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Few Things to Know About Gabon – Culture, History & Religion

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Gabon, a country located in west central Africa, is known for its high income per capita due to its vast oil reserves.

The country was under French control from 1839 until gaining independence in 1960, after which it became a one-party state. However, a new constitution in 1991 brought multi-party democracy to Gabon.

Gabon’s commitment to conservation is reflected in its 13 national parks, which cover approximately 11% of the country’s land area.

These parks were established to protect the country’s forests and wildlife from illegal activities such as logging.

Gabon’s long and sandy coastline is also a popular attraction, featuring palm-fringed bays, estuaries, and lagoons that are home to a variety of lush tropical vegetation.

Visitors are often awed by the country’s natural beauty, including its stunning white sand beaches and diverse wildlife such as gorillas, elephants, parrots, and panthers, all of which can be found in the country’s vast forests.

The Bantu people, who are the indigenous people live in coastal areas, villages, and settlements near the country’s numerous rivers, which serve as the main communication routes.

The country is home to several Bantu tribes, including the Fang, Eshira, Mbele, and Okande. While many of these tribes continue to enjoy a more rural way of life, there are a few native Gabonese who live in the country’s urban centers.

The major cities include Libreville, Port Gentil, Moanda, Mouilla, Franceville, Oyem, and Lambaréné.

Early years of Gabon

Gabon’s rich history dates back to 7000 B.C when the Babinga, or Pygmies, inhabited the land. Later on, Bantu groups settled in the southern and eastern regions of Africa.

The country is home to several tribal groups, with the Fang people being the largest, making up 25% of the population.

Portuguese navigator Diego Cam conducted the first exploration of Gabon in the 15th century, and the country’s name was coined by Portuguese explorers who named the Gabon River “Rio de Gabao” in 1942.

The Dutch arrived in Gabon in 1953, followed by the French in 1630, and in 1839, the French successfully established their presence in the land of Gabon, settling on the left bank of Gabon estuary.

Over time, the French conquered the hinterland, and in the second half of the 19th century, Gabon was officially identified as a French territory in 1888.

The country was recognized as an autonomous republic under the French Union after World War II and became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa in 1910.

The federation lasted until 1959, and on August 17, 1960, Gabon gained its independence and became an independent republic, along with the other three territories of the French Equatorial Union.

The first president of Gabon, Léon M’ba, was elected in 1961, and Omar Bongo Ondimba was the vice president.

In 1967, M’ba passed away, and Bongo succeeded him, becoming the head of state until his death in 2009.

Bongo served for three consecutive seven-year terms. Since then, the country has gone through significant political and social changes, including a new constitution established in 1991 that brought multi-party democracy to the country.

Today, the country boasts an impressive 13 national parks that cover an estimated 11% of the country’s area, with a primary aim of protecting the forests and wildlife from logging and other illegal activities.

Its long and sandy coastal area features palm-fringed bays, estuaries, and lagoons, making the country a center of lush tropical vegetation.

Its scenic white beaches and massive wildlife, such as gorillas, elephants, parrots, and panthers, find refuge in the bountiful forests making it a destination for tourists seeking adventure and natural beauty.

Culture

Gabon’s culture has been significantly influenced by its colonial past, particularly by its former colonizer, France.

This influence is evident in the French language being widely used and dominating the media, with French being the language of newspapers, national and provincial radio stations.

Also read: The History Of Central African Republic

However, local languages are still widely spoken, and television programs are often broadcast in local languages.

The cultural history is rich and diverse, with 40 identified ethnic groups, each with its distinct personality and traditions.

The largest ethnic group is the Fang, who dominate the art and culture of the Bantu civilizations.

Pre-colonial history and traditions have a significant impact on Gabonese culture, and exploring these can provide insight into the country’s rich and fascinating heritage.

Traditional ceremonies are still an essential part of Gabonese life, and they vary from tribe to tribe. Ceremonies include music, dance, and other cultural activities.

The country also has a population of about 1.5 million people, with an equal number of men and women. While 60% of the population lives in urban areas, the remaining 40% reside in rural villages.

