflict: women and children were the spoils of war, as tribes attempted to steal these precious commodities from one another.
The intra-tribal wars tell of continuous, bloody wars of one district against another; one town against another; one family against another; and endless private vendettas. For example, the woods near Boloko, close to San Carlos, were the preferred site of the Batates to attack the Baloketos. Hiding in the thicket, they waited for the Baloketos to come down to the beach, leaping out and killing the adult males, carrying off the women and children. The assault of travelers, too, was a common thing, Father Aymeme writes.
While they honed their fighting skills stealing wives, the Bubi were turning themselves into a formidable people. So it was in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries when Europeans began their cruel harvesting of slaves along the West African coast, any thoughts of an easy landing on Bioko (then called Fernando Poo) were soon dismissed. On Bioko, there were no tribal kings selling off nearby enemy tribesmen. The Bubi were suspicious, unfriendly and deadly to strangers who tried to land on their island. Wouldn't this have seemed a good way to get rid of the annoying tribe next door, to sell off their men and take their women? Among the ancient Bubi, apparently, in-family fighting stopped at the shoreline. Those strangers who were allowed to settle on the fringes of the coast were traders who could serve a purpose for the Bubi in getting them guns and knives in exchange for palm oil.
Bubi woman plucking cocoa.
The island, though, was too strategic and necessary as a fresh-water source and provision-providing resource for European trading and slaving ships to simply be avoided altogether. Constant, tentative landings were made by the Portuguese, Spanish and sometimes the English. It was the English, in 1810, who experienced first-hand just how unwelcoming the Bubi could be to strangers in their harbors.
An English vessel, stopping by for fresh water, found itself stalked by boatloads of patrolling Batetes. The tribesmen launched an attack on the sailors with accurate, deadly spears. Every man on board was killed.
The faces, too, of the Bubi stabbed European hearts with fear. Deep furrows cut into foreheads and cheeks presented a scarred countenance that implied warfare and pain. What we know, however, from Father Aymemi's work, is those scars were made on Bubi children to mark them as tribe members, should they be stolen from their island by slave traders. Bubi parents hoped that, with their faces thus scarred, should children find themselves in a strange land surrounded by strangers, they could recognize other Bubi by their facial scars.
It was a practice that continued until the late 19th century, until they were sure, finally, their children were safe.
Bubi kids playing
Primitive Bubi agriculture was limited to cultivating yams and malanga, as those foods formed the base of their diet. Everyone contributed to yam planting and cultivation. The men and women, little children and grown children partake in farming but only women plant and cultivated malanga.“ Each subordinate chief, with his family and dependents, prepared a parcel of land — larger or smaller, depending on what was being planted — and fenced it. Later they divided it among the adult men, in different sizes,
Bubi man with snails and bush rat hanging on a bamboo pole.Luba,Equatorial Guinea. Courtesy:JotaEseGé
Worms, buffalo, deer, antelope, porcupines, pangolins, and fish are some of the main proteins for the Bubis. “The Bubis have studied well the pastures preferred by antelopes and deer, and they know when, at twilight, the animals graze. Dawn they call ope, and dusk esaha. The Bubis arrived early at these times to wait behind a shrub or a trunk, or in the top of a tree. Then, when the beast was feeling most tranquil, he would feel a cruel dart thrown by a savage enter his body.”
“In hunts in days of antiquity, they used darts (bechika, mechika); traps (ekaso, sibèttèbèttè, boholo(N), siara, epeu, moholo (S); snares (riparu (N), rinchi, ekaso (S), etc.), and the creel (boatcho, moancho). The general name for hunting was ebeba and ebema, and they used to hunt individually, in society with an entire
village, or in various assemblies.” It is widely known that the Bubi arrow or dart is made of wood, without an iron point, and that they hurl it by simply throwing it with the hand, not using a bow.”
Sexual division of production:
The men in the Bubi tribe were mostly responsible for the hunting,
building, making of the weapons, fishing, hunting, making of palm oils. The bubi women would create pots, weave baskets, household chores, cooking, planting and cultivating the malanga, and they would help their husbands with the chores.
The Rio Tudela river canyon.
