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Council of traditional practitioners

the community of traditional practitioners from Gabon made important foundational steps with the constitution of a new non-profit in each country: In Gabon they decided to call it Awe (Which in their traditional Nzembi language means: brotherhood, sisterhood)

As customary in Gabon, the process was challenging and funny; a playful dance.

In Gabon we work mostly with Babongo Pygmeas, and with Massango, Mitsogo, Punu, and Apindji peoples. In their traditions, it is customary to work as a collective and to build on what one person says or has and then on what the second person says, etc. Also known in other places and now in the west as "ubuntu (I am because we are)". This process of building from what each one brings into the circle becomes an experience of surrender and trust in the collective field. It turns out that they liked the name AWE (what I had) for their non-profit and decided to keep it because in their traditional Nzembi language it means brotherhood and sisterhood and they felt that it summarized the mission of the non profit they wanted. I

t turns out that the symbol of AWE (AWE Colombia) which we had understood more as an infinitum of the mystery, is a symbol that is very important in their tradition too. It is woven in palm leaves, like in the picture, and has a very important role in their advanced initiations (Edika) where it is given to the initiate together with all the powers of the elders. As if the magic and synchronicities weren't enough, they understand this symbol as three persons with their arms open embracing each other and intertwining: brotherhood and sisterhood, harmony of all peoples, awe (in Nzembi language).

AWE (Gabon) is governed by sixteen leaders plus they invited me to be part of the conceil de administracion, so we are seventeen leaders and forty-five founding members in total. These founding members are all important spiritual leaders from different areas of Gabon and specially of the Ngounie province.

To the right in blue is the executive director of AWE: Ngoulu, and on the left in orange is the president of the council of sages: Maitre Mbari.

I learned so much from my father Maitre Mbari... such as how to drink whisky properly and all the ways you can combine whisky. We had a lot of fun.

Here is a video of the moment in which AWE became alive. They lit a torch made of a perfumed sacred resin similar to copal:

The community also held three strong ceremonies to empower the process of constitution of this exciting venture, two bwiti's led by the men and a ñembe that was led by the women. A lot of Iboga was involved and also there were conversations with the spirits about all this and they had their say of course about it all which was important. There will be more ceremonies being held throughout the next five months in different areas of the country to finish the spiritual process of constitution and for the people in these remote areas to be informed through ceremony about our new existence and mission. The next one is next Saturday.

I don't like to take many pictures of ceremony but here is a seven-second video:

This is Papa Mayoss, one of the strongest voices in the non-profit. This was taken in the second bwiti.

Council of traditional practitioners

After all the process of revision and consensus building of the bylaws, interior regulations, governance, and membership of the non-profit; we had a four-day conference with forty-five Neemas (temple leaders, shamanic leaders). We also counted with the support of the mayor, the ministry of interior, and the police; they all showed interest in the tradition and some of them joined for one day.

The conference was divided into three main workshops: An artistic workshop related to the dance, music, and costumes used in ceremony; a pharmacopeia workshop about the different medications of the forest; and a workshop for the initiatory rites (the Magghanga): Missoko, Mabanji, Muiri, Dissoumba, Mboumba, Ñembe, Elombo, etc., etc. Each day would begin with some sort of ceremony to call in the spirit. Then the eldest (they were almost all elders) would begin to speak and share, usually something related to the previous day, or to give guidance on specific questions that they felt were of outmost importance to inquire during the break out groups that would follow. After this we would begin the workshops. During each workshop, we had breakout rooms where they discussed what they felt was going well, what was problematic, what were the solutions that they saw, and what they dreamed for the future.

Here is a video of a moment in which they were calling the spirits to begin the second day of the conference. The women close their eyes.

A very important part of their communication throughout the conference was done through chanting. Almost half of the discussions were done through normal words and the other half through chanting. I felt that this was very valuable. Here is an example:

Here is a little part of the artistic workshop when a break-out group was talking about the Ngombi (the Sitar):

The main conclusion of all the discussion I would say was a strong desire for unity among all the different traditional practitioners of the country, and unity of the different initiatory rites, male and female. Once they achieve this unity they could improve many of the conflicts that they see, such as the loss of purity in the ceremonies and misinterpretations, the conflicts with money and accessibility to healing and initiation, and the conflicts related to having access to the different materials and medicine from the forest that they need.

