School of Life
A 4-part educational series about Gabonese culture and the spiritual practice of Bwiti
“The Bwiti is a school for life, and how to live well.”
– Pemba, Nganga at Ebando
Bwiti: School of Life is a 4-part recorded series that serves as a platform and voice for traditional practitioners of Bwiti in Gabon to educate and inspire anyone with an interest in the use of iboga, referred to in Gabon mostly as le bois sacre (“the sacred wood”). The series provides a window into the beautiful and and profound traditional uses, and how the sacred wood serves as not only a medicine, but a way of life in Gabon. The content aims to educate and connect people to the depth, artistry and wisdom of the traditions, as well as touch on themes of integral plant medicine practice and sustainability.
This is a unique educational opportunity. Rather than a linear view on the historical development of iboga and ibogaine in other contexts, we will explore the emerging and evolving cultural contexts of its use and the way that these practices and ideals have influenced global culture and approaches to healing and spirituality. Each 1.5 hour webcast included short clips of video material collected in villages that practice various branches of traditional Bwiti, followed by recordings from guest presentations and discussion.
“The Bwiti is about people living together from one heart.”
– Tatayo, Ebando Founder
Some of the themes discussed in the course include:
- Various branches and traditions of Bwiti
- The sacrament of iboga / the sacred wood
- The sacrament of initiation
- Traditional perspectives on healing
- Aspects of spiritual practice
- Village life
- Traditional instruments
- Sustainability and reciprocity
You will gain a broad understanding of the purpose of initiation and various paths within Bwiti, examining several different traditions and the various initiations within them.
Each 1.5-2 hour recording includes short clips of video material collected in villages that practice various branches of traditional Bwiti, presentations from guests, followed by moderated discussions.
Part 1: The Beginning
Guests: Tatayo and the Ebando team
- What is Bwiti?
- Roles in Bwiti initiation/treatment
- Instruments in Bwiti: ngombe, mogongo
- What is an Nganga
- Nima/Kombo/Nima na Kombo
Part 2: Dissumba Fang
Guest: Ndongho Maviso & Mama Djedje
- History of the Fang tradition
- Dissumba vs. Dissumba Fang
- Ombwiri/Mbumbayano Fang
- The kambo
- State of Fang Bwiti in Gabon
- Impact of Westerners coming to work with the sacred wood
Part 3: Missoko
Guest: Mama Maingo & Mambongo Hilarion Kassa Moussavou
- History of the Missoko tradition
- Various branches of Missoko initiation:
- Ngonde Na Dipuma
- The impact of logging on the tradition
- What the future of Bwiti could look like in Gabon
Part 4: Dissumba
Guests: Mama Aline & Dipanda
- History of Dissumba
- Various branches of Dissumba initiation:
- The ngombe (sacred harp)
- Healing rituals involved in her tradition
- Training to serve the wood.
- What does it involve?
- How long does it take?
Meet the Presenters
Tatayo (“Fruit of the Wind”)
Tatayo first came to Gabon in 1971 at the age of 21 and became a Gabonese citizen and settled in Libreville. He was the first white person to be initiated into the Bwiti Fang tradition in Gabon in 1979, and was later initiated into the Misokko traditions in 1994. Some would say that Tatayo has since “opened the door” to westerners in Gabon, and has served as a guide for numerous expeditions and missions including National Geographic, the BBC, and many others. He co-founded his first Gabonese NGO in 1981, which has since lead to the creation of Ebando in 1999, and is recognized as a healer and a Nima, someone who has freed and detached himself. Having initiated more than 350 banzis (initiates), he has supported hundreds of local people, or, he has indirectly supported thousands of local people, leaving a substantial positive footprint along the way.
Stephanie “Djedje” Moussounda
Mama Djedje is 59 years old and a mother of 6 children. Since 1988 she has been a traditional doctor, who specializes in schizophrenia, eye diseases, sterility and diabetes. She is an empress and initiator to the Mboumai Yanou ritual (Abiale Mone Mur), which is associated with traditional Bwiti initiation, and was recently appointed the President of the Traditional Practitioners Association in Gabon. She lives and works at her therapeutic center, Foundation Djedje Stephanie Moussounda, in Libreville.
Ndongho Maviso (Samuel Meyo-Menguema-Minko)
Ndongho is 75 years old and was an officer in the Gabonese army before becoming a fireman. He was initiated in 1963 into the Dissumba Fang tradition and has been working as a Nganga and now Nima in the Fang tradition for many years. He is a true living library and legend in the Dissumba Fang tradition. He has collaborated in writing various articles over a 20 year period with Stanislas Stanislas Swiderski about the Bwiti tradition, sharing the history, philosophy, liturgy, sacred art, and spirituality of the tradition. He has attended various conferences representing the Bwiti tradition and has been instrumental in having Iboga recognized as part of Gabon’s cultural heritage through consulting with the local and international governments.