The bubis would serve food on wooden plates, and they would also use shells from large ground snails and sea snails as plates. "They found dry and hard shells of the fruit from the tree bobama made very handy and economical drinking glasses."
Bubi society is matriarchal, lineage is traced by the mothers line. Importance is placed on having girls because they perpetuate the family. Girls are considered to be the eyes of the home.
Men at puberty have a ceremony accepting them into the category of the village’s young men of marriageable age. Puberty for males typically 16-17 and “ as soon as a girl becomes capable, which they place at about fourteen to fifteen years, the parent let her suitor know he may come for her as soon as he pleases.”
Bubi woman,Equatorial Guinea,courtesy JotaEseGé
“ A forced divorce take place when the deceased of the family, or morimo, manifests and reveals to the mojiammo or tribal prophet that a man and wife, legally united in matrimony, cannot continue cohabitation. He compels them to a perpetual and absolute separation, with the threat of certain death of one or both spouses if they do not divorce in the time the mojiammo has prearranged.”
The woman can obtain freedom by repudiation. The husband throws her out of the house.
“ Bubi law allows men to have many legitimate spouses (a bari b’ eotto) and to bring into their homes all the women friends and concubines (a bari be rijole) who present themselves, who ordinarily would remain widows.” Custom does not tolerate a man to marry two full-blooded sisters.
Bride purchase (price), bride service, dowry?:
There are two types of marriages: “ Marriage by buying virginity” (ribala r'eotó) and “marriage for mutual love“ (ribala re rijole). Many rituals are involved in the betrothal and the length of the celebration depends on the power and wealth of the spouse. The bride, for the wedding ceremony, has a court of friends and bridesmaids and
the young men sang songs to her.
Bubi women,malabo,Equatorial Guinea.Photo by JotaEseGé
The Bubis, when they give a dowry to acquire a wife, strive expressly to buy the eoto, or virginity.” In times past a man, old or young, could claim a Bubi female as his wife even before birth. He could pay her dowery in installments. “ They would stipulate the price, which ordinarily would not exceed four hundred Spanish pesetas. The amount agreed and set in place, the claimant would begin his payments, at times with pieces of game or with big bowls of fish, at other times with bags of salt or with cans of oil. Sometimes payment was with long strings of chibo, other times with goats, and other times with physical labor, as the biblical Jacob.”
The abba’s (Bubi King) office is hereditary. It doesn’t go from father to son but from the eldest in the family to the next most ancient of the same family. “ The family real estate amounted to only their palm groves, which they owned. Houses fields, annually, were planted on a different site, and the houses, upon the death
of notable members of the family, were moved to others places.”
Bubi kid in Ureka
Parent-offspring interactions and conflict:
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.”
Bubi girl carrying her sister on her back. Photo by JotaEseGé
Pattern of exogamy (endogamy):
Endogamous at the clan or tribal level. Exogmaous for close blood relations as in unions of children from the same uterus, also you couldn’t have for spouses two full-blooded sisters. it is believed that when a woman conceives, God makes the soul of the fetus
and that a deceased family member can buy it.
If she has been forced and violated, then she is rebuffed for not having denounced the perpetrator of the brutality. “ If the young virgin resolutely refused to cohabit with the chief, resisting his
flattery and caresses, she came to live in the rijata, in the position of borenne or erere, principal wife of the botuku."
Bubi people from Moka, a village in center of Bioko.
The men of Bubi tribe can marry within the same clan or tribe and the restrictions of close blood relations. Bubi women are inspected for their virginity before they get married. If she has been violated, then they say sad and bitter days await her. “ If she remain a virgin, she receives praise, congratulations, wishes for happiness
and sincere, cordial blessings from all. But, if the examination proves her to have been violated or raped, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, she stands before the public in extreme dishonor and shame.”
Incest avoidance rules:
They permit matrimonial unions between cousin, uncles and nieces, brothers and sister-in-laws. They also allow unions of children of the same father but of different mothers.
Bubi kids in their traditional dancing attire on Bioko Island
Bubi women take care of their children with the help of their mother or immediate family member. 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 and lived to puberty.
