Thursday, October 22, 2009


One of the most interesting things about living in Gabon is the possibility to get to know its people and their culture. Clearly, I am very far from saying that I know or understand the Gabonese ways, but I have noticed certain universal things which seem rather interesting and might serve as useful guidelines to a newcomer in Gabon.

Three is company
Whenever you offer round a treat (such as gum or sweets or cigarettes), be careful. Do not give a Gabonese person direct access to the items. They will not be happy with taking just one, they will gladly take two or three or all of them, consume one on the spot and put the rest in their pocket. Placing just one cigarette in their hand might seem stingy to you now, but after they take your last chewing gum or a whole bag of sweets you will probably change your mind.

Yes yes yes!
Avoid asking yes/no questions. The Gabonese tend to answer "yes" to every single one:
- Will you be here in five minutes?
- Yes.
- Will you be here in two hours?
- Yes.
- Are you a mechanic?
- Yes.

These answers may be absolutely true or they may have very little to do with reality. There's no way of knowing.

Liar Liar Pants on Fire
Actually, the above does not apply out here. People lie as a rule so no pants on fire, no sir. I notice that in the children I teach but it is also normal for adults. The curious thing is that lying is not as much of a sin in Africa. In Europe, when you lie and get caught, you feel ashamed and uncomfortable. In Gabon, when you are proved to have lied you... shrug your shoulders and carry on what you're doing.

Is she flirting?
Some time ago we went to a party where we spent most of the evening talking to a Gabonese girl. The coversation was nice and easy even for me (although it was in French!) and we enjoyed it a lot. When we were discussing the event afterwards, an interesting topic came up. Jandro admitted that most of the time he'd had a feeling that the girl was simply flirting with him. The smiles, the "accidental" touching of hands while sitting very close to each other... I thought for a second and answered: Baby, no worries. I think she was flirting with me as well. Yes, that is their way of being, we figured. The same thing happened with some of Jandro's Gabonese mates - many times I had a strong feeling they were hitting on me, and in my boyfriend's presence! In the end, we decided not to read too much into it. Just another cultural difference, I suppose.

My cousin's brother's nephew
Gabonese families are very big. Huge. Enormous. Of course, they tend to have a lot of children (I know a family who have a child in every class at my school) but it is not only about that. Here your village is your family, all the inhabitants are your sisters and brothers. Of course, it gives a lot of support and creates a wonderful atmosphere of love and devotion. However, family also means responsibility. Imagine what happens when suddenly five or six or seventeen of your siblings find themselves in financial trouble...

Supernaturally Superstitious
The Gabonese are incredibly superstitious. Back in April, I wrote a post on how we were warned about the ghosts that live on the waves. During our trip to Lopé we were told a tale of a magical spear stuck in one of the rocks (sort of a version of the Arthurian legend) and the guy who showed us the rock, an engineer working for a big company, would not touch the spear: what if he managed to get it out? He was not ready for this kind of power (for the whole story click here and follow the pictures). It is also interesting to notice what they do with their dead. I once asked where the Libreville cementary was. Apparently, it is very small and not much used, as people prefer to bury the dead elsewhere, in a less obvious place. Otherwise, somebody might dig them up and perform magical rituals on the corpses. All in all, the supernatural is not a joking matter in Gabon!

So there you go, just a few observations we've made so far. For now this is it but we continue our socio-anthropological studies and the list will probably expand. Obviously, I'll keep you posted. Keep popping in.

1 comment:

  1. I must say I am happy you were so productive today - a very entertaining read! :-)