Geneviève Medang Aka / Mama Maîngo (Water)
Geneviève Medang Aka / Maîngo (Water) was born in 1963. She has 3 biological children. She was introduced to Maboundi du Bwiti Ngondet at the age of 28. Today, she is a Spiritual Mother & Healer and has, herself, initiated 10 Spiritual Children, both African and Western. The teaching that she takes from Bwiti is respect for the disposition of things, for example, the accompanying role of women with men in life. She is happy that the Bwiti has brought her stability and well-being. She now has a calmer judgment of life events.
Mambongo Hilarion Kassa Moussavou
Mambongo is 53 years old and was initiated into the Mioba Bwiti at the age of 19 by Mr Nzouba Masela. A few years later he was initiated into the Ngonde na Dipuma by Mr. Musavu Aka Desayo. He is currently based on the outskirts of Libreville and is a well-respected Nima and teacher, specializing in skin diseases, sexually transmitted disease, kidney issues and removing curses. He has 53 ‘spiritual children,’ 13 ‘blood children,’ and 13 grandchildren. He is in the process of realizing his dream to create a village outside of Libreville and working with Blessings of the Forest to plant iboga and provide a regenerative life for himself and the future generations.
Mama Aline / Opounga (the Wind)
Mama Aline was born in 1977 in Mouila, Gabon. Apart from her academic studies, she has been interested in traditional Gabonese medicine from her early childhood. She was introduced to Bwiti by healings from her spiritual mother before being properly initiated, and later went through Elombo, Mboumba Yano, Mabouni and Elogho initiations before becoming a spiritual mother herself.
Dipanda born in Mokidi, near Yetsu, Gabon, around 1945, he thinks. He is the spiritual leader of the community of the Vungu people of the Bwiti in Libreville estuary. He is Tsogo and works in the Dissumba Muruna Mata tradition- the Dissumba of elevation – He loves working with fire, symbolizing a warrior of the eternal fight between light and darkness. He says that working with fire has taught and given him grace.
Pemba Maghanga (“Kaolin Care”)
Pemba first came to Gabon in 1990 and immediately felt at home. Since returning in 1992 he never left again. Introduced to Bwiti by Mutamba in 1994, Pemba was the chief builder of the Mbanja (temple) of Ebando, and the first person to be initiated into the new sacred space. He is a proud grandfather, and two of his children were initiated in the tradition as well. In addition to chanting and dancing, his has a very important supervisory role during ceremonies.
Yann Guignon / Mwana Maghanga/ Missambo (“The Son of Sciences” / “The Messenger”)
Yann is a volunteer project management consultant for Ebando. Consultant in intercultural mediation and sustainable development, he has been a faithful support of Tatayo and his NGO since 2007. Yann is also the founder and co-director of Blessings of the Forest (BoTF), an international social organization dedicated to the conservation and the fair/sustainable valuation of iboga. Since 2004, he has been initiated into several Bwiti rites and is publicly recognized as a protector of the iboga and the rights of traditional communities linked to this sacred tree.
Mbilu was born in the Bwiti tradition. He joined Ebando 23 years ago through his grandfather, who was Tatayo’s favorite harp player, as well as his best friend and teacher. He is an extremely accomplished and talented artist in all aspects of the tradition. As his name implies, Mbilu is the one that watches over the tribe. He is always alert and comes to you as soon as he feels that you’re in need of guidance or assistance.
Bokaye (“Silence / Listening”)
Bokaye grew up in the Bwiti tradition as a result of his parents practicing. His mother was eating the sacred wood throughout her pregnancy with him and he was initiated at the age of two, together with his siblings. His grandfather told him that one day he would be a great ngombe (harp) player, and his prophecy was correct. Despite this young introduction, he didn’t understand it until he found his place in the tradition after the age of 24. Today he works closely with this powerful spirit through sculpting, building and playing the ngombe beautifully, a feeling he says no words can describe.
Maviango was led to Ebando for the first time by his father, a Nganga in a Missoko Bwiti tradition. After returning later in 2006 he became part of the community. As his name implies, he is agile and easily adapts to all circumstances. He is an amazing musician, instrumentalist and artist, with a particular affinity for the mogongo (mouth bow). One of his roles at Ebando is crafting ceremonial items such as the mopeto (torch).