Bubi boy.photo by JotaEseGé
When the Bubi kids become older and they they commit some disrespect against the father, the mother, or someone of the family, they all meet together to deal with the issue and plan an appropriate punishment that must be imposed on the miscreant. If he refused to carry it out, they informed the village chief, and he will condemn him to compulsory work. If, humiliated, he asked for pardon from his family, they will admitted him again into their bosom. But, if he remained rebellious and obstinate, the family rejects him, blowing over his forehead and spitting on the
ground as signs that they detest his abominable conduct. They hurl curses over him worse than those one reads in psalm 108.
Political system: (chiefs, clans etc, wealth or status classes):
All tribes have their own clans system, but are all similar. Botuka is the head chief of a tribe or district.
Baita which means nobles or pleabians.
Nobility is based soley on birth.
Bubi law prohibits people of different social classes to eat together.
The death of botuka- his successor comes from his advisory group of elders.
Abbe moto guards and preserves the sacred fire.
Bubi society divides people by function: farmers, hunters, fishers and palm- wine collectors.
Each village has their own botuku and hierarchy. “ The chiefs in their most successful times had an advisory body that understood
the tribe’s most serious and important business. The chief presided at the assembly, which consisted of the main Bubi nobility. The first among them was the supreme priest (abba or bojiamme), which demonstrates that, even among the savage Bubi, religion
never was separated from the state but, rather, both authorities walked together in agreement, mutually relying on and defending one another.”
Among the Bubis there exists, the same as in all countries of the world, distinct social classes. The Bubis are free people and do not recognize slavery in its most strict form, which they call bopippi, bopibbi, bopimbi, but they do recognize a moderate and benign form of servitude, to which they give the name botaki or motaki. There exists, moreover, baita and babale which mean nobles and plebeians; and batuku and bataki, or
masters and servants. Nobility is based solely on birth.
The greatest bojiammo is the abbe mote. Only a man can be the supreme pontiff or holy man. Women of purity are of great value and to be revered by the bubi people. Northern Bubis recognized a feminine god name Visila.
Bubi woman with a rat
Passage rituals (birth, death, puberty, seasonal):
Newborn is taken by the family to find out which deceased family member bought its soul. Puberty rites are mostly for males, they bathe, adorn themselves, present themselves to the village botuku (chief) who gives them a new name.
The females are inspected for virginity before marriage.
Bubi girl dancing for her initiation
Many Bubi farmers still hold to their ancient customs. One of the country's most famous celebrations is the abira which is believed to cleanse the community of evil. The balélé dance is performed along the coast throughout the year and on Bioko around Christmas. Bubi people also like to dance around a camp fire while playing the xylophone. This ancient ritual is called the "tetas grandes" celebration".
Death and after life beliefs:
They believed that a deceased member of the woman’s spouse, a morimo, buys the soul of they baby and will be its protector through life. A witch doctor is called to a sick person by the family and he places two stones on his chest to see if the person will die. The Bubis took great care in taking deceased to the cemetery.
They believed the spirit would follow the cadaver and haunt the family so they tried to trick the spirit away form the body.
The Bubis had multiple piercings on their ears. They would have wooden pieces in their lobes, such as toothpicks. The piercings in the ears were done more often in women than in men. They did not have many on their nose, neither do they do lip piercings.
They have short hair, and there’s not a lot of hair jewelry, they also did not use hair powder.
Scarification: They had scares on their chest, just below the neck, scares going onto their stomach, they expressed certain social relationships, served as other purposes.
Portrait of a girl and a young woman from Bioko. Posed seated in a wickerwork chair, the semi-naked woman displays scarification marks on her belly. Bioko, Equatorial Guinea, circa 1930.,
Adornment (beads, feathers, lip plates, etc.): The Bubis had arm bands worb by boys, made from snail shells, right bellow the knee (also snail shells). A band worn by women was woven by plants.
Ceremonial/Ritual adornment: Necklace, which was made out of snake virtibrate, a bandana also made from snake vertebrate, and a wooden bell meant to be worn on their arms- To call the good spirits and to call away the bad spirits.
Sibling classification system: The older children are held in higher regard than their younger siblings and looked to in performing chores and more responsibility.
Sororate, levirate: Neither, the widow can never spouse again.
