Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 01:12:25 EST
From: Chris Jenks <>
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: Article about Bwiti (3/3)

        There are three degrees in the initiation, or three levels of maturity
corresponding to childhood, adulthood and old age. The Bandji is the young
initiate; when a Bandji proves to have sufficient maturity, he will be made
a Nima, and will soon be a Nima Na Kombo. The Kombo is the chief, the
patriarch who belongs to the assembly of ancestors. He sees to it in the
community that the secrets are not divulged.
        This initiation is followed by three Ngozes, ritual nights, whose names are:
        - the first night, Efun, the genesis;
        - the second night, Mesoso, the bath;
        - the third night, Otunga, the dues.
        The ritual nights, or Ngozes, take place from sunset to sunrise. Night,
the time of fertility but also the time of the moon and the earth, must be
as inconspicuous as possible.
        The Ngozes are scheduled long ahead of time. There is a calendar of holy
days patterned on that of the Catholic Church. Christmas and Easter are
major celebrations. The Ngozes usually take place after the initiation
rites. A Ngoze can also be held to make up for the initiation of a
prematurely deceased relative, or offer prayers to the dead, to find out
the cause of a disease and to cure it, to get manioc, fish, and children.
        Ritual nights are public and anyone may be invited to attend. Actually,
non initiates depart before the important rites begin: one cannot remain
until dawn for several nights in succession without chewing iboga.
        By morning on the day of worship, the Mbandja is decorated with garlands,
with greenery, particularly from palms and creeping club mosses (lycopodia)
or ferns of the Platycerium stemaria type (it should be mentioned that this
plant has another purpose and there is a preparation made for the care and
preservation of the hair, consisting of ashes of Platycerium stameria
leaves and vegetable butter, to be applied in the morning and the evening).
        The followers prepare to take part in the worship by chewing some pieces
of iboga root. Alcohol and wine are also distributed in moderate quantity.
Prior to any ceremony, purification by fire is performed by the leader of
the chorus. He brandishes a torch of okoume resin, circulating in all
directions inside the temple.
        The women decorate the forehead of the initiates with a red vertical line
and a white horizontal line as a symbol of the male and the female sex. The
women wear a white robe and the men who rank high in the hierarchy wear a
large white robe and a red belt.
        Once the assembly is gathered, the Kombo gives the news and the
instructions for the day. The ceremony, announced by sounding the horn,
takes place at night in three stages:
        - The Efun, that is to say, the origins, the genesis, the birth and the
beginning of God, marks the beginning of the ceremonies. The musical bow
and the obaka are heard: this is the bursting of the divine egg. At
midnight, at the sound of the horn, the initiates kneel, addressing Nzame
in their prayers, thus ending the celebration of the genesis;
        - Mvenge, death, the second stage, relates the life and death of the
individual, often with scenes that more or less depict the passion of
Christ. As the dancing and chanting reach their highest intensity, the
cithara is heard and Bwiti will materialize by the appearance in the forest
of a cross of straw and wood several meters high which is set ablaze and
waved in all directions. It may also appear in the form of banana leaves in
an oval design with two torches for the eyes and one for the mouth in the
        - The third stage is the beyond, or Meyaya. The rites of the descent into
the grave are performed before the kneeling assembly.
        The faithful, torch in hand, then leave the temple and go through the main
streets of the village, taking three steps forward and two steps back. This
night march when the moon is at its zenith is particularly impressive and
majestic. The horn sounds, announcing each move and setting the pace for
this retreat in single file.
        After this long walk, they return to the Mbandja. The dancing will
continue uninterruptedly until dawn's early light. The night-time ritual
has made them pass from daylight to daylight, from the here and now to the
beyond, and night has been erased. The faithful will go to sleep. In
addition to the sensations produced by the mastication of iboga, they will
feel the inebriation due to palm wine and the smoke of Indian hemp.
        Thus, during 12 hours by the clock, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., the
uninterrupted, endlessly diversified concatenation of chants, dances and
rites performed by individuals perfectly familiar with the symbolic actions
leaves an impression of impenetrability.
        The next day, despite the physical and mental exhaustion, will be a day of
feasting and the menu will be presented in a large cooking pot with meat,
fish, bananas, taros, prepared exclusively by the women.
        Such is the Bwiti. Some conclusions are called for in order to understand
this religion better.
        By definition, the doctrine of a secret society is reserved solely for the
initiates. The fear of punishment is a major obstacle to the disclosure of
secrets, by deference to the ancestors and the pride of keeping such "great
        The Bwiti is, first and foremost, a remembrance of great ancestors whose
skulls and tibias are piously preserved, but although that is the primary
goal, it is not the only one.
        This society which includes the notables of the village permits a
discussion and a better understanding of the social problems relating to
the clan, the village and the ethnic group and particularly relations with
other clans, villages and ethnic groups.
        The Bwiti has brought about changes in social structures, and the mystical
bond that unites the initiates often eclipses blood ties. It has played a
major political role. Some see it as a veritable State religion, as a
national cult.
        The liturgical rites are not very demanding and consist of chants and
dances. It is adapted to modern life and the strictly occult side of the
secret ceremonies is of diminished importance in relation to the outward
opening of the ritual nights.
        The Bwiti is not antichristian nor racist, and Europeans may join. Its
universalist tendency blurs the distinctions between races and between
sexes. The spirits in the next world are described as white, and during the
ceremonies the initiates cover their faces with white powder, showing that
they have penetrated in the beyond.
        While the Catholic Church assembles its masses, the Bwiti cult is more of
a family affair that assembles relatives and friends. With its chapels, it
permits the heads of households to reunite their families and to give their
authority a religious and sacred character that had become blunted since
ancestor worship had been on the decline. Many excellent Christians see
this cult as a complement to religion.
        The Fang Bwiti is dynamic in the face of the universal religions, it is
individualistic and feminist, and preserves the community spirit; this
religion of Eboga is well adapted to society and is in full expansion. The
Bwiti, which is favorable to individual accomplishments, has the further
advantage of integrating all of man, and what the Christian derives from
reading the Bible, the Bwitist knows through iboga.