Etudia Mobongo Minanga (“Illuminated Pygmy Hut”)
Etudia was raised in the Bwiti tradition and was initiated in the Fang and Misokko traditions in 2003 by Papa André and Maviango’s father. Etudia is a talented artist, and since joining the Ebando team in 2007 he has decorated the village with many extraordinary paintings. His role during ceremonies is broad: collecting medicinal plants for healing baths, sharing the medicine of his dancing talent, and sharing knowledge of plants with the banzis.
Ngando never gives up. It is her way of life. Originally from Togo, she endured 6 years of major life difficulties before finding her way to Ebando through a friend. Her initiation followed shortly after arriving in Gabon. Her role is to take care of the women banzis. She baths and guides them in their prayers, and stays by their sides, accompanying them during their whole journey through initiation. Ngando is Muslim and recognizes in the Bwiti the same energy and love that she has been taught through studying the Quran.
Originally from Equatorial Guinea, Mama Constantine came to Gabon in 1975 as a political refuge and started working with Tatayo and his family 31 years ago. She lives there with her grandson Manolo, supervising the kitchen and blessing the village through by preparing delicious meals. She speaks Fang and Spanish as well as French.
Mabenda is Ebando’s vibrant little man. He came to the Bwiti through his father and his uncle who are in the tradition. He is 6 years old and loves to pay the harp and the drum. He sings and dances wonderfully. His big brothers at Ebando teach him various knowledge and skills, and his future in the Bwiti looks promising.
Jonathan Dickinson (Host)
Jonathan Dickinson is a psychologist, and the co-founder of Ambio Life Sciences, an ibogaine treatment facility working with special forces veterans, individuals in drug detoxification, and many others. He is also the founder of Terragnosis Inc., which has been granted the first Nagoya-compliant license to export iboga from Gabon. He directs the Ceiba Foundation to distribute benefits derived from the use of the exported medicine. In 2014, Jonathan was initiated at Ebando in 2014. His kambo Ngady Na Duma means “Thunder of the earth.” In 2021, he was initiated to an Ngonde Missoko tradition, and was given the kombo Ebando, or “The Beginning.”
Debbie Rivett (Director/Producer)
Debbie Rivett is a Zimbabwean born seeker with a varied background in investigative journalism, music and media production, education, international development, fundraising, facilitation and operations management. She is the operations director at The Temple of the Way of Light in Iquitos, and has worked extensively with plant medicine in the Peruvian Amazon for 9 years. She was initiated at Ebando in 2016 and again in the Illombo tradition in 2020. Her kambo is Maghanga, “the science and tradition of healing plants.”
A young Gabonese novelist, Judix studied english for 3 years at the former American Cultural Centre and the American Language School. He has worked as a translator with Africa’s Eden and traditional healers for more than 10 years. He has gone through 2 initiations in the Njole and Ilombo traditions.
All proceeds go to support Ebando and it’s satellite projects:
Ebando is an NGO that aims to give broader access to the fundamental tangible and intangible cultural heritage found in various regions of Central Africa (including forest habitats, savannas, rivers, lakes and lagoons).
Blessings of the Forest
Blessings of the Forest (BoTF) is a community interest company that has been set up to preserve, research and share knowledge about the medicinal plants and indigenous traditions of the Gabonese forest people for the benefit of all of humanity.
Gabon Untouched is a Libreville based nature conservation and community development organization. It is partially funded by its specialized wildlife and cultural tour operations around Gabon. Its mission focuses on four main areas: conservation, health, education, eco-tourism.
Al Jireh Orphange
Ebando partners with El Jireh, a lively orphanage in Nkok village just outside of Libreville which is run by a benevolent Gabonese couple, Mama and Papa Pambo Mbumba. It is home to 52 orphans, ranging in age from 2 months to 17 years who’s parents have either died, renounced their rights as parents or abandoned them. Ebando serves on their board and provides guidance and support and promotion of the great work they are doing. Through promotions, Ebando directs vital funds and donations to the organization. Founder, Madam Mbumba, describes Ebando as the loving ‘Godfather’ of the orphanage, an integral part of their family.
Youth re-insertion program
Ebando supports a number of young people in programs aimed at educating, capacitating and re-inserting troubled and socially challenged youths into society. These young people include children of Ebando team members who’s mothers have passed, as well as youngsters that have been victims of the hard knocks of Gabonese urban life, and have turned to drugs or alcohol to cope. Ebando provides financial support for practical education, health support as well as initiation with the wood to combat addiction and put the youth ‘back on a good life road’.