Bariba Mythology

The Bariba, also called the Baatonu, Baatombu, Baruba, Bargu, Burgu, Berba, Barba, Bogung, Bargawa, or Barganchi, are the Baatonúmspeaking ethnic group of the northern part of Benin Republic in the Borgou-Alibori province. They actually call themselves Baatonu (singular) and Baatombu (plural).

Originally, the Bariba migrated from northern Nigeria to establish in Benin. However, a few of them, about 60,000, are still found in that country today, which represents one tenth of their population in Benin Republic. The Bariba are the largest ethnic group in northern Benin and the fourth largest group in the country, following the Fon, the Adja, and the Yoruba, thus representing 10% of the population of Benin Republic. They are predominantly herders (who raise poultry and livestock), farmers (who grow corn, sorghum, cassava, yam, beans, peanuts, rice, and cotton), and brave professional hunters.

Many Bariba are known to be superb cloth weavers as well. The latter,especially Baribawomen, create excellent designs of woven cloths patterned in beautiful colors worn as traditional attire. The most notable festive event among the Bariba is the annual celebration in honor of the ancestors, called the Gaani, which is observed throughout major Bariba cities,namely,Kandi,Kouande,Nikki,Parakou,and Pehunco, the largest city, home to more than 200,000 Bariba out of 365,000 inhabitants.

The Bariba society is strictly hierarchical and caste-like. There are groupings as varied as the ruling Wasangari nobles and warriors, the commoners Baatombu, the enslaved people of varying origins, the Dendi merchants, and the Fulbe herders. The Bariba still have kings and chiefs in various regions, such as the Banga (Ruler) in Kouande, the Saka (Ruler) in Kandi, and the Sarkin Nikki (Ruler) in Nikki.

Religion is one of the most significant aspects of the Bariba communities and a strong determinant of their Cosmology. Many Bariba, like most ethnic groups in northern Benin Republic today, are proselytized Muslims. The Dendi traders, who were preaching throughout the north of the country, introduced them to Islam. Otherwise,the original religion of the Bariba is the African Traditional Religion or the Popular Traditional African Religion Everywhere (PTARE), as the leading Afrocentrist, Molefi K. Asante, termed it. Despite Islam’s stronghold in the northern Benin Republic, the majority of the ruling upper class Bariba communities continue, against all odds, to practice their indigenous religion, PTARE.

In the Bariba Cosmology, GuSunon (Gu = rain, Sunon = Ruler), hence Ruler of Heaven and Earth, is the Supreme God. The Bariba never call on Him directly and invoke GuSunon through the instrumentality of several deities known as Bunu. The Goribu (i.e., the dead in general) and the Sikadobu (or the family divine ancestors) are venerated as well. There are several worship places, which are by a tree, in a river, or in a farm. Each sacred temple is overseen by a traditional priest, who presides over various sacrifices, the Gnakuru to the gods, and performs benediction or Domaru on various occasions—in times of calamity, disease, famine, drought, during the enthronement of a dignitary, and during festive celebrations. Various meanings are attached to the places of worship.

They are either linked to an event of primal significance pertaining to the history of the village or to heroic deeds of a family, to a legend, or to a person possessed by one of the Bunu or deities. For example, Bion Kuru, Kiriku, Seema, or Kaau bii fall into a trance during traditional dances, such as the Bukakaaru, the calabash/gourd dance.

Written by : Thomas Houessou-Adin