Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 01:12:05 EST
From: Chris Jenks <email@example.com>
To: Multiple recipients of list <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Article about Bwiti (1/3)
Thanks again to Howard Lotsof for providing me with a translation of P.
Barabe's french lecture on the Bwiti. Below, and in the next two messages,
is the complete text of that translation, provided for those of you who are
interested in the Bwiti.
Copyright 1997 by William J. Gladstone
Translation from French
"La religion d'Eboga ou le Bwiti des Fanges", Med. trop. 12(3):251-257,
Lecture given at the closing session of the course of instruction for the
class of 1981 on July 10, 1981.
the most fascinating and mysterious. Its geographic location accounts for
its equatorial water and climate conditions and the existence of a dense
forest which was long a barrier to the establishment of routes of
communication and delayed the exploitation of its natural resources.
invisible and fantastic world of the spirits has an irresistible effect on
the individuals. Also, the different ethnic groups, some forty in all,
remain isolated from each other and retain their way of life, traditions,
rites and beliefs.
spiritual center of religious initiations".
and two regions:
in the East, named after the explorer Paul Belloni du Chaillu who, from
1857 to 1865, penetrated in the interior of the country. This region is
flat and dotted with lagoons along the ocean shores; it becomes rugged and
mountainous east of Mouila and reaches an altitude of 1575 meters on Mount
Iboundji. It is covered by a thick, oppressive forest which in most places
forms a veritable canopy of vegetation.
degree of sunlight and a high humidity accounts for the rather low
temperature, particularly during the dry season. "It is an unhealthful type
of heat, the kind of heat you associate with fever and hospitals", said G.
Simenon in his novel "Coup de lune" in 1932.
valleys, the tribal wars of the last century in which the Mitsogos were
driven back by the Bakeles between the left bank of the Ogoue and the
Ngounie, the villages are located on the high grounds.
Bwiti. According to Raponda Walker, the Bwiti of the Mitsogos may be
defined as "a male secret society that has its rites, its regulations, its
secret sessions and public sessions". There is no supreme chief for all of
the tribes that have adopted it and each village practices the Bwiti
independently of the others, under the authority of a local president. To
join the sect, you have to take an oath and swear "Na bwiti a besu" (by our
bwiti) before receiving an initiation with the sacred plant iboga.
the peoples of the Eshire group; subsequently, it extended down to the
coastal areas, the regions of the Middle Ogoue and the Woleu N'Tem where
the Fangs are to be found.
from the rest of the country by the chain of Crystal Mountains. This
Plateau is difficult to reach and is situated at an elevation of 700 to
1200 meters. A single winding road goes there. It is along this road,
somewhere between Oyem and Mitzic, that Pierre Benoit laid the plot of his
novel "Monsieur de la Ferte".
forest as gloomy, hostile, frightful, and evil. Every backwater pool teems
with caimans, and as soon as nightfall comes to the bivouac, you can expect
at any time to see lizards and snakes fall into the wrought iron mess kits.
But, still according to Pierre Benoit, these terrifying and unseen hosts
are nothing compared to the men who haunt the Gabon forest".
Africa, perhaps from the regions of Ubangi and Chari, fleeing before Islam
in a southwesterly direction toward the ocean.
eager to receive that which is new, convinced that they can integrate all
techniques and ideas into their own culture, and it became obvious around
1910 and especially since 1925 that they would take possession of the
primitive Bwiti of the Mitsogos and modify it. To it they added their
memories, their traditions and introduced ideas and rites that came from
Catholicism; finally, they initiated men and women. However, the chants
usually remained in the Tsogo language, the official language which is to
Bwiti what Latin is to the Church.
Bwiti of the Fangs is expanding, though perhaps, according to some, it is
losing a little of its initial purity.
are an element indispensable to sylvan life and rites.
sacred plant, a type of apocynacea, Tabernanthe iboga, the foundation of
the Bwiti and the basis of visions of the next world.
meters. The flowers are white with pink spots and the ellipsoid fruits have
globular seeds. It has a pivoting branching root that is more or less
twisted. When you chew its bark, it has a bitter, astringent taste and
produces an anesthetic sensation after a few minutes.
contained in every part of the plant. The number of alkaloids known at this
time is 22. The principal ones are:
and fatigue, activates circulation and respiration, promotes and activates
secretions and diuresis.
incoordination, and sometimes a state of lethargy lasting 4 to 5 days.
involvement and paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
psychodysleptic that produces a state of anxiety and extreme apprehension
and a visual hallucination, considerably enhanced by darkness, the ambiance
and suggestion. This action is not unlike that of LSD, mescaline and
substances of particular interest which produce an increased state of
wakefulness without producing side effects.
seems, are very fond of it. These animals dig holes at the foot of the
iboga shrubs to chew the bark of the roots. They then go into a state of
wild frenzy, leaping and fleeing as though they were prey to terrifying
visions. Porcupines and gorillas also search for these roots.
Pouchet and Chevallier who advocated it in the treatment of neurasthenia
and in convalescence, and by Kuborn who recommended it in the treatment of
sleeping sickness. The iboga alkaloids have their place in the
pharmacopoeia under the name of Lambarene and glutaminic Lambarene B2 PP;
these products were withdrawn from the market about ten years ago.
night, by trackers, and by those who paddle canoes and pirogues.
served to unify a whole people, and to some extent has enabled it to resist
the influence of Western civilization.
of Eboga". Iboga gives knowledge of the beyond through the spiritual death,
in advance of its time, that it produces. By the visions that it brings
about, ritual mastication of iboga permits contact with ancestors and gods:
mother or father or spouse. It engenders the three divinities by bursting
the divine primordial egg.
goddess of fertility and of the night. At the instigation of Evus, she
committed Nsem, incest, with None. As punishment, she must carry the earth
on her head.
has committed Nsem.
divine egg. It possesses thunder and makes order reign.
orders from Nzame. He is the tempter and initiator of Nsem.
night-time ceremonies, the place for celebrations on the occasion of feasts
and initiations, the place for funeral dances on the death of a person of
standing. The temple may also serve as a meeting room, as a courthouse or a
guardhouse. It is called Mbandja.
length and ten meters in width, completely closed in the back, partially or
completely closed on the sides, and with a wide opening in the front. The
dimensions depend on the size of the village, the repute of the chiefs, the
number of followers and their wealth. The long axis is laid out northeast
by southwest, parallel to the route followed by the Pahouin group during
its migration in the last century.