Since the beginning of time, the Bassa have always believed in a supreme divinity. HILOLOMBI is the most ancient name for the term God. At the same time, it is also the term which is used least, because it is sacred and unknown.
In the memory of man, no Bassa has ever been given this name. Hilolombi means "the ancient of ancients". A myth relates that "once, at the beginning of the ages, Hilolombi lived with men and gave them wise counsel, helping them to walk the path of justice, of mutual respect and of love. Alas, man scoffed at the divine presence, resisting him, disobeying him, ever hardening his heart!
The function of speech
Having exhausted his patience, indignant and deeply disappointed, Hilolombi disappeared, so completely that no-one knows where exactly he is to be found.
In his loneliness, man was put sorely to the test. Deprived of all divine protection, he weighed up the limitations of his pride and his wretchedness. Having recognised his weakness in all domains, he remembered his God, Hilolombi, whom he had scorned. From that moment, he has looked for him everywhere." (F. AMATO, Croyance Bassa, p.20-21).
Through this myth, the whole cosmogony of the Bassa people and, consequently, their social structure is organised. The Bassa have remained closely connected to Nature and their ancestral beliefs. Besides Hilolombi stand two other Gods: BAYEMLIKOK et JOB.
An epic poem tells of and confirms the existence of these gods. It is recorded in the ancient account of " Bon ba Hitong Lingom " in which the genesis story is related in these terms:
" "The Sun ("Job" in Bassa) went down in the sky; yes, one day
Bihuga, son of Ntet observed
Scornfully he eyed the sun. ".
Another passage relates:
" Yes, the sun rose in the sky
The sun rose in the sky, the sun stopped
His mother hung up her spoon,
And turned her eyes away from the sun" ;
Job is the name which the Bassa commonly use to indicate God. Job means "sun".
The Bassa people have always known how to live in harmony with Nature. Sun-worship, which is the basis of monotheism, is well-known to them.
It was usual for newborn children to be presented to the sun at the time of a rite known as "YAA", a rite during the course of which a young virgin girl holds the baby prostrate while over him is poured water collected from a hollow tree, mixed with the water in which the baby has been washed since birth.
This mixture is poured onto the edge of the roof of the family home. The father pronounces out loud the name he has given to his child as the drops of water fall onto the newborn baby's back. The festive gathered assembly chants repeatedly the virtues of the divine, those of the sun.
Another name, "Bayemlikok", refers to a crushing, all-powerful mass, against which man is impotent. Bayemlikok is an unfathomable character, elusive in the face of man's limited and fragmented wisdom. Smallness and wisdom are two of man's aspects acting as a starting point from which evoking God becomes possible.
For a long time considered as peoples endowed with a prelogical mentality, African civilisations are nevertheless rich in knowledge, one which is universal, as attested by the scholarly studies carried out by researchers. The ignorance and obscurantism which characterised the motivations for colonial conquest have had a negative impact on our ancestral values.
Western expansion in Africa led to the progressive abandonment of African forms of worship and ways of thinking in favour of the modern school, characterised by a predominance of Cartesian thought. This ideology of "primitive peoples" was relayed from one era to the next for a long time: the school master who taught generations in times past that our ancestors were the "Gauls", that it was important to bring civilisation to the negro and to teach him God! Christianity to the front, the colonialist right behind. The misunderstanding comes from the fact that African civilisation is essentially oral, not written.
in the social organisation
of the Bassa people.
Membership comes through a long, severe process of initiation for which the knowledge of the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, the laws which govern them, the mastery of speech, and therefore its sublimation, lead in turn to the sublimation of the applicant.
The acquisition, conservation and transmission of the knowledge and power of speech are still very much alive nowadays, the prerogative of descendants who have been initiated and marked out for succession.
The Mbombog is noteworthy for his moral characteristics and intrinsic intellectual value, his status as a notable within society, his personal charisma, his deep knowledge of the laws which govern the two faces of the universe: the visible and the invisible.
The spirituality of the Bassa people, therefore, is contained in their physical symbols, their tales and legends. As a result, the Mbombog is, as Amadou Hampaté Ba has said, a "living library". The universal truths are stored up faithfully in his memory, as an aid in the processes of the conservation of memory. That is true for all the peoples of the forest.
The tree of the Mbog sinks its roots all the way into the invisible world, via the brotherhoods which comprise its framework. The fundamental problem in our cultures is to be able to reassert their values in a world won over by other trends of thought which dehumanise man, attack Nature and empty the soul of the peoples of the forest.
The Mbog has, however, kept intact his knowledge of the visible and the invisible, but in a society where deforestation has become overwhelming, we risk losing for ever the secrets contained in the African forest. Alas, future generations will have no more points of reference. What worth has a people which does not know its own history, which is taught things which will never be of practical use to it? We must embrace globalisation taking into account the differences.