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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.”
" 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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."
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
African-American actress Tasha and twin sister Sidra Smith- Bubi people on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea. DNA Tested!
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.
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.
Many present-day Bubi have inherited bloodlines from:
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.
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.
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:
"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.)
"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."
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.
"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."