How society came about


mirroring women´s revolution of dancing and singing  and making the spirits emerge out of the forest


Jerome Lewis tells the The Myth of Creation of the Mbendjele

Its a rather remarkable myth, that among others has its origin in the fact that women loves meat but they also love honey. And honey is very difficult to get for the young men, who for that purpose have to to climb up high in the trees, which is very dangerous. But these products are so valued and cherished that they have to be collected, as women just love them. And if you want to marry a woman you have to get some honey. Its by offering her honey and she accepts it you will get married to her.

So thats one of the reasons to why honey matter so much and plays such an important role in this creation myth.

In the very beginning men and women didn´t know of each other the creator Komba put men in one part of the forest and women in another and hedidnt´t tell them the the other group existed. And the women they fished and collected wild jams, they collected wild leaves, fruits and tasty insects that there are in this forest and they ate. And in order to have children they danced the Edjengi, a sprit made of cloth, and out of the cloth the spirit spun and small babies would fall out and new girls would be born. And they went on living like this very happy and satisfied. While men on their side they weren´t that quite well of, because they used to take these Mapombe hard shell of calabash to make with, married to Mapombe, and they were hunting elephants and pigs, collect jams also, and honey and leaves and so on and at night they went to sleep with Mapombe and Masturbate with him. And of course it wasn´t particularly pleasant with the hard shells…

Women have one version of this myth and men another, so Jerome Lewis is telling the men´s myth´. In the women myth its a female thats the protagonist that makes everything happen, and in the men´s version it is the men who do that.

One day the elder of this men, who was called Tulli, decided he wanted to go hunting by himself. So he took his spear and off he went to a part of the forest he didn´t know and went further and further away, he  crossed rivers and suddenly he was in a part of the forest he never had visited before. And he looked around and when he crossed one stream he saw a peace of jam that had been digged up and washed floating down the stream. And then he thought; -Ha! Only people wash jams before they eat them, so it must be people up there! He runs up the stream and gets to the top of it, and to his surprise he can hear this amazing singing going on, and he is enchanted. So he goes further and looks through the bushes and sees these beautiful things he never has seen before; These wonderful women dancing and singing and this gorgius spirit Edjengi spinning around. And he is getting a huge erection, and the women just get chocked and cries AHHH! And Tulli thinks they are so beautiful and he just loves them all. And then they make love and Tulli thinks this is great and superb. And when he is falling asleep that evening together with the women, he is thinking I have to tell my friends about this.

And even before dawn he is out there and hurry very fast back home to his fellowmen. And he shouts - Hey guys I have just found these amazing things calledwomen, they´re all over there in the forest …! And the other men wouldn´t believe him, and just said: - Shut up, old man! We all know you. You are always full of rubbish! And they started insulting him. But Tulli said -No, no I promise you. Look tomorrow we will just get some honey and we will go there. And the men actually found lots of honey, and every man took a leave parcel with honey with him and so they went off. And Tulli took them direct line through the forest to the place where the women were dancing Edjengi again.



Tree bark carvings of men with bags of honey over their shoulders © Eva Crane | An old print showing Aboriginal men carrying sacks of honey over their shoulder

Now Tulli said: - Look! Bofienga! Thats how you are you are hunting the pigs, first a group of men encircle the herd, using one man to run into the herd and try to kill a pig with his spear, and then the other pigs run out to be catched by the other hunters in the wider circle.

So now the men made Bofienga with their honey sacks on their backs and one of the men charges right in and he goes with the oldest lady there and, poof smashes the honey sack right on her forehead and all the girls and the women are screaming and start running in every directions and then the men are splashing the honey sacks in their faces, poof, and when this stuff starts leaking down the faces to the lips of the panicked and running women, they all of the sudden feel the wonderful taste of honey.

Oh that´s really good! they thought.
Maybe people who gives us things like these, aren´t that bad after all!
We should perhaps slow down a bit. And of course every man finds a woman and they make love, and the men are thinking; -Gosh! This is wonderful. What did we do with this horrible Mapombe. We´re going to stay here!

And then they we´re spending the night together and getting on very very well. Then, early the next morning, when the men woke up and the women had disappeared and they looked everywhere for them and asked -Where are those women? Where are those women? - They went off in every different direction looking for them. And then, when listening they of course could heard the women singing and dancing the Edjengi over in the bush. And the men said; -Oh! We can´t have that! You´ve got to give us the Edjengi! They demanded the Edjengi from the women. - You can´t carry on making those children! Look, we´re going to throw away our Macombe, and they throwed it way. (It was not such a great loss, anyway.) - We want to have sex with you, so now you give us that Edjengi business, so your´e going to have children with us, and not with that Edjengi any more.

And the women said: -OK. Just take the Edjengi! Its fine! No problem! And they gave the men the Edjengi. And so the men now dance the Edjengi. And if the Edjengi touches a women when he dances she will bleed to death, she wouldn´t stop menstruating,. Because men are so filled with that extraordinary fertility power from the spirit so that it delivers a kind of superdose of fertility to the women if they touch it.


End of story.



Issa´s image of the Edjengi spirit


The anthropologist Jerome Lewis interpretation of Mbendjeles creation myth:

(1:26:00) So whats so very interesting with this myth, is that it explains how society was founded. And if you listen to how Chris (Knight) and Camilla about their theories on prehistory about how society was created - it was basically done by the women rejecting  the Alpha male. And in one sense Edjengi could be seen as symbolising this Alpha male, that the women rejected in exchange for having, as the say; “one woman - one penis”; there is a song that the women sing: - One women one penis, hey! One woman, one penis, hey! - reminding all the men that monogamy is the proper way of being.