General bibliography

1. Benoit, P.: "Monsieur de la Ferte", Albin Michel Publishers, 1934.

2. Binet, J.: "Drogue et mystique. Le Bwiti des Fangs" (Drug and Mystical
Practices. The Bwiti of the Fangs), Diogene 86:34-57, (April/June) 1974.

3. Bureau, Rene: "La religion d'Eboga" (The religion of Eboga), doctoral
thesis in literature and the humanities presented at Paris V University,
1971, Vol. I: "Essai sur le Bwiti Fang" (Essay on the Fang Bwiti), 321
pages, Vol. II: "Lexique du Bwiti Fang" (A Fang Bwiti lexicon), 237 pages.

4. Prince Birinda: "La bible secrete des Noirs" (The secret bible of the
Blacks), one vol., Champs-Elysees Pubs., Paris, 1952.

5. Raponda Walker, A., and Sillans, R.: "Rites et croyances des peuples du
Gabon" (Rites and beliefs of the peoples of Gabon), 1 vol., Presence
Africaine, 42 rue Descartes, Paris, 1962.

6. Simenon, G.: "Le coup de lune" (Moonstroke), 1932.

7. Thomas, L.V.: "Les religions d'Afrique noire. Texte et tradition sacres"
(The religions of Black Africa. Sacred text and tradition), 1 vol., Fayard
Denoel Publ., 1969.

8. Traorf, D.: "Medecine et magie africaine" (Medicine and African magic),
1 vol., Presence Africaine, 25 bis Rue des Ecoles, Paris, 1966.

9. Walker, A., and Sillans, R.: "Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Encyclopedie
biologique" (Useful plants of Gabon. Biological Encyclopedia), 1 vol., Paul
Lechevalier Publ., Paris, 1961.

10. "Rencontres internationales de Bouake. Les religions africaines
traditionnelles" (Bouake International Meetings. The traditional African
religions), 1 vol., Seuil, 1965.

Bibliography on Iboga

1. Dacosta, L., Sulklaper, I., and Naquet, R.: "Modifications de
l'equilibre veille-sommeil du chat par la tabernanthine et quelquesuns de
ses derives" (Changes in the wakefulness-sleep balance in the cat with
tabernanthine and some of its derivatives), Rev. EEG Neurophysiol.
10(1):105-112, 1980.

2. Delourme Houde: "Etude de l'Iboga, Tabernanthe iboga H. Bn." (Study of
Iboga, Tabernanthe iboga H. Bn.), doctoral thesis in pharmacy, Paris, 1944.

3. Gaignault, J.C., and Delourme Houde: "Les alcaloides de l'iboga,
Tabernanthe iboga H. Bn." (Alkaloids of Iboga, Tabernanthe iboga H. Bn.),
Fitothrapia 48(6):243-265, 1977.

4. Goutarel, R.: "Recherches sur quelques alcaloides indoliques et leur
relation avec le metabolisme du tryptophane et de la
dihydroxyphenylalanine" (Research on some indole alkaloids and their
relation to tryptophan and dihydroxyphenylalanine metabolism), Doctor of
Science thesis, Paris, 1954.

5. Khuong Huu, F., Cesario, M., Guilhem, J., and Goutarel, R.: "Deux
nouveaux types d'alcaloides indoliques. l'ibophyllidine et l'iboxyphylline
retires des feuilles de Tabernanthe iboga Baillon et de Tabernanthe
subsessilis stapf" (Two new indole alkaloids, ibophyllidine and
iboxyphylline, obtained from leaves of Tabernanthe iboga Baillon and
Tabernanthe subsessilis stapf), Tetrahedron, Vol. 32, pp. 2539-2543,
Pergamon Press, 1976, printed in Great Britain.