Currently, many Africans from neighboring countries go to Gabon in search of work opportunities.

Gabon’s music and folklore are an integral part of its culture and are worth exploring to gain a more in-depth understanding of Gabon’s people and their way of life.

With its unique blend of traditional and modern influences, Gabon’s culture is diverse, vibrant, and continually evolving.

Language

Gabon, a country located in West Central Africa, is considered a cultural melting pot due to its diverse population and unique blend of traditions.

One of the key elements that contribute to the country’s cultural identity is the French language. French is the official language and serves as the medium of instruction in schools.

However, it was not always the case. During the World War II, only a few Gabonese could speak French and they were mainly employed in government or business sectors.

In the years that followed, France implemented a policy of universal primary education in its African territories, which included Gabon.

This led to a significant increase in the number of Gabonese speakers of French. By 1961, approximately 47% of the population over the age of 14 could speak French, with only 13% being literate in the language. Today, around 60% of the Gabonese population speaks French.

While French is prevalent in the country, it is not the only language spoken. The country has a rich history of indigenous languages, all of which belong to the Bantu family.

These languages are mainly spoken and not written, and the differentiation between them is evident in the 40 different Bantu languages that are spoken throughout the country.

Despite efforts by French and American missionaries to transcribe these languages, the Gabonese were discouraged from speaking them and were instead encouraged to learn French.

Nevertheless, the indigenous languages have survived through the transmission of knowledge from families and clans.

As a result, Bantu languages such as Fang, Sira (Eshira), and Mbere are still spoken today and form an important part of Gabon’s cultural heritage.

Gabon’s cultural identity is shaped by a range of factors, including its linguistic diversity, ethnic groups, and unique blend of traditions. French language and culture, while significant, represent only one part of this cultural mosaic.

Religion

Religion is an important aspect of Gabonese culture, with a diverse range of faiths being practiced across the country.

The major religions include Christianity, Islam, and traditional indigenous beliefs. While a large proportion of the population practices elements of Christianity, many Gabonese also incorporate aspects of their traditional beliefs into their religious practices.

Christianity is widely practiced with approximately 73% of the population adhering to the faith.

This includes non-citizens who reside in the country. The Roman Catholic Church is prominent with Gabonese bishops serving in the church alongside foreign clergy, particularly French Holy Ghost Fathers. Protestantism is also practiced by a significant number of Gabonese.

Islam is a minority religion with only around 12% of the population practicing the faith.

Of this 12%, between 12% to 15% are foreigners, while the remainder are Gabonese citizens. Former president El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba was a member of the Muslim minority.

In addition to Christianity and Islam, traditional indigenous beliefs are still practiced by around 10% of the Gabonese population.

These beliefs are rooted in the country’s pre-colonial history and have been passed down through generations.

The Bwiti religion, which is based on a secret society of the same name, was introduced to the country in the early 20th century and has brought solidarity among the Fang people.

The Gabonese government is respectful of its citizens’ religious freedom, as enshrined in the country’s constitution. Foreign missionaries continue to be active and there are no reported societal abuses or discrimination based on religious differences.

In addition to providing spiritual guidance, various religious denominations also contribute to the country’s education system.

Islamic, Catholic, and Protestant denominations have established primary and secondary schools which are required to meet the same educational standards as public schools as set by the Ministry of Education.

In conclusion, the country is a country full of surprises and has a lot to offer to its visitors. With its rich history and culture, it boasts of historic monuments and tourist attractions that showcase its natural resources and French influence.

Gabonese land welcomes visitors with its unique landscape and wildlife, such as forest elephants and starkly painted dancers that represent the past.

Gabon is rapidly developing its infrastructure and transportation systems, making it easier and more comfortable for tourists to travel.

However, bumpy journeys are still an attraction for some tourists. The country is also expanding its national parks to cater to eco-tourists and conservationists, apart from the beautiful Loango National Park.

Trekking is one of the most thrilling activities that can be done in Gabon, where visitors can see wild creatures living in their pristine habitats.

The country is definitely the perfect place to be if you are after nature and wildlife tripping. With its unique cultural and natural attractions, it is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking an unforgettable adventure.

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