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See Another Africa - Gabon #2:

Bwiti Ceremony, Gabon

There exists in Gabon the mysterious belief called Bwiti which, in its simplest explanation, fuses ancestor worship and animism. Bwiti ceremoniebe therapeutic in nature, held to divine and resolcauses of physical or psychological illnesses; or they mark important life passages such as births, deaths and good harvests. They are also held as initiations for membership into Bwiti's secret society, which communicates with the invisible world of nature spirits and ancestors and teaches respect for it. Bwiti ceremonies are held in simple temples, and are accompanied by traditional music and some of the most dramatic dance on the continent. Every component of a ceremony - music, dance, fire, body painting, symbols in the temple, the smell of the resin torches - serves a precise purpose in the liaison with the spirit world. Ceremonies are fascinating for outsiders to observe, although we need to keep in mind that they are not entertainment. Referring to Gabon's Bwiti, one writer puts it this way: "Gabon is to Africa what Tibet is to China."

Iboga, a tree root from the Gabonese forest, and Bwiti rituals are inseparable. Iboga is known in Gabon as the Holy Wood. It has powerful visionary properties, a similar tool for Gabonese shamans as peyote or ayahuasca are for Latin American indigenous healers. Direct and immediate contact with another plane of existence is a seductive idea. But the intent to experiment with iboga (since there has developed a kind of iboga tourism) is to take Bwiti rituals and the sacred wood out of their cultural contexts. It is not the objective of this ceremony. It suffices for guests to leave with the understanding that Bwiti and iboga are mysteries, paths of knowledge back to nature, inseparable from the ancient forests in which iboga grows. It is said that gorillas, wild boars, chimpanzees, elephants and porcupines ate iboga root long before men considered doing so. That Bwiti's inspiration comes from nature and encourages a compassion for nature makes it relevant to all of us.

Your Gabonese guide and host is a Bwiti master and healer. He speaks both English and French.

Program:

DAY 1: Friday
Transfer to Cape Santa Clara, a forested area 12 kilometers north of Libreville. Overnight and dinner at Akouango Village by the sea.

DAY 2: Saturday
8 AM: Transfer to Cape Bolokobwe. Traditional pre‚Äźceremony activities commence.
Guests will choose between several activity options in the morning:

1) Plant Collecting: Guests accompany initiates into the forest to collect leaves, barks and roots of the traditional plants that are used in the ceremony. This forest walk may last several hours. Good physical condition is required.

2) Food Gathering: Depending on the season and the tide, guests accompany local villagers to their small farms to harvest fruits and vegetables; or they may fish with local fishermen, using traditional methods, catching fish, crabs and razor clams.

12 PM: A lunch of traditional Gabonese foods is enjoyed by all in Bolokobwe village.
Guests will choose between several activity options in the afternoon.

1) Traditional Torches: Guests learn how to make the important traditional torches used in the ceremony from aromatic tree resin.

2) Local Cuisine: Guests prepare and enjoy local dishes of the Benga ethnic group which live on this cape, such as the stuffed crabs or razor clams they gathered that morning.

4 PM: Transfer to Akouango Village for dinner and to rest in preparation for the Bwiti ceremony.
9 PM: Transfer to Cape Bolokobwe.
10 PM: Music plays a large role in the ceremony. Guests learn traditional songs and responses.
11 PM: The ceremony begins: Guests are greeted and welcomed. A presentation on Bwiti is made by your host.

DAY 3: Sunday
12 AM to 2AM: Songs invoke the spirits.
2 AM to 3 AM: Initiates prepare for traditional dances.
3 AM to 6 AM: Dancing.
6 AM: Ritual is held to close the ceremony.
7 AM: Final blessings of the initiates.
7 AM to 12 PM: Initiates remain in the temple. They need time to transition back from the spirit world.
12PM: Lunch is served in the temple.
1 PM: Guests are transferred to Libreville and the hotel of their choice.

Bwiti ceremonies take place at night in order to safeguard their secrecy and because night is the time for spirits and magic. They last throughout the night. Transport to Akounago Village will be available at certain intervals for guests who need to return to the hotel. Driving time between Bolokobwe and Akouango Village is about one hour. Closer adequate accommodation is not available.

Weekend Includes: Guide and Bwiti master, transport, accommodation x 2 nights at Akouango Village, meals until Sunday night, bottled drinking water at the ceremony, and all costs associated with this very special event. A gratuity to the villagers and your ceremony hosts would be very much appreciated.

Composting eco-toilets are used on the ceremony site.
Photography and filming is permitted. However, no flash can be used at night.

Price: per person, based on a group of ten: 330,000 CFA/504 Euros/663 USD. This event is priced in CFA. Currency fluctuations might occur.

MTT video on Bwiti dancing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ExHgNj2kIo

Download this itinerary as a PDF document.