Ethnic Origin

The Origin of Wubomai

Condensed from reports made by Paul Korvah and Mr. S. Atkinson, the sequence of this legend has suffered damage while in transit through many generations and does not explain how a Bandi clan became part of the Loma tribe.

In olden times there was a mighty Bandi chief called Fonikgema; he was the richest and most powerful man in all the region of Halipo, and although his family name was Halingi he was head of the Tahamba Clan. Halipo was a large town which now lies close to Kolahun, Government Headquarters of the Kolahun District in the Western Province.

Fonikgema’s clan made war palaver with the Kissis. A cruel conflict ensued in which the very rocks were shattered and trees were torn from the ground and used as clubs. When the battle was over, Fonikgema discovered he had captured a beautiful Kissi maiden whose name was Kumba; she was a gentle and sweet-natured lady of high quality and he took her as wife. He already had give sons by his Bandi wives, but Kumba gave him two more sons called Fala Wubo and Seimavile Halingi.

The seven sons grew to manhood. The five sons of Fonikgema’s Bandi wives took many women to themselves and each began to form a new clan; but Fala Wubo and Seimavile were the sons of a slave woman, and therefore could not inherit either power or property; and the proud Bandi people whispered against them.

Fala Wubo was an accomplished warrior, hunter and blacksmith; he had married and sired two sons, but was not the man to submit for long to social discrimination. He decided to find new lands where he and Seimavile Halingi could live in freedom and found new clans. He fared abroad beyond the limits of Bandi territory, and climbing a tall mountain he saw fertile hills and valleys reaching as far as the eye could see.

“Kanifokoi!” he cried, which means “Rejoice!”, and thus was the mountain named. He fell to wondering who possessed these lands, and if he could gain some for himself by treaty or by war. He went home to report to his brother Seimavile; together they consulted a Moli man or Mohammedan called Famoiya, who was the best diviner in Halipo.

Famoiya consulted his magic sands, and eventually he said: “Your children will be honored and will bring great power and fame to your clans on one condition: two of your finest cloths must be presented to the chief of the lands you saw.”

Thus the wily Famoiya avoided a direct answer, as the best diviners will; but he did volunteer to go alone to this distant land, beyond Kanifokoi Mountain, and discovered the inhabitants were a tribe of giants from eight to nine feet in height, who called themselves Wono. Their arms were as thick as oranges; their principle weapons were bows and arrows, and hair of their heads were never cut. In all, they had a fierce and dreadful appearance.

Fomaiya courageously made his way to the main town of the Wonos, a large and well fortified town called Bitiyema and presented himself at the house of the Chief. The Chief was away hunting. This was a fortunate thing for the diviner, for the Wono Chief had no respect for strangers and was accustomed to putting them in a pot with potato greens, but Famoiya met the wife of the Chief as she was coming from her bath. He politely greeted her and announced:

“I belong to a distant tribe, and come to your land bearing messages of peace, goodwill, and friendship. My big men ask me to give you these fine cloths that our honorable intentions may be known and respected.”

The woman took the cloths and felt and fingered them with growing wonder and delight; for cloth was quite unknown to the Wonos. She had no wish to kill a man who could bring such splendid gifts, and said:

“My husband will be coming soon; but he eats strangers, so hide out back in the woodpile and I will see what I can do.”

Famoiya concealed himself and soon the Wono Chief appeared. He was a powerful giant nine feet high. His wife told him of the Mandingo stranger who brought presents from Halipo, but the savage giant fell into a rage, ground his teeth till chips flew and declared that strangers were not welcome in his land. Particularly those who came with gifts – for it was such as they who plotted to overthrow honest chiefs.

The diviner managed to slip away, and returned to Fala Wubo and Seimavile Halingi. Since the Wono Chief had violated the universal law called Zee, which held that ambassadors of peace must be respected, the brothers now felt justified in making war upon the Wonos. They assembled a strong army, and with Famoiya as their priest they sacrificed a bull and marched against the giants.

