Ciriaco Bokesa Napo: ò bòsupú

This article will focus on glossing the origins of a highly admired intellectual figure from the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, for his dynamism and contribution to the creation of a genuine cultural framework focused on the multicultural nature of that country.

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28 kilometres north of the island of Bioko, is the town of Rile-ó, better known as Basakato de la Sagrada Familia, a name given to it by the settler parish priest José Parrilla. Ciriaco came from a single-parent home here, which was formed by his mother, Paulina Napo – Sítta Mokóko and his sister Resurrection – SittaWesókó-, because of the early death of his father. Ciriaco was recruited from here as a seminarian, thanks to the intelligence with which he was gifted and demonstrated from a very early age, news that was not only received with relief by his mother, but was also interpreted as a sign of hope and future liberation from the situation of material poverty in which his suffering family lived.

Fortunately, in our neighbourhood, Isuppú, we were all one big family. Everyone from the smallest ones like me, at that time – the generations of the fifties and early sixties – to our elders shared everything, from misfortune to happiness. In addition, Ciriaco’s mother also had her brothers, Ermegildo Napo, -è NtáèRibenne-, her sister Benita and the rest of the neighbourhood to help her to carry her early widowhood calmly.

 


After being widowed, his mother set up a small farm where she raised ducks and chickens, and although this barely provided enough for her to get out of the precariousness in which she lived, she did not sell the coconuts from her farm, instead she would give them all away to the local kids, including myself, in exchange for doing her some service such as bringing her water from the public fountain that was located almost a kilometre from her house or helping her in some tasks, when she needed it, which was almost always.

When the priests informed his family that Ciriaco had been selected to be transferred to Salamanca and trained as a Catholic priest, the news was received and celebrated with great jubilation, but also with worrying concern in the neighbourhood.

At that time, the memory of the boys and girls who until recently were taken by the whites and of whom nothing else was known, was still very present in the collective memory, but even so, their departure generated a lot of enthusiasm and optimism that encouraged us to glimpse a promising future for the neighbourhood.

All this meant that, when he left, communication with his mother, Paulina Napo, whom we little ones called Sitta Mokóko, because of the coconut tree she had in her yard, and other relatives, was of special importance,

So much so that the arrival of a letter from him became one of the main social events, causing a stir in a neighbourhood where, as I have already pointed out, everything was shared, and so its reading was something that no neighbour wanted to miss, among other reasons, because he always sent greetings to each and every one. He himself was aware that his letters were not only for his mother, but a document open to the whole neighbourhood, and so it was, because it was one big family.

Like all the Bubi mothers of her time, Sítta Mokóko barely knew Spanish, neither spoken nor written, which is why she needed help to maintain written communication with her son once in Spain, and this is where I come in, since my father, Mr. Agustín Sepa Lousi, who was given the name of Si-Kobina, that is, little governor, was the one who provided this service. In this context, my special relationship with him was born, because in every letter I wrote, my father always said to him: “You have your little brother Edmundo whom you must guide when his day arrives so he may be like you.”

For the reading of the letter, it was formed in a circle, a circle in which Sítta Mokókò always stood next to my father listening very focused, like the little sister to whom her older brother reads a story.

In June 1968, Ciriaco (È Papa’m, as this was his Bubi name) turned to his homeland after an absence of more than ten years.

If in itself, the news of his arrival was received with joy and special enthusiasm among the Bubi people and the Bubis who were enrolled in the Catholic Clergy of the island – in Rile-ó, the uproar was total. After all, he was the second priest son of the people after the also deceased Benigno Borikó Lopeo.


When he arrived in the neighbourhood and after the usual greeting to everyone, he asked about his little brother Edmundo, who was me, and they told him that he was interned in the Catholic Mission, as they called the school that the Claretians had in the city, already studying and about to finish, nothing more and nothing less than the fourth year of High School. So, as soon as he returned to the city, he looked for me.

As soon as he saw me, he said to me:

“I have to make some visits to the different boarding schools on the island and I will need someone to accompany me. Would you agree to come with me?”

Wuau! I thought to myself.

Between dumbfounded and stunned I quickly answered yes. Who could refuse such a privilege?

“I am going to talk to the superior priest so that you can be my companion in all the visits that I have scheduled.” He said to me.

And he did.

