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NYU Conference on Ibogaine Nov 5-6, 1999

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Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa

James W. Fernandez
Princeton University Press


Howard S. Lotsof

Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa by James W. Fernandez is a magnificent scholarly study of the Bwiti religion of the Fang people of Gabon. The work is the result of a twenty-six month sojourn by Fernandez and his wife. Chapter 18 was chosen for review as it presented specific information relating to the effects induced by the Ibogaine containing plant Tabernanthe iboga, referenced either as iboga or eboga in the chapter.

The writing is particularly interesting as it allows a comparison of persons treated for chemical dependence to opiates and stimulants with purified Ibogaine to the initiation rites of the Fang Bwiti in the equatorial forests. Examples of the non-African use can be read in "Ibogaine in the Treatment of Chemical Dependence: Clinical Perspectives" , Lotsof, Bull. MAPS V(3):16-27, 1995, as well as, in "Reflections on an Ibogaine Experience".

The Fang sect of Bwiti represents a group within the Bwiti religion influenced by their European missionary experience whereas the Mitsogo Bwiti shows influence to a greater degree by the Bieri ancestor cult. The Fang allow the initiation of women and Europeans where the Mitsogo only allow the initiation of African men. A review of the Mitsogo Bwiti is found in "Pharmacodynamics and Therapeutic Applications of Iboga and Ibogaine", Goutarel, Gollnhofer, Sillans, Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, 71-111, 1993.

The expertise of the Nganga ("doctor", person powerful in the knowledge of hidden things) in Bwiti chapels has similarities to the skills of the medical and psychiatric specialists using the purified chemical in hospitals in Europe and the Americas to treat substance-related disorders (see Science and Treatment sections).

I strongly suggest that persons having an interest in religion, African religion or Ibogaine obtain a copy of the Fernandez book and prepare themselves for a long comfortable read.

Both the page footnotes and the notes for Chapter 18 follow the chapter's text. Footnotes are indicated by "*" and chapter notes by "#".


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