They were driven back. Time and again they joined battled with the Wonos, but the giants always drove them back.

At the insistence of Fala Bubo’s sons the army was divided into two; and the sons, Willibald and Kezi-zilema went to the right to decoy the Wonos from their town, while Wolobala went left through Galama and managed to reach the very gates of Bitiyema. He had been warned not to attack if the defenses were too strong, but being young and impetuous and anxious for glory he boldly led his men against a formidable garrison of giants.

He suffered severe defeat. The place of slaughter has been known ever since as “Koiwolomai,” or the Place of Crushed Maggots. The greatest warrior who fell was Valamuza; his skull is worshipped to this day.

Famoiya now dreamed a dream which revealed that a great sacrifice must be made before victory could be won. He told Fala Wubo to catch an elephant alive and sacrifice it after appropriate rituals had been performed.

This was considered impossible to do. Famoiya went on to say that if an elephant could not be had, then some man must volunteer to take its place. Seimavile Halingi at once came forward and offered himself as a living sacrifice: but Fala Wubo loved his brother well, and would not hear of it. Seimavile insisted; Fala Wubo would not hear him.

At that moment came news that a Wono expeditionary force was advancing through the High Forests towards a town called Da-azure, on the French side of the border. Fala Wubo decided one final onslaught must be made.

Rapidly the two intrepid brothers regrouped the battered remnants of their army, called for volunteers from neighboring tribes and hired the services of the most famous warriors in the land. Their army was now more powerful than it ever had been before. They marched to Da-azu, and launched a determined and vicious assault on the Wono force: and soon the over-confident Wonos found they were fighting a desperate rear-guard action which brought them to the mouth of an enormous cave.

Out-numbered, outfought, and suffering heavy loss, the Wonos sought refuge deep inside the cave; and the victors massed outside wondering how the remaining giants might be slain or enslaved. Fala Wubo and Seimavile appealed to their priest, Famoiya, to discover some solution. Realizing that equivocation would no longer serve his purpose, Famoiya sought the aid of two of his followers, Faubela and Fandawule, and they made powerful medicine and threw it on a gourd of sand, and placed the gourd at the mouth of the cave.

The sand immediately turned into a horde of big driver ants which streamed into the cave and bit the giants. Some giants were eaten, others were driven mad with pain and rushed forth from the cave. Most of them were killed or captured, but a few fought free and fled back to Bitiyema.

There remained one bloody battled to fight before the giants could be decisively defeated: this was the battle for Bitiyema, where all the remaining Wonos were assembling to defend their central town against the persistent attacks of the invaders. It now became essential to sacrifice an elephant, or some human volunteer; and Seimavile Halingi came forward again and declared he was willing to die for the sake of his descendants and those of Fala Wubo.

Fala Wubo, with considerable reluctance, now found himself obliged to accept his brother’s offer; defeat at this time would be a permanent disaster. The two brothers returned with their army to Halipo, and there Seimavile’s friends and relatives assembled. He was to be buried alive, and the burial was to take place on a Friday. Seimavile sat alone in a house until the fatal day, with no comp0any other than the rich foods which people sent him.

The burial hole was dug and Seimavile was brought forth. Fala Wubo, Seimavile and Famoiya each cut one finger and trickled their blood into a Mandingo ink vessel; using this blood. Famoiya wrote certain promises and agreements which assured the safety, prosperity and honor of Seimavile Halingi’s people. This written document was wrapped up and placed inside a pouch to be preserved as a charm. It was, and still is, kept by the oldest of Famoiya’s living descendants. It is called Famoiya, and is kept today by a man called Mbangua.

Seimavile’s brothers did not stay to witness his sacrifice. Seven arrows were aimed at his body and fired. He was lowered into the grave. Food was placed in there with him. The grave was sealed by a plank hewn by cutlasses, and a brass bucket was placed at the head. For seven days Seimavile Halingi lay in the hole crying in agony; and then died.

