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Bwiti is a spiritual discipline of the forest-dwelling Babongo and Mitsogo peoples of Gabon (where it is recognized as one of three official religions) and by the Fang people of Gabon and Cameroon. Modern Bwiti incorporates animism, ancestor worship and Christianity into a syncretistic belief system.
Bwiti practitioners use the psychedelic, dissociative root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant, specially cultivated for the religion, to promote radical spiritual growth, to stabilize community and family structure, to meet religious requirements, and to resolve pathological problems. The root bark has been consumed for hundreds of years in a Bwiti rite of passage ceremony, as well as in initiation rites and acts of healing. The experience yields complex visions and insights anticipated to be valuable to the initiate and the chapel. Both the root bark and extracts thereof are taken in doses high enough to cause vomiting and ataxia in some people.
Intoxicants in liturgy
Taking Iboga brings both open and closed-eye visions which can be made stronger by darkness, ambiance and suggestion. Following the visions, users experience an introspective mindset in which they often recount past experiences in life. Difficulty sleeping, nausea and vomiting sometimes last until the day after consumption.
Bwiti ceremonies are led by a (male or female) spiritual leader called N'ganga who is a very important member of the community and has extensive knowledge of traditional healing practices, hexes and spells. The crucial rite of Bwiti is the initiation ceremony, when young Gabonese men take iboga for the first time in the men's hut to become members of the spiritual practice. There are many ceremonies at different times of the year to give homage to the ancestors. Special ceremonies may be held to heal sick persons or drive out harmful spirits. While early forms of Bwiti excluded women, modern chapels include men and women.
During many ceremonies, a traditional torch made of bark and tree sap is burned. Musicians playing drums and a traditional Ngombi harp are central to the rites. The N'ganga and other participants usually dress in red, black and white cloth. They may wear skirts of raffia material and small shells or beads. Animal skins, such as Genet fur, are often worn. The iboga root may be made into a tea or more often taken in the form of scrapings. Ceremonies usually begin at night and may last for days as the doses of the drug used in these ceremonies is particularly long lasting.
Bwiti is one of Gabon's official religions and is influenced by Christianity including using the Christian Calendar..
A notable English language source of information on the religion is James W. Fernandez's book, "Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa".
- Ibogaine Basics
- The Babongo, BBC page for Bruce Parry's "Tribe" series.
- Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa, Princeton University Press, 1982.
- BBC TV Series (2005). "Tribe" - explorer Bruce Parry spent a month living amongst the Babongo and was initiated into their use of Iboga.
- Tribe Babongo Iboga With Bruce Parry; Divx Video Quality.
- Pinchbeck, Daniel (2002). "Breaking Open the Head". Broadway Books. Part I pages 9–39.
- Pinchbeck, Daniel (1999). "Tripping on Iboga". Salon Travel
- Samorini, Giorgio. "Adam, Eve and Iboga" (Originally published in Integration 4: 4-10).
- Samorini, Giorgio. "The Bwiti Religion and the psychoactive plant Tabernanthe iboga (Equatorial Africa)" (Originally published in Integration 5: 105-114)
- Dashu, Max (1 December 2007). "In the Pool of Night". Seasonal Salon. Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess, International. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- Goutarel, Robert; Gollnhofer, Otto; Sillans, Roger (1993). "Pharmacodynamics and Therapeutic Applications of Iboga and Ibogaine". Translated from French by William J. Gladstone. Psychedelic Monographs and Essays (PM&E Publishing Group) 6: 70–111. ISSN 0892-371X. Retrieved 8 April 2013.