The Bwiti Religion

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Night rituals

Also, one of the most important ceremonies of the Bwiti cult are Ngozi or nocturnal rituals aimed at the stimulation of religious fervor and the union of members of the cult.

The beginning of the ceremony takes place at about 8 am and is followed by taking of Tabernanthe Iboga while kneeling. The priest of the cult brings a spoonful of Iboga to the mouth of every participant. Just like the case with the Christian communion the participants are not allowed to touch the hallucinogen.

To make the intake of dry Iboga root bark easier on the stomach it is allowed to down it with water. The dosages of Iboga are specific to every participant and the priest closely monitors the amount of the hallucinogen that he dispenses as not to cause disorientation in the participants.

The participants of the ritual put on colorful clothes and paint their faces with white clay. Throughout the night, they sing and dance following precise choreographic patterns. From time to time the participants are resting, drinking some water and laughing. The various cycles of music and dance contain symbolic and exact meanings ​​associated with the mythology of Bwiti.

There are two phases during an evening ceremony: the first one is lasting from sunset to midnight and is characterized by motifs illustrating the creation of the world and the birth of Adam and Christ. The second phase lasts from midnight to dawn, and is performed under the influence of the images of death and destruction, the death of Christ, the expulsion from the garden of Eden and the Great Flood.

Bwiti mythology

The Bwiti mythology consists primarily of complex theogony and mythology both dealing with the origin of the Tabernanthe Iboga plant. Despite the traditional foundation, mythology undergoes many changes among the various sects and ethnic groups.

Bwiti have no written texts to spread their religion except for some “catechisms” which are very difficult to read. In many respects, the religious canons of Bwiti are similar to the Christian concept and Tabernanthe Iboga is analogous to the biblical Tree of Knowledge.

The legend of Iboga is known as “the History Al Muma». A woman by the name Bandzioku from a pygmy tribe lost her husband when he was gathering fruits in the forest. He fell down from a tree and died and his body wasn’t found. Heartbroken, she returned to the village and according to the law of the tribe married her husband’s brother.

Later she went out to fish and after checking the net she found in it human bones belonging to her first husband. She brought the bones on the shore. Then all of a sudden a strange animal appeared before the woman, picked the bones and headed down into the jungle. The woman walked behind the animal until she found herself near the cave of Kakonangonda.

From the cave the woman could hear the voices of spirits – “Bandzioku, do you want to see us?”. “Yes”, replied she. Then the spirits fed her the root of the plant that was growing inside the cave, it was Tabernanthe Iboga. Having taken Iboga she started to see the souls of the dead among whom was her beloved first husband. Before returning to the village the spirits made the woman promise to bring periodic offerings to them.

The next day she gathered some food and took it to the spirits. So she did a few days in a row until her husband noticed that his wife was frequently walking away from the house and decided to follow her.

The next time she brought an offering to the cave spirits frantically shouted – “Muma, Muma!”, which suggested that there was an uninitiated around.

She tried to convince the spirits that she came alone but when she turned around she saw her husband behind a tree. Her husband came to her and asked who she was talking to. The woman then gave him some Iboga root which made him see the spirits too, including his deceased brother.

As the myth goes, Bandzioku’s husband took the plant out of the cave and established the cult of Bwiti which is based on the worship of Tabernanthe Iboga.

As of today, a number of organizations are attempting to consolidate the sects of the Bwiti cult. Their main goal is to be recognised by the Government of Gabon which would place the Bwiti at the importance-level of Christianity and Islam. One of the leaders Ouono Dibengi Louis Marie over the past years has established the Iboga Youth Movement with the idea to centrally introduce Bwiti to the coming generations.

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