Some in Gabon believe the bitter iboga root comes from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden – others deem it a dangerous drug. Whatever it is, it’s attracting tourists in search of enlightenment.
A growing number of Westerners are travelling to the central African country to sample it themselves as part of an ancestral rite called Bwiti, one of Gabon’s official religions.
Among them is Remy Causse, 45, who made the long journey from France in hopes that the ritual would help him to “see more clearly”.
Bwiti combines worship of ancient forest spirits with elements of Christianity. It is practiced regularly and involves ingesting the powerful psychoactive root, iboga, which has effects similar to LSD, mescaline or amphetamines.
“Iboga cleans the insides,” says Tatayo, a French-Gabonese spiritual guide who receives many of the Western bandzi, or candidates for initiation.
“The bandzi empties himself of everything bad that is buried inside before coming face to face with himself.”
But the deaths, deemed accidental, of two Western initiates saw the practice come under sharp scrutiny, notably in former colonial power France where health officials warned it was “hallucinogenic and highly toxic”.