The Bakweri have been largely Christianised since the 1970s. Evangelical denominations dominate, particularly the Baptist church. Christianity plays an important role in Bakweri regions, where music played over the radio is as likely to be the latest from Nigerian gospel singer Agatha Moses as it is the latest hit by a Nigerian music star.
Nevertheless, remnants of a pre-Christian ancestor worship persist. Traditional Bakweri belief states that the ancestors live in a parallel world and act as mediators between the living and God. As might be expected for coastal peoples, the sea also plays an important role in this faith. Spirits live in the forests and the sea, and many Bakweri believe that traditional practices hold a malign influence on everyday life. Traditional festivals held each year serve as the most visible expression of these traditional beliefs in modern times.
Local practices and beliefs
Central core of traditional religion is centered around Epasa moto, half man, half stone. In any tragedy like earthquake, volcanic eruption or any other natural disaster, sacrifices are offered to the deity. It is believed that the deity loves albinos, so albinos were offered to their deity as sacrifices. If no albino was found, a yellow Endeley was offered to him, or someone who is very fair in complexion.
There is a belief that for more that three hundred years now the Bakweri have been in possession of scientific knowledge that they use
- to suspend rainfall,
- to cause rainfall and
- to cause whirlwinds and hurricanes to occur.
It is widely known among the Bakweri that when a public ceremony,such as an eyuu, wrestling contests, Maale that involves the assembly of large crowds is scheduled to take place during the months of virtual incessant rainfall, that is, in the months of July, August, September and October, sponsors of the ceremony hire a Rain Scientist to suspend rainfall on the day of the ceremony.
As concerns whirlwinds and hurricanes, the following event that occurred more than seventy years ago and which has now become legendary is fascinating.
In the Bakweri tribe, there was once a form of witchcraft called Liemba. This was a “classical form” of witchcraft. It was generally regarded as inborn, although it could sometimes be passed on to a person who was without it. Witches may be of either sex, and are said to leave their bodies at night and ‘eat’ people so that they become ill and die. What was eaten was the elinge: the word means ‘reflection’ and ‘shadow’. Many sicknesses where attributed to witchcraft; but the essential diagnosis was always made by a diviner. In milder cases, a treatment was prescribed that would defeat the witch. In serious cases, the suspected witch would be named and made to drink to sasswood medicine. If the suspect vomited it, he was innocent; if not he was guilty and was hanged(a form of ordeal). Every village had a witch-hanging tree (Ardener, 1956, p. 105). Other forms of witchcraft that followed were the inona, and the very famous Nyongo
Cultural practices include mingna, Ngagna (it is like a dance which is the symbol of these people) moves only in the night from 11-12pm you are not allowed to see them when they move
It is the ngagna who delivers the maale, they are another very strong society, they process elephants. They can eat what the normal people can’t eat because they are initiated. For example, they can eat raw cocoyams. This is because, they are usually initiated using animals like monkeys and chimpanzees, who represent and protect them from all harm. Thes totems further give them strenght when wrestling during the “Palapala fight.
Libation is poured to the dead, they burn offerings, do rituals on the grave (grinding of pepper on the grave), the sasa on the 3rd day, where animals are sacrificed to appease the dead if anyone has offence them. Also, sacred incantations are made usually by the elders, to consult the dead. For example, if your son or daughter is going out of the country you go on the grave of an ancestor and poor wine on the grave and call their name. As for the “sasa”, when somebody dies they have what they call 3 days of traditional celebration “sasa” after 3 days you kill a pig (or a chicken in case you don’t have money), you cook the food and put it in a certain place people take it and eat in the bush. While eating, they have to theow part of the food, and come and check on the next days if the food is still there or it has been eaten. The food is eaten by animals, meaning that the dead has make peace with you. Nevertheless, if the food is not eaten and you still find it there, it means the sacrifice was not acceptable, and you have to re do it. During this period, if anybody sees you killing a pig, you must share at least a piece of the pig with that person. This is because, many people are witches, and if you do not share with such a person, he/she might harm you or even kill you.
- When a woman is pregnant you don’t access any dowry because she doesn’t belong to you until she delivers
- When a native doctor dies the people don’t cry until you do certain rites. Otherwise the weather can even change
- When somebody dies after a year there is a celebration
More on religion
The colonial Bakweri society had its own vision of the cosmic world. They believed in life after death and attached themselves to traditional religious groups. These groups were usually linked to the ancestral cult. Here the ancestors were believed to play an intermediary role between the gods and those living on earth. In the world of the living, family head presided over rituals and sacrifices on behalf of the family or the village clan. He performed rituals such as the pouring of libation to the ancestors and cleansing ceremonies.
In this society, the gods and demi-gods played vital role according to the African traditional beliefs. This society, had gods such as: Maelalova, and Ouas’alova, all referred to god, creator of the universe. Meanwhile “IwondaLova”, was literally translated as everybody. Among these gods “Mbabalova” was believed to be the grandmother of the sky god mostly attributed to the moon.
Apart from the above mentioned, the traditional Bakweri society believed in other demi-gods such as the god of the mountain called Ifasà Moto. He was believed to be half human and half rock. The main function of this demi-god was to protect the Bakweri people during eruption of the Mt Fako which was an active volcanic mountain. Myths affirms that Ifasàmoto owned a large sugar cane plantation in the mountain, where people who visited the mountain ate as much as possible but could not carry any back home. Another demi-god was the “Yomandem” meaning the big thing; he is believed to be a destroyer of both human lives and property and lives in the sea.
Secret societies such as the “maale”, “Molova” which was a female group known as wild pigs, Nganya, Liengu and host of others played the role of regulatory societies and custodians of the Bakweri community. The “Maale” society sometimes referred to as the elephant dance originated from womboko village. Oral tradition holds that a hunter from this village, went for hunting and stayed in the forest for a very long time until it was believed that he was death. To the greatest surprise of everybody, he returned to the village. His arrival was made known to the entire village when he started playing a drum while his son danced. This called for the attention of the village elders who convoked him an explanation. During this event, he told the elders that he was tired and decided to rest before returning home and it was during that interval that ancestral spirit visited him. He was introduced to some secrets of the forest. How to transform into an elephant and a host of others. After these declarations, the elders consulted the ancestral spirit and his declarations were confirmed. He initiated the elders into this society and the other hunters were equally initiated.
As a result of these declarations, among the numerous activities of this society which was opened only to men was that, they provided entertainment during important ceremonies in the Bakweri villages. Furthermore, they were believed to have totems such as elephants and extract strength to protect the villages from external aggression. Thus this society embodied the strength of the Bakweri man and his cultural values. These values were most often demonstrated during their official outings in a dance called “ueambeé”. In this situation, they demonstrated masquerades such as “Moseke” which was a popular clown, “Ekang’ateka” which puts order during dancing and “Njuku”, the most senior in rank representing the elephant.
Figures: Pictures of the Maalé and the Bakweri traditional dances