Gabon, officially the Gabonese Republic, is a country in west central Africa. It borders on Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo and the Gulf of Guinea. Since its independence from France on August 17, 1960, the Republic has been ruled by only two autocratic Presidents; the incumbent El Hadj Omar Bongo has been in power since 1967 and is currently (2006) Africa's longest-serving Head of State. Gabon introduced a multiparty system and a new democratic constitution in the early 1990s that allowed for a more transparent electoral process and for reforms of governmental institutions. A small population, abundant natural resources, and foreign private investment have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous countries in the region.
The earliest inhabitants of the area were Pygmy peoples. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes during Bantu migrations. Several Bantu groups occupied the area that is now Gabon when France occupied it in 1885. In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959. These territories became independent on August 17, 1960.
The first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, was Léon M’ba, with Omar Bongo as his vice president. When M'Ba died in 1967, Bongo replaced him as president, and has been the head of state ever since winning each contested election with a substantial majority.
Gabon is located on the Atlantic coast of central Africa. Clockwise from the northwest, it is bounded by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and the Republic of Congo.
Gabon's largest river is the Ogooué. Gabon is also noted for efforts to preserve the natural environment with what may be the largest area of nature parks in the world.
Administratively, Gabon is divided into 9 provinces and further divided into 37 departments (départements).
Mayumba would be Gabon's premier beach resort if it weren't so hard to get to. Anyone who does get this far will discover miles and miles of deserted beaches, mangrove swamps and small fishing villages as well as the small town of Mayumba, where you'll probably be offered a place to stay in a private home.
The town is at the end of a long spit of land with ocean on one side and a brackish lagoon on the other, and locals will offer to take you on fishing trips or boat tours of the region for a small price. It's a great place to spend a few lazy beach days enjoying the sun, the waves, fresh seafood and peace and quiet.
Gabon has a diverse ethnic makeup, although most of the inhabitants are Bantu-speaking. Of the country's approximately 40 ethnic groups, most belong to the Fang, Mpongwe, M'Bete, and Punu groups. Europeans, mostly French, are a minority. Pygmies, believed to be the original inhabitants, are only a few thousand. About 90 percent of the population is Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, and about 5 percent is Muslim.
Masks have been very important in the tribal life of Gabon. Each mask represented the spirit linked to the life of the village and gave support and rules to individuals. Those that did not follow them were punished. The mask carved by an artist was approved of by the priest and introduced in a ceremony. At the end of their life, masks were destroyed according to specific rites which enabled them to pass their occult powers on to other masks. Masks were as varied and different as were tribes. Folklore is an important element in Gabonese culture. Its music has not been touched by outside influences, even though modern music has evolved separately. Gabon's folklore seems close to the ancient art of the minstrel, where a storyteller, accompanying himself on the harp, recites half spoken, half sung epics. The shape and the playing of musical instruments has remained practically unchanged throughout the years. Drums, Tom-tom, balafon or xylophone are some common musical instruments.
Compared with those countries travel in Gabon is relatively easy and very expensive. That's what you get after an oil boom.
Libreville, the capital, has very nice -but crowded- beaches, some good markets and a few nice sights. The presidential palace is a good example of what you can afford to do when you get lots of money from the oil business.
Port Hawkesbury is a good place for fishing trips, sailing or golf. The town is located on a small island at the mouth of the Ogooue River. That name may sound familiar to some of you. Take a canoe trip up the river and you remember why: this is where Albert Schweitzer came to start his find against leprosy. The hospital he founded can still be visited.