Fala Wubo meanwhile led his army against the fortified town of Bitiyema. His initial attack was strong and well-planned, and his warriors surged forward with fierce determination. They broke or overflowed the outer defenses of the town. In a series of swift and savage thrusts they pressed in with hacking swords and stabbing spears; and the twang of the Wonos’ bowstrings sang a song of sudden death. The battle raged day after day until bodies were piled on bodies and the very winds cried out against such carnage.

The Bitiyema creek ran red with blood for twenty days.

The Wono were defeated and destroyed. Those few who managed to escape sought refuge on a mountain top and grieved for their slain tribe. This mountain is now called “Wologizi,” the Mountain of Mourning.

Thus ended the long wars for possession of this land; Fala Wubo became the chief of all the Wono lands, and the clan which sprang from his loins are called the Wubomai. From that time no enemy has every conquered the Tahamba Clan, from which Seimavile Halingi and Fala Wubo came; Seimavile’s descendants live in Halipo, and for a long time after his death they used to occasionally sacrifice a black bull beside his grave.

A certain tree grew over the grave, and together with any sacrificial bull would serve as an oracle. An important question would be asked the full, and if it ate leaves from the tree, the answer would be “yes.” If, when the bull was killed and carved up for consumption, a traitor to the clan ate any of its meat, the food would be as razors in his stomach.

The custom of sacrificing bulls beside Seimavile Halingi’s grave has died; the grave is overgrown and neglected. Mbangua, who keeps the Famoiya (the document written in blood before Seimavile’s death) says that in the old days it took a chief or any augury to begin a war, but now all men listen to what the Government says. Even the inviolability of Seimavile Halingi’s family is no longer in force, and the promises men made to him have been forgotten.

The Liberian Bureau of Folkways adds an interesting footnote to this legend, offering several suggestions which may serve to guide the story along more authentic lines:

Falingama (Fonikgema) was a warrior of unusual fortitude who was born in distant Mecca of a man called Adama and a woman named Mawah. Having become famous in his own land he decided to carry his sword to foreign fields, and sat out to seek a certain mountain called Mamanda; travelers from the African Sudan had told him this was a fertile and well-watered place where a man with power and initiative could establish a prosperous chiefdom.

With his followers he journeyed west, and having traveled a great distance he met and fought a warlike tribe who called themselves the Kissi. Through this encounter he won himself a beautiful Kissi woman called Finda, and she bore him a son called Fala. Falingama settled at a town which men knew as Torlikoller, and Fala, who was his youngest son, surpassed his brothers in the warlike skills demanded of those times: the young warrior became known as Fala the Conqueror, or Fala-kruba, which the years corrupted to Fala-wuba.

Falingama died and was succeeded by Fala-Kruba, who continued to extend his father’s chiefdom; when he was old he had advanced as far as a town called Tolluzalazu, and at this place early one clear morning he saw a distant mountain-top now known “Woonsawa.” And seeing it, he exclaimed:

“Indeed, a man will be a child and develop into manhood, but no old man may ever regain his youth and grow again to manhood.”

His children asked what he meant, and he explained:

“Ah, my children, if I could become young again and possess my former strength I would not rest until I reached yonder three-headed mountain; and there I would build me a town.”

His children then vowed they would build him a town under that very mountain, even if he died before he reached it: and Fala-wuba did die before he reached that place, but in dying he declared that if the promised town was built his spirit would certainly dwell within the mountain. His children built a town in the appointed place and called it Bitiyema, and it is still believed that Fala-wuba’s spirit lives nearby in Woosawa Mountain to this day: and the area around it is known as Wubamai.

The Wubamai people used to honor Fala-wuba with human sacrifices, but with the coming of “’Merican-palaver” and Government influence, the practice of sacrificing humans was abolished, and in these more enlightened times a black cow is offered.