The following folk story tells of the discovery of Um, the Bassa deity
whose teachings Bassa people call MAUM--COSMOSEMANTICS for the modern
A man called Makumbuk ma Nkan was sick. He had Njambe (leprosis
lepromatosis). Leprosis gnawed his toes and fingers, his lips and nose.
He did no longer know how to say, "salt". He would say "Nhan". Leprosis
gnawed his entire body. He looked like a salamander. He lost weight. He
was a bag of bones. One day, when cocks beat their wings on their
tails, right before dawn, Makumbuk called his wife: "Kisasa, come
here." Kisasa came at once. "I'm dying," he told her. "It's time for me
to set my house straight. My strength is gone and my vitality is
running away, so find yourself a lover. One thing, though, he must be
of my kin."
The day grew.
The old man called Makumbuk ma Nkan had a younger brother called Nyenge
Nkan. Kisasa came up with the latter. "This is my lover," she told her
husband. Makumbuk nodded assent.
Kisasa left the two men.
"Nyenge, call my wife," Makumbuk ordered after a few minutes. Nyenge
called Kisasa who came and sat down. Makumbuk called his brother Nyenge
by his name: "I now want to give you my rules and regulations," he
continued. "This is my home. Never should I spend a night here without
a fire burning. If ever I spend a night up here without fire, your
relationship with my wife will be over. This is my initiatic pot. It
should never go all night without some meat inside. Once this pot goes
all night without meat, your affair with Kisasa will have to come to an
end. This is my jar. Always should there be palm wine in it. If ever
this jar of mine goes all night without wine, your relation with Kisasa
Makumbuk gave his rules to Nyenge, then called his wife. "Kisasa!"
"Yes," answered the woman.
"These are my rules: my house does not like trash. The day this house
goes dirty all night, your relation with Nyenge will stop. This is my
calabash. There should always be water in it. The day this calabash
goes all night without water, your relation with Nyenge will be over.
Do you hear me?"
Kisasa answered "Yes."
Nyenge Nkan and Kisasa i Makumbuk ma Nkan stayed together nine years.
Nyenge Nkan was a great hunter who gave all the animals he killed
during that period to Kisasa who ate them, but never, as the custom is,
did Kisasa went fishing for him. Makumbuk witnessed this, and this
angered him. So one morning, at dawn, he called his wife. "Kisasa, come
Kisasa came running.
"Since you started dating Nyenge," he said, "the man gives you all the
animals he hunts but never have I seen you go fishing for him.
Traditionally, a man hunts for his woman, the woman go fishing for her
man. What is this? Who do you think you are?"
When the sun was high in the sky, Kisasa grabbed her fishing sieve, a
machete and a hoe, and went to the river nearby. She walked in the
river which reached her ankles at first. The woman advanced slowly into
the river. Water reached her knees. She stepped forth. When the water
reached her neck, she stopped. Trunks were floating around her. She
dragged them and cut the current up and downstream. Then she started
drying the space by throwing the water outside with the fishing sieve.
Each time she threw the water outside, she said: "Bikete: Momi ni Momi;
Bitan: Biwoga ni Biwoga!" which means "What's inside is dead and what's
outside is alive!"
After a while, she heard: "Ummh...ummh..." She stood up, removed sweat
from her forehead and looked around. She saw nothing. She bent over and
went on throwing water outside. She could not believe her eyes. Fish
were everywhere around. Crabs were swimming in squads. Shrimps,
plentiful, were moving in lines, circling around her. She smiled and
ran outside the water to get her fishing basket that laid on the bank.
When she came back, surprise: Fish, crabs, prawns were nowhere to be
seen. She spotted a hole by the bank and a flat stone in the middle of
the river. All of the sudden, water started flowing out from the hole.
Kisasa did not think twice. "The fish that were present here a minute
ago, biting me all over my body, has moved into this hole," she said to
herself. She grabbed a machete and began digging into the hole. At one
point, while taking out the earth, her hands bumped into something
sticky. She held itfirmly and, going backward, dragged it out and
dropped it on the river bank. This creature had red teeth and bow legs.
Kisasa looked at the creature and did not recognize it. She went back
to the hole and started digging again. When she put her hands in the
hole to take out the earth, she again bumped into something viscous.
She held it firmly, dragged it out and dropped it on the bank. This
creature also had red teeth and bow legs. She looked at both creatures
and did not recognize them. Suddenly, blisters covered her entire body.
