Bassa Astronomy (An introduction)


The proverb says: U EBA HYU, U EBA BE LINUPUL, WEE U NUPUL I TIBI (you show a champignon, you do not show the place you pulled it out from, that means you pulled it out from excrements). So not only shall I introduce you to Bassa astronomy, perhaps the most important area of the MBOG BASSA, but I shall also tell you how I know these things.

On July 4th, 1976, at age 19, because I distributed leaflets in support of a workers' strike, I was arrested and incarcerated (with others) for a period of four years. I spent my first six months in a 8 x 10 cell with 18 people. I was the youngest. In that jail cell, I came in contact with two elders: Kananye Batta (a son of the Elog Mpoo people) and Nyemb Nanga (a member of the Nyabii) who were long-time freedom fighters. They shared a few teachings with me. On January 6th, 1976, I overheard this conversation between Kananye and Nyemb:
"Let the boy peep through the Veil," said Kananye who was being exiled to Tchollire, in the north of the country.
"U kenek Ngwe u ket Jin e (Can you compose a decoction while running)? retorted Nyemb, pointing to the inappropriateness of the transmission in that environment.
"Tell him enough to raise his interest.
The next day, Nyemb and myself were in the Prison of Production of Yoko with 78 other detainees. Each time Nyemb Nanga was lost in his transmission, he'd come back to his senses, look at me, burst into laughter, and say: "A Nuk, me n'kahal kal we Mam ma Maye ma Kel" (O Nuk, I am beginning to tell you the things of the rise of day."
Maye ma Kel (rise of day), Mayekel (dayrise or dayrising), Kekela (morning), and Bikekela (dawn) may mean the same thing for the non-initiate but for the knowledgeable they are entirely different. When Nyemb used the expression Maye ma Kel, he was in the area of astronomy. Remember that.
He introduced me to Epune (Mpoo), Etune (Mpoo), Yamb (Nyabii) and Kananye's brother, Penda Batta (Mpoo). The first three were liberated after 6 months, the fourth was evacuated to a hospital after 21 months. Imagine living in a quarter the size of a classroom with elders of that caliber, all initiated into the oldest wisdom tradition of the world and all eager to pass on the baton to a young blood. Many times over, they taught me the things I know and made sure that I know.
They were freed before me. But before they left, they made me promise to pay them a visit once I am let go.
When they left, I grew closer to three other junior elders: Mbon Mbon Manongo ma Nkuu Mbon (Ndog Ngond, a man who took a great deal of pride for being from Um Nyobe's clan), Pegha Pegha Nlend (Bikok) and Njuga Njuga Hiandy (Ndog Njee @ Tuha) who also shared a few things with me.
I was freed June 10, 1980. I paid each of these people a visit to his home. Nyemb Nanga and Kananye Batta lived in the same area near Kelbe (Kribi). What in prison was theory became praxis in freedom. Nyemb completed my education. A group of Jwi Ejwi lived on his land. He introduced me to their princeps, a healer called Mbog Yamb Matimbo. He too added a few elements to my understanding of things hidden.

Once liberated, I went back to school and began taking courses in anthropology. I was fortunate to meet two excellent (Bassa) professors of anthropology at the University of Yaounde who took me by the hand: Mboui Mboui Mpanba (Prof. Mboui Joseph) and Titi Nwell (Prof. Titi Nwell Pierre). These guys could bridge the traditional Mbog and the academic Mbog. "You cannot and will not understand the Mbog Bassa if you do not first study Batum ba Ngii (Bassa astronomy). Prof. Mboui never said more than that, but those few words were more than enough. I began studying Bassa astronomy. I asked the elders and the elders taught me well.