Bubi kids from Bioko Island,Equatorial Guinea.Courtesy:JotaEseGé
Many present-day Bubi have inherited bloodlines from:
Virginia Buika (born in Alcalá de Henares, Spain) is an Afro-Spanish
musician, producer and actress of (Bubi tribe) Equatoguinean descent
- Slaves who escaped from Sao Tome in the 19th century;
- Krio people, descendants of Americo-Liberians, also known as Fernandinos who arrived in the 19th century;
- Cuban indentured servants/slaves brought to the region during the 17th century, and again in the 19th century;
- Efik people who were instrumental businessmen on the island, as well as in Christian mission work.
- Brazilian indentured serva
- nts/slaves brought to the region during the 17th century;
- Asian workers who were brought to the island during the 19th century.
- Spaniards and Portuguese;
- Fang people who began immigrating in large numbers by the mid 20th century. Many helped run the Roman Catholic missions;
- Krumen people from Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, as well as servants from Angola who worked the once lucrative maritime industry during the colonial era.
- Other ethnic groups indigenous to Equatorial Guinea and West/Central Africa
Furthermore, a part of the population may have bloodlines inherited from North African slaves traded into the region over centuries. Studies have shown considerable evidence of North African genetic markers among the region's indigenous population. As a result, the former city of Santa Isabel (Malabo) features a Creole cocktail of natives.
Spain-based jazz-singer,Concha Buika aka "The Queen of Flamenco" is from Bubi tribe.
Descendants of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
The Bubi people are one out of fifty ethnic groups in Africa from where the African ancestors of most African descendants in the Americas originate. People extracted from the kingdom and forced into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade were among 24.4% of all those exported out of the Bight of Biafra region. In the United States, genealogical research indicates that many African-American families, namely the Knights, Johnsons and Baldwins of Georgia, Michigan and Ohio are direct descendants of Bubi people.
Bubi Traditional Ancestral/Spiritual religion
n the Bubi religion, the beginning is Rupe (called Eri on southern parts of the island), a supreme being who created all and oversees all.
Spirit layering best describes the spirit/physical world as explained by the Bubi. There are three parts to the other world: "Labakoppua," or heaven and the angels; "Ommo ich'ori," or hell and bad angels, and "Ommo boeboe," or limbo.
After the over-world layers, island life involved the sharing of Bioko between the Bubi tribes and spirits that were both good and bad. The bad ones are always to blame for disease and injuries or bad luck. Father Aymemi describes one way of warding off the spirits' evil plans this way:
Bioko Island,equatorial guinea
"In the better times of the Bubi customs, some five or 10 minutes before arriving at a village, one would encounter an arch built with plain sticks and hung with thousands of amulets -- things such as tails of sheep, animal skulls and bones, chicken and pheasant feathers, horns of antelope, shells of sea snails and land snails, and more. Thus, like the spoils of the dead, they enlived the remembrance of their ancestors who live in Borimo, or the region of the dead. On both sides of this arch they plants sacred "iko" trees, with the goal to impede the entrance of the village by bad spirits and save themselves from their perverse influence. (Father Aymemi also expresses his relief, elsewhere in his book, that the Bubi did not use human bones in any of their rituals, but, rather, held human remains in great reverence.)
Hijas del Sol (Spanish for Daughters of the Sun), respectively Piruchi Apo Botupá and Paloma Loribo Apo, are an aunt and niece duo from the island of Bioko in Equatorial Guinea who write, sing and perform songs in both Bubi and Spanish. As of 2006, the duo has split up with Paloma Loribo Apo "Paloma del Sol" taking on a solo career.
"Placed on either side were ferns and earthernware pots. One pot would hold water from a spring, and in a ceremony the Bubi would ask that the good spirits protect the village, just as in the manner that a spring will continue to flow, so too would Bubi births continue to flow, uninterrupted, assuring a population increase.
"Other villages might fill the pot with sea water, and this signifies that, just as the sea receives all the dirt of the earth, it's never corrupted. In this same way, it was hoped the people of the village, however much they might sufffer from sickness and their vices, would never lose the virture of their procreation."