She held the machete and began scratching and scraping herself with it.
A minute later, she heard: "Ummh... ummh...". Scared, she took off,
leaving everything behind her, and ran to her husband. What did she
tell her husband?
"Since I went fishing this morning to the river called Lingen li Lep,"
she started breathlessly, "I've stepped into all the waterholes of that
river. The one that swallowed me whole is the one I chose. A whirlpool
settled upon my head. I cut the current up and downstream, and began to
pull the water out. Fish were everywhere, along with shrimps and crabs.
I went up the bank to take my fishing basket but when I came back, the
fish have all disappeared. I spotted a hole by the bank and a flat rock
in the middle of the river. Water started coming out of the hole. I
thought that the fish and schrimps and crabs that were around a moment
ago all hid in the hole. That's why I grabbed the cutlass and started
digging into the hole. When I put in my hands to take the dirt out, I
bumped into a viscous creature. I grabbed it and dragged it out. It has
red teeth and bow legs. I have never seen this creature before. I went
back to the river hole. I put in my hands again, and again I bumped
into another viscous creature. I dragged it out also. It also had red
teeth and bow legs. As I was going back to the hole, I heard 'Ummh...
ummh...'. I did not wait a second more. I took off and ran to you. O my
husband, look at my body. Blisters have covered it all. Please light a
fire for me. I'm so feverish..."
Makumbuk nodded and began calling Nyenge. Nyenge came running. "Grab a
gong and a torch," Makumbuk ordered him, "and let's go to Lingen li
A minute later, both headed to the river. When they arrived, they
walked into the water, measuring the river holes. The creatures Kisasa
had dragged on the bank had returned into the hole. "This is the hole
Kisasa dug," Makumbuk told his kin. "Get some wood and dry grass. Make
a fire right at the entrance, and blow."
Nyenge did as ordered. He blew, blew, and blew. That's when he heard a
voice calling him: "O Nyenge!" He kept himself from answering. "O
Nyenge!" The man stayed quiet again.
"Blow!" urged Makumbuk. "What's calling you from inside the hole will
show its face today."
Nyenge blew and blew. Then he heard a third call. "O Nyenge!"
"Answer," Makumbuk told him.
Nyenge answered and was asked the following: "Who ever found a raffia
outfit, picked it up, made a fire and starting blowing?"
Nyenge scattered the embers and immediately Dingonda di Um (the twin
daughters of Um) jumped outside, turned their backs to each other, and
"Poke up the fire!" ordered Makumbuk.
Nyenge put the embers together and started blowing. He blew and blew
and heard a call: "O Nyenge!" He stayed quiet and heard another call.
"O Nyenge!" He stayed quiet again.
"Blow,"stammered Makumbuk, very excited. "We'll see what is calling you
from the hole today."
Nyenge blew and blew again. When he heard a third call, Makumbuk said:
Nyenge answered the call and was asked: "Who ever found an outfit, had
picked it up and stirred up a fire?" Nyenge scattered his fire and
heard: "Ummh... ummh...". Immediately after, Ngena Um jumped under the
sun. Makumbuk placed him next to Dingonda di Ma'Um and walked back to
Nyenge. "Poke your fire!" he ordered again. "Um is still in the hole!"
Nyenge put the embers together and started blowing again. He blew and
blew. Then he heard another call. "O Nyenge!" He ignored the call. He
heard another call. "O Nyenge!" which he ignored again. "Blow, O
Nyenge, blow," Makumbuk told him. "We'll see what is calling you in
this water hole today." Nyenge blew and blew. When he heard the third
call, Makumbuk told him: "Answer!" Nyenge answered. A voice asked him:
"Who ever found an outfit, picked it up, made a fire and started
blowing? Scatter your charcoal, O Nyenge."
Nyenge scattered his embers and heard "waaarrr umh..." Immediately,
Mbam Um jumped in the light. Makumbuk smiled. "There are no Um left in
the hole," he said to his brother. "Let's go home. You'll stay behind,
carrying Um while I walk ahead, hitting the gong, and making it known
to women and children to run for cover, for Um is on his way."
Nyenge Nkan carried Um and stayed behind. Makumbuk ma Nkan walked ahead
with the gong. "Hide, women, and take your children with you. Um is
coming. Um is on his way."
This is how Um entered the village and came to live with human beings.