Studies on the iboga cults. I. The ancient documents

The hallucinogenic plant Tabernanthe iboga is used as a source of visions by various ethnic groups of western equatorial Africa in the context of a complex system of religious, therapeutic and divinatory practices that can collectively be defined as ‘iboga cults’. The most renowned are the religious cults known as Bwiti. The author presents a series of studies on the iboga cults, based on field investigations in Gabon undertaken in the period 1991–2022. In this first article, the first written documents attesting to the traditional use of iboga are presented and discussed. At the current state of research, the oldest reference to the existence of Bwiti is dated to 1861, while the oldest reference to iboga is dated to 1862. 1862 is also the first date of the arrival of this plant in Europe. Inconsistencies in the translation of ancient texts from the original English to the French are highlighted, which have generally escaped French-speaking scholars and which also concern the first quotations of Bwiti.