African-American actor and comedian Anthony Anderson is of Bubi ancestry
A blending between the spirit world and the physical world on Bioko means nearly every distinctive landmark was associated with a Bubi spirit -- the rivers, the lakes, the mountains -- all considered a point of specific spiritual energy. Ibrahim Sundiata writes of menhirs found throughout the island commemorating sacred events and of trees "considered the great terrestrial wand of the spirits, and their vitality was a sign of continued productivity of the area."
Should you travel to the island, look for :
The energy of the spirit Chiba resonating within Pico Basile
Esaha's power deep within Lake Claret
Lombe in the Balacha lagoon
Moalala in the cavern de Riasaka
Lopelo in Lake Loreto
Jioba in the Rebola grotto
Ole in the Tudela river
And try not to disturb any rock formations you might find in these areas. As author Sundiata tells us, they could be there for a reason:
"Venerated erect-standing stones are, indeed, still found throughout the island. These stones, however, did not serve as the image of a diety, but rather the image of spiritual energy -- energy essential to the fecundity and vitality of the locale. During the nineteenth century many people moved to new zones for reasons of trade and abandoned the menhirs in their region. Later, when many were rediscovered, the Bubi averred that the stones had not been erected by humans, but, instead, were signs from the spirits. Many menhirs were located at commercial crossroads and places for palavers.
Bubi men of Bioko Island
"Sacred stones had three functions: they were places where this world encountered the world of the spirits; places that acknowledged the presence of the earth goddess, and places that marked the initial settlement of families. ... Memorial stones are especially abundant in places like Batete, Moka (formerly Riabba,) Ureka and Ombori. At times there was only one stone, which represented the founding male. At times there were two, representing the founding couple. In other cases there was a third, smaller, stone which represented "basoome" (children). Because the menhirs were exposed to the elements, small chapels were built close to them for the maintenance of perpetual fires. The chapel was marked by small stones, and the sacred precinct was protected by rites of purification. The principal function of rites before "earth-mother" monoliths was to insure agricultural and human reproduction."
Bubi tribe kids from Rebola,Equaorial Guinea. Courtesy:JotaEseGé
Bubi folklore consists of stories of the animals in the jungle that are delightful entertainment as well as interesting records of the animals that lived on the island and the Bubi's impressions of their personalities and habits. Other folk stories tell of sorcerer mischief and of witches trying to snatch children. Still others explain everyday things people might wonder about.
Canoeing on the southern coast of Bioko Island in 1996.
The first story, "The Snake and the Crab," was recorded by Father Aymemi. The next three stories: "Why Monkeys Don't Have Houses," "Why the Dog Eats Bones," and "How the Thumb Came to be Separated from the Other Fingers" are from a marvelous book (in Spanish) called "Cuentos Bubis de Guinea Ecuatorial" written by Jacint Creus, Antonia Brunat and Pilar Carulla working with the Hispanic-Guinea Cultural Center in Malabo. It was printed in 1992, the culmination of six years work.
THE SNAKE AND THE CRAB
Once upon a time the neighbors in the jungle were suffering from a harsh food shortage. So severe was their hunger that they began to attack and devour one another.
There were two neighbors, a black snake, named Mappa, and a river crab, named Iteke. One day Mappa said to Iteke: "In spite of the hunger that is ruining our country and the fact that our companions are eating one another and that I, if I wanted to, could eat you, I don't want to hurt you. We have always been good neighbors and lived in peace and friendship. I only want to propose a method where neither of us will die, and that will serve to prolong our lives."
"Very good!" said Iteke. "Explain it to me."
Mappa continued: "You, Iteke, have many legs and without much trouble you can detach them and let them serve us as food during these critical times."
Iteke, fearing reprisal, accepted this proposal. So it was that daily Mappa would cut off one of Iteke's legs, season it, and both would eat it. This continued until Iteke noticed that he had been deprived of all his small legs, and that only a few large ones were left. He mentioned this, meekly, to Mappa and suggested that Mappa loan a bit of his large tail to their food intake.
Replied Mappa: "I cannot loan any of my tail. On the contrary, to do so would kill me."
Iteke did not believe this, so when Mappa was sleeping, Iteke cut a piece off the tail and prepared it. Later, Iteke invited Mappa to eat.
Mappa replied: "Friend, I can't. I feel indisposed."
