Guide To The Ancestors

Leil:The loots of the Iboga bush are ri-tually eaten by the Bwiti cult in order to call forth the ancestors

Page 113 top: Dried Iboga roots.

Page 113 middle left: Old wooden fetish objects of the Fang, who were once associated with an Iboga cult

Page 113 middle right: The conspicuous bright yellow fruits of the Iboga

"Zame ye Mebege [the last of the creator gods] gave us Eboka. One day... he saw . .. the Pygmy Bitamu, '-"gh in an Atanga tree, gathering ' 5 fruit He made him fall. He died, and Zame brought h;~ spirit to him. Zame cut off the little fingers and the little toes of the cadaver of the Pygmy and planted them in various parts of the forest. They grew into the Eboka bush."

open the head," thus inducing a contact with the ancestors through collapse and hallucinations "

The drug has far-reaching social influence. According to the natives, the initiate cannot enter the cult until he has seen Bwiti, and the only way to see Bwiti is to eat Iboga The complex ceremonies and tribal dances associated with consumption of Iboga vary greatly

Leil:The loots of the Iboga bush are ri-tually eaten by the Bwiti cult in order to call forth the ancestors

Right: Iboga, necessary for rituals, is grown at the temple of the Bwiti cult.

One of the few members of the Apo-cynaceae utilized as a hallucinogen, this shrub attains a height of 4 to 6 feet (1.5— 2 m). Its yellowish root is the active part of the plant, containing the psychoactive alkaloids. The root bark is rasped and eaten directly as raspings or as a powder or is drunk as an infusion.

Iboga is basic to the Bwiti cult and other secret societies in Gabon and Zaire. The drug is taken in two ways: regularly in l:~iited doses before and in the early part of the ceremonies, followed after midnight by a smaller dose; and once or twice during the ;n itiation to the cult in excessive doses of one to three basketfuls over an eight to twenty-four-hour period, to "break from locality to locality. Iboga enters also other aspects of Bwiti's control of events Sorcerers take the drug to seek information from the spirit world, and leaders of the cult may consume Iboga for a full day before asking advice from ancestors.

Iboga is intimately associated with death: the plant is frequently anthropo morphized as a supernatural being, a "generic ancestor," which can so highly value or despise an individual that it can carry him away to the realm of the dead. There are somer'nes deaths from the excessive doses taken during inflations, but the intoxication usually so interferes with motor activity that the initiates must sit gazing intently into space,

eventually collapsing and having to be carded to a spe~ al house or forest hide out. Du ¡ng thi almost comatose peri-cd, the "shadow" (soul) leaves the body to wander with the ancestors in the land of the dead. The bznzie (angels)—the initiates—relate their visions as follows: "A dead relat^ e came to me in my sleep and told me to eat :t"; "I was sick and was counseled to eat Iboga to cure eventually collapsing and having to be carded to a spe~ al house or forest hide out. Du ¡ng thi almost comatose peri-cd, the "shadow" (soul) leaves the body to wander with the ancestors in the land of the dead. The bznzie (angels)—the initiates—relate their visions as follows: "A dead relat^ e came to me in my sleep and told me to eat :t"; "I was sick and was counseled to eat Iboga to cure

The Chemistry of Iboga

As with other hallucinogens, especially Teonanacatl (Psilocybe spp.) and Ololiuqui, the active principles of 1Tabernanthe iboga belong to the large class cf indole alkaloids. Ibogaine, which can be produced synthetically, is the main alkaloid of T. ihoga. Its hallucinogenic effects are accompanied by strong stimulation of the central nervous system.

Addiction Therapy with Ibogaine

myself"; "I wanted to know God—to know things of the dead and the land beyond"; "I walked or flew over a long, multicolored road or over many rivers which led me to my ancestors, who then took me to the great gods."

Iboga may act as a powerful stimulant, enabling the partaker to maintain extraordinary physical exertion without fatigue over a long period, he body may feel lighter, and levitation—a feeling of float' ng—is often experienced. Spectrums or rainbowlike effects are seen ;n surrounding objects, indications to the banzie that the initiate is approaching the realms of the ancestors and of the gods. Time perception is altered; time is lengthened, and initiates

Iboga roots contain an alkaloid known as ibogaine. This substance was first introduced in the 1960s by the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo as a 'fantasy-enhancing drug" for psychotherapy. Today, ibogaine is in the spotlight of neuropsychological research, which has shown that the alkaloid can ease druy addiction (to such drugs as heroin and cocaine) and make way for a cure. Ibogaine calms the motor activity that is present when under the influence of an opiate. The chiropractor Karl Naeher says that "Ibogaine, when taken in one high dose by an opiate addict, drastically reduces w;rhdrawal symptoms and, at the same time, causes a 'trip- that reveals such deep insights into the personal causes of the addiction that the majority of those who undergo this type of therapy can go for months without a relapse. But several additional sessions are required before a lasting stabilization is evident."

