What even is a Grandmother?

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

I thought Grandmother fed you lollies. Slipped you money. Bought you birthday presents even when you’re an adult. Sent you cards handwritten. Had a timeless love of baking with way too much raw sugar & had the most sophisticated hanging plant garden..

I was so, so wrong..

Grandmothers are so much more badass than I thought.

Last year I travelled to Gabon to be initiated into a feminine Bwiti cult known as Mabanji. This was not in Libreville, the capital, at a cosy home-stay. I went jungle, to be closer to the original Eboga eaters, the Babongo, the Pygmies.

It took 2 days of driving at scarily fast speeds, passing multiple army checkpoints, having passports checked way too many times [ the neighbouring Congo was in warfare ], losing bottles of herbal medicine to police, but being able to pass forward by showing we have Eboga and we’re medicine crew yo, clutching onto whatever you can to survive many hours of 4wding, only stopping for mid-jungle repair work, fresh monkey meat & palm wine to get there. The village welcomed us with celebration and I cried. It was surreal and beautiful. 

There are quite a few Bwiti sects, which are considered religions in West-Central Africa. I’d be working with the women, how comforting! Here I am feeling a preconception of motherly gentle love. Held by pacha mama! Yes, that’s how I’ll take my Tabernanthe iboga in the jungle please, with mother, with grandmother guides *insert warm sighs of relief*. You know what they say about expectations, yeah? Turns out the imprint of mothers and grandmothers I was raised with, is so very different from a jungle mamma.

We toured the town, the Mabanji side of things looked pretty grim. The living conditions were compiled of rustic huts. Grandmother lived on the floor and her roof leaked. The Mitsogo side of town had houses, couches, some TVs even. Mitsogo is the masculine cult, it dwells in the mind, the cerebral, the visionary. In tantra the masculine is considered consciousness itself. The feminine sect is about the body, feeling, movement. In tantra the feminine is energy. I suddenly wonder if I should be working with the men....

Village life

What happened next was a rite of passage. It wasn’t even about Eboga in the end. It was about using the wood to teach you to get out of your own way to allow trance-states. The 8 mothers & grandmothers I worked with were the most experienced in the wider area. They had the most initiations tallied to their names. They were the strongest, most resilient women I have even met. Crafted by their landscape. They work hard. There were few men in their village. The respect their presence demanded intimidates me from over here. Something I can’t forget, that and they won’t let me. They seem to journey with me on most plant medicine trips now.

I soon reali