Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa by J. W. Fernandez

By J. W. Fernandez

Bwiti perhaps describedas a syncretistreligionderivedfroma varietyof autochthonous and Christiantraditions.One of its areasof occurrenceis the northernand northwestern a part of Gabon, the place it truly is particularlyassociatedwith the Fang, even though it is or used to be neveradheredto via morethan8 or 10 according to cent of the Fangpopulation(p. 356). Its contributors declare that their imaginativeelaborationsof liturgy and trust come to them in dream communicationswith the ancestorsor less than the impact of eboga,a drug to which they're deeply attached(p. 4). As a matterof truth, Bwiti is without doubt one of the few Africanreligious hobbies to argue its efficiency from the consistent use of a psychoreactivedrug particularly than,say,possessionbysupernaturableingsortheimpersonationofsuchbeingsbymeans of masks.It is on the sametime additionally a hugely polymorphousreligion,exhibitingsubstantial variationsin doctrine,worshipandsymbolismfromonebranchto another,depending between different issues at the measure to which affinity with Christianityis emphasisedor de-emphasised.Fernandez'sstudy limits itself to the department often called AsumejeEning ('Commencementof Life') which, even though acknowledged to lean extra towardsthe autochthonous religiouspole, has neverthelessadoptedcertainbiblicalfigures,includingEyenZame(Jesus Christ) and NyingwanMebege(the Virgin Mary), as 'Great Gods'.
In addition to a few neighborhood ethnographersBwiti has over the last thirty to 40 yearsalso attracteda small crowd of internationalsocial scientists, which through now makes it some of the most broadly and profoundly defined African religions. except Fernandezone may well point out the names of Viciana Vilaldach(for equatorialGuinea),
GeorgesBalandier,Rene Bureau(not mentionedby Fernandez),StanislawSwiderskiand, extra lately, Andre Mary (La naissancea l'envers:Paris: l'Harmattan, 1983). considering that Fernandez'sfield researchended in 1960, his research will be consideredas bearing on the conditionsprevailingin or as much as the past due 1950s.For informationon laterdevelopments one has thereforeto flip to authorssuch as Mary.
Before the publicationof this magisterialstudy Fernandezhad already,over a interval oftwodecades,exploreditsmainthemesinanimpressivenumberofarticles,which,taken jointly, supply us a good suggestion of how his considering on Bwiti has constructed. As anthropologistsare changing into increasingly more awareof the necessity to learn the influences,
pressuresand processesunderlyingtheir personal production,and as Fernandezhas by way of now develop into a number one determine in Africanist anthropology,it will be necessary someday to reconstruct his highbrow trip, very like J. L. Lowes (Fernandez's version) reconstructedthe genesisof Coleridge's'KublaKhan'.One area,amongseveral,in which this kind of research will be fruitfully undertaken is Fernandez's presentation of Bwiti christologicalthinkingat differentstagesof his career,a subjectwe will returnto later during this assessment.

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In the Bwiti religion. however, these .. dran1atic suggestions .. are taken up and made into ritual dramas. Narrativesare provided and seenarios are created and the parts of participants become fairly weil known. Arguments are enacted with foregone conclusions. Banzie becon1e dramatic persons and thus defeat the inchoateness of everyday life. They find in1ages to predicate upon their inchoate selves. They are given dramatic new names and becon1e something through perfonnance. In Bwiti we find. often quite explicitly formulated, the dramatic perfom1ance of metaphors.

First. that there has been a set of historical circumstances and experiences that bring a people to expectations propitious for religious revitalization. Second, the meaning ofthat revitalization is composed from the residue of these experiences. Thus, a people 's religion cannot be understood or explained without taking historical circumstances into account. 12 For religion. at least Bwiti, has the particular power to reconcile past and present, the corporeal and the social, the I and the Other.

Mequet concluded his visit, as did so many who followed him, by arguing that in view of the industry and bravery of the Fang, every effort should be made to establish direct contact with them. ' ' 20 NOBLE CANNIBALS IN NARRATION While men of administration and commerce were beginning to strengthen their contacts with this dynamic people of untapped potential~ explorers with a more professional purpose made efforts to meet the Fang. One of these was the gorilla hunter, Paul DuChaillu, an American of French Creole birth.

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