What an honour for me! That was the first important gesture of recognition I have received in my life. The visits were to the girls’ schools of Santa Teresita, in the heart of the then-called Santa Isabel, today Malabo, the recently inaugurated girls’ residence E Waïso Ipola, in the same city, the seminary of Banapá and the girls’ schools of Basilé and Bososo.

Commenting on the news to my best friend, Honorato Isaac Bueriberi, by the name of Bubi Mòlû, and also from Rile-ó, he expressed his enthusiasm to be part of Father Ciriaco’s entourage of companions. I told him and he accepted with delight.

In each of those schools, he was received with great honours and entertainment from which Mólò and I benefited, as his assistants. It was right in the course of those visits when he first told me about Sociology, at a time when I did not even know that I was just a few months away from leaving for Spain, for a scholarship that I had won in some selection tests. He told me in the following terms: 

“I am here for a short time, because I must return to the Seminary to be ordained a priest. But then I will return to be a year or two at most and return again to Spain to study Sociology, the career I plan to pursue in combination with priestly work.”


I could only admire him because, at that time, I had no idea what that was.

His priestly ordination was almost simultaneous with the proclamation of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea as an independent State, and his return, as he predicted, was basically motivated by two reasons: 1. To put an end to so many years of estrangement from his mother and other relatives and 2. responding to the recruitment campaign carried out by his Claretian superiors to encourage the return of the priests and nuns of his congregation to the new country, with a view to starting the replacement of the white clergy by the native.

Fulfilling his plans, he returned shortly after being ordained a priest.

Ciriaco Bokesa began to acquire notoriety in the newly independent country after Francisco Macías Nguema, the first president of the country, appointed him his chaplain, with the military rank of Ensign and granting him a diplomatic passport, just at the moment when the Bubis were reduced to the condition of “Bubitos”, that is, beings of lower category, in the new social structure of the newly proclaimed Republic. We can see that, in the midst of the proclamation, the exaltation, rise and spread of ‘Bubiphobia’, in its purest form – such as what the Third Reich had used in Nazi Germany against the Jewish people during Hitler’s rule – an aspect on which he never pronounced either privately or in publicly.

To this day we do not know whether he had realised the skilful manoeuvre which Macías had resorted to entangle him in his trench. Despite this, and the stormy state of relations between the new State and its former metropolis – during the period 1969 – 1972, and following the first failed coup attempt, of March 5, 1969, whose authorship attributed Macias to Spain – Ciriaco was one of the few people who could move without difficulty between both countries, thanks to his diplomatic passport.

It would be in this way that he was engulfed by the new situation and how he abandoned or renounced his project of studying Sociology. But the best thing he did was to take advantage of his privileged position to recruit and send, with great discretion, as many Bubi girls as he could to Spain to save them from the predation and sexual abuse committed by the hitmen of Macias against members of this ethnic group, especially women, with absolute impunity (they tell me that Severo Moto even participated in the commission of some of these atrocities).

Some of those girls became great professionals, in areas such as health or education. Others, faithful wives and mothers to exemplary husbands, and those who had less fortune, ended up losing their lives in different circumstances, as they could not repatriate, due to the panic induced by the regime that Macias Nguema had established.

After his stay in Santa Isabel, between June and September 1968, we met again in Madrid, where I had also recently arrived, thanks to the scholarship I won. On October 12, 1968, at the celebration of the proclamation of the independence of Equatorial Guinea organised by the direction of the High School “Nuestra Señora de Africa”, the reference centre in the reception of students granted scholarships by the former colonial administration, from Guinea to study at university.

As we were partying, the first party I had attended in Spain, with whites and blacks fraternising, something I had not ever seen before, Ciriaco only told me two sentences “Have fun, that’s what we’re here for today, but afterwards, please focus on your studies. You will see that things are so easy here, but I also tell you that in the end, if you manage to resist temptation and take advantage of the situation, you will see that the effort will have been worth it.”

I only replied with an ée é, which is yes in Bubi, since our brief conversation had been in our language.

 From there we did not see each other again until the summer of 1971 when he was already chaplain of Macias, to make a trip to Spain for different reasons, among them, to find out about the living conditions of the girls he had sent to Spain, all of them interned in religious schools.

His enthusiasm for the new situation was irrepressible, so much so that only he spoke, but the curious thing is that at no time did he use or launch messages of encouragement on his return, probably because he knew that I did not have the right academic or professional profile, nor did he release a single sentence against the emerging satrap.