That morning [somewhere circa. 8th century before the modern era which for archaeologists begins in 1956] the elders rushed to Sunjok, son of Bilong. Each one of them held a Jay li Mbog (staff) in his right hand, a Bot i Mbog (power bag) under his arm, and wore a raffia helmet on his head. They were all there: Ngiingikumbuk and his brother Ntep, sons of Ntep; Kuunjek and his brother Bayiga, sons of Bingan; Gwom, on of Nsoongen; Nlep, son of Timo, Hiboda, son of Bassong; Hiyee, son of Song; and Mbuk, son of Kulum. They brought palm wine. Sunjok greeted them and they returned his greeting.
"O Sunjok, son of Bilong," Ngii' began, "what is important is not blowing the horns of the Oracle or calling the Oracle itself. It's what comes out of it. Look, we've found the best palm wine in the region and 've brought it here for you, along with kola nuts. Here they are. Munch them slowly. Look at us, we're nothing but packs of bones with nothing on them. Life has taken its toll. Human bodies are not like spilt beans which can always be put back into the basket. Once old, always old. O Somang (person of my age class), it's for you and the Oracle that we're here. Consult Ngambi and tell us what lies ahead. Read the future and let us go. The time has come for us to return home but what are we leaving behind?"
Sunjok took the kola nuts from Ngii' and asked: "Where's the wine?" Hiyee Song handed him the calabash of wine. Sunjok broke the nuts and shared them with his visitors. He also shared the wine with them. A little later, he picked up three ram's horns, three sticks, a silex stone, a hollow coconut, a piece of tree bark, and chanted:

O horns of Ngambi,
Horns of the jinns,
Horns of the sorcerers,
Tell me the future as it comes to you.
Announce it to me so that I, too, may announce it.
Reveal it to me so that I may reveal it.
Tell me what is. Keep quiet on what is not.
Tell me what will be. Ignore what will not.
Don't lie to me as water lied to the pot and let it burn.

He threw the horns on the ground. They whirled and fell over. He repeated this twice more. The horns behaved the same way, falling at the same place, on the same side.
He took a deep breath and said: "You'll wake up one morning and see him as you walk out of your homes. At first, you'll wonder. 'Is this a vision? Is it that one of the spirits of the forest who like to appear in the morning has stayed behind?' You'll beat the tom-tom. People will come out. Women will be scared. They will go right back inside and lock themselves up with their children, but warriors will want to see him up close and face the danger. But there will be no danger, only great clamor. The warriors will discover that this apparition is a real man. 'He looks like a god, thus he's a god,' some will say. 'He looks like an albino, thus he's an albino,' others will retort. 'His eyes are clear and bright like a cat's, thus he must see in the dark,' another group will point out. 'Not at all,' a last group will argue. 'neither a god, an albino, or a cat, but a chimp for he stands erect and his body is covered with hair. A true human being coming from the ship at sea. That's what this is. He'll be called Nkana, son of Minanga. This is a bad day. This is the beginning of a hundred of years of pain and suffering. Count ninety and nine years, the warriors will be in bondage and the elders will become his servants. He'll chase each one of you from your compounds. You'll run for cover in the bush where you'll eat nothing but raw cassava. Count ninety and nine years, his tradition will replace our tradition in our own land. His food will replace our food. His gods will replace our deities. His clothes will replace our clothes. The stranger has become the master of the house. Count ninety and nine years, nothing has changed. Count ninety and nine years, tired of eating raw cassava in the bush while Nkana eats your goats, lambs, chicken and eggs, you'll be back to reclain your fathers' legacies and rebuild the sanctuaries that have been destroyed. I hear another clamor. People shout 'Freedom! Freedom!' O people, do you like what you hear?"
"The future you see is a story of man's death, O Somang. Should we listen to this?" Hiyee Song asked, looking at his peers.
"Go ahead, O Sunjok, as long as you give us what we've bargained for," Bayiga ba Bingan replied. His brother nodded assent.
Sunjok chewed a piece of kola nut and blew spit on his horns. He threw them on the floor. They whirled and fell at the same spot as previously. He raised his eyes and looked at Nlep Timo. "This is Nyemb (Death) walking on the land," he said. "Nkana gets all the gifts. He's entitled to everything in the big island. We live with Death. We know the chalky-white face of Death. He has changed his color. He now looks like a deity without being one, an albino without being one, a chimp without being one, a cat without being one. What has happened to the land and his people?"
Sunjok began chanting again:

"My basket of beans is on my head.
I'm holding my traditional bag of power under my arm.
I'm taking my goods and my talismans to the master
Who took over my compound and chased me into the bush
Where I eat raw cassava all year long.
I'm rushing to Nkana, son of Minanga.
But the truth is that he has no power other than the one I give him.
Who do I pay tribute to: Death?
My witchcraft is powerful.
My energy is in my stomach but why am I so powerless?
When I think, I think of evil.
When I sleep, I think of evil.
When I dream, I dream of evil.
When I awake, I awake with evil thoughts.
When I plant my crops, I take my harvest to Nkana.
I, myself, am death in the land of Death."

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