Missoko Bwiti Tradition
The Missoko Bwiti tradition goes back thousands of years and its lineage may go all the way back to the earliest times of humanity. It comes from the Dissumba tradition which is the original form of Bwiti which eventually broke off into different sects each of which still holds many of the same traditions. The tradition began with the Babongo people of Gabon who are also known as the Pygmies, however, Pygmy is a French term and is considered derogatory. Even before they discovered Iboga, the Babongo studied life itself building the foundation for the tradition we have today. The Babongo were also the ones who discovered Iboga and eventually the Iboga influenced and inspired everything Bwiti. Nearly every aspect of the Missoko tradition today is created by the Iboga spirit and Iboga is their main sacrament. The Babongo people kept the Iboga sacrament secret amongst themselves for a very long time in order to protect it. They eventually shared it with others and it is now one of the main spiritual traditions of Gabon.
Much of the information about Bwiti available in books and the internet is actually about the Fang. The Fang are not the only sect out there and are actually quite different from the Missoko. While the Fang call themselves Bwiti, they are actually influenced by Christianity brought over to Gabon by French missionaries a few hundred years ago. Missoko Bwiti does not have a Christian influence and is less known today because it was purposely hidden and kept secret in order to protect it from the Christians. Missoko was only passed on from breath to breath or via oral tradition and because of this, much of the data available is limited to the Fang who have been in more contact with the west. For example, much of the literature about Bwiti states that it is only a few hundred years old. This is completely wrong as we know it started with the Babongo, the original humans according to modern genetic research, thousands of years ago. This history was not recorded how we record it in the west, but has been passed down by stories from generation to generation.
Rituals and Ceremonies
Missoko Bwiti rituals and ceremonies are powerfully rich expressions of the human spirit. The Rite of Passage, a “coming of age” ritual for boys and men of all ages, lasts for 4-5 days delivering changed men on the other side. This works as a way to ensure community, integrity and connection and is something lost upon us in the west. The Initiation is another “coming of age” ceremony where a large amount of Iboga is consumed. The initiation is where they learn the reality of life and meet their soul, learn who they truly are. Ceremonies can last 10 hours to days and involve ingesting Iboga, lots of wonderful music, and dancing. They are a very powerful experience to participate in.
The Shaman in the tradition must go through over 22 years of rigorous training and tests. Their births are often prophesied years in advance. The new Shaman is usually someone within the bloodline of the previous shaman but is not necessarily their son or daughter. The Shaman is the main healer and spiritual guide of the community. When someone is sick or having spiritual difficulties, they turn to the Shaman who has the whole toolbox of the jungle and spirits to assist them in their healing. A good Shaman is a master of the plant medicines found in the jungle, knowing hundreds of plants inside and out.
To the Bwiti, life is a precious gift and they believe that everything they need will be provided for them. If you have ever walked in the jungles of Gabon, you can quickly understand how this gratitude and trust came to be. Nutritious food and fruit can be collected from almost anywhere, traps for what they call “bush meat” can be set and simply collected, rather than spending days on the hunt. Water also flows abundantly with plenty of rain to keep the jungle alive. As mentioned above, the earliest Bwiti were constantly studying life itself and examining who it could be that gave them this gift. What came out of that searching was a powerful message, that nature will always give them what they need, but if they abused it or became attached to it, that they would suffer misery. This concept is such a powerful distillation of wisdom when examined. One can quickly understand why people existing in the “modern world” are so unhappy, making their lives about the collection of material goods and living within an entire structure that abuses the natural world and is deeply attached to the material goods it has extracted. The Bwiti still live with the integrity that follows their respect for this proverb. They live simpler lives, that are deeply connected to nature and the community and are incredibly happy as a result.
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