Again another parenthesis until 1996 when he made a new trip to Spain, seventeen years after Macias Nguema was overthrown and killed, and of course, dispossessed of the positions and the aureole he enjoyed during his tenure.

At that time it had already been linked with the Guinean Hispanic Cultural Centre, that neo-colonial agency created in its day by the Government of Spain, to perpetuate the presence and influence of Spanish culture in Equatorial Guinea, in the image and likeness of the French Institute in the former French colonies.

During this trip and, of course, he visited Barcelona where he was very well received by some members of the Bubi community. I took advantage of his presence to get him invited to the summer courses organized by the SER.GI Foundation (Girona Services of Social Pedagogy), an institution with which I collaborated, and my proposal was accepted to lecture on cultural cooperation between Spain and Equatorial Guinea. But I must say that it was not very bright, a fact that closed the possibility of possible and future new invitations.

That was the opportunity I had to explain the work I was doing at that time as a sociologist based in Catalonia: dissemination of African culture in Catalan non-university education, through ETANE, an entity that I created in 1988, with the help of other compatriots. The study and explanation of the causes of black African immigration in Catalonia, the development of cooperation between Catalonia and Africa and the pedagogy of solidarity and interculturality. I showed him some of the materials we had prepared for the Catalan schools, I explained our working method, all of which he found excellent. As I continued to place him in the field of cultural cooperation between Spain and Equatorial Guinea, we agreed that, once in Malabo, he would explore how to mediate the establishment of some kind of collaboration between ETANE and the Guinean Hispanic Cultural Centre. But time passed and I did not receive news of him, until I received the news of his dismissal from that Agency at the beginning of 1997, the year in which I had to travel twice to that city (August and December).

When I arrived, I looked for him, and he himself confirmed that he was no longer working in the CCHG, that he was in a difficult situation and asked me to do something for him.

What a blow, my goodness! Suddenly, one of my great intellectual references asked me for help, but the worst thing for me was to tell him that I could not, because ETANE, did not have the financial capacity or sufficient resources to establish any type of employment relationship with him.

For me, that conversation was a clear sign of its decline, knowing what that former Spanish colony had become.

Again the distance came between the two, and since 1997 I did not see him again until 2007 when the niece of the woman with whom he was related, took me to visit him in the nursing home where he had been welcomed in Parla (Madrid).

With his usual enthusiasm, although very physically diminished, he explained that he managed to recover his Spanish ID, which he showed me, thanks to which he was able to benefit from the Social Services of the Spanish Government and be admitted to said residence as a citizen of that nationality.

That was a traumatic encounter for me: seeing my beloved and admired Ciriaco, lying in a wheelchair, unable to do anything for him, left me deeply touched, while it made me reflect on the frugality and fragility of the human being, even more so if he is Guinea-Ecuadorian. From how easy it was to go from being an icon to the most absolute anonymity.

What had remained of all the effort and enthusiasm to serve a country that no longer wanted to know about him in such an inhuman way, without any benefit, nor a subsequent official recognition, until falling into the most absolute oblivion as has been his case and dying abandoned and exiled?

During the last years of his life, hardly anyone would visit him, except his closest relatives. Worse still, the Catholic Mass that was made for the eternal rest of his soul was not attended by more people than those same relatives.

Nothing to object about the latter. Loneliness is the intellectual’s best companion and that is what it was. In addition, in the Bubi cosmogony, physical death is nothing more than the transit to the other existence, to the reunion with those who preceded us, and that is the process in which it is immersed in these moments that we hope will culminate successfully.

The Bubis have a very eloquent phrase for these situations: È LÓ É SUBÁ KÉ-LO È RIJUÉ, which, translated, means: the LAST DAY IS FOR THE FAMILY. So, it’s okay that he didn’t have a mass farewell. That’s what his family was for.

Fate made our encounters sporadic, but that doesn’t mean they lacked content. The pillars on which our relationship was based were so solid that nothing and no one could break it.

I am left with the consolation of thinking that in our beloved ISUPPÚ, even the youngest who did not know him will have mourned his death as the good son that he was, and above all, kept this in mind: Ciriaco Bokesa Napo, -È Papa’ m- was Bosupú, son of Rilé-ó, that is, son of Basakato, and was born in the neighborhood of Isuppú, there are the traces of his walk, as Antonio Machado would say.

ETÁ LÉLÈ È PAPPA’M.

(Kopesese) Edmundo Sepa Bonaba

London, February 2024.

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