What it also shows- and this is a crucial thing in the male - female relationship in egalitarian societies; is that women are autonomous  economically from men, and so are men from women

Women love meat and honey, so they like men, but they don´t need  men. And that´s crucial. And similarly men don´t need women, (Well, actually we do need women to make children, but we don't talk about that too much, JL says) But they don´t need women for staying alive.

So the myth actually talks about the primordial activities of men and women and they remain gendered in labour division: it is still the same as it was in this primordial groups. And its that lack of dependancy  which is crucial for the egalitarian gender relations, and perhaps more crucial than the brawn, or lack of brawn, that men and women might have. And the separation in gendered spaces during the day, with the men and women working together in different places, is a constant reminder of this time before society existed, when men and women were separated.

And what is very interesting about the religion, specially the women´s singing will call out the spirits out of the forest. And by emerging into the human group they create a sort of euphoria, shared out among all present. And their “religion”, or what you might call a “religion”, is very interesting as it has no dogma, it has no texts. What it does, is just sings and dances - is just song and dance. Their songs have no words, they are just vowel sounds, that people will exchange.

So you have a religion here thats almost beyond the grip of authority, beyond the ability of religious leaders to manipulate and propose various ways of controlling people.

And whats very interesting is this idea, that women gave forest spirits to men. And it is remarkable consistent among HG mythology  across the world, that what we nowadays call religion, originated with women, and they gave it to men. And this again has some interesting resonances with the theories that Chris and Camilla have researched and developed around the evolution of humanity.

So this giving of the spirits by the women to the men, the women read as a  sign of their strength. If we could give away such powerful spirits, then think of what we kept for ourselves. And the men present themselves as powerful by taking it; demanding it from the women, who gave it to them, imagine themselves strong and powerful in that sense. But this constant whying and undermining one of the other, is also key to how these gender relations remain egalitarian. So its not a nicy wisy way of thinking that we are always vey nice to each other, but  you´ve got to consistently assert your egalitarianism  with others. And the ritual life of these HG is very much focused  on that.

And when Ingrid (which is Jerome Lewis´wife) gives the singing work shop later, I think she will also show you some of these womens coalitions. These are the young girls doing Gocku, which is a female spirit. And what´s very interesting about Gocku, is that when women start calling; its always these young girls calling first and they dance up and down the camp and visit every single hut and every single place where people are sitting. And they impose these women´s energy over the camp and they start to get the old women out, and then continues until they got all the women in one place and the women basically take over. And its a dancing and singing revolution that is reenacted  very often in these communities. And when they are singing like this, they sing things like: - Oh, men are no good! Their testicles are broken! The vaginas always wins, he´s already sleeping. And they are constantly reminding men of the inevitable features of sexual relationships, and reminding men of just how  powerful  female gender is.

And so Morna Finnigan, who Chris and Camilla know very, well has done some very nice work, analysing the sort of  ritual ?,  she calls it, where women are asserting themselves over the community, speaking as one body, as woman speaking to the men, by reminding them of this key characteristics of the nature of gender relationships.

-The penis gives birth to nothing but only urine!

(1:32) By participating, these young girls sing this songs too, and start learning from a very young age, what their power are over men and learn how they can control men by the understanding of their femininity and their feminin sexuality.

Men, of course have their own rituals and when they dance the Edjengi its exciting, you know, you have all these handsome strong men, dancing with this  vivid spirit coming out from the forest. And if it touch you, you´re going to bleed to death. I have seen young girls pass out from fear when they think the Edjengi should touch them. But men can control this powerful energy, and thats why their brawn become so sexy. Its not frightening because its used to defend the women. And then it suddenly becomes attractive and sexy. And when the Edjengi is dancing his movements ae like a penis ejaculating, and its really symbolically powerful for women, to witness it and from this they can get really horney, and sometimes even go out of control during the Edjengi ceremonies. A couple of times JL has had visitors with him, men from Europe, when the women have asked  - Oh! He is not married!- and sometimes not, if they like some of these men and want to come up and grab his testicles and penis in the dance, which is very chocking when you are not used to it, as when it happens to us Western men taking part in the dance. You really don´t know what to do, or how to handle i.

And its this sort of sexual energy created by this men dancing and making the Edjengi coming out, that makes women quite crazy sometimes.

Sometimes it becomes so chaotic , that the women mess up the ritual so that the Edjengi has to return back into the forest, and the women have to start doing Gocku instead. I have seen that happen, when it really does go out of control.

So as Mona puts it (I cant hear what JL says here) ... "“down to the bones the vagina wins, the testicles are broken, penis produces nothing” is what the female body might say if it articulate itself to the male body to assert oneself.  So Edjengi and the Gocku in these rituals are sort of two halfs of the conversation, each half undermining the strength and power of the other. There is a constant theme throughout the Mbendjele society where the special social products of one gender are ideological undermined as coming from the other agenda.

Women give birth to the men´s semen, that they turn into children. When the men go hunting elephants, which actually happens, women´sprior is going into trance and in that trance called Djele (?) they go into the forest and  tie up an elephant - and they tell the men to go there and they will find their elephant to kill. They have already caught the elephant so the men just have to go there and do the easy bit, whereas the women have done the hard bit of finding the elephant. There is many examples I can give of this social capital of one gender   undermine I can give many examples of this undermining te social agenda;

So what you see here is a complex series of ideological, ritual and practical ways that men and women ensure their autonomy and also undermine each others special claims to statues. And that is crucial for the operation of gender egalitarianism.