Iboga is the sacred plant medicine of the Missoko people of Gabon, who engage with this plant in a healing tradition known as Bwiti. Join Moughenda Mikala, 10th generation Missoko Bwiti Shaman, in learning about the history of Bwiti, the search for truth aided by Iboga, and the healing open to those who journey on the Bwiti path.
Getting to Know Moughenda
Moughenda is a 10th generation Missoko Bwiti Shaman based in Gabon, West Africa. Bwiti is the spiritual tradition of the Missoko people of Gabon. Bwiti uses the healing spirit of the iboga plant, a dissociative root bark specially cultivated by practitioners, to promote radical spiritual growth and mental and physical healing. Some people may be familiar with the extract, called ibogaine, taken from this plant.
Moughenda’s relationship with Iboga began two years before he was born, when his birth as the next Shaman of the village was prophesied. The training to become Shaman is intense, and Moughenda took his first high dose of Iboga when he was just 8 years old. After 22 years of intensive training, Moughenda healed an unconscious dying man by taking Iboga and asking the spirits and plants for help, eventually becoming a Shaman. As Shaman, he oversees weddings, funerals, community gatherings, and the well-known Rites of Passage. Welcome Moughenda.
The History of Bwiti
When the French came to Gabon in 1885, the Missoko people hid the spiritual practice of Bwiti in order to protect it. “Bwiti is not a religion. It is a spiritual tradition, which is the study of life itself. It is the art of knowing….It has been kept hidden – secret – for centuries after the missionaries came to Gabon and tried to dismiss it. Our people didn’t have a choice, they had to hide.”
“Way back, people sat around the fire at night and wondered where this all came from. They were getting food, water, animals, herbs, and plants for free. They were looking for someone who gave them all the beauty that life provides, just to say thank you for everything they have, as they walk on Earth. So, they were wondering, who was so kind to give all this to them? Some said it was the sky, some said it was the ocean, everyone was asking different questions. In the village, wisdom is very important. You don’t just wake up one morning, 80 years old with gray hair, and you have wisdom – that has nothing to do with wisdom. So, they decided to divide group – some would look in the water, some would look in the trees.”
“But one day, in a tiny village deep in the jungle, a hunter went to visit his traps. He visited all these traps and he found no bush meat, until he got to the last one, where he saw a porcupine. He took it back home and gave it to his wife to cook it for dinner. They ate the food and then the hunter went to sleep, after drinking some plum wine.
The woman out of no where felt that the world was starting to change. She felt weird, nauseous, warm, and high. She wondered what was happening to her, because she never drank or smoked. Everything started to change – going from slow motion to getting more dizzy, nauseous, and uncomfortable.
Then out of nowhere, this big TV screen popped up in front of her, and she saw the whole village in it – people she knew, people who had passed away a long time ago, all the secrets between people. She didn’t panic. She waited until the next day, and when her husband got home, she told him the whole story. He didn’t believe her, he said ‘you’re not a shaman!”
Being a strong woman, she went and told the chief of the village. He asked what she ate and she told him about the porcupine that her husband brought home. So, the chief asked the husband to take him to the trap, and the chief noticed that there was a tree right by the trap with gnawed roots hanging out.
He thought ‘The porcupine could have eaten those roots and then the woman ate the porcupine.’ He took some of the roots back home to the village and asked his own wife to try it. The same thing happened to her – she felt warm, dizzy, started to throw up. And then she saw the tree that the roots were from. The tree started to speak and told her not to be afraid.
‘My name is iboga. I have seen all of you humans searching for the truth for yourself and where you come from. I am a messenger, and I have been here since day one. If you want to find out who you are, and where you come from, eat me and I will show you the way.’”
The Way of Truth with Iboga
Sacred plant medicines and psychedelics have often helped people move beyond ideas and into a deeper knowing – a sense of embodied truth. The spirit of Iboga helped create the practice of Bwiti by teaching the people how to ask questions. The tradition is based on using Iboga to answer questions and discover truth.
“[In Bwiti], we don’t think, we know. Thinking and knowing are different… There is a difference between believing and knowing. Every single human is looking for the truth, and the truth is hard to swallow. That’s why you see nowadays a lot of belief systems that are based on people searching for the truth. Now to us, truth cannot be told, you have to search for it until you find it.”
