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.
How did you get to see this? Were you invited? Do they let “outsiders” view / photograph their ritual/ceremonies readily? And most importantly did you drink the palm wine or the beer?
Yes we did drink the palm wine and the beer. We brought a quantity of palm wine back with us for dinner on Sunday night. Probably not a great idea, especially when Monday morning rolls around.
This ceremony in Doussala is for the benefit of tourists that are willing to pay for the fete. Since we were already in Doussala, we wanted to experience this part of the culture. Like I mentioned in the story, it is not an initiation ceremony, but rather a celebration of the religeous culture of Bwiti. The initiation ceremony is much more closed to outsiders.