Iteke said to him: "You ate all my feet, and with only a little piece of your tail cut off, you feel sick?"
Mappa replied: "Friend, I cannot move."
Iteke left Mappa's house to get some firewood. When he returned to the house, he called out to Mappa: "Friend, help me unload." Mappa did not answer. Iteke threw his bundle of wood on the ground and began to move things around, uncovering the pots, but could not find Mappa. Then he found him, dead, behind a pillar.
At that moment he began to sing: "Ah, Mappa, Mappa! You ate all of my legs, I gave your tail a little cut, and you died in just a little time."
Then Iteke returned to his old home in the river.
WHY MONKEYS DON'T HAVE HOUSES
The monkeys of the forest went to a town to see how the people lived. When they saw that men lived in houses they said: "We must also build houses to shelter us and cover us." And so they cut sticks and wove fronds, but then the rainy season arrived and they had to stop their work.
When the dry season returned the sun was shining, its rays penetrating the forest and restoring the vivid colors of the forest and the delicious colors of the fruits. The monkeys, then, began to eat and forgot about building their houses. When the rain returned it reminded them of their work, and they said: "As soon as the dry season returns, we'll finish the construction."
Nevertheless, again it was the fruits that attracted them more. When the dry season next returned they remained with their arms crossed, saying: "Why do we want houses, if the trees give us abundant fruit and we are covered by the night?" And they abandoned their work.
So it is that the monkeys don't live in houses, and when it's night, or it rains, they group in the big trees of the forest that protect them.
WHY THE DOG EATS BONES
(Note: A pangolin is a toothless, scaly mammal found in Asia and Africa, that feeds on ants and termites and is able to roll itself into a ball when attacked.)
All of the animals lived in the same village and considered the pangolin their father. He lived in a ranchhouse and each day, two animals went to bring him his food.
Bubi tribe man
One day it was the turn of the dog and the goat to bring the food. As the dog was much faster, he went far ahead. Then he hid and, taking advantage of being alone, ate all of the food he had carried. Only the bones were left. When the old goat arrived, the dog smeared oil on her beard, so it would appear as though she were the one guilty of this outrage.
They arrived at the ranchhouse and delivered the food to the pangolin, telling him they had only been able to find bones. The pangolin did not want to protest, and began to eat the bones. Their hardness made him lose some teeth, but still he was solicitous. The following day the dog and the goat returned to attend to him, and, again, they brought only bones.
Bubi kids from Rebola,Equatorial Guinea. Courtesy:JotaEseGé
And so this went, history repeating itself each day and another until the pangolin had no teeth left. Then he was very angry and called the entire village together to address the animals:
"One of you has been tricking me all of these days! I want you to get in a line and all of you to walk over this trap, so that I can find the guilty party."
One by one, all of the animals did as the pangolin said, beginning to sing a song as they did so. The goat, the main suspect, was the first in line. But the dog managed to position himself as the last in line. So it was when he passed over the pangolin's mysterious trap that he was discovered.
The animals were very angry with him, and decided at that moment he could only eat bones. And so it was the rest of his life.
HOW THE THUMB CAME TO BE SEPARATED FROM THE OTHER FINGERS
Five friends were walking, as they always did, meandering up and down, going from one place to the other.
One day the youngest proposed: "We can't continue this way all of our lives. We must find a house where we are sheltered and where when can sit and talk when we please."
And the next one answered: "When the house is made, I'll be in charge and decide where we are going."
The next, larger one said: "No, you will be the servant. What are we going to eat?"
And the next one said: "Soon we'll look for some food in the place where we found it before. And, if it's not there again, we'll steal some."
And the fifth protested: "If you're going to rob, if you are going to be thieves, I am going to separate myself from you."
Bubi fisherman,bioko Island,Equatorial Guinea. Courtesy:JotaEseGé
And he did, separating himself from his friends and installing himself down and away from them. In this manner, they were stupified, because without him they would have much difficulty going out and robbing anyone.
These, then, are the five friends:
The small finger made the house.
The ring finger was the servant who served them.
The heart finger was always hungry.
The index finger pretended to rob.
And the thumb was the one who left the rest.
Photo source:JotaEseGé's photostream
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