"The Catholic church is a beautiful theory for Sunday, the iboga on the contrary is the practice of everyday living. In church, they speak of God, with iboga, you live God" (Nengue Me Ndjoung Isidore, ecumenical Bwitist religious leader)
Bwiti is a West Central African religion practiced by the forest-dwelling Babongo and Mitsogo people of Gabon (where it is one of the three official religions) and the Fang people of Gabon and Cameroon. Modern Bwiti is syncretistic, incorporating animism, ancestor worship and Christianity into its belief system.
Bwiti use the psychotropic rootbark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant, specially cultivated for the religion, to induce a spiritual enlightenment, stabilize community and family structure, meet religious requirements and to solve problems of a spiritual and/or medical nature. The active ingredient of the root, ibogaine, has been studied scientifically.
The root bark has been used for hundreds of years as part of a Bwiti coming of age ceremony and other initiation rites and acts of healing, producing complex visions and insights anticipated to be valuable to the initiate and the chapel. The root bark or its extract are taken in doses high enough to cause vomiting and ataxia as common side effects.
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 religion. 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 civet cat 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.
One of the best English language sources of information on the religion is James W. Fernandez's book, Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa. An excellent review article is that of Goutarel, Gollnhofer and Sillans, Pharmacodynamics and Therapeutic Applications of Iboga and Ibogaine .
Maas, Iboga and Music Therapy
Strubelt, Iboga and Near-Death-Experience
Maas, Iboga and Sudden Cardiac Death
1. Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa, Princeton University Press, 1982 .
2. Robert Goutarel, Otto Gollnhofer and Roger Sillans, Pharmacodynamics and Therapeutic Applications of Iboga and Ibogaine, Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, 6:70-111, 1993. .
· Pinchbeck, Daniel, Breaking Open the Head. 2002 Broadway Books. Part I pages 9-39.