The smell of burning Okoume’ resin fills the air as we arrive in the village of Doussala, Gabon, a small isolated village of 20 to 30 Gabonese. Three hours of slogging through rutted, saturated clay track, crossing several rivers and streams on rickety wooden bridges, brings us from Tchibanga to this village at the edge of Moukalaba-Doudou National Park. Preparations are underway for an evening Bwiti ceremony.
The Bwiti experience is founded on traditional religious beliefs practiced among the forest societies of Gabon. Combining elements of fire, dance, drumming, and chanting, tonight’s ceremony appears to be fueled by beer and palm wine. A burning vat of Okoume’ resin focusses the ritual that fuses animism, ancestor worship and some elements of Christianity. The N’ganga are spiritual leaders respected in the community, responsible for carrying the tradition forward.
This is not a Bwiti initiation ceremony, where boys, including girls in some cultures, are initiated to adulthood through a spiritual journey that involves the ingestion of the sacred plant iboga. This ceremony is about communicating with the spirit world. A quest, not a coming of age, led by the N’ganga, to converse with animal, plant, and ancestral spirits, hoping to appease those spirits malevolent, and seek guidance from spirits beneficial.