Here are a few more highlights that I gathered from the workshops which where “hot” and of general consensus; and which also were discussed in French and therefore I was able to understand because there were many discussions in other languages too:

In order of appearance:

  • They revised their artistic practices (music, dance, masks) and had lengthy discussions on how certain instruments must not be used in certain ceremonies and how the traditional way of the ceremonies and their artistic elements must be conserved. That the ways to conduct ceremony remain pure and attuned to ancestral ways. They also talked about the importance of having all the necessary elements and instruments always in ceremonies.

  • They revised the feminine rites and how they must not be mixed between them.

  • The conference helped to clarify misunderstandings in the way of things related to their ceremonies. They also spent a lot of time speaking (and remembering) about each of the instruments and tools used in ceremonies; how they are built, how they should be used properly, their story, and what meanings they carry.

  • One of the reasons why their ceremonies are changing and becoming impure is because they are having trouble finding all the correct elements from the forest in order to be able to continue producing the ceremonies in the same ancestral ways. As a solution, they found that they could plant different things that were originally found in the wild. They wish support for this. An example is the little pumpkin that is used to make the original rattle, which is difficult to find now a days in the wild.

  • They were very worried that the young in general do not wish to continue with the tradition. After a lot of discussions they concluded it was also the responsibility of the elders to teach them well and to teach them to value the tradition in a way that they would be interested in continuing it. They concluded that they should built a school of the tradition in order to be able to teach the young correctly and more formally. They realized that many elders where holding on to their secrets without revealing (sharing) them and a formal school would aid in that too. In an emotional moment, the eldest gathered and blessed the younger committing to guide them better.

  • During the pharmacopeia workshops they described and listed some of the main sacred plants and their functions.

  • They wish to get the government to create some kind of pharmacopeia organism to help them gather all the traditional information together in one place.

  • They wish they could find a way to create fixed prices over all of Gabon for each treatment in particular.

  • They are worried that many ngangas charge too much and people are not being treated because of this, but also realize that the ngangas need money too.

  • They see Ibogaine as “synthetic” and do not feel that it is good.

  • They are very interested in uniting the medicine of the white with the medicine of the black. They talked especially about incorporating more their traditional medicines in the hospitals and general medical system of Gabon. They are also interested in spreading their black knowledge in the exterior world.

  • They also feel that too many people denigrate the ngangas and are very worried abut it. They kept again and again using the word denigration and I hadn’t noticed until then that denigration is related to being black.

  • In terms of the maghanga, the different rites, they are very worried that there are too many charlatans. False ngangas, acting like healers for money.

  • They also see that there are many incomprehensions and fights between ngangas.

  • Many of these fights are related to money too. They want to harmonize the prices of everything but also they want to have clarity over who heals what exactly to not have these incomprehensions between the healers and work as one.

  • They wish to have one big organization that would unite the whole country, all of the ngangas, and which would have antenas in each region so that everyone would collaborate between each other. This would help solve the problems that arise because of false ngangas, impurities in the ceremonies, the elevated prices, and the denigration.

  • They wish to ask the government to install a council of sages inside the tribunal. This would aid with all the legal issues that many ngangas are having.

  • The women wish to be heard and taken into account more. Similar to the moment of the young ones, this was also very emotional, there was a special space for this moment, and the men accepted this.

  • They want to identify all of the traditional practitioners of the country and then they wish to valorize them, meaning that they wish to test each one and verify those who are real than those who are false.

  • They wish to make Iboga a religion and that it is recognized within the country.

I would say that the really main conclusion and gift of the conference was their creation of this new non profit which they called AWE (like the non profit I work at). They had many meetings before the conference to get prepared in which they were already discussing a lot of things, and also several meetings after to consolidate the ideas.

All the Neemas and Ngangas had a great time, the most important thing of course was food and drinks. We ate crocodile, gazelle, wild pig, porcupine, monkey, macaque, different kinds of fish, and lots of beers and sodas :). It was a good banquete (or like a festival) and celebration.

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