At the end of June of 2004, we went to Gabon in Central West Africa for 2 weeks, to film a traditional Bwiti initiation for the documentary project we were making called ‘Ibogaine-Rite of Passage’. During the preparation of the shoot in Gabon, everybody was saying “don’t go there, it’s dangerous” or “what if they steal your equipment”. I even got a paper on my desk that came from the website of the government of Belgium, which was a negative advise to go to Gabon…too dangerous. I must say that all these warnings made me a bit nervous about what we were about to experience, but without that footage my film would not be complete, we had to go, no matter what.
I arranged everything via a German couple, Uwe Maas and Süster Strubelt, who were initiated at a Mitsogho tribe in Mitoné, close to Lambaréné. They got me in touch with Tatayo Missoba (aka Hughes Poitevin) of Ebando. He is French man, who speaks English and French and lives in Gabon for more than 35 years. As this was a student project, we didn’t have enough money to take a soundman with us and have a guide there, so we decided that the guide was more important than the soundman and left him at home…that was a very good decision.
We arrived in the early morning at the airport in Libreville. Our mobile phones weren’t working, so we used one of somebody at the airport and called Tatayo. Then we had problems at the customs, ‘cause they didn’t want to let us in with our equipment, even though we had official permits to film from the minister of communication. Just outside of the airport we met Tatayo and some other people who would come with us to the initiation. Very tired, we relaxed a bit at the festival-like terrain of Ebando, just next to the see. Very relaxing…and very moist and hot.
Next day we went to the ministry of communication and the Centre National de Cinématography, and with the help of Tatayo, we got our equipment back without paying.
It was time to take off to Lambaréné, where we stayed in an abbee, which was much cheaper than a hotel. From the moment we left Libreville, to the moment we took the plane back home, it was magic. The few difficulties we had with the communication with the locals and police posts, became insignificant because we had someone with us who knows Gabon inside out. In every village there were people shouting “Hé, Tatayo!!!”. We saw a Gabon that you cannot experience when you go there without any knowledge and contacts.
We had absolutely no problem with our equipment, felt completely safe…and had a very strong personal experience of witnessing a world that was completely unknown to us. And most important, we got the footage we needed, which came out very nice.
The only sad experience was to take the plane back home…it took me more than a week to figure out what the fuck I was doing in Holland after I got home.
For everybody that wants to experience the real Gabon, the real Bwiti, there is only one person I can advise you to guide you during your journey…Tatayo!
Ben De Loenen
(aka Mwana Gonde)