“I am so blessed to the born into this Bwiti tradition, using the roots medicine, called Iboga, to find the truth. We do not have any gurus, there are no highest people that everyone has to follow. We have only one master, the Iboga medicine plant itself. The truth we know does not come from any human being, ever. We take alive journeys, spiritual journeys. If we want to find out about different things, we go through spiritual initiations. That’s how we find our truth.”
“And truth doesn’t belong to one person. If we have a difficult situation and we want to find an answer, we’ll ask three people in three different villages to ask Iboga, and the three have to come out with the same answers for us to consider that true.”
Healing with the Medicine
“There are only three kinds of different plan medicine in the whole world, regardless of where you come from. There is medicine for physical healing only, to detoxify the body, heal bones, and more. Then, there is medicine for spiritual healing. Spiritual healing is your mind, any mental problems, including your mind and your soul.
Finally, we have medicine for spiritual discovery. What is spiritual discovery? It is you going to discover you. For us, from a young age, we start playing with the medicine, then you’re 12 and you start your first initiation, and you go on a discovery. We don’t just want to discover ourselves, we want to discover the nature around us.”
“We are so blessed to have Iboga medicine, which is the godfather of all the plant on Earth. It is the only medicine plant with two different spirits – male and female – wrapped up in one. That is why it does the physical healing, it can detox, regardless of how long someone has been an addict, and return the body to zero. Then, you have the spiritual healing, which is straight to the soul. We heal the soul and put the soul back in place. And now, the whole world has mental problems, starting with stress. And there are pills for everything…But when it comes to a mental problem, it is a spiritual issue. You cannot fix a mental problem using a physical [solution]. It is spiritual to spiritual, the same way as physical to physical. The Iboga medicine helps us to heal our physical body, our spiritual body, and our mind.”
“It is not in your imagination. [When you work with Iboga], the medicine goes behind your imagination and you’re awake, you don’t lose consciousness, and you can see yourself or even meet your own soul for the first time ever, and have a conversation. These are some of the benefits any human can get from the Iboga medicine plant.”
“When someone goes through the healing, the Rite of Passage, they get a heavy load. We call the integration process the Second Rite of Passage….It is when they go back to their previous life, and they can really begin the integration process, which is very challenging. We do our best to get people ready for that. We have what we call a fire talk. It is very powerful, it is one of the best therapies we have in the Bwiti tradition. We use the teaching of the medicine, we don’t add anything of ourselves, to teach someone how to live, how to be free here in this world.”
“Nowadays, we are all looking for freedom, the freedom to live and be happy. Integration process is very challenging, but it really helps someone to understand what they learned, what they saw themselves, and what they thought they knew. That’s where it gets hard, if they have some beliefs in their head and go face to face with the truth, there is no more running or hiding. I love that, when people face themselves for the first time ever. That’s when the integration process becomes challenging. But at the end of day, people finally understand how life goes and they can live their lives peacefully.”
Physical & Spiritual Safety with Iboga
Iboga is growing as an alternative to addiction treatment, many of which are happening outside the Bwiti context. Iboga can have an impact on the heart, and there have been instances of people becoming ill or dying after using this medicine. Moughenda shares some insights into how the Bwiti context helps keep people safe.
“Bwiti was kept really secret to protect it from humankind, because we are the biggest destroyers of things of nature. We see that everyday. So, our people kept this secret for centuries….The medicine came and revealed that to me and asked me to go on a mission to help out and teach providers how to understand how to work with this medicine. It can be very dangerous.
The person who is providing the medicine must take a proper, traditional training, because the Iboga medicine is a traditional medicine. Because someone has to understand how that medicine works. Even a medical doctor can work with that medicine on a physical level, but if they’re only working on a physical level only, what will you get?
Nothing. Nowadays, everyone wants to work with the medicine, different clinics, it is getting out there so fast. But my advice is to get trained properly in order to help others. Even half a teaspoon can trigger your soul to leave the body, and you have to know how to do a soul retrieval. This medicine can be very dangerous if you don’t know how to work with it. So, if you want to help someone, you need a proper training, a shamanic training.”
Iboga Retreats & Trainings at the Iboga Retreat Center
Moughenda and his community welcome visitors to come to Gabon for retreats and trainings, both for individuals seeking healing and those seeking to become Bwiti practitioner. There are upcoming training dates available. Learn more at http://www.ibogaretreatcenter.com/ For those interested in detox programs and psychospiritual retreats, visit www.roothealing.com to learn more. Moughenda has also created a non-profit to support projects in Bwiti villages, called Banes Ba Dimbu, learn more at www.banesbadimbu.com