Research into the potential use of ibogaine as a treatment for substance abuse is being carried out by Deborah Mash and her team in Miami.

Above left and right: During the initiation rilor, of the Bwiti cult, the novices ingest extremely high doses of the Iboga root in or.der to attain contact wi h the an cestors during the powerful ritual.

I'age 715 top: The seeds of the Iboga hush can germinate only under particular conditions. They themselves contain no active compounds

Page 115 right: Music plays a central role in the Bwiti cult. The harp player not only allows the strings to resonate but also sings liturgies in which the cosmology and worldview of the tribe are expressed.

Top left: The typical leaves of the Iboga bush.

Top right: A herbarium specimen of Tabemanthe Iboga in a comparative botanical collection.

feel that their spi tual trip has taken many hours or even days. The body is seen as detached: one user reported, "Here I am, and there is my body going through its action." Large doses induce auditory, olfactory, and gustatory synesthesia. Mood may vary greatly from fear to eupho a.

An Englishman writing on Gabon mentioned "Eroga" under "fetishplants" as early as 1819. Describing it as a "favorite but violent medicine," he undoubtedly saw it powdered and assumed that it represented a charred fungus. French and Belgian explorers encountered this remarkable drug and the cults using it a little over a century ago. They stated that the drug greatly increased muscular strength and endurance and that it had aphrodisiac properties. An early report, in 1864, insisted that Iboga is not toxic except in high doses, that "warriors and hunters use it constantly to keep themselves awake description of the experiences of an initiate under high dosage of the drug: "Soon all his sinews stretch out in an extraordinary fashion. An epileptic madness seizes him, during which, unconscious, he mouths words which, when heard by the initiated ones, have a prophetic meaning and prove that the fetish has entered him,"

Other plants of reputed narcotic properties are involved in the Iboga.

Above left and right: During the initiation rilor, of the Bwiti cult, the novices ingest extremely high doses of the Iboga root in or.der to attain contact wi h the an cestors during the powerful ritual.

during night watches . . In the 1880s, the Germans met it in Cameroon (northern Gabon), and in 1898 it was reported that the root had an "exciting effect on the nervous system so that its use is highly valued on long, tiring marches, on lengthy canoe voyages, and on difficult night watches."

The earliest report of its hallucinogenic effects dates from 1903, with the cults, sometimes used alone, sometimes as admixtures with Tabemanthe iboga itself. Cannabis sativa—known as Yarna or Beyama—may often be smoked following ingestion of small doses of Ib» ga In Gabon, Cannabis resin may on occasion be eaten with Iboga. Alan, the euphorbiaceous Alchornea floribunda, is often consumed in large amounts to help produce the collapse experienced k k

in Bwiti initiations; in southern Gabon, it is mixed with Iboga. Another euphor-biaceous plant—Ayan-beyem or Elaeo-phorbia dr up if era—may be taken during Bwiti initiations, when Alan is slow to take effect; the latex is applied directly to the eyes with a parrot feather, affecting the optical nerve and inducing visions

The Bwiti cult has been growing m number of convwts and in social strength, not waning, in recent decades. It represents a strong native element in a changing society being rapidly engulfed in foreign cultura1 influences. Thff^l consider that the drug and its associated cults enable them more easily to resist the veitiginous transition from the individualism of traditional tribal life to the collectivism and loss of identity in the encroaching Western civilization. It may well offer the strongest single force against the missionary spread of Christianity and Islam, since it unifies many of the once hostile, warring tribes in resistance to European innovations. As one initiate stated: "Catholicism and Protestantism is not our religion. I am not happy in the mission churches."

The cultural importance of the drug is everywhere seen. The name Iboga is used for the whole Bwiti cult; ndzi eboka ("eater of Iboga"j means a mem ber of the cult; nyiba-eboka signifies the religion surrounding the narcotic plant.

Iboga in every sense of the term is in deed a plant of the gods. It appears to be here to stay in the native cultures of west-central Africa

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