"Normally everything goes well in our world. But at night when we are sleeping, sometimes things go wrong, because we are not awake to stop them from going wrong. Army ants invade the camp; leopards may come in and steal a hunting dog or even a child. If we were awake these things would not happen. So when something big goes wrong, like illness or bad hunting or death, it must be because the forest is sleeping and not looking after its children. So what do we do? We wake it up. We wake it up by singing to it, and we do this because we want it to awaken happy. Then everything will be well and good again. So when our world is going well then also we sing to the forest because we want it to share our happiness."
Before the start of the Molimo festival, a new campsite is selected that will be emblematic of the impending renewal. Once the elders establish the date of the festival and until it begins, women can openly vent their sorrows, even to the point of self-afflictions, gashing themselves. They fill this pre-Molimo period with hunting, dancing and singing. The dances act out hunts or dramatize myths, while they fill their singing with reproductive metaphors. During the festival, men will court the forest as if it were a woman, and like the hunter’s wife, they expect the forest to open to her husband and generate life. At the heart of the festival and key to its therapeutic ability to breakdown and rejuvenate society, lies the molimo trumpeter whose every action is guided by the molimo spirit that has taken possession of him. So great is the molimo spirit’s power the Mbuti liken it to a monster. The festival itself revolves around the molimo spirit (trumpeter) and a (molimo) central fire. Turnbull, who was present at a festival, informs us that women and children are forbidden to glance at the molimo spirit (trumpeter) for fear it might cause death.
Twinness governs the behavior of the molimo spirit. At night when the forces of disorder are more prevalent, the spirit remains calm, but at dawn, just as the sun rises and the force of light returns, it is wild and violent. The concluding nights of the festival reveal its complementary and integrative features. Slowly the women begin to participate in the ritual. Though supposedly women were forbidden to look at the molimo spirit (that “possesses” the trumpeter), the old woman who was in charge of the elima dances up to the circle of fire beside the men. As they sing, she secures them with a “net” as if they were animals. The men pay her to release the molimo fire. Next, she and a younger unmarried woman dance around the fire. Then the old woman dances into the fire wildly, nearly putting out the sacred molimo fire. Desperately the men work to keep it aflame. This happens several times. At one point the old woman opens her legs and straddles the fire, as if taking its heat into her reproductive parts.
Turnbull tells us soon all the women were around the fire singing the “forbidden” molimo songs with perfect familiarity, which leads us to believe that it is forbidden only during “normal” times. The final dance of the festival consists of the molimo spirit (trumpeter) repeating the dance of the old woman, as if enacting the same drama on a different level. Next, the molimo spirit attempts to put out the sacred fire. This time the youth battle the spirit (whereas before, they surrounded it, and in mock battles, destroyed the homes of troublemakers). As dawn approaches, the spirit finally reaches the fire and begins scattering it, only now the youth help the spirit. Turnbull considered the Molimo a male ritual. He associates the fire of the molimo with the vaginal fire and the stove kept by Mbuti women. The main symbol, the trumpet- spirit, he saw as a phallic symbol.
Zuesse interprets the festival differently, and his interpretation approximates the Afrikan worldview. He believes the beginning of the festival represents the masculine aspect of the molimo and the end of the festival represents the feminine aspect. The Molimo festival ultimately brings all complements together and unites them into a wholistic entity or a unicity. It reaffirms the structured order of creation and consequently restores ekimi in the face of akami. Zuesse states, “In almost every area of symbolism the molimo is the unity of opposites. For example, despite the molimo’s apparent unity with fire, it confronts man as an emissary from the cold dark, wet regions of existence.” He continues, “The monster spirit represents primordial modes of being, existing prior to the universe of order; its dominance in the molimo expresses the spiritual consequences of the social breakdown, death, or despair that precipitated the festival.” Zuesse draws an analogy between the coals in the “mouth” of the trumpet to the uterine fire, which through intercourse produces children; the camp fire, which produces cooked flesh; and the inner heat of the forest that produces universal life. These themes are expressed throughout the festival, but ultimately, the ritual normalizes the universe. The entire purpose of the Molimo was to restore ekimi in the face of akami.
A good example of reciprocity in Mbuti society revolves around the concepts of ekimi (silence) and akami (noise). The Mbuti feel a man’s life, because of the taking of life involved in hunting, approaches akami. A woman’s role as a gatherer and especially as a “giver of life,” makes her closer to ekimi. They have four age groups: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and elderhood, with adulthood being a time of akami, and the other age groups being periods of ekimi. Sex and sexual relationship is a primary reason for the akami of adulthood. The Mbuti have two rituals that help to lessen the tension created by akami; one is the ekokomea, a rite involving gender reversal, and the “gender” tug-of-war, which must end in a draw. Both events are filled with mimicry, and through laughter, tensions are lessened, restoring ekimi. (The two primary rituals for the youth are the molimo made for boys and the elima for girls. Conducted when the male youth feel the adults have created a climate filled with akami, the molimo made, is a social commentary, which helps to restore ekimi by giving youth “jural” power over adults. Conducted by women, the elima brings joy to the camp as it celebrates womanhood and motherhood.)
Ekimi and the Molimo would in time give birth to similar concepts like Maat, and the various carnival-like celebrations across the continent and the world.
Additional evidence exist that proves a link between the Mbuti and Kemet. In 1967, Jean-Pierre Hallet wrote Afrika Kitabu, a book about his experiences living among the Mbuti. In the book, Hallet relates how an Mbuti friend told him that in the distant past they, the Mbuti, developed a highly technical and advanced type of material culture and that they built boats and traveled widely around the world, but that this technical excellence bought them nothing but bad luck, so, preferring happiness to misery, they finally gave up this high material civilization. (The Zingh Empire perhaps.) Hallet tells us that this same Mbuti told his about a myth that contained the following elements: A god, a garden paradise, a sacred tree, a noble Mbuti man, who was moulded from the dust of the earth, and a wicked Mbuti woman who led him into akami (sin). The legend tells of the ban placed by God upon a single fruit, the woman's urging, the man's reluctance, the original disdeed, the discovery by God, and the awful punishment he layed upon the ancient Mbuti transgressors; the loss of immortality and paradise, the pangs of childbirth, and the curse of hard work. Sound familiar?
Though scholars have doubted the authenticity of this myth, believing the Mbuti borrowed it from Christian missionaries, it is possible that the inverse is true. If the Mbuti or Zingh Empire laid the foundation for world high cultures, and that remnants of its worldview and cosmology spread across Afrika, then it is possible that the Nubian/Kemetic story of Heru may be derived from an earlier Mbuti myth.