Bubi Ethnic Group

In my continued research of the African continent I came across the Bubi people, native to Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. This particular group drew my eye because, despite inhabiting a tiny island off the western coast of the continent and in spite of numbering only 100,000 people (64,000 on Bioko Island), a shockingly large number of African Americans have, at least partially, traced their ancestry to the Bubi.

Not surprisingly, most of the readily accessible history of the Bubi, from European sources, begins when the Portuguese claimed Bioko Island as their own in 1494. In actuality, the Bubi ethnic group is a subgroup of the Bantu culture group whose history begins more than 3,000 years ago. Though it took some digging I was able to find a bit of the Bubi’s pre-colonial history which I will share with you in this four article series.

Part one of my series on the Bubi people (below) focuses on their beginnings. I discuss: the source of their name, the Mambilla Plateau from which they originated, the Bantu expansion from which the Bubi people split, and the pre-colonial Bubi culture.

There is much more to this historically significant ethnic group than I was able to unearth. My research will continue and I will provide links to my resources so that you can do your own digging as well.

Name Derivation

The Bubi name did not stem from the Bubis themselves. It is believed that early visitors to Bioko Island (an island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea), specifically the Spanish, suggested the name after hearing the term boobè which means “man” in the Bubi language. The people of Bioko greeted strangers  by saying A boobe, oipodi – “good morning, man”.

Historically speaking, the Bubi referred to themselves as “people of the land who are among the living.” This phrase varies in translation depending on the region on Bioko Island. For example, in Northeast Bioko, the Bubi refer to themselves as besoboiso. However, in Southwest Bioko, the term bandiobaboncho can be heard.

Mambilla Plateau/Bantu Expansion

The beginning of the Bubi can be traced back through their Bantu roots. Prior to their great migration, ancestors of the Bubi called the Mambilla Plateau home. Located in northeastern Nigeria and continuing into the Bamenda Highlands of Cameroon, the Mambilla Plateau is considered the cradle of the Bantu speaking people and has been inhabited continuously for over 4 thousand years.

Linguistic evidence supports the theory that two large waves of Bantu migrations occurred 3,000 and 2,000 years ago originating from the Mambilla Plateau. It is believed that one group traveled across the Congo forest toward East Africa. A second group, the one we are focused on, traveled south, along the African coastline. The group that stayed behind, on the plateau, are now known as the Mambilla people. 

The development of agriculture, ceramics, and the use of iron is thought to have pushed out hunter-gatherer groups, triggering an expansion. Archaeological, linguistic, genetic, and environmental evidence all support the conclusion that the Bantu Expansion was a significant human migration.

Culture

According to Bubi legend, their ancestors were captured and enslaved by an unknown, coastal, culture group. Perhaps they were captured in what is now Gabon, just south of Cameroon. Under the cover of darkness, small groups escaped in hand-dug canoes  to Bioko Island located in the Gulf of Guinea. Their plan took months to execute because in order to not be caught, the Bubi waited a period of time between each group escaping. These individual groups make up the varying tribes within the Bubi culture.  Archaeological evidence suggests that the Bubi immigrated to the island during the 13th century about 200 years before European exploration.

Like many island cultures, the Bubi were relatively isolated and they kept to themselves. Over a course of hundreds of years, the Bubi formed a unique society, language, and religion all their own. Perhaps, due to their perceived history of enslavement or their isolation on Bioko Island, the Bubi were distrustful of outside explorers and traders. I couldn’t find much information about the Bubi prior to the 17th century other than an occasional account from a European explorer driven away from the island. What I do know is that the Bubi were organized into a monarchy and the island was divided into territories called cantons that were ruled by ‘Botukus’ or counts. The king ruled through ‘Lojuá’ and was protected by a militia – armed with spears.

The Bubis had exceptional skills and aptitude for the hunt. Prior to the use of firearms, the Bubis used a variation of darts, snares, and traps. 

While little is known of the Bubi ethnic group prior to European invasion, we do know that their history spans thousands of years. We also get the idea that this particular ethnic group is strong willed and inclusive. Beginning on the Mambilla Plateau to their expansion along the continent’s coast and on to Bioko Island where a large majority still reside, the Bubi have had a significant impact on human and African history.

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