The following has been written and revised several times at different times after several consultations with several informants. The most typical characteristic of Oral History is variation. I am ready to revise and rewrite this from the comments, corrections and any additives that may follow. You will be able to distinguish analytical/cross references, personal opinions from the facts.
Ayongni a kie.
KOM: FROM CAPITAL PUNISHMENT THROUGH
OSTRACISM TO HOUSE ARREST.
Long before colonization the people of Kom had a judiciary system and judiciary procedures as well as affiliated institutions and instruments that were similar or comparable to contemporary Republican Institutions. All through the ages Kwi’foynkom has been moving with the times tailoring and redressing them to reflect the minds and times of succeeding generations.
In the days of yore each Quarter Head had a court (“cainsul”) in his compound. There was one at Laikom and it still holds today, that had powers over all these courts. It could and still can reverse their rulings. It was/is an appeal court. It could and still can impeach or fine the Foyn if it came to that but could not and still cannot dethrone him. (Looks like a military tribunal here). Itu'kidjem has always been the court day.
Summonses were issued by Kwi’foyn and were delivered by Nchisindo. If a Nchindokom came up to you and told you that on a given Itu'kijem Kwi'foyn will “tie a black piece of cloth over your eyes” you knew you had a summons and you had to appear before the court. Traditional Law breaking acts were classified into what I will term for the convenience of these analyses misdemeanors and felonies. The severity of the punishment for each class reflected the severity of the 'crime' committed.
The Likes of misdemeanors.
Going to the farm on traditional Sunday, deliberately disrespecting a Kwi'foyn injunction, firing a gun during Fichuo or during the time of Ngoisi (seeds) and so on, were considered minor crimes. There were various ways to discipline perpetrators up to and including jail time. The cell was a sheep pen or ibeyn-i-bzisi infested with bugs, ticks and crab lice. The very cell that was used in those days is the same cell that is used today.
Corporal punishment in this court was and today it is still a very common practice. In Foyn Ngam’s reign the Nchisindo who had the responsibility to administer this punishment were called Tamanda'si. They were the people who introduced ambien-a-ku (poison ivy) to be used as a whip. Ambien-a-ku is a shrub that produces a chemical substance that causes rashes, itching and irritation when it gets in contact with the human body. Today it is still used by Nchisindo as a whip on court days in Laikom and by Nikang to force people to toe the line.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT (…ma-ah ngvi)
Traditional Law breaking acts which can be classified as felonies included killing somebody, Of course, in the Kom context this has always revolved around witchcraft. This looks very much like 1st degree murder as known elsewhere: you have killed somebody when your intention were to kill that person.
Worst of all the crimes that fell under this category was an affair with a Winto'. It was and is still considered an abomination (va kuo meyn nkfuum.) Perpetrators of such had to suffer capital punishment and were handed over to Ngvi to be executed by Akum-a-Ngvi. Watch the video tape The Bambui Visit Disc 3. In it the Nchindokom leading Akum-a-ngvi into the performance arena says it all: “…ma-ah ngvi…mah ta va lai mah wain Nkaile….”
However, it came to a point where Kwi’foyn placed an injunction on this form of punishment. I could not and cannot still strike a balance between the two contradictory reasons I was given for this particular injunction. Because of this I won’t give any here. However, watch the above mentioned video. Listen very carefully to the first and second Nchisindo in the line. You will deduce that even he who made a failed attempt to seduce a Winto' was treated the same way Wain Nkaile (who succeeded) was treated. Sentencing somebody to death for a ‘crime’ that was still in the mind (!) (?) (.) Wain Nkaile would have been my friend if he was still living today. (May his soul R.I.P).
OSTRACISM. (…Si laang wul)
At a certain point in time in Kom capital punishment was commuted to ostracism; felons were to be given a bamboo and escorted, for good, out of Komland via the nearest Kom boundary. (N.B. In the Kom sense ostracism and exile cannot be used interchangeably in all contexts).
For some reason(s) ostracism had long been dropped in kom. In the mid 80s it was revived. One person after another was escorted to Mbingo and precisely to the bridge marking the boundary between Kom and Kidjem. Each of them had been accused of 1st degree murder. At a certain point Kwi'foyn stepped in with another injunction which reads in part:
“…Kwi'foyn has also told me to ask you and come back and tell him, Kwi'foynkom, the kind of thing that a child will do… that you will beat that child and push him out of your compound and tell him never to come back....You escort somebody out of this Komland in the name of ostracism you follow that person to wherever he is going and never come back yourself.” (Culled from personal Archives).
And that is how this practice of escorting people to Mbingo came to a halt in Kom in the early 90s.
HOUSE ARREST (…Yuin angveil a kia))
The banishment of ostracism gave birth to another practice beautifully stated in Itanghikom as Yuin agveil a kia. This literally means Buy your box of matches. Literarily it means you are under house arrest or that you are contained. When you were asked to buy your angveil it meant you don’t have to visit anybody and vice versa. You do not have to go to public gatherings. In short you were isolated or confined. The only difference between house arrest in the Kom sense and a house arrest per se is that you can go and come without a Nchindokom behind you. Yet you do not have to greet people or be greeted by anybody i.e. no conversation with anybody you come across.
Telling somebody to yuin angveil appears to be more punitive than capital punishment and ostracism. It is just like telling somebody to carry a label on his forehead engraved with his 1st degree murder crime on it for the rest of his life. One of my informants joked that even the corpses of those who in their lifetime carried this label still felt the shame and pain it brought while lying in state.
Capital punishment, ostracism and house arrest: Which is more punitive?
To me the answer is house arrest. When you are asked to yuin angveil, you remain in your crime scene; you do not feel free because people there know you and your crime. When you are ostracized you go and settle where nobody may know you or your crime. Within a very short time everything is behind you. Prince Djam is a case study.
Through a felonious-traditional Law breaking act, I.e. taking a winto’ to bed, he was ostracized from Komland. He went and settled in Mbongkisu. There he re-established himself and became a notable among the notables of Mbongkisu. Surely feeling very free to go and come wherever and whenever he wanted.
However, he met his death in an unrelated incident in the jaws of a tiger/lion (contradictory facts from informants). If this did not happen to him, in the light of his example, ostracism, like capital punishment, was not punitive enough. This can pass for one of the considerations Kwi’foyn had in mind when they were eliminating it.
My personal opinion will be that there is no revenge in capital punishment because dead men feel neither pain nor shame after death; the act of dying takes just seconds and you are over with. The pain and shame house arrest carries lives with you for the rest of your life. Kwi’foyn got it all right all along from step 1 to 2 and to 3.
- Bobe Kwi’foyn…….......... Bobe Kwi’foyn.
- Bobe Ngong Kuole ........ Kom elder (Abou 96+ years as in 1996)
- Bobe Yong Chuofi…........Kom elder (About 100 yrs old as in 1996)
- Bobe Boniface Ngoh........Born and bred in Mbongkisu. (Today an Kom elder)
- Yindo Nfam………...........Nchindokom.